When Bullying Strikes: Your Guide to Anti-Bullying Advocacy

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Bullying

I have been in the anti-bullying advocacy field for seven years. I have learned a lot during this time. Today, we are going to dig deep and talk about how you can be a stellar advocate for your child this school year!

Disclaimer: The goal of Conquer with Na’Kole is to provide education and support for moms (and concerned loved ones) as they conquer the giants that seek to conquer their children. I, Na’Kole Watson, am not a licensed mental health professional nor am I offering professional mental health services or advice. Therefore, I accept no liability or responsibility to anyone as a result of any reliance upon the information produced on this site or in any communication issued by Na’Kole Watson and Conquer with Na’Kole. The views expressed on this and any other affiliated website are my own, and all sources are linked. If you are in crisis, please contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. If this is an emergency, please dial 911 immediately.

The first thing that we must establish is that no matter what people say, bullying is a thing. Not only is bullying a thing, but it’s more of a thing than ever, thanks to the polarization of absolutely everything that has been 2020 and 2021.

Bullying happens everywhere. It happens in the church, in the workplace, at schools, and on public transportation. There aren’t many places that have not been touched by bullying. Because of this, it is growing increasingly important to understand what bullying is. Once we understand what it is, we can understand how to combat it.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 20% of students report that they have been bullied. According to that study, here’s where the bullying took place:

  • in the stairwell or hallway – 43%
  • inside the classroom – 42%
  • in the cafeteria – 27%
  • outside (playground, fields, other school property) – 22%
  • online or via texts – 15%
  • in the bathroom or locker room – 12%
  • on the bus – 8%

As you can see, most bullying takes place where teacher supervision isn’t always readily available. In classrooms, bullying often occurs when the teacher turns their back or when there is a substitute teacher who is not familiar with the classroom expectations and dynamics.

Because of these statistics, I believe it is safe to say that there is a great possibility that bullying is taking place at your child’s school. Although your child may not be a direct participant or recipient of the bullying, being a bystander can affect the child in the same way as if the child was being bullied. It is a form of second-hand trauma. The child is sitting there and watching a traumatic event play out right in front of them. 

Bullying can play out in so many ways. There could be an event as simple as calling someone a name and something as complex and traumatic as setting someone on fire. Bullying is not a monolith and the responses to bullying aren’t either.

When people hear about bullying, they often feel as if folks are making a big deal out of nothing. “Kids will be kids”, right? Wrong. Minimizing literal abuse to “kids being kids” ensures that those kids grow up to be adults who terrorize others. It almost guarantees it.

This type of dismissive rhetoric is why so many kids (and adults) keep silent. It’s also why a lot of times, people don’t even know what is really going until it’s too late and their child is contemplating suicide. It always baffles me how when kids die by suicide, everyone becomes an advocate against suicide and bullying, but when kids are alive and experiencing these things, it’s “kids will be kids” and “it’s not that serious”.

Okay, end rant.

As a parent, it is very important for you to know now what you should do should your child come to you and say that they have been bullied.

Before I get into what you should do, let me give you a piece of advice that will save you a lot of headaches down the road. Please be careful about what you post on social media, and don’t go straight to the news.

I’m going to say it again. Please be careful about what you post on social media and don’t go straight to the news. I’ll explain later.

The first thing you want to do is to gather all of the information. The best way to do this is to take out your voice recorder and record your child telling the story. The first time your child tells the story is likely the best account of the situation you will be able to capture. 

You will need:

  • the date of the incident
  • the time of the incident
  • exactly (and I do mean EXACTLY) what happened

Every detail is important. What may seem unimportant now will often prove to be a crucial detail later. You need to ask your child as many questions as possible. Questions like:

  • What color clothes did the perpetrator have on?
  • What part of the hallway/bathroom/classroom/bus were you in?
  • Are there any cameras in or around that area?
  • How soon was this after the bell rang?
  • Who was around you before the incident?
  • Who was around you during the incident?
  • Who was around you after the incident?
  • Who did you tell?
  • What did they say?
  • Do you have any scratches/bruises?
  • Do you have any text messages, social media messages, etc.?

All of this is important. Why? Because what if your child doesn’t remember the color of the bully’s shirt three days later and your child says the shirt was blue when it was really green? Then, the parent will say “Well it couldn’t have been my child. My child had on a green shirt.”

