Thursday, October 17, 2013

bullying: nothing will change if you can't discuss it

i've got bullying on the brain. a week or so ago, several parents in our community called a town meeting to raise awareness of bullying in our community. i saw a sign about it at the library, but it was the same day that i spent at the food co-creation event and i only got back to town as it was starting and i still hadn't fed my family yet at that point, so i didn't go, even tho' i was curious about it. earlier in the year, i worked on english subtitles for a danish program about bullying that was broadcast on DR1. while my own child doesn't have problems with it (either as bully or bullied, thank goodness) at school, i know it's a big issue in schools and frankly, in the workplace and other places among adults.

it turned out that very few people attended the meeting that evening. and the reason is a disturbing one. apparently teachers at the 0-6 school had taken down the signs about the meeting and spread the word that it had been canceled. and quite a lot of parents must have believed it, as only a handful came to a meeting where they were expecting to have more people there than were allowed by the fire code (that would have been 150+). why would teachers not want this important topic to be discussed, i wondered?

the issue moved to the pages of the local newspaper in the days that followed. the first article reported on the meeting - three parents of children who were bullied told their sad and harsh stories. the reporter expressed that it was too bad no one from the bully's side had shown up and that there was no debate on the topic, as had been planned, since it was only the bullied side that was present.

but that must have not been quite correct, as the next day, there was an interview with the principal of the 7-9th grade school, where she said she had attended the meeting and thought it was a shame that she was never given the chance to speak. the first article had indicated that there was no one else present who wanted to speak, so i wonder if she didn't even try to speak up that evening.

she confirmed that the posters had been taken down by teachers at the other school, but said that they would have to speak for their own actions, she wouldn't do so for them. she also indicated that the school acts immediately in cases of bullying, talking to both the children involved and their parents immediately. she gave a recent example of a student who had used a fellow student's gym bag as a toilet and was going to be replacing his bag. she did admit that teachers and school leadership could only do something about incidents which they knew about and that undoubtedly other things happened at school that were never reported and thus not acted upon. fair enough that the teachers cannot be everywhere at all times.

things were quiet for a couple of days and then the story of the worst bullying incident came out in the newspaper. the story had been told at the meeting that evening, but too few had heard it. it was a case of systematic bullying over two years, which resulted in the boy in question growing increasingly angry and violent himself and eventually he, as the bullied, was kicked out of school. he was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the bullying and spent several months away from school. he's now started in a new school, as it was impossible for him to return. a sad tale indeed.

only one side of the tale has been told, as the school claims to be under a confidentiality agreement not to discuss the case. all of the parents received a letter from the superintendent who is responsible for both local schools, on friday (the day after the article appeared). the tone of the letter is very defensive and, in my view, not at all willing to admit that there is an issue. he claims that they have been "hung out" and that not all of the stories are true and that it's quite difficult to have to just "sit back and take it," due to the confidentiality agreement. the letter tries only to shut down the discussion, not open up for an honest conversation that might lead to solutions and new thinking around ways of handling bullying.

then, on monday, a politician got involved and has asked the school for a written explanation of the events in the story of the boy who ended up with PTSD. the explanation will be handled on a political, municipal level by the division of children and young people. it will be interesting to see what comes of it.

i find it sad that it's such a sensitive issue that it seems to be impossible for the school to open up and talk about it. no one wants there to be bullying so bad that a child is chased out of school completely, but to not be able to discuss it is a tragedy. how can anyone learn from the experience and prevent the next one if it's surrounded by defensiveness and a lack of open, honest discussion?

in the program i worked with in the early spring, many of the teachers were also very closed and unwilling to discuss the topic, some of them actually resorted to bullying tactics themselves on the man who was making the program, ignoring him and not letting him join them for lunch when he asked. unless they are involved in the bullying themselves, i can't see why teachers wouldn't want to open up and look for solutions together with parents and the community as a whole?

it's a sad affair all around and i'm grateful that somehow or other it's not an issue that's affected our family or our child's love for school. a week or so ago, she was actually sick and insisted on going because she didn't want to miss out on what they'd be doing in class that week. so the school is doing something (and probably a whole lot of something) right, but they're not handling this bullying issue very well. not very well at all.


