Parents Take Bullying Into Their Own Hands

Illustration for article titled Parents Take Bullying Into Their Own Hands

Storming a school bus probably isn't the best response to your daughter's bullying — but the question remains, if a kid's being tormented, what can parents do?

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Lisa Belkin of the Times Motherlode blog writes about two questionable anti-bullying responses: Betty Duvall gave her daughter pepper spray, which she then used on bullies; and James Jones boarded his daughter's school bus, screaming and cursing at her bullies and other riders. You can see that incident below.

Regarding the pepper spray, Duvall said, "I know it was wrong, but I had to do what I had to do. If [Duvall's daughter Michelle] wouldn't have had that protection, she probably would have been in the hospital right now." Jones's analysis of his bus rant is similar. He says, "a dad is a dad, and I was going to be her protector that day."

Duvall's and Jones's stories are strikingly similar: both had talked to school officials without success, and both felt they had no other option but to take things into their own hands. The way they did so may not have been ideal, but what would have been the right response? What can a parent do when school becomes unsafe for a child? Some kids specifically ask parents not to intervene, fearing it will make things worse — but if a kid's getting hit and spit on, as Jones's daughter reportedly was, just ignoring it isn't a good answer either. Given how many kids don't have the support of their parents, it's actually encouraging that Duvall and Jones wanted to protect their daughters — but they and parents like them clearly need more strategies to do so. Schools could be a resource here, but right now they seem to be dropping the ball. Maybe they could start by recruiting a few good babies.

When Parents Intervene With Bullying [NYT Motherlode Blog]
Fighting Bullying With Babies [NYT Opinionator Blog]

DISCUSSION

My son has been severely bullied throughout his entire school career. At the end of the schoolyear, last year, some kid walked up out of the blue, and punched him in the face, knocking him backward off the swing he was sitting on, and bloodying his nose. The principal called and told me about it, after it happened, and I said "clearly, you STILL aren't doing enough to protect my kid." 13 minutes after he got home, I took him to the police station, and filed a report. Hell yeah, I escalated it. This was after years of trying to appeal to the school, and get him help. I have horror stories.

Earlier that school year, I called the Department of Youth and Family Services Institutinal Abuse line, and reported, truthfully, that my child comes home with bruises every single day, and with increasingly frightening reports of physical, sexual, and mental abuse. The State showed up the next day, and over the course of the next three months, they went over the school policies with a fine tooth comb, and changed many many things. The bullying didn't dry up all together, but after my boy got slammed in the face, that final time, my involvement of local law enforcement DID help.

This school year, NJ is passing all sorts of legislation about schools being held accountable for bullying incidents, and the faculty is getting re-educated on the nature of bullying. Because the state got involved last year, our school was ahead of the curve, with a special rubric in place, and special counseling set up (as opposed to that oh-so-awesome peer counseling, where my son was placed in a room with the bully and two of his friends...)Too long it was "ah, well, they're just boys" and my son was getting severely abused. Now, only now are we starting to see change, and I've been fighting this for years. I hope it sticks.

I've been tempted to be the crazy mother. I've been tempted to show up at other parent's houses, or go charging into the school. I swallowed my rage, and made phone calls, and did research, and it's amazing...but this year, his 7th grade year, has been the first year that he hasn't been really hassled since kindergarten.

What I'm trying to say is this: Treat bullying like the fucking crime that it is. When my son was younger, I would say "Jeez, if an adult did that, they'd go right to jail." You think about that hard enough, and it sinks in. Why aren't kids being held accountable? Well, now, in my son's school, they are. I encourage all parents to do this. Accountability. Escalate it. Be loud. In a true bullying situation, ignoring it is fertile ground to make it even worse, I assure you.

Don't be the crazy parent, be smart.