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Taking Care of Bullies

Middle School Expert Advice from Judith Lee Ladd

Q: My son is in seventh grade and is being bullied. I spoke to the assistant principal and he gave the bully detention and made him apologize to my son. Now all the kids are calling my son a tattle-tale and saying things like, "You better watch your back." Do you think I did the wrong thing by going to the school and reporting this incident? What could I have done and what should I do now?

A: I think the most difficult situation for a parent is seeing a child suffer and not being able to jump in and take care of the problem. I commend your actions in this case. When the teasing and name-calling cross the line to become physical, parents must take action.

When your son comes home upset, I recommend that you just listen to the outpouring of his pent-up emotions. Do not try to extract details or criticize how the situation was handled. Once the outpouring stops, and your son seems calm and in control, review the incident. Ask for details and try to identify positive things your son did to ignore or avoid a confrontation. Ask him what he wants to do about the incident, stressing that so long as physical harm is not involved, he can call the shots. If the incident results in physical harm, you must report it.

Ask him how he wants you to support his plan. Even though it's hard to let him try a strategy different from one you'd choose, it's important for him to recognize that you have confidence that he can find a way to improve situations.

Encourage your son to alert school personnel to the problem. Discipline may not always be the answer. If your school has a mediation program or a conflict resolution program, ask your son to find out how they operate and consider seeking assistance. These programs generally have greater peer acceptance over tattling or getting parents to intervene.

I commend the relationship you apparently have with your son. He has open communication and support. Let him join with you in the problem-solving and you both will feel more in control of the situation.

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Judith Lee Ladd is a former president of the American School Counselor Association, a national organization of K-12 and post-secondary school counselors.

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