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Parent's Campaign

1/08: A newly distributed article (by the Equity listserv) from the December 07 edition of Education Week helps reinforce an important point we often make in talks to schools: A critical component of an adequate/effective school-based anti-bullying program is to significantly increase the involvement of parents at the school and in school activities. This issue most often comes up in discussions of how to increase supervision of high-risk (for bullying) areas of the school. When more parent involvement (in the supervision, in this case) is suggested, objections (from school administrators or staff) often arise. And indeed, there are logistics, training and expectation issues, as there would be for any new involvement by persons in the school (staff or otherwise). But the fact is, increased parent involvement is a critical variable. As the attached article makes clear, there are very clear and concrete steps schools can and should take to increase parent involvement, including in regard to a specific issue, such as bullying. The article focuses on working with 'lower-income' parents generally and is not specific to bullying, but its message (and even some examples) can be well applied to anti-bullying programs.

11/07: (See end of this message for a document - ParentingTips on Bullying)

At a recent talk to a parents' group, a parent expressed frustration (with me, really) because she felt that my talk (which was on cyberbullying - at their request, rather than a more basic talk on bullying, which might have been more useful) did not leave her with a substantial 'toolkit' for addressing bullying. That is, the talk, as usual, emphasized the 'environmental' nature of bullying - that is, that bullying is a phenomenon primarily created and sustained by the adult behavior and institutions to which children are exposed and within which they function, especially (for the school-age child) the school (and, for cyberbullying, the adult-run online contexts in which child-child interaction takes place). Essentially, the parent wanted more tools or 'tips' on how to help the bullied child or address the bullying child, other than by advocacy or other work with the child's school (e.g.).

This is a difficult issue, though it might not seem so. As I've written before, there is little or no evidence that (e.g.,) giving a child advice about how to deal with being bullied, or using methods intended to change or 'strengthen' the bullied child, such as social skills training or martial arts training or other individually (or family-) oriented forms, or stepping in as a parent to deal with the bullying children (or their parents) significantly, reliably (or at all?) ends the bullying. None of this is to say that these methods may not do some good (or end the bullying) in some particular cases. Even in those cases, though, there are drawbacks to those approaches. Often when parents 'intervene' directly with the bullying child (or family), they end up modeling violence, whether psychological or physical, as an unintended and unfortunate 'side-effect'. When individual counseling approaches are used with the bullied child, part of what is unfortunately and inevitably conveyed to the child is that they (their nature, characteristics, abilities, etc.) are in some way a 'cause' of their bullying.

None of this is to say that there is "nothing the parent can do," as such discussion is sometimes perceived. Making strong efforts to encourage schools and other environments to substantially increase support of children who are vulnerable (which could be almost any child, but certain groups are higher-risk for bullying), ideally on a proactive/preventive basis, and to have an adequate/appropriate system for preventing and addressing bullying in place are the two prime examples of arenas for potentially powerful, effective parent action. Many parent 'tip sheets' on bullying, even from good organizations, err in (over)emphasizing the role of parent advice to the bullied child or child-centered 'strengthening' approaches. However, attached here you will find a set of such 'tip sheets' from Dr. Michael Greene, our Coalition's research director and NJ's leading expert on childhood bullying. Although he does mention the routinely given advice to children (e.g., walk away from or avoid the bullying children, ignore the bullying, etc. etc.), he sensitively and expertly reminds parents that the child may not be able to enact the advised action. (My own preference is Stan Davis' perspective, in which he notes that from the point of view of the bullied child, being bullied is comparable to a traumatic experience of loss, and we don't otherwise tell children to 'ignore' or otherwise minimize such experiences, nor (my point) can the child easily walk away or avoid, etc. etc.) Nonetheless, especially for parents who very understandably would like more of a toolkit, here is Dr. Greene's latest set of 'tip sheets' for parents.

