Despite the recent expanded public and media attention paid to bullying and discrimination at school, many parents and caregivers lack realistic and accurate information about these issues. They may lack information about such phenomenona as cyberbullying and sexting. They may believe (and hope) that if their child is usually at home in their bedroom, it means they are safe and behaving well and doing their schoolwork.
Additionally, parents and caregivers may confuse bullying with conflict, reacting in defence of their child who has come home upset and crying about a situation which is in reality a conflict.
A student argues with her best friend, and the two exchange heated words. The student is upset and crying at the end of the day as she boards the school bus. The next day, the student’s caregiver walks into his child’s classroom and confronts the teacher, saying his child has been bullied.
A student with a behaviour problem has a high level of energy. He is easily bored, and when this occurs, he becomes restless and picks on other students in the class. The parent of one student comes in to speak to the teacher, claiming her son is being bullied by this student.
A student is joking around with her friends, using a sarcastic tone of voice. She is surprised when one of her friends seems offended. She apologizes to the friend. The next evening, her father lets her know that the school has informed them that her friend’s parents have complained to the school that she was bullied.
Parents’ and caregivers’ lack of information and of a clear definition of bullying can result in confusion and injustice. A person who bullies does so with the intention to be cruel and a desire to hurt others. This notion of intentional cruelty is key to clarity.
Parents may also normalize or minimize bullying and harassment. For many, this may be connected to their own history (see Attitudes and Beliefs). Some may consciously or unconsciously uphold a worldview premised upon some version of the “Law of the Jungle”. Within this ethos, people are divided into two groups: the weak and the strong. From this perspective, students who bully may be viewed as strong and dominant, while students who are bullied are seen as weak. Their parents or caregivers may feel somewhat proud if their children are “dominant”, or ashamed if their children are “weak”.
Parents and caregivers who embrace such a world view may respond to their child’s involvement in a bullying situation with comments such as:
- “What’s the big deal? She’s just naturally aggressive.”
- “It’s normal for kids to fight sometimes. All he did was use her phone. I don’t see the problem.”
- (Saying to child:) “Don’t worry. You’re strong too. You can beat him!”
- “That’s life. He just has to learn to defend himself.”
When parents and caregivers view bullying and inequity as individual problems, divorced from the school’s culture, relationships and community, they are more likely to react with shame, self-blame and the fear that their parenting will be criticized and judged. Widespread public demonization of bullies in the media, a stigma against “shyness” and introversion in children, are examples of skewed attitudes and information related to bullying that can lead to shame if one’s child is contributing to or involved in bullying incidents.
When their child is faced with a bullying situation, whatever their role, parents and caregivers may simply be at a loss. Very likely, they have received no training to provide them with the information, skills and tools enabling them to support their child.