Was I Right to Change My Daughter's School Because of Bullying?

Filed under: Expert Advice: Tweens, Expert Advice: Teens

Dear AdviceMama,

What do you do when your child is being bullied by a group of children at school? I went to the vice principal, the counselor and the mediator and got no results, so I moved my daughter to a different school. Was that the right thing to do? She is a high school senior.

Mom of a Bullied Kid

Dear Bullied,

Every day, approximately 160,000 children stay home from school in this country because they are afraid of being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that more than 3.2 million children are victims of moderate or serious bullying every year.

As a parent, our instinct is to protect our children. When your daughter was being bullied, you tried to make it stop, and when it didn't, you did what you felt was necessary to keep her safe.

Without knowing more, I cannot say whether it was the "right" thing to do. Changing schools as a high school senior isn't ideal for many reasons. But it sounds like you did what you had to do to prevent further harm to your daughter, which means you didn't simply hide your head in the sand or tell her to "ignore the bullies," as if that alone would make it stop.

Bullying is a serious issue, but simply discussing it in the press or at PTA meetings doesn't mean that it is being adequately handled. In my counseling practice, I routinely see children and teens who are being bullied at school and in cyber-space, with devastating impact.

What seems to be most effective is an integrated school program that brings students together in small groups where open discussions between kids from varying social groups are moderated, and conflict resolution skills are taught. One such program is nobully.com. (Please note: I have no direct experience with this program and cannot personally recommend it, but the approach seems well thought out.)

In a structured forum where every participant is heard, kids have the chance to develop genuine empathy for one another by recognizing the emotional impact of teasing, taunting and tormenting, which is essential to stopping the behavior at its root. These programs seem to be far more successful than simply punishing bullies, or having school-wide assemblies once a year that do little to eradicate the problem.

Children who are bullied can suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, shame and depression. I hope your daughter is doing well at her new school, but keep in mind that while she may now be free of the bullying behavior, it is important that she have the chance to process the painful feelings that resulted from being targeted at her prior school.

Yours in parenting support,

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AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.