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Published September 02, 2012, 11:38 PM

InDepth: Bullying is everyone’s issue, change starts at home

MOORHEAD – Amanda Tomkins said she would’ve never known her 7-year-old son was being bullied if she hadn’t asked him how his day was, as she does every day.

By: Anna G. Larson, INFORUM

MOORHEAD – Amanda Tomkins said she would’ve never known her 7-year-old son was being bullied if she hadn’t asked him how his day was, as she does every day.

“As parents, are we aware of what our children are doing outside of the home? Not unless they’re telling us what’s going on,” said Tomkins, a Moorhead mother of two. “If parents aren’t involved in standing up for what they wouldn’t want happening to their children, then I think bullying will always exist.”

But it isn’t just parents who need to stay vigilant on where and when bullying is occurring.

“We all need to be seeing the kids who are in trouble or potentially in trouble,” said John Strand, a member of the Fargo Public School Board. Strand has worked to push for safer school environments.

“We need to create a climate of respect, and watch out for each other,” he said.

No single factor puts a child at risk for being bullied, but some groups like lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered youth or youth with disabilities may have an increased risk, according to StopBullying.gov.

Children who hang their head, withdraw and don’t seem to have a healthy level of self-confidence require attention Strand said.

“We need to notice it, or they’ll slip through the cracks,” he said. “Kids are in school part of the day, but they’re in the world their whole lives.”

A child’s family life plays a significant role in shaping their behavior, according to the National Education Association.

The best thing parents can do to help their children is start a conversation, said Julie Hertzog, director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center in Bloomington, Minn.

“Open the door and be supportive,” she said.

Parents should be observant of their children’s behavior, appearance and mood, both for signs of the child being bullied or engaging in bullying behavior, according to the NEA.

While parents need to be supportive, they shouldn’t immediately fix a bullying situation for the child. Instead, helping the child develop a plan and preparing them for situations they could encounter can be useful tools, Hertzog said.

“You wouldn’t send your kid off to the mall without a plan,” she said. “Bullying is no different – let them know what is and is not OK.”

Recognizing that bullying is not just part of growing up is crucial to stopping the problem, too, Hertzog said.

“We can’t minimalize the issue,” she said. “Our response, as a society, to bullying is changing, and it’s impacting children in a positive way.”

Tompkins said she has noticed increased awareness of bullying at her 7-year-old son Jack’s school and among adults.

“Bullying used to be something that people stuffed emotionally,” she said. “People need to be strong and call out the people who bully – it’s not acceptable anymore.”

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