Is your child a bully? How NJ schools handle it, and how you can help
Every year around the start of the academic calendar, we offer parents expert advice on what to do if their children are being bullied at school.
But what if your child is the one doing the bullying?
According to Maurice Elias, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, there's not much information available for parents whose children are accused of being responsible for harassment, intimidation or bullying at school.
Very few parents want to think of their children as a bullies, Elias said, and may not openly seek advice on the topic.
But if your son or daughter is a school bully, it doesn't necessarily mean you've raised an "evil" child, he said. It's unusual for a child to pick on others for absolutely no reason. The child may have been bullied themselves, or are hoping to fit in with a group of peers who view bullying as a sign of strength.
"Most of the time when kids are involved in bullying or teasing or harassing other students, it's not because there's something clinically wrong with them," Elias said. "It's because they're in a situation that they're having a hard time coping with, and they need some help and guidance to know that bullying is not the way to do it."
With one of the strongest anti-bullying laws in the nation, New Jersey is a strong ally to parents of alleged bullies and their targets.
By law, each public school district must have in place an anti-bullying coordinator. And an anti-bullying specialist must be assigned for every school. This information is available on the website home page of every district.
Dana Karas, director of counseling for Franklin Township Public Schools and an executive board member of the New Jersey School Counselor Association, has dealt with parents who refuse to believe their child is a bully and challenge the findings of a school's bullying investigation. But for the most part, she said, parents of alleged bullies are cooperative and are focused on changing their child's behavior for the better.
"We don't ever want to be punishing students because that's obviously not going to correct the negative things that they're doing," Karas said. "Instead, how do we get the students to realize that what they're doing is inappropriate, and then change the behaviors to more positive ones?"
Some measures put in place to rectify an alleged bully's behavior, she said, could include counseling or introduction to a social skills group, depending on the age of the student.
Karas noted younger students are more forthcoming with admitting their wrongdoings in school, while older students attempt to twist the truth in fear of getting in trouble or damaging their reputation.
"Talk to your children," Karas said when asked what advice she has for parents of alleged bullies. "It really does come down to the relationships that your child has with the adults in their lives — their teachers and their families."
Karas said young people today, more than in the past, don't fully understand that their actions can come with consequences. Many are stuck in front of phone, tablet and television screens all day — perhaps developing unfortunate role models.
"Within my conversation with students, I normally say, 'How would you feel if this happened to you?'" Karas said.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.