When to report bullying to a school
Not every single schoolyard spat requires the attention of teachers or school administrators. So how does a parent know when to report bullying? We've assembled some reflective questions you can ask yourself that will help you decide when to get the school involved in resolving a bullying issue:
1. Where precisely did the bullying take place? If it did not occur on school grounds, the school is not responsible and has no leverage to do anything about it. (An exception to this rule is if it occurred on a school bus.) It's like trying to take a complaint to Wal-Mart for something that happened at Taco Bell. Schools cannot address cyberbullying either, even if it involves other kids from school, since what students do on their own time is their own business and outside a school's jurisdiction.
2. Is it ongoing? A single isolated incident may not recur and thus may not require the school's attention. In fact, drawing the school into the situation is often a good way to make an isolated incident into a recurring one, since it may anger the other kids involved. If it's a pattern of bullying, it needs to be addressed.
3. How upset is your child? If they seem only mildly bothered by the incidents and it doesn't seem to be impacting their mental health or school work in any appreciable way, it may not require adult intervention.
4. Does the child want this action taken? When it comes to bullying, school interventions can all too often make things worse, and you should only take this step if a child is overwhelmed or feels that the situation is beyond their control. Remember, kids must learn to manage their own affairs, so you can't just step in to defend your child anytime someone is mean to them. Some children who desperately need intervention may still fight it, so you have to weigh a child's wishes against the gravity of the situation. But you should place significant weight on whether or not they feel they need assistance in dealing with this problem. Plus, bullying is often a deeply personal issue. To an insecure teen, discussing these vulnerabilities with teachers or other adults who they must see and interact with on a daily basis can be a painful process in itself. If they think they can handle it on their own in a productive way, let them. Talk out ways they can confront it themselves. Remember that many children who report bullying just want to release stress by talking it out with someone, and may not need anything more than a sympathetic ear. So ask them directly: Do you feel it's gotten to the point where you need adult intervention, or would you like to continue to deal with it yourself?
5. Is it violent? Does it involve theft or destruction of property? In both these instances, school officials should be notified. This isn't just taunting, this is criminal behavior, and needs to be addressed.
What to expect when reporting school bullying
Parents should temper their expectations about what will happen after reporting to a school that their child is being bullied. While patience doesn't come easy for a parent when their child is the one being harassed, schools often have few tools at their disposal, and they cannot produce overnight miracles. Schools can only address what they witness, and kids are usually pretty good at hiding or disguising malicious behavior so that the teachers don't see. If they pull the other child (or children) aside for a talk, usually what happens is that the other child denies it or gives a different version of events, and you're stuck in a Mexican standoff of he-said, she-said. Moreover, the most manipulative kids (which bullies have a tendency to be) can be quite good at portraying themselves as charming and innocent in front of adults.
Schools can't just take your word for it that this is what has happened and then rush off guns blazing to settle the issue. From your standpoint, it involves you personally and your child is the victim. From the school's standpoint, you’re just one among many of the (potentially crazy) parents they have to try and keep happy on a daily basis. You may be perfectly sane, and your child may be perfectly truthful about what happened. Yet schools DO deal with loony-toon parents, they DO, on a regular occasion, have situations that turn out to be completely-opposite of how they initially appear. They also have to protect the other child from what could be baseless accusations (and sometimes are), and they also must protect themselves from a legal standpoint, because the other child also has a parent who might be equally upset about their child's rights being trampled upon. So they must treat the other child as innocent unless they have solid proof they are guilty.