Tag Archives: preteens

Parents: What your kids’ teachers want you to know about bullying in school

Apples on desksA few weeks ago, I wrote a post for parents about what school principals want them to know about bullying. I’d spent a morning consulting with all the principals of a major Quebec school board, and I was really impressed by how proactive, concerned and invested they were in solving the complicated issues around bullying. I was also struck by the obstacles they faced: the limited resources, lack of personnel, need to support their teachers, blurry legal requirements and often conflicted interactions with parents.

It was a real eye-opener for me. As a parent, I’d never fully understood what these men and women have to negotiate in school with our children every single day.

But I still have more to learn. On February 23rd, I was privileged to spend an entire day talking about bullying and risk behaviors with 65 teachers and school administrators from across the province and Ontario. This was part of the Centre for Educational Leadership‘s Distinguished Educators Seminar Series at McGill University.

It was clear from the beginning that they are very concerned. Like most educators, this group worried about the blurry line between school and home, the Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter interactions that spill over into fights and drama in the classroom and schoolyard. They knew that parents, not just students, were whipping up the rumour mill online and through email and texting campaigns when something happened with their kids. Small things become big things very quickly; misinformation and disinformation abound.

The amount of time spent managing these issues can quickly get out of hand and get in the way of the primary activity at school: teaching.

So what follows is a catch-all list of Things for Parents to Think About (for lack of a more imaginative title). It’s really an addendum to my earlier post, but highlights some key items. In a perfect world, there would be a seamless partnership between school and home. But in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to worry about bullying either.

Know what your child is doing. Who are his friends? What does she do after school? What online accounts do they have? What are their passwords? Who is she texting? Who is he Skyping? This one seems almost too obvious to put down. But it’s the most important. Because even well-meaning, involved parents can lose track of their kids’ day-to-day habits and activities.

Because as our kids grow up, they naturally pull away. And it happens in slow, almost imperceptible increments. One day we wake up to find the 10-year-old who tells you everything has turned into a secretive 13-year-old who thinks you don’t know anything.

Teachers — especially in grades 6-8 — often deal with parents who just have no clue about their kids’ social lives and daily dramas. They sign their report cards, pay for field trips and maybe even pack their lunches, but they don’t really know what’s going on inside their offspring’s hormone-riddled, rapidly developing brains and bodies. (See this post on the insightful Scott Fried about the secrets of teens). So when an incident happens, or guidance is needed, mom and dad aren’t prepared to properly parent.

Educate yourself about teen culture. Get a Facebook page. Know the difference between a tweet and a text. LOL every once in a while. Ask your kid to play you some of their favourite music. Watch an episode of Glee or the trailer for the Hunger Games or visit the World fo Warcraft website (or whatever your child adores). Not because you’re trying to be cool (you’ll never succeed in your child’s eyes) but because you are showing an interest in what his or her life is like. You’re making an effort to understand their cultural milieu. They may not admit it, but they’ll appreciate it. You might even find yourself having an actual conversation with the same kid who answered every other question with monosyllables.

Which brings me to my next point: Be your kid’s parent, not their friend. A lot of parents find this confusing. Don’t we want them to find us cool? Don’t we want them to confide in us, tell us things, hang out with us? Nothing wrong with that. All falls within the purview of parenting. But the line in the sand is respect. Our kids must respect our rules, values and attitudes. They must be willing to give back to the family in appropriate ways. They must not take us for granted, talk back or ditch us every time more exciting plans present themselves.

Friends operate on an equal playing field, and respect can (and should) be a part of that as well. But a parent-child relationship doesn’t function that way. Yes, as parents we still need to respect our children, explain the rationale for our reasoning (when appropriate, to help them learn), make reasonable compromises and let them grow up as distinct individuals. I’m not arguing for a military-style dictatorship. But our children sometimes need to conform to rules and expectations with which they don’t agree. Sometimes the negotiating has to end, and they need to accept a “because I say so” response.

When an incident arises at school, teachers and principals need to be able to count on parents who know the difference between advocating for our children’s best interests and over protecting them. Although we should be there to guide them, we can’t (and shouldn’t) shelter them from all adversity. Those natural consequences and occasional experiences of pain, frustration and stress are an important part of growing up. If they don’t learn it in measured doses while they are young, they will never learn to cope with the harder stuff life throws at them when they are adults.

Parent with your head, not just your heart. It’s agonizing to watch our children suffer social pain, bad grades, bullying or even the consequences of broken rules. No parent easily forgets the worry and dismay over a kid who misses a soccer game because of detention, gets kicked off a team, skips a school trip or develops nervous headaches and stomach problems because they are too stressed to go to school.

We serve our children’s best interests when we learn to strike a balance between our sad feelings for their hurt and our intellectual understanding of what’s really going on. Sometimes it’s entirely appropriate to march into the school office and demand action, but often we are more effective when we keep a cool head and evaluate a situation: get the full story from our child before we call the school. Speak to the teacher before we call the principal. Consider whether it’s possible that the same child who is so lovely with her grandma and the neighbour’s cat couldn’t also be the one who rallies the other girls to exclude a friend from their clique. Or post libellous comments about a teacher on a Facebook page.

