Saturday, July 10, 2010

Battling Bullying

The New York Times ran an article last week about how schools are struggling to deal with online bullying.  In these days of social media, saying mean things anonymously is easier than ever and, once posted, is all but impossible to remove or contain.  And while I feel terribly for the victims and recognize that technology has made bullying more of a problem than ever before, I am firmly in the camp of those who wonder why it has become the schools' responsibility to solve this problem.

For one thing, the bullying rarely takes place on school grounds or during school hours.  This means that it really should be the other adults in the kids' lives - their parents - who step up to deal with these issues.  And yet as the article makes clear, parents are too busy dodging the responsibilities of parenthood (one dad said it would be "too awkward" to speak with the parents of the child who was harassing his daughter -- so he wanted to the school to simply punish the offender without him having to really get involved or speaking with his daughter to get to the root of the issue).

I don't mean that the schools should simply wash their hands of the matter.  The schools my kids have attended have implemented strong anti-bullying programs that teach kids to speak up for themselves; that bystanders are really not "innocent" but rather can play a key role in either helping perpetuate the bullying - or in stopping it; and that teach parents how to be "approachable" so that kids aren't afraid to discuss these important issues before things get out of hand.  But conversations - be they electronic or otherwise - that take place outside of school aren't really the school's responsibility.

And some parents, in helicopter mode, see bullying where it really doesn't exist.  A parent who wanted his daughter invited to a party at which the host had made clear she wasn't welcome, intervened when the host's chums supported his right not to have her there.  The dad insisted that because the boys had called his daughter names, it was bullying, when in fact, she had said some pretty mean things, too.  Disagreements and bullying are not the same!

At least this parent had the guts to speak with other parents about the issue, and together, parents were able to stop the kids from making the situation a bigger deal than it really was.

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