Tales from the Motherhood: Taking control of the multifaceted bullying epidemic

Published: Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 5:19 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 5:20 p.m. CDT
Caption
(morgueFile photo)
The Internet has leveled the playing field and spawned a whole new breed of bullies via Facebook and other social media sites.

School is hard enough, but what if you’re being bullied? Jamie Mosser, assistant state’s attorney, and Batavia detective Chris Pothoff, a student services officer at Batavia High School, hope the parent-centered bullying and cyber-bullying presentation they gave at the high school Thursday morning (which Mosser also offers elsewhere throughout the county) will help parents to make a difference.

Mosser defined bullying as unwanted, aggressive and repeated verbal, physical or social behavior toward another person. It might come as a shock to some adolescents – and adults – but this includes humiliating them or hurting another’s reputation via gossiping. 

I wonder how many of our kids have considered this? We typically think of bullying as that physical intimidation stuff that’s perpetrated only by big, brutish kids on playgrounds or in lunchrooms, but with the advent of the digital age, “They don’t get a break from [bullying],” said Mosser. 

The Internet has leveled the playing field and spawned a whole new breed of bullies via Facebook and other social media, and they think they can remain anonymous. The truth is, though, they don’t stay hidden for long, according to Pothoff. 

In fact, information on the Internet is saved and can be obtained by a court subpoena. 

“It might take a little more paperwork and slow us down, but we find them,” he added.

Consequences for bullying can range from detention and suspension to expulsion from school, and even include criminal charges, but for some perpetrators and victims of online bullying the implications are far-reaching. You may understand that everything you text, post or send lives forever in the ether of cyberspace, but have you told your kids that college admissions counselors and even human resource folks at many companies routinely Google prospective students and employees as part of their vetting process, before making offers? 

So, that half-nude pic of herself that your daughter sent to her boyfriend – you know, the one he spitefully forwarded to all of his friends after she dumped him in a text? What will become of that? Kids have committed suicide in reaction to this kind of bullying, according to Mosser, who says we should make sure we have our kids’ backs by having access to their passwords and accounts and “friending” them on these sites. 

We may not need to comment (online) about their behavior, but we need to have a presence. Their computers should only be used in common areas of the house, and, I’ll add, their phones should be surrendered at bedtime. 

Yes, I’m a killjoy. Whatever. I’ve been called worse, believe me, but I’m not backing down on this one, no matter how much grief I get. (And my kids wonder why I flee to a meditation group at least once a week?) 

And don’t delude yourself and think that having your sweet honor student charge her phone on the kitchen counter overnight is going to stop her from “sexting” or simply texting in the wee hours, when her, and others’ inhibitions are naturally low, dear moms and dads. 

It happens, so keep your kids’ Internet-enabled devices in your own room, unless you’re a fan of “natural consequences” and are content imagining that when they become chronically tired from texting all night it’ll dawn on them that they really should just sleep and self-regulate. 

Sure, it happens, but I’d rather give my kids room to self-regulate in other areas of their lives. Decide when they’re full, for example, or when it’s time to do their homework, or how to best to use their money. 

I hate that our children are growing up in an age where their privacy, even from us, during the years when they most need and want it, must be sacrificed to an extent, but it is what it is. 

Signs of bullying

So, how do we know if our kids are being bullied, whether in person or over the Internet? Be on the lookout for any changes, Mosser urged, “If something is changing, find out why.” 

If your child exhibits sadness or anger, plummeting grades, refusal or reluctance to attend school, or seems to be missing possessions without explanation, ask what’s up. Print out threatening messages and take screen shots, if possible. 

It’s commonly assumed that most bullying goes unreported, but Pothoff emphasized that at Batavia High School, a victim is never outed as having “tattled” on the bully. 

“We have 80-plus cameras around the building,” he said, which helps inhibit and catch some bullying behavior, and, he added, reports often come from friends and school staff.

What to do

Mosser urges parents to encourage their children to talk to a favorite teacher or counselor at school if they suspect bullying, and encourages parents to follow-up with that person to see if they have. 

Alton Rollerson, a guidance counselor at Batavia High School, who was also on-hand to answer questions, agreed.
“It’s important for [students] to have positive anchors in school,” he said. 

(If I were a high-schooler, I’d want Rollerson to be my counselor. He’d be my “anchor.” For one thing, he’s a snazzy dresser, but I digress.) 

Counselors often coach kids, and parents can, too, on ways to be less vulnerable to bullying. Strategies like staying with friends, telling someone when bullying occurs and being in areas visible to school staff helps lessen its occurrence. Walking away, if possible, and “using your voice” to ask that bullying stop, are important tools, too.  But learning how to use them takes coaching, confidence and practice. That’s where we parents can help. 

My dream is that we, and our children, can all get past the issues of right and wrong, to see and appreciate the goodness in each other and just get along. But that won’t happen without a little work. 

Teaching our children how to clearly, and with compassion, communicate our experiences of how others impact us – and even, in my humble opinion, to appreciate that bullies aren’t just born, they’re made (it’s likely someone bullied them first) – seems an important first step.  

But that doesn’t excuse the bullying. No siree, it doesn’t.

We need to talk to our kids and make sure they know that they can count on us and that together we will sort things out, whether they’re the ones being bullied or the ones doling it out. 

But what if we aren’t sure how to go about it? I know it’s hard to speak up and ask for help, but it’s our job to show them how it’s done. 

More information

The school is planning on putting a presentation on it’s website, bhs.bps101.net. Student-focused presentations will be led in many of District 101’s health classes. 

The district takes bullying so seriously that it even established bullying hotlines, at 630-465-0767 (Rotolo Middle School) and 630-492-1247 (Batavia High School).

• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at jenniferdubose@msn.com.

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