When a major incident of school violence occurs, often the first response is to blame the parents. Parents can, however, be tremendous allies and advocates for their children. If parents are open and available to communicate with young people, many times serious violence can be averted. In some cases, it has been parents who have led the way to important school and community reforms.
One of the major challenges for parents is knowing what is happening at school when they are not around. It is imperative that parents communicate with their children about what is happening at school–not just about academics, but also about social issues. Additionally, parents should maintain regular communication with school districts, checking web-based updates, calling the school and teachers when necessary, and attending school functions.
Fortunately, many wonderful resources are available for parents to help them identify warning signs of bullying and other problem behaviors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a link on its website that provides information about the frequency, types, warning signs, and effects of bullying. The same site also has tips for what parents can do if their child is being bullied. Specifically, parents are advised not to give up, even if their child begs them not to contact adults, as research suggests the most effective way to stop bullying is adult intervention. Parents should allow the school to set up a meeting involving the parents of the bully, rather than seeking to make those arrangements themselves. It is important that parents keep pressure on schools to ensure victims are being adequately protected.
In addition, for parents whose child has endured bullying, the advice is to help the child build his or her self-esteem by joining positive clubs, sports, or other activities. Parents must support those efforts and, in some cases, may need to reach out to help establish them if the victim is particularly socially awkward. If a child appears especially distraught, parents are advised to seek the help of a mental health professional.
SAMHSA also offers advice to parents of bullies. First, it is imperative that parents inform their children that they take bullying seriously and that such behavior will not be allowed. Providing positive reinforcement for prosocial behavior in the home and in the community can encourage bullies to make better choices. Above all, parents are discouraged from excusing or justifying bullying.
The website operated by Stop Bullying Now (http://www.stopbullying.gov/) also has recommendations about what adults can do in situations where children are being bullied. It includes a wealth of information about bullying, warning signs, laws, and interventions across the United States. Additional information is available at the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (http://www.colorado.edu/cspv/publications/factsheets/safeschools/FS-SC09.pdf).
Parents can learn about other issues related to school crime and violence, including child abuse, sexual violence, dating violence, and suicide, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website (http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/index.html).
Adults and Children Together Against Violence (http://actagainstviolence.apa.org/) is a resource that features a database of more than 250 journal articles, book chapters, and other publications related to youth violence. Topics for parents include anger management, conflict resolution, discipline, media violence, and parenting skills.
- Adults and Children Together Against Violence: http://actagainstviolence.apa.org/
- Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence Bullying Fact Sheet: http://www.colorado.edu/cspv/publications/factsheets/safeschools/FS-SC09.pdf
- Parents, grandparents and caregivers. (n.d.). SAMHSA’s National Mental Health and Information Center. Retrieved from http://store.samhsa.gov/home
- Stop Bullying Now: http://www.stopbullying.gov/
- Violence Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/index.html