This last one is perhaps the hardest thing we have to do as mothers and fathers, but also possibly the most important. Because when things get complicated and others are involved, we need to make level-headed decisions with the big picture in mind. Sometimes we can find ourselves dealing with an unreasonable school or an untenable situation, but in some cases WE are the ones generating the conflict or asking for rules to be bent. Since these are precisely the same expectations we have from our teachers and principals, it helps if we can be on board.







Why you want a house full of kids (even if you think you don’t)

Group of teensWe are back in town for two short days in the middle of our two-week long winter holiday break. Although we had a wonderful time skiing, snowboarding, attending parties and seeing all our friends up north at our cottage, our preteen twins also missed their school friends. So even though I’m nursing a wicked head cold, and I have a list of things to do in these two short days, I told them to invite a pack of friends to sleep over.

They are good kids, with really nice friends. Still, the shrieking, giggling and general disarray was not exactly what I would have chosen as the backdrop for these two days of laundry, groceries and work-related commitments.

But I learned a long time ago that it’s the right thing to do. I want to know my kids’ friends. I want to have a sense of who they are, what they talk about and how they interrelate.

To achieve this, I need them to feel comfortable in our home. So I make our basement available for  and hanging out; I stock our pantry with precisely the kinds of refined sugar and flour junk food I’d carefully avoided throughout their childhoods. Let’s face it, teenagers aren’t so thrilled by white bean carob chip cookies or vegetarian chili. Though most will smile politely when you offer it to them, you just sense they really want to be rolling their eyes.

Like bean cookies? WTF?

No, if you want them to come over, you need to have a supply of pizza, cookies and chips. I also put out fruit and veggies, just in case. And I more or less try to disappear into the background. They didn’t come here to hang out with me.

They congregate around each others’ iPads, lie in front of the TV, hang out up in their bedrooms or down in the basement. Sometimes they are clearly playing a game, other times it seems to be mostly talk and laughter. It’s all good.

What do I get out of this? I get to know my kids’ friends. There’s a fair bit of banter as they come in, or eat with us. I get a sense of their values. Sometimes the plans require that I communicate with their parents, and we exchange telephone numbers. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that most of my girls’ new friends from high school have parents who want to meet or talk to me before their daughters come over. It’s certainly one of my rules for allowing my child to go somewhere new.

I’ve begun to keep my eyes and ears open. As the years pass and they all get older, I’ll be watching for anything that raises concerns. If they are around here, I’ll be more likely to see anything that comes up, and also more likely to offer help. I’d like their friends to feel comfortable talking to me, in case they ever need a less emotionally invested adult alternative to their own parents.

Perhaps just as important: I’m also letting my daughters know their friends and social lives are interesting and important to us.

What do I do if they befriend someone I don’t like? Although this hasn’t happened yet, I realize it can be tricky.First of all, I need to remember that these are their friends and not mine. Unless there are compelling reasons to say anything, I will probably just back off.

Outright banning of a friend should only happen in extreme circumstances (if you think they are a danger to your child), because teens rarely react well to this kind of intervention. Sometimes it makes the bad friend seem all the more intriguing. But if they are in my home, I can impose certain standards of conduct (no swearing, no smoking, no drinking, etc.). I can also observe specific kinds of behaviors or language I can discuss afterwards with my own kids. Rudeness, mistreatment of someone else, excluding others — these kinds of stories need to be dealt with, and our values made clear.

But for the most part, a house full of kids is a noisy, happy thing. I retreat to my own space and make a mental promise to deal with all the clutter later. I remember the many, many happy hours I spent at home and in my friends’ basements way back when, and it makes me feel good to provide a safe, welcoming space for my own kids.


Link: Another teen suicide victim tied to bullying

This post by CJAD’s Kim Fraser includes a poignant interview (in French only) with the mother of 15-year-old Marjorie Raymond, who killed herself this past Monday after three years of unrelenting bullying by her peers.

Chantal Larose, the mother of the pretty Gaspé teenager, found her daughter’s suicide note. It starts off (in French) “Dear Mom, I am terribly sorry for what I have done.  Please know it’s not your fault. You are the best mother in the world, it’s just that life, I can’t go on…”

It’s hard to imagine how any parent could handle this kind of tragedy. My heart breaks for her.

Experts have begun calling this suicide in response to bullying “bullycide,” a term first used in 2001 by Neil Marr and Tim Field in their book Bullycide: Death at Playtime. The desperation these tweens and teens felt led them to take their own lives. They simply couldn’t imagine a way out.

Marjorie’s mother tells interviewer Kim Fraser that the school did not take their complaints seriously, and little was done, even when the psychological intimidation escalated this year into physical assaults. But she admits that herself didn’t realize how bad it was, even when her previously responsible student began skipping school.

Fraser ends her post by asserting that too many schools and adults still don’t take bullying seriously enough. I can’t agree enough.

And if you aren’t sure, listen to Chantal Larose’s heartbreaking plea for those in charge to listen more closely: “I wish that something would change from this. Because I can’t stand the thought that my daughter died for nothing.”