Bullying: When to step in
GRAND FORKS - While a new school year presents exciting possibilities and new experiences, it also holds potential for bullies to make life difficult -- or worse -- for kids.
What, if anything, should parents do if their child has been harassed by another student?
"Parents should expect the best from stakeholders -- the kids, parents, teachers, administration," said Dr. Meghan Salyers, assistant professor at University of North Dakota's College of Education and Human Development, "but prepare for the worst, without the child knowing."
She suggests that parents think ahead and consider what they would do if someone tries to bully their child, said Salyers whose two children start school this week in Grand Forks.
"I would first ask what the bullying policy is (at the school)," she said, and about the kinds of bullying that typically occurs.
"You can't prevent all of it."
If you think your child might be a target of bullying, talk to the child about what could happen and discuss ways to handle it.
"The first time, unless it's violent, I'd let it go," she said. But "I'd ask the child, 'What could you say back?'
"If the problem is something they can't handle on their own, I'd talk about it (with them) and give them physical or emotional strategies" to deal with it.
"Give them statements (they can use)... Show them you are empowering them" with these strategies.
"You don't want to be a tattletale," she said. As a parent, "you don't want to make matters worse -- you don't want their social acceptance to be threatened."
If that approach is not working, find out where the bullying is happening, she said.
"Go and talk with the teacher, but not in front of other kids."
Get the school's guidance counselor involved and encourage the counselor to work with the classroom teacher.
If the problem persists, "then go up the (school) hierarchy," she said.
With each step that school officials take to handle the problem, parents should be "immediately in the know."
She has been "impressed with what the high schools are doing about (bullying)," she said.
Jody Thompson, Grand Forks assistant school superintendent, who worked on developing the bullying policy, said, "We want to provide a safe environment for all of our students."
"We've developed a comprehensive policy that allows students and parents to report" an incident of bullying through forms that may be signed or submitted anonymously.
The forms include a specific definition of bullying, so parents and students can determine if the action rises to that level.
"We say, 'If ever you doubt, they should report it anyway,'" Thompson said.
All staff members receive education concerning bullying, and know "how to intervene and how to report it -- everyone from members of our janitorial staff to paraprofessionals to cooks...," he said.
The policy, which was adopted two years ago, has been effective, he said.
"Our students do report incidents of bullying, and our staff does take it very seriously," Thompson said.
When they receive such reports, school officials conduct "a thorough investigation," he said. Consequences for those who bully range from a verbal reprimand to suspension to expulsion, he said.