Friday, May 04, 2012

The Bullying Saga: A Happy Ending Results in Cautious Optimism

“Mrs. Cozzens,” said the principal, “I’d like you to know that your daughter just left my office [with those who bullied her], and they all appeared to be the best of friends.”

Sweet words to soothe the ears of a worried mother. But even though it feels like a happy ending to a nine-day period of turmoil, I remain cautiously optimistic regarding our daughter’s social experience at Sabino High School.

It was not a smooth nor easy path to get the bullies off her back and their rumors/comments off the Internet, and I’m certain that without our heavy-handed parental involvement, our daughter would still be coming home in tears.

Throughout the process both our daughters begged us to let it go. “You’re making it worse, Mom,” claimed my older daughter. “Please just stop. I want it all to stop,” moaned the younger, who for days seemed a mere fraction of her former self with slumped shoulders, glassy eyes and a furrowed brow.

It took strength and diligence—including four unreturned phone calls to the school and finally the need to re-explain and clarify the facts several times to the administrators so that THEY had the story straight—before we achieved the outcome we desired. We were very clear: we wanted the posts removed from Twitter, for the bullies to acknowledge their actions/violations, an apology to our daughter, and the promise that she would no longer be targeted.

The ultimate lesson we have learned is that it’s essential for parents to get involved in order to truly deal with the issue of bullying. The kids are terrified of not only reporting the offense, but also of sticking up for their bullied friends for fear of becoming targets themselves.

Bullying Policy Poster at Sabino
Meanwhile, administrators talk the talk. They hang posters, provide lectures, and emit the message that bullying won’t be tolerated; however, it was painfully clear to us that they still needed a little work/experience in dealing with bullying situations in order to transform them into positive outcomes.

The bullying policy at Sabino, for example, suggests that victims “keep talking until someone listens.” And “all reports of bullying will be held in the strictest confidence.”  We didn’t know that “keep talking” meant we’d have to repeatedly call the school and finally appeal to a higher-level administrator before we’d reach a satisfactory resolution. Nor did we understand how tricky it is to keep complaints confidential. Rumors spread in high schools as quickly as germs spread in daycare centers.

Know this: If your child is the victim of bullying, you must have PROOF before the administrators can or will fully deal with the situation. They will not verify allegations based on hearsay, rumor or gossip. If he or she is a victim of cyber-bullying, make copies of the Internet posts immediately. (We took screen shots of the Twitter pages). If they receive threatening texts or texts of a bullying nature, again take screen shots of the phone screen or request transcripts from the cell service. If a child is verbally harassed or assaulted on school grounds, secure credible witnesses who are brave enough to “testify” on behalf of your child.

Finally, do not believe the five most dangerous words when it comes to bullying: MAYBE IT WILL GO AWAY. It won’t go away unless you identify the bully, expose the bully with credible proof, and stay on top of the situation until the victim is once again smiling, standing up straight, and cheerful about going to school in the morning.

We believe the outcome of our efforts has helped to teach our children a valuable lesson. They have both—especially the younger of the two girls—grown stronger, and even taller, because of it.

Happy girls on their way to school


Susan Francino said...

Wow. Best of luck getting your girls through high school. I graduated from a public high school about a year ago and it was--and will hopefully remain--the worst four years of my life. :(

Michele Cozzens said...

Susan, I am so sorry to hear that (the worst four years of your life). The good news is that those four years are over . . . surely hope things are better for you now.

One thing I regularly tell my girls when dealing with either bullies or bitches (or whatever immature being is plaguing them at the school), is that those people are experiencing the best four years of their life and it'll all be downhill for them after h.s.

Susan Francino said...

That's true. And in retrospect, I feel bad for them...or most of them haha. ;)