10/07: Calls continue to come in at a rate of several/week from parents in distress about their child's situation at school, and the school's response. This (the types of situations and levels of distress) seems to have changed too little over the past seven years in which we've been taking such calls. (Other Coalition organizations have similar experiences.) This may not mean that nothing substantial has changed. Obviously at a rate of only a few calls a week (in our case), with new parents calling each time, we don't have an adequate selection to call this evidence (of change or no change). However, there's no doubt that there are significant numbers of children and their parents in great distress for whom not enough (e.g., in terms of school prevention and response) has changed. Thus, there is a continuing need for a statewide parent-led 'campaign' for bulling awareness (and change). Having said that, there is as yet no such effective campaign in NJ (see note below, for a possible explanation). The best prospect may be for an existing social organization, such as a faith community, to take on the issue, in defense of and advocates for children/families within their community who are experiencing the issue, and to make an effort to spur community-wide change in their own town/district. The challenge for such a faith community is that such a campaign would necessarily need to be very inclusive and relate to the reality of bullying and harassment. That means strong and specific advocacy on gender identify and expression, one of the populations which experiences bullying and harassment the most. But there are many other populations, of course, which need such advocacy.

3/07: While the statement below remains a good description of the 'campaign' status, the impact of the recent (2/07) NJ Supreme Court decision in the LW case is already being felt. In the calls we get, I see parents who feel newly empowered to advocate for their child and who have higher expectations for what the school will do. I'm also starting to see a stronger response to them from the schools, though far from immediate and adequate action, let alone proactive efforts to support and protect ultimately targeted children - but I believe this is starting to change. Parents, naturally impatient (and newly empowered) are thinking more quickly about the possibility of taking legal action.

1/07: Little progress, though some parents have participated in Coalition events. It may be the nature of the phenomenon. That is, the major hope of a parent with a bullied child is that the bullying will end, in other words that they will no longer experience the phenomenon. In many cases (I'm not aware of studies to this point which allow us to predict in what percentage of cases the status of a bullied child will change over time), this becomes true. This possible change of status, combined with the complicated feelings parents experience when their child is bullied, combined with corrosive societal attitudes which tend to blame the bullied child and family for their own situation may make it hard for any given parent to make a longstanding commitment to pursuing the issue. The exception to this may be when a child's situation rises to the level at which a parent takes legal action. But in that case, the parent is pursuing individual redress (often effectively) and may not see the need or use to pursue collective action (organize other parents, e.g.). For whatever reason (including inadequate efforts to this point by the Coalition), there is not yet an effective parents' campaign on this issue. There's one big exception to this statement: organizations such as GLSEN, which are highly effective, include the participation of parents. So there are these sorts of venues for parent action, whether or not there is a separate 'movement'.

10/05:  For information and participation in the Parents' Campaign, please contact Joanne Goldstein, at (908) 490-9090. For other Coalition information or assistance, email or call (908) 522-2581.

6/05: On 6/7/05, 9:30am to 12:30pm, at NJ Law Center in New Brunswick, the first organizational meeting of a new statewide parents' action campaign to end childhood bullying was held. A small group of parents gathered with the understanding that childhood bullying will only end when parents - especially parents and families of bullied children - insist that communities and schools take appropriate and adequate action. The parents met with resource experts from NJ Coalition who were there to advise and support the campaign.

A key guest at the meeting was Lisa Toomey, developer and leader of a model parents' campaign in Connecticut. She described the steps she took in CT to develop her initiative, which has had tremendous accomplishments and growth in only 3 years.

The purpose of the Law Center meeting was to lay the groundwork for the campaign by engaging a core group of parents to start. There are currently 27 parents from throughout the state who have expressed a commitment to develop the campaign, though some were not able to attend the meeting. Further announcements about opportunities for parent advocacy and mutual support will appear here shortly!

Parents interested in participating should contact us through the website How to Participate page or call (908) 522-2581 or email Stuart Green or contact Sh'corah Yehudah, SPAN, at (973) 642-8100, ext. 113, for further information and to be put in touch with the campaign. Direct contact information for the campaign and its current parent leaders will be posted shortly.

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