Along with gathering the information, you need to take pictures. If your child has any scratches, bruises, or anything, you need to take pictures.

No matter what you’re doing, please stop and get this information while it’s fresh. You don’t want to have an incident happen on Monday and you wait until Wednesday when you’re driving to your cousin’s house to say “By the way, tell me what happened on Monday”. That’s not going to give you an accurate story, because by now, your child has moved on to other things in their mind. It’s important to get the raw and ready information during the first interaction with your child.

Grab your recorder, get the account of what happened, and be sure to email it to yourself and/or save it in your Google Drive (or Dropbox or any other cloud storage application) if you have one. It’s very important to always have a copy of every interaction you have while you’re advocating for your child. You should have both physical and digital copies. I can’t stress this enough!

The next step is to figure out the chain of command for your school.

Now here is where it gets tricky. “Tricky” may not be the best word, but you just want to make sure that you’re doing things right. 

Before you reach out to anyone, you need to know your chain of command. You need to know who you’re going to escalate things to should you not receive a proper response from the first person you speak to (usually the teacher or the bus driver). 

You need to ask yourself who is the next person above the person you’re going to reach out to. Do this at least three times. 

A popular chain of command is teacher > assistant principal > principal > central office. Yours may be different. There may be people in between like lead teachers, team leaders, etc. who will need to be contacted.

You may not need to reach out to your child’s teacher first. You may need to reach out to the teachers who monitor the halls, or the bus driver, or the cafeteria manager. It really depends on the situation.

Make sure to gather the names, titles, phone numbers, and email addresses of anyone on your list. You want to do this upfront so that you don’t have to do it when you’re in the thick of your advocacy and frustrated about the process.

Once you have an understanding of the chain of common, it is time to report the incident.

Always, always, ALWAYS submit a written report. ALWAYS. Even if you make a phone call to the teacher, still send a written report. I recommend using your personalization of this script:

“Hello, {NAME}! I am calling to inform you that an incident happened on {DATE} that involved my child {NAME} being bullied by {NAME OF PERSON}. I just sent you an email detailing exactly what happened, and I would love for us to set up a time to speak about how this issue will be rectified.”

If the teacher is not available by phone and there is no voicemail, be sure to use the messaging from that script in your email. At the end of this blog will be an Incident Report Form that you can download should you need it. It may be a lot easier for you to just download the form and fill it out (you can type in it or print + write on it).

If you choose not to use the Incident Report Form, just make sure to submit a concise (yet complete) account of what happened. Once you email this to your teacher, there will be a copy of it in your sent folder, but be sure to BCC yourself. If there are other people who are directly involved in your child’s education (people who are on “the list” at school), feel free to CC them and let the teacher know that you have included them in your email because they are directly involved in your child’s care. The teacher may choose to respond to you personally or to everyone – that is their right either way, so don’t take it personally if the teacher only responds to you.

I would definitely download the email as a pdf and save it to your computer. You can do this by opening the print dialog as if you’re going to print the email and clicking “Save as PDF”. You can also take screenshots of the emails on your phone.

Hopefully, you won’t need all of these copies and records, but you already know that it’s better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them.

Documentation is going to be VITAL. You literally need to document EVERYTHING from the time your child comes to you until the time that the issue has been resolved. 

You need to document:

  • who answered the phone
  • how long you were on hold
  • who you spoke to
  • what you said
  • what they said
  • what resolution do they give you
  • when you need to follow up with them

All of this may seem trivial, but let me tell you why it’s not trivial. A lot of times when you call schools, companies, etc., people will put you on hold indefinitely. It benefits them when you hang up because you’re one less call they have to handle that day. Sometimes it’s not intentional that they keep you on hold, but sometimes it is. I’m just keeping it real.

If you call and get transferred around and every time you get to a certain person the phone hangs up, you need to document that. If someone is rude to you, you need to document this. The higher you go up the escalation ladder, the more relevant this information becomes.

You also need to document how your child feels.

  • Are they going to bed earlier?
  • Are they sadder than normal?
  • Are they angrier?
  • Are they having nightmares?

Anything and everything is important when it comes to documentation. It could be one minor detail that makes or breaks your advocacy. I know it’s tedious to document everything, but you need to document it. If it’s too much to write down, voice record it. How you capture the information isn’t as important as making sure that it’s captured. You can transcribe your voice notes later if you need to – just be sure to capture the information. 

