Your child is terrified of facing a bully at school. He is being taunted and called names. He was shoved into a locker as he walked down the hall. There is no question, he needs your help. However, it isn’t always so easy to see when a situation is bullying and when it’s not. Too many parents are interfering in run-of-the-mill social problems that are not true cases of bullying. Aside from pampering through overprotection, this hyper-parenting is making it harder for schools to respond appropriately when they really need to.
Here’s a scenario that came to light in a local public school.
A mother I know once got involved in a “bullying incident” at her eight-year-old daughter Michelle’s school. The incident? Michelle wanted to play with a group of girls including Amanda, one of the more popular girls in her grade. Amanda made it clear she didn’t want Michelle to join in on a particular game she was playing at recess. Michelle felt excluded and upset. Amanda and four of her friends had devised a game that they wanted to play with just the four friends. Aside from not letting Amanda play with them, the four girls were not acting in an aggressive or hurtful manner. They were not taunting Michelle or talking to her in a mean way. There was no name calling or shoving. Basically the problem behaviour boiled down to Michelle being told, “No, we don’t want any more people in our game.” Furthermore, the four girls were not excluding Michelle in any other situation – they were all good friends and played together often. However, the four girls were meeting at a corner of the playground at recess time where there was a small clump of bushes. Sitting inside the shade of the trees pretending to be a group of adventurers on a desert island; they had developed a kind of script with set characters. Michelle’s mother cried foul in the Principal’s office. It was labelled exclusionary behaviour by the principal and this quickly put a stop to the schoolyard game. Furthermore, the school created a new anti-bullying rule – no exclusive games allowed. The little stand of bushes was also off-limits. This stopped the “bullying” problem because the game came to an end. The question is, should the adults have interfered? Was this bullying? We need to know the difference between what bullying is and what it isn’t.
Nothing could be worse than being a bullied child. Imagine going to school knowing you will be attacked -- taunted, punched, laughed at, stabbed with pencils, grabbed by the throat, shoved against the locker, even getting death threats. Furthermore, imagine that there are no adults you can turn to. You believe if you tell, no one will be able to actually help you – because the bullies are too clever. And you are certain the torment will worsen because you have “ratted” them out.
A mother in Waterloo has decided to sue her son’s school board for not doing enough to protect her son from bullying. After trying the usual routes for solving the problem, she has decided to take legal action. As the mother of a daughter who was bullied unmercifully in high school I can certainly appreciate why she’s doing this.
With all the light that is shining on the problem of bullying, it’s no wonder that parents are hyper-vigilant when it comes to heading off a potential bully. Our job is to protect our kids - right? This new awareness is a great thing; except when we jump in when it’s not an actual case of bullying. Teachers and administrators are finding themselves getting involved in all kinds of minor incidences when parents overreact to each and every social mishap. When this occurs, we can create an altogether different kind of problem.
Overprotection occurs when you go overboard with your protectiveness. Life is chock full of problems, misunderstandings, ill-advised words, and hurt feelings. These things are to be expected. Your child should have the resilience to weather these minor storms without needing your assistance beyond an understanding ear. Overprotection saps your child’s confidence and leaves them feeling fearful and unable to handle the normal challenges in life. The difference between protection and overprotection, particularly when it comes to our kid’s social lives at school, can leave the most astute parent confused. When should your child cope on the own and when do you need to step in? The first thing to remember is that a bullied child needs our help. The second thing to remember is that not every social difficulty is bullying.