Ask the Expert: Bullying

Julie Hertzog,

Bullying Questions Answered

As a parent of child with TS who is entering middle school in the fall, I’m concerned about bullying. I don’t want to scare my son, but what can I say to him that will help him prepare for the possibility that he might experience bullying?

The start of middle school is a time of transition— filled with both exciting opportunities and new challenges. Your child is moving from the structured environment of elementary school to a situation that often involves greater independence, less supervision, and new peer interaction. With this increased autonomy comes the increased possibility of inappropriate behaviors.
One of the most powerful things you can do is to help your son recognize that bullying is not an accepted “rite of passage” as it has been viewed for so long. Behaviors that hurt, harm, or humiliate are simply not okay. Share that bullying typically peaks in middle school, and peers at his age are going through of period of wanting to fit in, to be like everyone else, and to not stand out. When students do show their individuality, others don’t always understand or accept their differences. It might be something they haven’t experienced or aren’t comfortable with, and one response is that they may react inappropriately.
Start the school year with a conversation with your son. Continue to talk throughout the year and check in often, using the following points as a guide:

  • He is not alone. Let your son know that he can talk with you and count on you for support. Make sure he knows that if he is a target of bullying behavior, it is not his fault. It’s important for every child to know that no one deserves to be bullied. Reinforce that he doesn’t have to deal with bullying alone because you will help him. Others are there for him too, including adults at school and supportive peers.
  • He has the right to be safe. Every student deserves to go to school, live in a community, and be online in an environment in which they feel valued, protected, and safe. Remind your son that if something happens that he is not comfortable with, he can tell you, an adult at school, or someone both of you trust. There are federal and state laws that protect children at school and in the community and most schools have bullying prevention and harassment policies.
  • Develop a plan. It helps to be prepared. When talking with your son, encourage him to be a selfadvocate, which means speaking up for himself, letting people know what he needs, and taking action to get those needs met. While it is never the responsibility of a child to fix a situation on their own, it is important that they have a role in problem— solving potential solutions. Taking on this role will increase their comfort level and confidence with implementing the plan.
    For more ideas your son can visit PACERTeensAgainstBullying.org.

Kids and teens aren’t the only ones who show bullying behavior. My old boss teased me about TS symptoms. I’m in a better position now, but I’m aware that co-workers and supervisors can make an office feel like a playground. Do you have any advice for dealing with people who bully in the workplace?

Bullying in the workplace is harmful and unacceptable. Dealing with a workplace bully can be uncomfortable, and requires solid self-advocacy skills and self-confidence. Remember that without intervention, the bullying behavior is not likely to stop. It is important to note that harassment based on disability, or any other protected trait (disability, age, gender, etc.) is against the law, and you are protected against it. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and individual state human rights laws all offer protection against disability harassment and discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is charged with enforcing federal nondiscrimination laws. Youth should be aware that being denied what other workers are given because of a disability is illegal. Teasing, social exclusion, or violence towards a person because that person has a disability may not reach the level of discrimination but it is certainly harassment.

Children targeted by bullies are often reluctant to tell their teachers or even their parents. My daughter didn’t tell me what was happening at her school until the bullying had gone on for the better part of the school year. This made me wonder about ways that I can talk with her teacher about my concerns.

There are many ways to work with your child’s teacher and other school personnel.

  • Share your concerns. Start the conversation by sharing that students with disabilities are especially vulnerable to bullying. Research shows that students with disabilities are bullied 2-3 times more often than their peers without disabilities.
  • Develop a plan. Work with the teacher and your daughter on strategies on what she can do if she experiences bullying. Reinforce with your daughter that it’s ok to tell and make it safe to tell. Ask your daughter’s teacher how the team might use her Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 plan to address bullying. Write supports into the plan that will help your daughter address bullying situations.
  • Offer to come into the classroom and do a presentation about TS. If the classmates understand it better, they may not be as likely to bully your daughter.
  • Encourage peer intervention programs. So much of bullying happens outside the view of adults, and some bullying behaviors are recognized by peers well before adults see it. With appropriate training and support, peers can have a powerful role in helping someone being bullied to tell an adult, to provide support, and to intervene when necessary. PACER now offers a student to student program titled “The WE WILL Generation.”
  • Know your rights. Students with disabilities have additional legal protections, which include federal and state laws to protect them from bullying.

 

My son told me that some of his high school teachers said they understood that his tics were involuntary, but they didn’t defend him when other kids mimicked his tics. Is there anything I can do to make sure his teachers are his allies and he knows that he count on them?

Working together as a team with the parent, student and educator is a great first step. Request a meeting with each teacher at the beginning of the school year. Approach each meeting as a chance to educate the teacher on your child’s disability; for some teachers, this might be their first student with TS. Many will be glad that you are sharing strategies to help your son and will appreciate that you want to maximize his learning opportunities.
Provide information on TS and share specific information that is helpful for them to know and understand your son. If you aren’t comfortable with making or aren’t able to make a personal visit, try communicating over phone or email. Another idea is to prepare a packet of information about TS, including the specific needs of your son, and encourage them to contact you.

Teachers will also benefit from specific language and actions for defending your son. This might be something you want to develop with your son to make sure that he is comfortable with the plan. Many teachers may avoid talking about disabilities because they’re afraid of saying something inappropriate or insensitive or of breaching student privacy.
Communicate with your son’s teachers about what you want shared with the rest of the class and what should be kept private. Communicate with teachers early in the year, and continue checking in throughout the year so that you can learn what has and hasn’t been successful and make adjustments as needed.
Resources PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center PACER.org/Bullying PACER Kids Against Bullying website PACERKidsAgainstBullying.org PACER Teens Against Bullying website PACERTeensAgainstBullying.org.

About the Author: Julie Hertzog, holds a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, and is the Director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, a nationally recognized leader on bullying prevention. Since she helped create the Center in 2006, she has led in the development of its resources, including creating content for its innovative websites which were designed to engage, educate and inspire students. Julie also helped create initiatives such as PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Month, Unity Day, and Run, Walk, Roll Against Bullying, which are held each October. In 2012, she was appointed as a member and co-chair of Minnesota’s Governor’s Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying. Julie is the parent of three, including her son David, who was born with Down syndrome and significant medical issues. She has been on staff at PACER Center since 2000.