What do you do when your child is bullied? It’s one of the toughest things for a child to go through…and one of the worst things a parent can ever experience. When it happened to my son, I felt like I was stuck on the sidelines, talking to teachers and giving Alex advice at home — and hoping that my child would make it through OK.
But recently, there have been too many stories about bullying incidents which have taken a deadly turn. It’s made me realize that the sidelines are not a safe place for a parent to be anymore.
Enter the parents of Ryan Howley. Ryan is a 6th Grader at Stroudsburg Junior High in Pennsylvania, and his parents are taking his bullying problem head-on in an unusual way.
Their once-outgoing child has been bullied for the past year because he walks on his toes. (It always seems so random. Sometimes it’s as if kids just pick someone for any reason at all, and designate him or her as the “target d’ jour”. ) Not only are students taunting this boy and calling him names, the bullying has become physical.
“I was pushed against the wall and then kicked repeatedly,” said Ryan, who used to love school, but now fears what each new day will bring. His mother, Valerie Robinson, said she “begged the school district to help.” Said Valerie, “It was heartbreaking…. I can’t even convey how helpless and heartbreaking it is as a parent to witness that.”
She and the school ended up working together to arrange for an unusual school assembly. They asked the father of a Vermont boy who was bullied, and who then tragically committed suicide at the age of 13, to come to their school and give a talk to students. The boy’s father, John Halligan, said that his son was bullied for years. His advice to the students in Pennsylvania?
“Speak up when you see bullying. Bystanders applying positive peer pressure to the few is our best hope.”
Will this change the minds of the bullies? Maybe not…but perhaps it will encourage those silent bystanders to speak up more often.
Ryan says he just hopes the lesson will make school a place he loves going to again.
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.