Spare a thought for the parents of bullied children
That children who are continually bullied at school suffer excruciatingly is now widely acknowledged. To a large extent this realisation drives the anti-bullying campaigns that have taken root in many countries throughout the world including Australia. We know that bullied children can become at serious risk of depression and even of mental illness and suicidal thinking that can extend in some cases into the adult years. What is not often recognised is the pain experienced by the parents of such children combined with anger and even guilt – and always with a sense of desperation.
A recent study of bullying in Australian schools (Rigby and Johnson, 2016) sought to understand how the parents of bullied children thought and felt about what was happening to their children and the judgements they make about what their school is doing about the problem.
In a survey supported by the Australian Department of Education and Training in 2015 and 2016, 167 parents of children attending Government schools were asked to give their views on how the school attended by their child was dealing with bullying behaviour. Of these parents 50% indicated that their child had in fact been bullied by another child or a number of children at school. Some 80% of the parents indicated that their child had been ‘’quite’ or ‘very’ upset’ and in 40% of cases had stayed away from school.
Not surprisingly they were far less positive in their appraisals of the work of their school in addressing bullying and many were scathing about how the school had responded to their child’s problem, if at all. Whilst most (70%) of these parents acknowledged the existence of a school anti-bullying policy they were critical of how it was being applied. “The policy is fine’ commented one parent, ‘if only it was adhered to ‘. And another: ‘Consistent action is the real test of a policy.’
Parents of bullied children expressed a wide range of views about the situation.
In some cases there was disappointment and even anger at what the school had done or not done about their child being bullied:
“My child was quite upset and completely sick of it. It should have been stopped earlier.”
“The school should have acted ASAP. The delay was unacceptable.”
“We wanted a mediation between the bully and our daughter but this never happened. The bullying got bigger over time. It was left too long in our view.’
“As the bullying was done in school playtime better supervision would have prevented the bullying’.
“As a parent, I could have been informed earlier in regard to the actions taken.”
“The school did not inform me about it. Not until I rang up was any of it discussed with me”
I would have liked a phone call explaining the situation to me.”
Some parents felt that their school was not sufficiently sensitive to the issue of bullying.
“Exclusion can be just as detrimental to a child’s self esteem as physical bullying and should be treated seriously.”
“There is a more subtle form of bullying where one of the cool kids ostracizes another child and the others bow to peer pressure.”
Some emphasised the need for teachers to be more vigilant:
“Keep an active watch on the child to ensure he keeps his hands to himself.”
“Remove the child from the playground each time an incident occurs.”
Tough-minded actions were needed, according to some parents:
“They [the perpetrators] could be given a stern warning –don’t be gentle to the bully!”
“There are not enough consequences for the children doing the wrong thing.”
Others recommended non-punitive alternatives:
“Give the kids a chance to express themselves in a non-confronting way that might expose bullying earlier.”
‘Provide practical options to the child being bullied. One-on-one role plays with the child being bullied.”
“The child’s [i.e. the bully’s] anger management should have been addressed and my child given the right tools to cope with this child.”
Some felt strongly about the unfairness of the actions taken by the school:
“As the bully’s parents had made a stance previously, the teacher couldn’t be seen to reprimand the bully.”
“The school chose to ignore the situation and turn a blind eye as the bully was a very intelligent student and the school didn’t want to disadvantage her in any way.”
“My son was moved into a new class halfway through term, whilst the group of boys involved in the bullying all remained together.”
In providing these examples of how the parents of bullied children responded, it is not suggested that these comments constitute a fair and balanced account of the situation at their school or an accurate description of what the school did about their child being bullied. These parents are however more likely to be informed than other parents and to have given serious thought to the issue of school bullying. Understandably, they were emotionally involved and their judgement may well have been affected. What is important here is that they offer an insight into how some parents feel and think about what is happening at their school, Schools need to take into account such perceptions, especially so when teachers relate to parents on the question of bullying. They need to understand how the parents – and not only children – have been affected by bullying at school – and consider the advice that parents give.