Thanks to break-out campaigns, public service announcements, and special programming, most of us are aware of the seriousness of bullying. In recent years, the government and other organizations have made a large effort to raise awareness. But unfortunately, that doesn’t mean bullying has stopped.
Bullying is still a very real issue in schools all across the country. And the unfortunate truth is children with learning disabilities are at an increased risk for bullying.
What is Bullying?
Bullying comes in many forms, including physical assault, verbal attacks, or cruel social behaviors, such as isolating a student from the rest of the group.
According to stopbullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”
For students with learning disabilities, that real or perceived power imbalance is often a result of the disability. This can be particularly harmful because it singles out children that may already have low self-esteem or feel different from their peers. Bullying that prevents a student with disabilities from participating in an opportunity or service is considered disability harassment, which is illegal under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The Effects of Bullying
Bullying causes more than just a bad day at school. Real, long-term effects can be felt by its victims, including depression, low self-esteem, violent behavior toward oneself and others, and decreased school performance, often with less desire to attend school.
What Parents Can Do
1. Talk about bullying with your child. The first step — and one every parent should take whether or not they suspect bullying — is to discuss bullying behaviors with their child. Clearly defining for your child what bullying is and how to identify it will help him understand not only when to report bullying, but also decrease the chances that he’ll engage in aggressive or careless behaviors. It’s important your child understands the difference between bullying and normal conflict, as well. For advice on what to say to your child, read the article “How to Talk About Bullying”.
2. Support your child if he’s been involved in bullying. Whether he was bullied or bullied others, it’s important that you listen and get the facts from your child. If your child was bullied, let him know that it’s not his fault. Give advice on how to respond, but never encourage your child to fight back. Instead, come up with constructive responses to the situation. And while it may be tempting, do not contact the parents of the other child involved. Leave this up to school officials.
If your child was bullying another child, point out exactly which behaviors were offensive. Explain the seriousness of the situation and work on a plan to help your child understand the consequences, whether it involves reading a book on bullying, writing a letter of apology, or writing a report on civil rights. Continue the discussion about both bullying and respect for all individuals even after the issue has been resolved. Avoid peer mediation, group treatment, and zero tolerance policies, which are proven to often increase bullying behavior.
3. Ask your school district for help. If your child already has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan, ask for a meeting to discuss what steps are being taken to prevent bullying. You can also take this time to discuss the need for counseling or support for your child, if needed.
If your child does not have an IEP or 504 plan, the school is still legally obligated to address disability harassment issues, so get them involved. If bullying is creating a hostile environment for your child at school, then logically the school should be part of the solution. If you feel your concerns about bullying are not properly addressed, you can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights.
When it comes to the safety and well-being of your child, know that you have a right to take action. It’s the responsibility of parents, teachers, and everyone involved to see that all children receive respect from their peers and a calm, welcoming learning environment.
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