A recent case of a junior high school student being beaten in Liberty, Missouri has again drawn attention to bullying at school.
12-year old Blake Kitchen, a sixth grader at Liberty Middle School, was hospitalized for five days after being admitted for a broken jaw and fractured bones in his head. Blake’s mother, Destiny Kitchen, says that she and her husband informed the school that Blake was being bullied over a month prior.
Many school systems across the nation have implemented programs designed to raise awareness of bullying to teachers, students, and families. The goal of these programs is to eliminate bullying in the classroom, through awareness efforts and strict policies.
However, many experts disagree with this method that equates awareness with prevention.
“There is no way we are going to completely eliminate bullying,” says Todd Harris, a Charlotte business owner and child development expert. “And to make matters worse, many policies punish both the bully and the victim.”
In an effort to reduce bullying at schools, some school systems enact a “zero tolerance” policy. This involves strict disciplinary actions for all parties involved in bullying, including the bully, the target, and bystanders.
“If you have a victim getting in trouble for being bullied, they are less likely to report the bullying, or stand up for themselves. And this inaction is what allows bullying to continue,” says Harris.
Harris, owner of Martial Arts University, has helped his martial arts students and families handle bullying situations at schools. He has found that bullying is happening in many different areas of a child’s life, not just at school.
“Sometimes, a parent will bully a child unknowingly and unintentionally. Sarcasm when communicating to your child can make a kid feel hurt, especially coming from an authority like a parent. And kids don’t always know how to express this hurt.”
According to Harris, expressing themselves about bullying is another challenge for children at school. While many kids are taught to simply “walk away,” this doesn’t necessarily help end bullying. On the other hand, “telling the teacher” can be misconstrued as “tattling.”
“The whole idea of ‘tattletale’ is what prevents children from taking the right steps to stand up for themselves,” says Harris. “Kids don’t want to be seen as a tattletale, and some teachers even accuse kids of being one. So when a real bullying situation happens, kids are afraid to do say anything about it.”
To help parents and children deal better with bullying, Harris offers these tips:
1) Be pro-kindness. If you focus on bullying, there will be more bullying. Even if you focus on preventing bullying. Instead, help teach your kids to be more kind to others and courteous. This will, in itself, reduce bullying.
2) Teach kids communication. There is a difference between tattling and telling a teacher about a bully. Role play with your kids and give them examples. Ask them what are examples of tattling and what are example of telling a teacher.
3) Show them how to stand up for themselves. What can your child say to a bully? Practice it. Help them feel more confident and better about themselves. Enroll them in a program that builds confidence, like sports, dance, or martial arts. Many martial arts school offer bully prevention trainings for free.
4) Let your kids know you have their back. Kids are afraid to get in trouble. Not just at school, but at home as well. Let your kids know that if they get in trouble at school for standing up for themselves to keep themselves safe in an appropriate way, you are okay with it.
Todd Harris is the owner of Martial Arts University in Charlotte, NC. For more information about his school or his free bully prevention classes, visit: http://www.mauchampions.com.