Bullying and Peer Harassment: Parent Support and Study Group
Judith M. Kuczynski, BA, RN, MS

The code of silence, culture of violence, shame of abuse, abundance of misinformation, and resistance to change work together to promote a hidden culture of violence among youth. These same elements keep parents from helping their children deal with the violence of bullying and peer harassment. And yet, bullying and peer harassment has devastating effects for everyone.

The role of bullying and harassing behavior in overall school violence has been ignored, and unexplored (Nansel et al., 2001; Pace, 2001). "Research shows that parents and teachers greatly underestimate the frequency of bullying compared to student responses" (Coloroso, 2003, p.13).

Research into recent school tragedies demonstrates that bullying and peer harassment are the seeds from which this violence has come. Experts have begun to take the problem of bullying and harassment seriously and are extending their efforts in the study of bullying and its effects on overall school violence and student success (Banks, 2000; Galinsky & Salmond, 2002; Juvonen, 2002; NEA, 2003; Safe Schools, 2000; Tanner, 2001).

In addition, the part that bullying and harassment plays in creating the dysfunction of risky behaviors and medical/psychological disorders is also being investigated (Spivak & Prothrow-Stith, 2001).

Parents may be unaware of the extent of the problem in the lives of their children because kids don't always talk and parents often do not ask. Olweus (2000) states that parents are often the last to know about this private shame in the lives of their children. The older the child the less likely that child is to share this misery with parents.

However, parents are aware when young people are unhappy at home, moody, or acting out in risky ways. Unfortunately, by the time many parents get involved, the problem has left wounds that will last a lifetime.

Parents who turn to the school for insight and help often find that there is very little support from this source. Parents believe that they have made the problem worse for their children by reporting it. The ways in which schools have responded have often led to retaliation. In fact, it is common for school administrators to deny that they have a problem with bullying.

Nansel et al., (2001) observe that the dangers of bullying aren't taken seriously by most educators. Many teachers don't know how to deal with bullying when they see it; schools may not have consistent, effective, comprehensive bullying policies. Teachers, if they are aware of it at all, have heard about bullying incidents second hand and consequently, view intervention as starting something they will not be able to solve.

Teachers, administrators and other adults are often very defensive when an upset parent approaches them about the problem. Unable to view the situation from an objective perspective, school authorities may require testimonies by witnesses and the names of the children involved.

These same authorities may also have a policy of revealing the name of the child reporting incidents to the accused party. In this situation, retaliation against the reporter is almost guaranteed. Another important point is that school authorities may believe that bullies come from abusive homes. Traditionally they are reluctant to speak to the parents of known bullies for fear that the child will in turn be abused at home (Papazian, 2000).

Talkington, and Hill (1993) observed that parents have been generally unsuccessful in attempts to advocate for their children in the bully-victim issue due in large part to the disabling negative psychological effects that accompany this situation. A support and study group dedicated to the bully-victim issue has the potential to help parents feel less overwhelmed. In addition to grief over what their child has lost, and guilt about not being able to fix it or making the situation worse, parents may suffer from psychological, social and political consequences such as feelings of powerlessness and isolation (Solomon, Pistrang, & Barker, 2001). A support and study group would help to diffuse stress, be a source of hope, and provide a way for parents to advocate for their children.

Another factor contributing to failure is lack of information. Parents don't know where to turn for help when the school fails them. A parent support and study group would be a proactive tool for parents, their children and their schools.

Literature abounds for children with disabilities or otherwise 'at risk.' There is also considerable material about the importance of parental involvement for children at risk. However, the literature is sparse for research or anecdotal documentation about support groups for children and their families who are part of the bully-victim cycle (Ma, 2001; Curwin & Mendler, 1997; Fried & Fried, 1996; Lantieri & Patti, 1996; Olweus, 2000; Papazian, 2001).

Support groups serve an important function in society today. They are formed for the purpose of empowerment rather than professional therapy (Anderson, & Carter, 1999). Fetto (2000) observes that support groups are especially appealing to people who are struggling with socially embarrassing and "stigmatizing" situations (p. 18). Individuals experiencing negative and stigmatizing reactions from others often find a new identity through participation in a support group (Butler & Wintram, 1991 as cited in Anderson & Carter, 1999). Support groups have demonstrated success in large part it is believed, because "receiving help is most beneficial in the context of a caring, social community" (Roberts, et al. p. 865).

For these reasons, a support and study group has tremendous potential for parents and their children. In addition, a support and study group could provide an opportunity for gathering anecdotal information about the value of this popular social phenomenon for parents and their children.

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