By Debra Collins, Family therapist
How do you handle returning to school after summer vacation when there was bullying (also called "hazing" nowadays) the previous year? How should this be handled if your seventh-grader never mentioned it when he was new in the previous year? But suddenly he shows fear and says he doesn't want to return after the summer vacation for fear it will recur?
It is frustrating to find things out after they occurred. No matter how good your communication with your son may be, he may have felt either that he could handle it, or was embarrassed that he could not. Boys sometimes have a harder time admitting to parents that they are being bullied. They feel like a crybaby if they go to their parents and they also fear retaliation from the perpetrators.
The important thing is that your son is coming to you now. Be proud of him for trying to cope and give him positive feedback for trusting you for support. Often, if you ignore bullying behavior, it has a tendency to become more serious, so it is wise to take action. Assure him that the only way to stop bullying is to have parents and school authorities intervene.
Bullying is often defined as intimidating behavior and can involve physical, verbal, or Internet (cyber bullying) incidents. Because school bullying has become a complex legal and social issue, you will need to do some fact gathering and research.
First find out all the details of the events from your son, including his response to the perpetrators. Many consequences are based on specific behaviors, so the details are important. Next contact your school principal and school district to find out about their policy and what procedures you need to follow to issue a complaint. You'll want to do this before school starts if possible, so that your son has a safety plan in place. Missing school will only complicate your son's difficulties.
I'm glad you used the word "hazing" because that activity is usually associated with group initiations and is often mistakenly thought of as a harmless tradition. Stophazing.org defines it as, "… any activity expected of someone joining a group (or to maintain full status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm…"
Whatever terms we use, children need to feel safe at school and require adults to help achieve that. Additional resources to guide you National Youth Violence Preventionand Stop Bullying Now offers advice for teens. Your state Attorney General's office may also be a resource for state programs and guidelines.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.
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