Parental basics on bullying

When you think of a bully, you probably picture one child getting too rough with another. But bullying is not just physical. It can take a variety of forms and can have varying degrees of severity. One of the more common types of bullying is done verbally via teasing or name-calling. It can also take form in sexual harassment, shoving, hitting, tripping, threatening another, hazing, stealing property or spreading rumors. Cyber bullying has also become prevalent in recent years. The state of Indiana has defined bullying as an imbalance of power, with a pattern or repeated acts over time.

Regardless of the form or definition, bullying can have serious long term effects on a child. It can occur in the home, on the playground and most commonly, in the school system. Parents need to be equipped with the warning signs of school bullying, and it is important to understand what rights your child has while in the school’s care.

According to Stomp Out Bullying, a national anti-bullying and cyber bullying organization, the following are considered warning signs that your child may be experiencing bullying:
  1. Your child comes home with torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings;
  2. Has unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches;
  3. Has few, if any friends, with whom he or she spends time;
  4. Seems afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part in organized activities with peers;
  5. Finds or makes up excuses as to why they can’t go to school;
  6. Takes a long out of the way route when walking to or from school;
  7. Has lost interest in school work or suddenly begins to do poorly in school;
  8. Appears sad, moody, teary, or depressed when he or she comes home;
  9. Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments;
  10. Has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams;
  11. Experiences a loss of appetite;
  12. Appears anxious and suffers from low self-esteem

Bullying is not something a parent or a school should take lightly. Statistics show that more than 16,000 young people are absent from school each year because of bullying. [1] 83% of young people say bullying has a negative impact on their self-esteem and 30% of young people have gone on to self-harm as a result of bullying.

Schools have a duty to protect children and provide a safe environment conducive to education. This duty means that schools, if they have knowledge of the bullying, are legally required to take action to protect your child. If you suspect your child is being bullied, it is highly recommended that you contact your school’s principal to discuss the situation. In the state of Indiana, there are specific laws in place that require school officials to prohibit bullying and outline specific guidelines for parental involvement, bullying reporting, investigation of bullying and intervention. It is imperative that you put the school on notice and craft a solution on how to put an end to the bullying. Do not take, “I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do,” as an answer from their school. There are options and you should not give up.

If your complaints are ignored by the school, or negligently resolved, you may want to consider contacting a lawyer about your legal options. Lawyers can often draft a letter to the school, which makes clear the severity of the bullying allegations and helps motivate them to resolve the issue. If warranted and severe enough, a lawsuit can be filed.

In addition to notifying the school, it is vital you document everything. Every incident of bullying your child complains of, every written request or phone call made to the school, every therapy appointment, every poor performing exam due to bullying – write it down. The more you keep track of your efforts, the more serious the school will take you and the more evidence for your lawyer to work with should a bullying claim go that far.

One of the biggest hurdles facing bully victims is how to report the bullying. Often times blowing the whistle can sometimes make the situation more volatile between the victim and the aggressor. In response to that, creative entrepreneurs like IUPUI freshman, Brandon Boynton, have thought outside the box – literally. In 2014, Brandon launched BullyBøx, a mobile app and anti-bullying system that allows schools to offer anonymous and safe reporting for students facing bullying. Brandon has received positive feedback from both students and schools alike. “Not only does the BullyBøx stop problems through the use of reporting, but it also acts as a deterrent. Why would a student pick a fight if he knows that everyone around him has the ability to report him anonymously, right at their fingertips?” Brandon understands that depending upon the student and the school, situations may be handled differently. “There is certainly no ‘one size fits all’ solution to handling bullying, but an anonymous reporting system is a step in the right direction.”

As a parent, understanding the warning signs is an important first step. From there – talk to your child, talk to their school or consult an attorney to discuss your legal options.

Megan Cain is an associate attorney at the Hankey Law Office in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her primary practice areas include social security disability law (both adult and child) and personal injury matters.

[1] Date and info available at:

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