While the school year is just officially kicking off for a number of children around the country, many young girls and boys have been back in school since August, and in just a few short weeks, it’s already been a chaotic time for some kids and parents for reasons outside the conventional stress of back-to-school season. At least, that’s what it seems like based on social media.
In New Orleans, a 12-year-old girl was arrested after getting into a fight with another student on the school bus. She wasn’t apprehended because of the altercation, but rather, because of what happened after. The pre-teen was videotaped with a loaded handgun, beating on the bus door in an attempt to get back on to assault the student.
In response to the video clip, and the intense response it garnered, the girl’s mother spoke out, claiming that if her daughter wouldn’t have been bullied, things may not have escalated in that manner.
“She was being bullied so that’s why she pulled out a firearm. It was in her possession, though it was not supposed to be in her possession, it was in her possession and she pulled it,” the mom said.
“Y’all children is messy,” she said in a message to parents at her daughter’s school. “You need to put your children in their place because they play with people too much.”
Because her daughter is a minor, she too was arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile.
Most recently though, people have been talking about another incident that took place in Louisville. A father was videotaped on a school bus arguing with a little girl he claims was bullying and had assaulted his 9-year-old daughter. His attempt to handle the situation turned into him threatening the children on the bus, leaving a few frightened and in tears.
While the dad, Delvantae King, would eventually apologize on a local news station for how he handled things, he claimed that he went that route because his child came home from school with a lump on her head saying she was jumped. He also says he reached out to her school and the alleged bully’s parents to no avail before things escalated.
“I let my emotions and my frustration and anger get the best of me,” he told WAVE News. “The only reason any of this transpired is due to bullying. And people don’t talk to their kids about bullying. And when you done reached out and keep trying and trying and trying to mediate something, and nobody’s doing nothing, what else are you left to do?”
Whatever the true story is in both of these cases, as a new school year begins, the question is what is the proper action to take when your child seems to be a victim of a bully? According to Raquel Martin, PhD, a licensed psychologist who works with children and families based in Maryland and is an admitted “mama bear,” it’s definitely not the way Mr. King handled things.
“As a clinician, my first thought went to the children. I can’t imagine how awful the children felt,” she says of the viral clip. “I saw kids being treated inappropriately and a parent with a significant deregulation issue, who in trying to defend his child from bullying, was doing the antithesis of what he was supposed to be doing. His child was bullied and so he bullied an entire group of children and tried to make it seem like they were on the same footing.”
She says that the dad made it clear that he has “significant issues,” and anyone who would defend his actions may have some as well.
“They didn’t have kids on that bus. Let that have been their niece or nephew on that bus,” she says. “Anyone who [defended] that either doesn’t have children or you’re not genuinely seeing that a grown man, about 20 to 30 years older than your child and about 200 pounds heavier than your child said they were going to attack your child. There’s no way you would think that’s healthy.”
Of course, when parents feel like their children are at risk in a place they shouldn’t be because of another kid, the best decisions aren’t always made. Nevertheless, Martin says you should never approach someone else’s child. The common first step instead is to go through the school, including a child’s teacher. If that fails to make a difference, it’s time to bring in other resources.
“Parents aren’t meant to deal with it all by themselves. I think that’s very much the school’s job,” she says. “Use those resources that are supposed to be provided.”
If teachers are missing these interactions, attempt to reach out to the alleged aggressor’s parents.
“Meet with parents instead of having a knee-jerk reaction and going straight to kids,” she says. “I’ve very rarely met parents who were just like, I want my child to be a bully. A lot of parents don’t even realize how much their children are acting up in class because teachers aren’t seeing it.”
But in the case where you may encounter a parent who defiantly defends their child’s behavior, only for that behavior to continue, reach out to school administrators. When you do, document everything.
“Keep it in a folder to show that you’ve had calls and conversations with teachers and administrators. That way if nothing is done, you can provide justification for wanting more extreme things done,” she says. And extreme measures include going outside of the school. Martin says she has worked with a parent who put out a restraining order on their child’s bully.
“It was the only way to get her daughter switched out of that class. She shouldn’t have had to do that,” she says.
Martin believes more emphasis needs to be put on schools to explain to children what bullying looks like and the consequences of it as opposed to only checking in about superficial things, like school supplies and rule books.
“Schools need to be talking about this when the school year starts. What is acceptable and what is unacceptable,” she says. “They make these assumptions that children are coming in with a level of knowledge about how to treat people. That’s not true.”
“We need to check in about what harming someone’s body looks like, as well as what consent looks like and how it can be removed at any time,” she adds.
And as for parents who have kids who may be having a hard time with bullies at school and not making it known, Martin says it’s essential that parents keep an open line of communication with their kids and also be aware of what their “norm” is so they can easily identify when a child is deviating from it.
“Certain forms of regression are a big thing. They’re not enjoying things they used to enjoy. I would also be aware of the kind of clothing they wear because I’ve worked with a lot of patients who’ve cut and they’re wearing long-sleeve shirts and they could be covering up bruising from people at school,” she says. “Also, pay attention if they’re starting to become really, really jumpy and on edge and if there’s a significant issue with school, in regard to school aversion. If they don’t want to go school it’s because they’re bored or they’re being treated inappropriately. Don’t just assume your child is being lazy. They’re avoiding something.”
It’s also cause for alarm if they talk less, sleep less and eat less. And as anxiety is linked to the gut, the psychologist says if your child is having more stomach aches or their appetite is changing, something could be going on that needs to be addressed.
“Ask them about the peaks and the pits of their day. Make it a routine,” she says, noting that they should be able to ask you too as reciprocation is important. “You want them to know that this is what you’re here for. This is our job, is to build humans, but to also get to know them.”
That can be done through things like joint journaling, having a time to catch up each day, knowing who they hang out with and just generally caring about what’s happening with your kid.
“When we think about caring for our children and making sure they feel comfortable telling us about a bully or even not being bullies, show your kids that you care about them developing as a person. You can truly get so bogged down by the day to day, but don’t forget to know your child. Our children are amazing.”