On September 3rd, bus-cam video was featured on all of the TV news channels, framing the story of a father who stormed his 12-year old daughter's school bus and went off on a curse-laden tirade against the youngsters who were accused of bullying his child. With a little media spin and a lot of repetition of a context-free video clip, James Jones looked like a hot-head. Indeed, the had-it-up-to-here dad had exceeded his limit of tolerance for the out-of-control verbal and physical abuse his daughter, Chatari Jones, had been experiencing on the bus. Admittedly, his response was not ideal.
But there was something powerful about watching Jones, interviewed along with his wife and daughter on NBC's The Today Show, that revealed the complexity of emotion behind Jones' unsophisticated rant:
There is so much I want to say about this news story-and so much that has already been written about the epidemic of bullying amongst today's young people. What struck me perhaps the most, however, was this young victim's delay in telling her parents about the abuse. Chatari Jones explained to Matt Lauer that at first, she didn't tell her parents about kids on the bus who smacked her on the head, twisted her ear, and shouted rude comments at her, because she was worried about being called a "tattletale" and fearful that the bullying would worsen.
Like Chatari, most young people hesitate to tell adults about physical violence, threats of harm, rumor-spreading, or any of the behaviors that fall along the painful continuum of bullying. How can you help make sure that your child talks with you promptly about incidents of bullying?
Create Awareness in Kids
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bullying occurs when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who is weaker. Bullies victimize others in order to gain power and control. They typically select targets who are unlikely or unable to fight back.
From an early age, make sure that your son or daughter recognizes bully behavior in all of its various forms. Bullying includes overt physical actions like hitting and kicking along with "relational aggression" in the forms of social exclusion and public humiliation (including the publicly broadcast video of a private sexual encounter that contributed to the recent suicide of a promising young man at Rutgers University.)
Create Awareness in Adults
Encourage your child to tell trustworthy adults about any instances of bully behavior, either in his own life or that he sees occurring with a peer. Sometimes kids feel like adults never do anything-so why even bother to tell them? Though some parents, teachers, or other adults may fail to recognize the seriousness a bullying situation, more often, grown-ups are unaware of harassment on the bus, locker-room taunts, cafeteria exclusions, and cyber-bullying. Make sure your child knows that it is his job to create awareness.
Telling vs. Tattling
Does your child worry that if he "tattles," the bullying will worsen? Help him to realize that this is exactly what the bully wants him to think! Isolation is how the bully operates. It is only by telling an adult that your child can end the isolation that the bully has begun.
Be clear in teaching your child that telling an adult about bullying is not a mark of cowardice, but rather a bold, powerful move. When the bully realizes that his intended victim is brave enough to connect with others, he loses his stronghold.
The longer a bully has power over a victim, the stronger the hold becomes. Oftentimes, bullying begins in a relatively mild form-name calling, teasing, or minor physical aggression. After the bully has tested the waters and confirmed that a victim is not going to fight back, the aggression worsens. Name calling becomes public humiliation. Teasing grows into group ostracism. Pushing and shoving escalates to punches and assault.
Teach your child that when he lets bullying behavior go on unchecked, he lets his power slip away steadily. Taking action against the bully-and taking it sooner rather than later-is the best way to re-balance the power dynamic.