Bullying experts offer suggestions to help parents
The most recent example is Chelisa Grimes, who gave her son, Darnell “Dynasty” Young, a stun gun to take to Arsenal Tech High School here so he could protect himself from students who bullied him for being gay. Young, a junior, now faces expulsion.
Young’s case raises a question that has become common when bullying is in the spotlight: What are desperate parents and students to do?
It’s a tricky question to answer, said Hank Nuwer, a Franklin College professor who has written several books about bullying and hazing, but options are available that don’t involve weapons.
“I don’t feel much sympathy for a parent who would arm their student in any form because that’s just asking for an eventuality,” Nuwer said.
It’s not uncommon for parents to tell their children to fight back if they’re being bullied. But then the students being bullied run the risk of getting in trouble for fighting.
Nuwer said a lot of parents go with “the squeaky wheel approach.” They bombard the school and law enforcement officials with complaints. Some even file civil suits against the alleged bullies.
The family of a former Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball player is suing the school, claiming staff didn’t do enough to protect their son from older players who bullied and hazed him. The players already have pleaded guilty to various misdemeanor criminal charges.
A Kentucky mother is asking a judge to issue a restraining order against a boy in her daughter’s fourth-grade class who allegedly bullied her daughter for two school years. According to court documents, the boy kicked her daughter in the chest and chased her with scissors, and the school hasn’t done enough to protect her.
But bullying also can be difficult for schools to handle, Nuwer said.
If several people are involved and they tell conflicting stories, school staff members might not be able to determine what happened, he said. Also, administrators and teachers are overworked, and their focus is on getting students to pass standardized tests, so bullying often isn’t a priority until something tragic happens.
“It isn’t that they condone this stuff,” he said. “It’s not on the radar until it’s happening to your school or a nearby school.”
Janet Chandler, who has taught for 33 years at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., and is president of the teachers’ union, agrees that teachers are overworked but said student safety always is a priority.
Schools and parents should teach children the importance of being respectful, she said, and teachers and administrators should pay attention to the way students interact so they can spot bullying.
“I don’t think any teacher is too busy to address a serious issue like bullying,” she said. “Everyone should feel safe at school. That’s paramount.”
In Young’s case, more education and training about sexuality and gender might have helped the school, said Graham Brinklow, education outreach coordinator for Indiana Youth Group. The organization provides support and programs for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning teens.
Schools should tell students and staff that they have a right to their opinions about homosexuality, he said, but they must be tolerant of others while they’re in public places, including schools.
“Schools need to have an intense faculty training to learn the basic information about (these issues) and learn what they need to do to protect the students,” Brinklow said. “A lot of these problems are more with the adults and less with the students.”
Some schools are reluctant to offer education programs to staff and students because they’re afraid of what local churches or students’ parents might think, and some won’t even allow clubs that support gay students, he said.
He recommends that every school create a Gay Straight Alliance so that gay students can get support from each other and from straight students, who can help teach tolerance to friends or teachers who might be homophobic.
If that’s not enough of a reason for schools to offer education and support, schools should think about the problem in terms of money, Brinklow said. Gay students across the country have sued schools for not protecting them and won, and schools have had to pay court costs.
“Even if they don’t do it on a moral background, they need to do it on a financial background,” he said.