END BULLYING NOW!

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Just last week I read an article about a 9-year-old boy bullied for carrying a My Little Pony backpack to school. The administration’s solution was to suggest he leave the backpack home. While they may have been correct in thinking the boy was setting himself up for ridicule, was this not the perfect opportunity to teach students acceptance and the welcoming of differences?

This week I read a clever teacher’s lesson on bullying received an overwhelming response on Facebook. Warm, supportive comments applauding the teacher’s sensitive message to her students were heard from over 104,000 people. While the two apples she used for her lesson looked identical on the outside, the one rejected apple was teased and battered by contemptuous comments and physical abuse leaving the inside permanently bruised. While the children got the message, I can’t help but wonder how long will it prevent bullying? And what must we as the grownups, educators do to put an end to bullying?

We need to teach children to welcome differences and nonconformity, not to tease or fear it. Research suggests we must set rules and policies regarding bullying, build safe environments and educate our schools’ staff. The policy words on paper are a beginning, but consistent vigil awareness must follow. Those colorful anti-bullying posters placed strategically around the schools are encouraging reminders, but they soon blend into the cold cinder block walls on which they are posted. And while sensitivity lessons are encouraging, when bullying actually occurs, not many students are courageous enough to defend the bullied for fear of becoming victims themselves.

We must teach our children to welcome differences and take pride in those differences, not teach them to hide nonconformity as the school did with the little boy and his My Little Pony backpack.

There are some actions we can take to help build stronger, healthier, more accepting students.

Student victims and witnesses of bullying must have an anonymous way to present their feelings in a place where they can be heard without fear of retribution and additional ridicule (i.e. a box, a website).

Rules of tolerance and intolerance should be clearly defined and consequences set for when the rules are broken.

Parents must be continually engaged in the fight to end this abuse. There should be a school action committee comprised of students, teachers and parents where abuses can be heard and appropriately addressed.

In closing I must add, Dr. David Schwartz and others have found that children bullied in elementary school are at increased risk of being depressed when they are 18. It is essential to prevent bullying before it begins. It is our responsibility as parents and educators to protect our innocent children from becoming permanently bruised for simply being themselves.

WHOEVER SAID PARENTING WOULD BE EASY?

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Rarely do I receive anxious calls from parents of straight A students. But this week I listened to the exasperation of a mother shaking the Honor Roll Certificate her 7th grade son had just received. Yes, she was proud; yes, she considers him to be bright; and yes, she admits he earned his academic achievement on his own. She is not a helicopter parent checking her son’s homework for accuracy or even if he has completed his assignments. She is there to help, she explained, when needed. “I have to bite my tongue sometimes, I want so much to interfere, but I want him to learn responsibility and consequence.”

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What’s creating her angst is the ease with which he is earning these grades. Homework is completed within 30 minutes, less time than spent at sports practice and music lessons. His baseball coach and guitar teacher raise the bar with his growing achievement. He welcomes the challenge that stimulates him to work harder. “But he spends more time on video games and watching TV than he does on school work.”

Exasperated, she contacted me to ask, “So why can’t the school provide more challenge? I can’t afford private school? What can I do?”

Feeling her frustration I began my attempt to defuse her growing alarm. While a private school curriculum might provide more challenge, her son, more than likely would be successful wherever he was in school. She had done a fine job thus far with her hands off policy, but no student could be expected to ask for more challenging work. It was time for her to take a more active role.

What can she do?

First and foremost, keep in mind, the school staff knows only what your child does from 8:00-3:00, Monday-Friday. They cannot be expected to know what goes on outside of their watch unless you tell them. With that mindset, and accepting that it is probably too late in the school year for her son to be moved to more challenging level classes, she can begin to prepare everyone for proper class placement in the fall.

Next, I advise she contact each of her son’s teachers to share her concerns. Ask what they can do now to help raise the achievement bar and to better prepare him for higher level classes for the next school year.

Finally, contact the school counselor about her concerns and desire for him to be placed in more challenging 8th grade classes. Then, before school begins in the fall, check back with the counselor as a reminder and confirmation that the correct level classes have been assigned to her son.

The job is not done yet. Keep in mind, everyone welcomes appreciation. Emailed notes of thanks can go a long way. In the fall, when the new school year begins, I suggest she keep a close watch on her son’s study time and challenge level. Continue to keep in touch with the teachers and counselor for schedule tweaking before it is too late to make adjustments, and of course, to express your continued appreciation.

No one ever said parenting would be easy, but you needn’t go it alone. Remember the school is your partner in your child’s academic success.