When the principal asks you “Who told you that I was out of the office?”, you should have an answer. When the superintendent asks you “Why has this been going on for three weeks?” You should have an answer. Always have an answer.

When you reach out to the first person, you need to set an expectation about hearing back from them.

Please be clear – teachers have to have a certain amount of instructional time and a certain amount of planning time. It is unreasonable to email the teacher at 8:00 in the morning and expects them to respond by lunchtime. They don’t have that kind of time. It is more reasonable to give them at least until lunch the next day urgent issues and 48 for issues that aren’t as pressing. Only you can decide how pressing an issue is. Use your own discretion. Don’t wait on pressing issues if you believe they need to be handled sooner.

Let the teacher know, “I know you have planned between {time} and {time}, so if it is more beneficial to call you during that time, let me know”.

Also, keep in mind that teachers may not have a clue what you’re talking about. They may have been out that day. They may not have seen the event take place. Please don’t be offended or insulting to the teacher if they are unaware of what happened. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the teacher wasn’t doing their job. It could mean that, but it doesn’t automatically mean that. 

Please note: If there was a physical assault, the situation needs to be rectified as soon as possible. If it’s something that puts your child’s physical safety at risk, I would suggest bypassing the teacher altogether and going straight to the administration (assistant principal, principal).

More about documentation.

If you end up speaking with the teacher, be sure to follow up with an email. Thank the teacher for speaking with you and make sure to share the notes you took while on the call just so that you are on the same page. This shows that you are committed to getting this issue resolved. It also shows that you have a detailed record of the interactions.

If you do not reach a satisfactory resolution with the teacher, the next step is to escalate.

Escalate, escalate, escalate.

Let’s say you don’t get a satisfactory response from the teacher. You’re going to go to the next person. When you get to that person, of course, you’re going to document everything, and you’re also going to reference the previous interaction with the previous person.

Example: Hello, Principal {NAME}. I’m reaching out to you today because I spoke to {ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL’S NAME} on {DATE} and asked them to respond by {EXPECTED RESPONSE DATE}. As of now, I have not received a response. I spoke to {TEACHER’S NAME} on {DATE} and I did not feel as though my issue was satisfactorily resolved. Therefore, I am reaching out to you for further resolution.

From there, you will tell the person everything they need to know, and you already know what I’m going to say – make sure to document that interaction. 

Honestly, sometimes you have to take it all the way to the top. The central office, the school board, the state. It really just depends on the situation and what is done (or not done).

You may even have to take it to the news.

What I’m about to say is very important.

Be very careful what you post on social media.

Here’s what happens a lot with the parents I work with. They post something on social media when the bullying incident happens. They’re mad. Emotions are flaring. They threaten to beat the child up. And if they don’t threaten to beat the child up, their friends come under your post and do it. They say stuff like, “Who is the child? I’ll fight a child! Where do we need to show up?” – and do you know what that does? 

It paints the parent as an aggressive person. And do you know what that does? It paints their child as an aggressor even if they are not. Why? Because how does it look if the other child’s parents are calm on social media and my parent has a whole gang of people ready to beat up a 13-year-old? This makes it so easy for the other parent to turn it around and say that my parent’s child was the bully.

Think about it. How easy would it be for me to say that your child was actually the one bullying my child and my child was acting in self-defense when I go on social media and see a post with 500 shares and tens of people in the comments threatening to physically harm my child?

They may be “just playing’, but please know that communicating a threat is punishable by law and is really left up to the impact it had on the recipient most of the time. It’s less about you joking and more about me feeling threatened by what you said. 

Please hear me. Be careful about what you post on social media. And don’t go straight to the news. Sometimes when you do that, it ties the school’s hands because now attorneys have to get involved and it just becomes something it didn’t have to become.

This isn’t to tell you not to get the news or even attorneys involved. I’m just saying to make sure you’ve done your due diligence first. But again, if you feel that you need to do any of these things without going through the process I outlined, use your discretion.

If you do these things, you should see amazing results when it comes to advocating for your child. Should you need help along the way, I offer advocacy consulting services that will help you along the way.

You can schedule a FREE consultation with me and I’ll let you know which of my services will best suit your situation.

Here’s to an amazing school year. Here’s to the safety of the children we love!

 

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