In February, Jodee Blanco, the anti-bullying expert, spoke to our students, teachers and parents about her experience as a bullied child and advocate for bullied children. In her presentation at OLW to teachers and parents, her goal was to offer ways for the adults to help. Her advice is different than the way most adults talk to a bullied child. Jodee asked children what adults do that helps and what they do that hurts. This is some of what we learned:

“Ignore the bullies and walk away.” We are imposing adult logic and thinking onto a child. Children always want a response. When ignored, bullies get meaner – the more you ignore a bully, the more he or she will bug you for a response.

“Leave them alone, and they’ll leave you alone.” The problem is that the invisible student doesn’t want to be left alone. Some students are overtly bullied, but some become an ‘invisible student.’ They aren’t necessarily bullied, but they are ignored and feel like ghost in their own skin. The effects of making a student feel invisible is just as long-lasting and devastating as overt bullying.

“They’re just jealous or They’re threatened.” Children are tired of grown-up explanations. Why do the victims have to be patient? Why is the pressure to be the bigger person the responsibility of the bullied? Children never understand or buy this excuse. Adults think we can explain why children aren’t included, but children think like children, not adults. Jealousy isn’t a cause of bullying but it may be a catalyst.

“Twenty years from now, you will be a successful XYZ, and they will be struggling or unhappy or XYZ.” WHO CARES about 20 years from now.  The child feels lonely now. “I’m hurting now and want them to like me now.” To a child, the future is after school, when kids are laughing and talking to each other. The distant future is Saturday night when everyone is at the same party or outing.

“I know how you feel.” Even if we do, it’s not our story at this moment. Adults are well meaning but have a tendency to interrupt in an attempt to connect.

It is important as parents and teachers that our children trust us. Tell them that you will listen without judgement. Don’t interrupt and be aware of your body language. Don’t feel the need to fill the silence and don’t tell them stories about when you were young. Validate what they tell you; thank them for sharing. Don’t jump to conclusions that they are being dramatic or exaggerating.

One of the biggest mistake parents make, even though they are so well-intentioned, is to jump into action. They want to set a meeting with the principal, talk to the parents, have punishment on the bullies. This will often make the bullied or invisible child feel like they will never have a chance. As an adult, our immediate reaction is often to fix. First, we need to focus on the child that is hurting and bleeding inside. We need to make them feel safe and we to listen to what they want and how they want the situation to be handled. Look at activities in a different town or different parish. This can help give them more social confidence. Do you what you can to make them feel safe. Take it one day at a time. If you do talk to the principal or school authority, it is important also to not judge the bully. The bully is often crying out for help, not targeting a specific child. Fund out the backstory of the bully and have compassion – it will help you come up with a better plan of action.

OLW School is very thankful to Jodee Blanco for her day with us. She is a bullying survivor, expert and activist and is recognized as one of the country’s pre-eminent voices on the subject of bullying. Jodee shared her very personal story of bullying and our school students, teachers and parents all benefited from her honesty. Find out more about Jodee from her website. Her story is very powerful.