By Attorney Ann Margaret Carrozza
Special to THELAW.TV
There is no doubt that we have a bullying problem in our schools. Nearly half of all students report having experienced bullying behavior. This can take the form of verbal abuse, physical abuse, and, increasingly, we are seeing the devastating consequences of cyber-bullying.
As a parent, it is critically important that we let our children know that they can come to us for help. It is equally important that we know exactly how to respond so that we don't make the situation worse.
It is never a good idea to ignore a child's complaint about bullying. Some parents believe they should avoid becoming directly involved. "Kids will be kids" is no longer an adequate response. Children are often unable to deal with this issue on their own. Similarly, we should never tell our children to "fight back." I can remember telling my mother in 1977 that "Heather" announced in school that day that she would beat me up at 3 p.m. the following day. I hoped that, somehow, my mother could help me. Her response was to invite our neighbor over that night to instruct me on Judo basics. I wasn't much of a martial arts student and proceeded to get pummeled the following day at the appointed hour.
Being verbally or physically abused by other students should not be viewed as a normal part of growing up. What can we as parents do to protect our kids?
First and foremost, we need to establish an environment of tolerance, respect, and open lines of communication within our homes. We need to teach our kids, by example, how to deal with their peers. We must also teach our children what to do if they find themselves in a bullying situation. Much like a family fire drill, we need to arm our children with a bullying game plan ahead of time. The first thing that a child should do if they are confronted with any type of bullying is to immediately notify a teacher or the school principal. Fighting back will only escalate the problem and will likely result in disciplinary action that will remain on your child's permanent record.
Once home, a parent should ask their child about the situation. At this point, we, as parents, need to exercise some self-control. Yes, we will be tempted to reach out in anger to the parents of the alleged aggressors. Remember, a positive outcome is not likely to ensue.
A parent should get the full and complete story from your child. Take notes while the events are still fresh in the child's mind. Were there any witnesses? Take pictures of any broken or damaged property. If physical violence was used, I would immediately file a police report.
Next, a parent should request a copy of the school's bullying prevention and reporting policy. All public schools are required by law to have set procedures for dealing with this issue. A written report should then be submitted to the principal and teacher. The school is then required by law to investigate the matter and take steps reasonably calculated to resolve the issue. You may wish to request daily e-mail reports of the progress.
If after a week or so, you are unsatisfied with the action taken by the school and if the problem persists, legal action should then be considered. The cause of action that you should discuss with legal counsel is "supervisory negligence." Courts have come a long way from dismissing these cases for fear of "policing the schoolyard."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a helpful website: http://stopbullying.gov.
Ann Margaret Carrozza is a practicing attorney who also served as a New York State Assemblywoman. She is a regular legal contributor to TV and print media outlets.
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