It's every parent's worst nightmare. Their kid is bullied persistently and viciously but feels they can't get it changed or get effective help, and the corrosive ongoing situation spirals to them attempting to end life. Even worse, where the parent knows bullying is happening and where, and does everything expected to get a change from the guardians/school system, without success. In the story of 13-year-old Michael Martin, this tragically did indeed happen with the worst outcome.
To recap, Michael had been bullied for months both at school and daily on the school bus, about his weight, glasses, and braces (all three pretty common for many kids). He started having serious absences from school, presumably to avoid further bullying and bullying environments. His mother had contacted the school officials, the bus company, met with the principal and school counselors months before. It appears she was a very determined advocate, who persistently went after help from all levels of the system. Based on the news article, almost nothing was done in terms of talking to the other kids, parent communication, acknowledgment or oversight of specific school environments – something as simple as school putting a dash cam in the bus and presenting the bully's with their behavior may have helped. Further, Michael did not give up the bully names, apparently viewing bully retaliation risks outweighed potential to correct the situation, which meant the situation festered.
The school didn't do enough to stop the bullying
Without suggesting that the parent, in this case, could have done more than they did in their situation, we feel this story underscores the need to not assume the school, or school counselors or other guardians like bus drivers, will act to halt bullying, call out bully behavior, or maintain a safe environment. This sad story spurs several raw inputs for parents concerned about controlling or limiting the bullying of their child.
- Don't count on bullying to be stopped by the school system - seeking wider leverage on the bully(s) may help, i.e. Going beyond school principal and counselors to peer, friends, parents, direct proof for enforcement, etc. We have some resources for approaching other parents and some comebacks useful to make when peers are around the bullies, to shift the power.
- Is the situation escalating or fading? - If a kid is too scared to reveal bullies names for whatever reason they feel high physical threat, its a major red flag to dig into figuring out risk level (do the kids have weapons, gang involvement, prior physical attacks etc) and seriously look at decisions to remove the child from the situation where possible.
- Activating peers to step in and help - After the fact, it's heartbreaking to understand the bullying was out in the open, not hidden, but seen and known to others Yet it appears no allies or friends were able to help reverse the bullying. Sometimes verbally talking back w crafty comebacks can open enough space for peers and others to shift from silent observers to actively chipping in and changing the dynamic so the bullied kid is not “alone” and others care what happens.
As parents of a teen and pre-teen, we have been actively involved in bullying situations and solutions. For parents of kids currently being bullied or likely to be; We see how bullying can get worse and worse without a change in the power dynamic between bullies and bullied, We hear how persistent bullying can create trapped and hopeless feelings that no kid should have to remain in risking mental and physical health; and we recognize that taking a kids power back can be helped with strong verbal comebacks and psychology to “flip the script” back on the bullies to change the environment and patterns.
If you are interested in tools and strategies we and others have found useful to safely stop group bullying and build your child's esteem and resilience if bullying happens again without hoping on institutions to make changes, please subscribe to our email list and check out our resources page