Q: We just moved here and our son started middle school. Everyday he comes home upset because when lunch arrives, he is told by other students to go sit at the “loser” table since that is where he belongs. He is having a tough time making friends out here. I told him to talk to his school counselor but he says he is afraid of looking like a baby. He says he is a loner at the school, no one talks to him, no one eats with him, etc. He says it makes him sick to his stomach and so sometimes he cannot even eat his lunch. My son has never had a problem making friends, but then when we moved out here there was a problem. Please advise, as I am unsure what to do.
A. I am so glad that your son has been able to talk with you. He is lucky to have you as a mother. Bullying thrives on fear and secrecy. It is possible that your son has not shared the worst of his experiences with you. Bullied children often share only enough information to signal a need for help. Ask about cyber-bullying , texting or email, but don’t press for details. Your son obviously feels trapped and alone, and he fears further rejection if says or does anything to call attention to the way he is being treated. He needs your help. What can you do?
What parents can do to stop bullying
- First, take his concerns very seriously. Let your son know that one way or another, the bullying is going to stop, and that you will do whatever it takes to help him through this time.
- Explain to your son that it is the school environment, and not him, that needs to change. He may not be aware of it, but there are undoubtedly other children at this middle school who are also being bullied. The school has a legal and moral responsibility to own and confront this dysfunction. As his parent, you must bring this systemic problem to the attention of the school, and if necessary, to the district. It is up to you to hold the principal and administration responsible for ensuring the safety of your son each and every day he attends school.
- Make an appointment with the school principal as soon as possible, and insist that your concerns be taken seriously. If you get anything less than a full commitment to intervene, consider hiring an attorney. Unless the school is completely inept, they will thank you for bringing to their awareness a problem that will likely worsen without intervention.
- Don’t back down. Fight for your son, and don’t force him to go to a school in which he does not feel safe – psychologically, emotionally, or physically. Bullied and rejected children are often capable of desperate acts. Better to let him stay home from school than subject him to more ridicule and humiliation. Let him know that you will do whatever it takes, even if it means transferring to another school.
- Finally, after all he has been through, your son may be depressed or traumatized. He may not be able to rally the social skills and confidence he will need to adjust, even in a healthier school environment. To use a medical analogy, his ‘social immune system’ way be compromised, making him vulnerable to being further bullied and ostracized. Moreover, your son is going to need a safe place to work through the pain and humiliation he has suffered, and to learn to think strong and healthy again. Thus, it is imperative that you find a child psychologist or psychotherapist your son likes and feels comfortable with to work through these issues and to develop a plan for building friendships and regaining his self-esteem.
Please drop a line and let us know when life improves for your son.
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