I’ve often seen principals, guidance counselors, teachers and district administrators recommend mediation even for relentless school bullies and their targets, even after the bully has taunted, teased, harassed and abused the target for months and the school officials haven’t changed the bully’s behavior by asking, encouraging, begging and bribing the bully. In these situations, the principals finally give up and throw the burden back on the defenseless targets by saying that the kids have to work things out on their own. In these circumstances, this recommendation is a cowardly abdication of adult responsibility and authority, and it’s totally wrong.
Of course mediation and the weight of peer opinion and condemnation can be effective in some cases. For example, in situations in which two kids got into it with one time, it’s possible to bring them together and build a bridge of civility and even respect.
But in recommending one-to-one mediation when the school officials have already failed, the officials have taken the third step in converting your targeted child into a victim:
- The first step was in not protecting the target, in not removing the bully, in not having consequences for the bully and his family the next time the bullying occurred, in not kicking the bully out of school.
- The second step in converting targets into victims is usually taken in cases where the principal, teachers, counselors and school district administrators have been unable to rehabilitate the bully through asking, teaching, begging and bribing the bully. They make the target pay the price by removing him from the classroom or by simply looking the other way when the bully acts and then stonewalling and lying to the target’s parents. They hope the target will be less stubborn than the bully and will agree to suffer in silence. However, when the bully realizes that he has power, he usually increases his violence because no adult is making him stop bullying and other kids are afraid of him because he can get away with doing what he wants.
- The third step that uncaring, lazy, weak, inept or cowardly principals take is when they blame the target. They say, “You must be doing something wrong because the bully’s still picking on you. Therefore, if you get together and apologize and promise to do whatever the bully wants, he won’t have a good reason to abuse you. If you can’t make him change, it’s your fault.” They call that “Mediation.” That kind of mediation assumes that the target did something wrong, that the bully has good reason to be angry and abusive, and that the bully will stop when the target grovels. That form of mediation completely ignores the truth that relentless bullies are predators. For whatever reasons – their own pain, their drive for power and position – they will keep bullying until they’re actually stopped.
This approach makes the targeted children feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless. They’ll be victims for life. It destroys self-confidence and self-esteem. It stimulates anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation. It starts children down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide. Parents, when principals have gone on weeks and months making excuses why they allow the bullying to continue, they’re telling you that you’re on your own.
- They won’t stop the bully; they’ll look the other way. They’ll let your child sink or swim on his own in the shark-infested waters of the playground, cafeteria, lockers, hallways, bathroom or bus.
- They don’t care about your child’s feelings or problems. They either care about the bully’s feelings more or they simply don’t want to deal with a difficult problem. Don’t let your child entertain self-doubt or negativity. Don’t give in to stress, anxiety, hopelessness or depression. Don’t go down that path to helplessness and suicide. Keep your child’s confidence and self-esteem high. You and your child can stay strong and courageous; you can stop the bully.
- Encourage your child to maintain his inner strength and move up a staircase of increasing firmness to try to get the bully to look for easier prey. All tactics depend on the situation, but there are some general guidelines.
- At the bottom of the staircase we try peaceful, friendly methods. We ignore it, we say ouch, we ask the bully to stop, we try to deflect it with jokes, we avoid contact. If that stops the bully, your child wasn’t really dealing with a relentless bully. If the bully doesn’t stop, if the violence continues, we need to teach our children to push back verbally.
- If verbal methods don’t stop the bully and the school officials won’t stop the bullying, especially with younger kids, when it’s one-to-one and the kids are the same size, your child must be prepared to beat up the bully, if possible. Prepare your child with martial arts training. Of course you must be aware that the older a bully is, the more likely he is to be carrying a weapon. I’m going to this level because you’ve already failed using every peaceful means you can.
- I’m assuming that the principal and district administrators have not stopped the bullying while you’ve been talking to them and your child has slowly gone up the staircase. Of course, when your child hits back those cowardly principals will attack your child because, they’ll say, “We don’t condone violence,” even though they permitted the bully to be violent for months. And usually, they permitted his friends to pile on by attacking your child verbally and physically or through cyberbullying. They’ll suspend your child for fighting back. Arrange for your child to be prepared and happy. Go to Disney World as if you won the Super Bowl. If the bullying stops because your child is ready to fight again, it’s worth the trip.
- Since you won’t have legal redress – principals can’t be fired if they don’t stop bullies – your only alternative is plenty of bad publicity. You’ll need a lawyer and the ear of sympathetic reporters. Get your documentation together and make it public; minutes of all the meetings with the principal, emails and letters received by the principal expressing your concerns for your child’s safety and containing the minutes of the meetings. Look for a reporter or station manager who was bullied and not protected when he or she was a child. They might champion your cause.
- The most important consideration is your child. Eventually, you want your child to get a good education. You must increase his strength, courage, character and will. You want him grow up to look back at the bully and the authorities who didn’t protect him as insignificant. They were speed bumps in his life that he’s overcome and doesn’t even think about now because his life is so wonderful. That may mean that you remove your child from the care of school officials who don’t care about his physical, mental and emotional well-being and safety.
By the time the principal suggests mediation, you know you’ve given them too much time and trust. You’ve been in an adversarial relationship and you didn’t recognize it. Now you know. Act wisely and tactically.
If your children are the targets of bullies and school officials who aren’t protecting them, you need to take charge. With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome principals and other officials who won’t do what’s right. We can plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.
“How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” have many examples of children and adults commanding themselves and then stopping bullies. For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).