Bully, victim, bystander — ParentEditor's note: This the third story in a series about bullying and what the community is doing to prevent it. Stories will appear about once a month.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
A student overhears an older boy calling a classmate names on the playground.
Should the student: Stand up for the classmate who is being bullied? Tell a teacher? Ignore the problem? Join in on the bullying?
It’s not always easy for children to know what to do when faced with these situations.
That’s why for the past several months children throughout Red Wing have been learning what kinds of behaviors constitute bullying, how to stand up to bullying and when to get adults involved. Techniques for how to deal with bullying have been worked into the elementary curriculum and a special class helped students define what bullying is.
But what should parents do when they find out that their child is being bullied? How should they react when they learn their student is the one doing the bullying?
That was the topic of the Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights presentation “Everyone’s responsibility: What parents can do,” Thursday evening at Red Wing High School.
“It’s getting everybody on the same page,” said Julie Hertzog, director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center.
A comprehensive look at bullying began in Red Wing last October, when the Walking the Talk of Welcome committee held a community conversation on bullying. Since then, Red Wing Community Education has been keeping that conversation going by sponsoring classes and presentations on bullying.
“It’s important because it’s something that happens every day with students,” said Marcia Jenson of Red Wing Community Education.
On Thursday, the PACER Center’s Sean Roy began his presentation for parents in just about the same way that many of the lessons for children start: by identifying what bullying is.
“How do you identify the players and why it’s important to understand what the roles (people play),” Hertzog said.
But while the students’ lessons for bullying pretty much only define what bullying is and what bystanders can do, Roy’s adult presentation also defined the difference between harassment and bullying.
“The distinction is harassment is still the bullying behavior that goes on that when it’s about a students protected class,” Hertzog said, adding that students with disabilities are often the targets of harassment.
Another important piece parents, educators and community members need to understand is that each state’s policy on bullying is different, Hertzog said. Minnesota’s law only states that every school needs to have a policy on bullying. It doesn’t go much beyond that.
“Minnesota right now has one of the shortest bullying laws in the nation,” Hertzog said. “It doesn’t outline the definition: What needs to happen in a bullying situation.”
There is a bill being worked on that would better define what each school needs to have in its anti-bullying policy, she said.
In addition to understanding what bullying is and knowing what policies are in place to prevent it, parents also need to know how to help their children deal with being bullied – or how to keep their children from being the bully.
“How do you talk to a child that’s age appropriate? It can be a difficult thing for kids to talk about,” Hertzog said.
The first thing to do, she said, is make sure the child is comfortable bringing up a difficult topic like bullying.
“Let them know you want to listen to them in a non-judgmental way,” Hertzog said. “You also want to let them know that you’re there to help them.”
But don’t fix children’s problems for them, she added. Instead, parents should make sure they have a good understanding of what the situation is and then work with their children so that they are involved in the solution.
One very important thing, Hertzog said, is making sure that children don’t get labeled as a bully.
“We really look at bullying as a behavior, not about labeling kids,” she said. “Kids can often times play all three of those roles (bully, victim, bystander) every day.”
In addition to all the tips and techniques to help prevent bullying behaviors, Hertzog said another important part of these presentations – and the National Bullying Prevention Center’s mission - is to dispel the misconception that bullying is an inevitable part of growing up.
“It’s about changing that social paradigm about bullying,” Hertzog said. “By raising the level of awareness… we can start to change about what’s happened to kids for too long.”