Where do school bullies go during summer vacation? Do you think they take the summer off and stop bullying until September? School bullies enjoy the summer. Usually there are fewer adult supervisors at camps, recreation centers, pools, playgrounds or in the mall to stop their bullying.
Bullying is often, but not always, by older kids against younger kids and by bigger kids against smaller kids. Bullying can be physical, relational and verbal, and it’s always emotional. Mean girls are adept at gossip, put-downs and exclusion. Boys use relational and verbal abuse just as much as girls do. Boy bullies are masters of put-downs, excluding and leading malevolent gangs. Check out summer camps and organized activities where the same kids go for an extended period of time. Usually the staff at summer camps and recreation centers is too busy and too swamped to stop school bullies on vacation. Often, staff tolerates or condones bullying. You’ll hear them say, “That’s just kid stuff. It’s a rite of passage. Kids need to learn to deal with bullying by themselves.” Oh, some staff might lecture or yell if they observe bullying and they care, but their attention will be drawn away by other concerns and the target will be left unprotected. There won’t be enough consistent oversight and you won’t know what’s going on.
Find out ahead of time if staff is trained to detect and stop bullies. Do they have a policy and training program? What specific behaviors are staff trained to observe? Have they ever sent a bully home? Do they train the kids how to witness and standup for each other. What’s the refund policy if you pull your children out because they’re being bullied? Express your concerns in writing so there’s a record.
Prepare your children to tell you what’s going on. Being a target of bullying is not their fault. Not defending themselves or not getting help will create long-lasting problems for them. Telling is not tattling. Convince them that the bullying will get worse if they don’t tell you.
If they’re sleeping over, have them send letters home, not postcards. Is there an increase in anxiety, stress and nightmares? Are they suddenly uncommunicative?
If your children are in a day activity, stay and observe it.
If there’s an incident or you’re suspicious, talk to the counselor, teacher and head of the organization in person or by phone. Follow up in writing. Don’t be put off by promises and platitudes. What concrete actions have they taken? A chat or lecture is not an action that will stop a real-world bully. Don’t accept, “Ignore it and it’ll stop.” Do bullies still have unsupervised access to your children after a lecture? The Golden Rule doesn't stop real-world bullies.
If you hear the administrators say that they’re trying to build the bullies’ self-esteem or increase their empathy, or if they think that the bully will benefit from therapy or counseling while they’re still at the activity or camp, or if they appeal to your understanding and sympathy for how difficult the bully’s life is get your children out of that place immediately. They’re more concerned with the bully than the victim. They’ll sacrifice your children in order to help the bully. Check out supervised areas like pools and water parks where your children go but where there can be different kids each day. You have much less control here. Usually staff is focused on physical safety. You may have to go a number of times despite your children’s protests. You’ll probably have to analyze the situation and train them how to escape bullies and get help. Help them identify lifeguards who will protect them. Teach them how to elicit those lifeguards’ help.
Check out unsupervised areas like parks and malls where your children hang out. Are you afraid of the other kids who hang out there? Do your children know how to get a police officer and what to say to get that officer on their side? Are you available in emergencies? Make sure your children go with a larger group of friends. Let them go only if you trust the group to stay together and protect each other. Of course, your children think that the most important thing in their lives is being accepted by their friends or the crowd they want to be liked by. But that’s not your primary concern. First and foremost, you’re not your children’s friend; you’re their protector and your better judgment counts.
Let them earn the privilege of going places without you in a step-wise way. When they’ve proven to you that they know how to stop bullies or to escape in a fairly safe situation, then and only then, give them a little more freedom that’s age-appropriate. Encourage them to make those steps, but don’t give in to nagging. Whining and complaining aren’t evidence of good decision-making.
Bystanders-observers-witnesses can make all the difference in protecting targets. Teach your kids how to enlist help. Teach them to be brave.
This article does not include bullying of kids by counselors and staff, or the bullying of weak counselors by a gang of kids. But you must be aware of the possibilities.
Remember, despite the lack of action by so many principals, teachers and staff during the school year, it’s still more dangerous during the summer. Be careful out there.