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Is Bullying a Necessary Part of Growing Up? MomTalk Q&A

How do parents and teachers separate the harmful from the harmless when it comes to kids picking on other kids?

Maybe you were never on the receiving end of the class bully. Or you stood by, grateful not to be in the crosshairs, as another child was ridiculed. Whatever the case, bullying is as alive today as it was when we were in school. Except the stakes are higher. It comes in the form of anonymous posts on social networking sites or threatening messages left on a child's cell phone. The text is mightier than the sword.

This new age of bullying has forced teachers and parents to take a more proactive approach. The "kids will be kids" adage doesn't work today and we can no longer use it to disregard malicious and harmful behavior. Schools take the zero tolerance approach, and that's a good thing. But does it soften our children and teach them not to protect themselves? Or to rely on others to do their bidding? "Use your words" or "just ignore him" are great advice, when they work. But what then?

So we asked:

Based on your experience, either as the victim or the perpetrator, how was the situation handled? If your child was the aggressor, were you receptive to whatever intervention was initiated by another parent or school official? If your child was the victim, how did you help him or her overcome?

Here's what the Patch Moms Council had to say.

Nabeha Zegar, Orland Park

There are so many forms of bullying. Although I applaud the "zero tolerance" stance the schools have taken recently, I do think that there are some circumstances when children are better off dealing with and learning from their own issues. There are lessons to be learned here that are vital to a person's social development. The world isn't a soft and cuddly place all of the time and the sooner kids learn to deal with handling adversity and ignorant negativity, the better. Does this mean that if a child is being hurt physically or mentally by another that we should stand by and watch it happen? Absolutely not. I say step in, call both sets of parents and go forward with any disciplinary actions that are set forth in the behavioral expectations of the school. If it's something simple, like name calling or simple teasing that is a one-time offense, the child should be taught to first defend themselves or look above the bullying child's ignorance before going to an adult for help. 

Recently one of my children was involved in an incident with some pushing and shoving that was observed by a teacher and that landed both of them in the principal's office. I happened to be in the area when I received the phone call and decided to stop by and scold my child in person (privately, of course). While I was there I observed my child and the other child talking and getting along fine. I am not upset with the staff of the school, as these are their rules and they are meant to be followed. They were only doing their job. I do think that if the situation were left alone the boys would have worked it out themselves and it would not have progressed past where it had already been. It's the old "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it" question, if the situation had taken place around the neighborhood or out of sight of a teacher, then is it bullying or is it boys being boys/horseplay? I do understand that these rules were put in place because of some serious bullying issues that have occurred and I applaud the schools for tackling this tough issue with such diligence.

Felicitas Cortez, Orland Park

Bullying is a tough subject because we have such different definitions of the word, and each view is correct. It's important to remember we need to respect another's opinion of bullying, even if it differs from our own. When I was in grade school, I received my fair share of teasing and name-calling. I thought my classmates were just being rude and ill-mannered, but in today's society that scenario would be considered bullying. I'm not sure giving it a different terminology would have made much difference.

Jan Kocek, Palos Heights

Having worked in elementary schools, I’ve seen a lot of bullying. It seems to have escalated over the past 5 years, especially in grades 4-8. At these ages children start narrowing down their circle of friends to a few “best friends”. Where I worked, a “no tolerance” stance was taken. Children who seemed to lack self-esteem or respect for themselves and/or others were involved in small group sessions with the counselor or one of the teachers. As soon as a bullying situation was brought to the attention of an adult, it was addressed immediately. Victim and bully were individually questioned as to what was going on. Then the two (or more) children directly involved were brought together. Acting as a mediator/facilitator, the adult guided the children to answer the questions “Why did this happen?” “What can you do to not let it happen again?” “If it does happen again, what should be the consequences?” The victim and bully were allowed to try to work things out between themselves. If the victim and bully couldn’t come to a compromise they were asked by the adult to avoid and ignore each other in and around school. Both were asked to tell an adult if the other one seemed to instigate a confrontation. Parents were asked to stay in contact with the school, either by phone or conference on a regular basis.

Deb Melchert, Tinley Park

I believe most bullying can be stopped if the schools, teachers, administration and parents get involved immediately, as soon as they are aware of the situation. You may all be interested in an NBC video we just watched it when it aired last week. Dateline NBC used hidden cameras to film teenagers in a bullying situation. I found it extremely interesting to see that most bullies will back down if someone will stand up for the person who is being picked on. Strength in numbers I guess.

Next week's topic: How have you, or how would you, address the topic of alcohol with your teen? Do you think allowing your teen a small glass of wine with dinner on occasion is wrong?

Patch's Moms Council addresses issues on the minds of parents, debates the pros and cons, and offers advice. Look for MomTalk Q&A every Wednesday at 1 p.m.

Lauren Traut (Editor) March 23, 2011 at 06:54 PM
I'm not a mom, but I admittedly was bullied as a kid. I have a question for the Moms Council, if they wouldn't mind answering. The initial prompt included a mention of social networking sites and text messages. This ties in nicely to our Moms Talk column from a week prior, where we discussed how young is too young for a cell phone? In the same vein, how young is too young for a Facebook account? If they have an account, how closely do you monitor your child's use of it? I consider myself tech-savvy, and I've seen how easy it can be to speak online, without a censor. How do you coach your child through *online* bullying? It's instantaneous, which can often feel like even more of a blow. How do you help them learn how to react, and encourage them to think before they type?
Lauren Traut (Editor) March 23, 2011 at 07:00 PM
I should clarify—all moms can chime in. Not just Moms Council members.
Nabeha Zegar March 24, 2011 at 02:01 PM
Lauren, only my oldest child has a facebook account. I set it up for him and made sure the privacy settings were set so that only his accepted, small circle of friends and family could even view his page. With this privilege comes rules. He is only allowed to log in on the computer in the kitchen and only with permission from myself. He also knows that I frequently monitor his account and this alone, I believe, keeps him on his toes when it comes to responsible "facebooking". I also have the chat feature disabled. If online bullying should occur I would use it as an opportunity for discussion with my child. Hopefully I have raised them with enough confidence as to not give too much credence to ignorant words of others and enough respect for their peers to not stoop to bullying.
Lauren Traut (Editor) March 24, 2011 at 05:13 PM
Nabeha, it sounds like you have a great handle on how to help your child through bullying situations. What advice do you give your kids if/when they're in a tough spot with a bully? If someone spits ignorance in their direction? And for others, what if your child has been accused of bullying? How do you show them the error of their ways?

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