Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be the guest of Margaret Larson and New Day Northwest to talk about the recent bullying incident of bus monitor Karen Klein. I had been asked to come as the expert on what can be done about bullying and the other guest was a former bus driver who had experienced years of bullying on her routes driving teens.
During the interview, Margaret asked me what parents should do if they are alerted by school officials that there may be a problem with their child -- either as a bully or a victim. This is a really tough situation and I've had to answer this question many times. As I explained in the interview, a parent's natural reaction is to say, "Oh, no, not MY child." I went on to further comment that while it's natural to be defensive and feel this way initially, parents have to be open to finding out what's going on and becoming part of the solution. It may be, for example, that there is a misunderstanding, or perhaps their child got caught up in something that was going on. But, as I pointed out, we can't just assume that the teachers/administrators have it out for our kids -- that helps no one, particularly not your child if there IS a problem.
Well, apparently one of the viewers of New Day didn't get what I was saying. Her comment on the show's Facebook page read:
I liked this segment but I don't like that Corinne Gregory's first response would be "that can't be!" if someone came to her about her child doing something wrong. That just adds to the problem! Until you know what really did happen, you should not just assume that it couldn't be your child. Your child needs to know that his parents will hold him accountable if it turns out he really was wrong. If he really is a bully and the parent is not aware of it, it does not help fix the problem if the parent says "that can't be!"
Well, that wasn't AT ALL what I said, and I'm sorry that the viewer misunderstood me. I am keenly aware and support the position that if the child is really a bully, they need to be held accountable for their actions. I'm a huge fan of personal accountability in all areas; frankly, I think there is WAY too little of that going around.
But the problem is that too many parents will just automatically assume that the educational "establishment" is out to get their child. And part of this is due both to the natural feeling of wanting to protect your child. You don't want to be told that your kid is a BAD KID and that's what you hear when someone tells you that Little Johnny or Little Suzie have been involved in an "incident."
The other issue is that we frequently relate our children's behavior with our "success" or failure as a parent. When our kids do well, we feel great about our parenting. When they are having issues, we feel that others will interpret that as a personal reflection on our parenting skills. Sometimes that is true; not all parents are doing what they should be to raise kids who are living up to their potential and developing positive behavior and habits. But, there are also situations where parents are doing the very best they can...yet things "go wrong" for varying reasons. Maybe, as I said in the interview, the child got caught up in something bigger than him- or herself. Much of bullying is a cultural thing where there is a sort of pack mentality that makes it easier for kids to participate once others have started the bullying. Maybe your child is acting out because of stress -- is your family going through some troubled times like a divorce, death of a loved one or pet, a sudden move? There are also times where there is something emotionally disconnected or truly a clinical issue that causes anti-social behavior. The point is, it's not necessarily anyone's particular "fault." But if you take it that way, and respond accordingly, you are just helping propagate the problem.
It's often the knee-jerk reaction of overly-defensive parents that prevent the problem getting stopped in its tracks. I do agree there are some people on the educator/administrator side who have a hair-trigger when it comes to bullying. My goodness, there is so much in the media about the problem that I think we also can over-react to situations -- not that I'm saying we don't need to take bullying seriously. We DO. But we ALL need to realize that we are working toward the same goal -- that of stopping bullying and creating positive environments for all kids and adults alike. Putting up barriers and making assumptions about "who is the enemy" is not productive and only adds to the problem rather than solving it.
If it turns out that the reports are true, then you, as a parent HAVE to get involved to correct your child's behavior. How you do that is dependent on what happened and its severity, but can include evertying from just talking to your child about why bullying is wrong, to imposing consequences, to, if the situation or behavior warrants, seeking professional help. Remember that you are not just helping the victim if you hold your child accountable -- you are helping your child understand why this behavior is wrong and will not be tolerated.
To the New Day viewer who clearly misinterpreted what I said: I hope this clears it up. I believe in accountability; I believe in responsibility. Even though it's tough to hear that our child has messed up, we owe it to everyone involved to uncover and accept the truth -- whatever it is -- and work toward an effective solution.