Crochet Addict UK said...

I wish we didn't know about bullying and how a school doesn't help but we do. My son is now 7 and has been bullied on and off over the last 2 yrs. We have noticed if a child gets injured by accident themselves there is a full description of what happened. If a child hurts another child then you only have the injury and how they were treated. This is so it's never recorded. My son was being bullied by a child. At first it was verbal. We told him to walk away and play with someone else. He did so he punched him. I told school and they told them to be friends. I wasn't happy but thought I would back school and see how it went. Then he came home with his face ripped open. I asked his teacher what had happened and why had it just been left. She said it was a small scratch and he had done it to himself. I was livid I showed herhis face and she agreed it was a lot more serserious. We found out it was the bully who had done it. He was made to write a sorry letter and stay in one dinner. They never recorded it. I was talking to some of the mums about a month later as he had been left with a scar across his face. I then found out he had done it to 7 other children! One child in the school is losing his hair after 2yrs of being bullied. 1 girl lost over a stone in weight and had to move to another school. Non of the bullies have ever been dealt with. In fact it's usually the victim that pays the price. We are currently trying to get my son into a different school.

julochka said...

i answered Susan directly, but thought I'd share my answer here as well...

oh Susan! that story made my blood run cold and I got tears in my eyes. I think this is such a concealed problem! why is that? why don't the teachers want to admit this happens? and what is wrong with the parents of the bullies? thank you for leaving a comment with your story!

celkalee said...

Bullying is a very complex social and psychological problem, for everyone. A recent example brought to light in FLA where a 12 y/o jumped from a tower to her death because of bullying. The sheriff is making the issue public and looking for grounds to charge the parents. I do not believe they are innocent. While not necessarily complicit could they not identify behavior that was suspicious or were they proud that their child 'could hold her own!" When I read your story this morning Susan my heart just broke for you and your dear son. I didn't have time to leave a comment but I hope you see this. Many of us address this issue and are trying to force our schools and scout and social groups to be more direct in our approach. Dancing around the issue helps no one. As mentioned here many times about this subject and others, we must discuss issues, we must air all sides of an issue to sort out biases and discover a solution to problems that seem to overwhelm. Sometimes it is wise to cut your losses and move to another school. I wish for you strength, patience and better times.

Lisa-Marie said...

I was bullied as a student (to the point of severe physical violence) trained as a teacher and now work in mental health, so am strongly aware of the during and the aftermath of bullying.

It's disgusting that as some campaign more for knowledge, some schools shy away from it, claiming that 'there is no bullying'.

In truth, at least in the UK, the decrease in respect for teachers adds to it, but also bullying has become more harsh, longer lasting. It's something that conscious people try to tackle, but lots don't want to admit it exists.

julochka said...


why do you think that is? I understand a bit with the parents of the bully, they probably don't want to admit their precious child has faults, but what is up with the teachers? unless they're participating , why don't they have an interest in stopping it? here, it's outright denial, all the way to the Superintendent. I don't know how I'd feel if my child was involved, I'd go ballistic, I think.

julochka said...

Celkalee, I read about that Florida case! the bullying continued after the girl died! those girls were monsters! where are the parents of children like this? standing beside them, cheering them on? it's sickening

celkalee said...

An addendum. I frequently listen to la te night radio. One of the topics last night was bullying. An advanced practice nurse with certifications in clinical hypnosis and psychiatry has been contracted by several local school districts here to work with the victims of bullying and to form support groups to address issues with parents, teachers and administrators. While they did not address outcome statistics in this short program they are saying that the hypnosis has helped several victims and their families to avoid moving or changing schools. Developing coping mechanisms are only part of the solution. A complex dynamic but I was really surprised to hear that hypnosis has had positive effects.