How do we protect our kids from identity-based bullying? Recently, I had a conversation about identity-based bullying with a teacher, and they shared that reaching kids about bullying is a delicate balance. We expose kids to the word “bullying” in a constant drumbeat throughout their years in school. We desensitize them to the concept by the time they reach middle school. So, how do we protect our kids from identity-based bullying? Let’s discuss this further.
On a gorgeous fall day, I went on a walk with a friend. As we hiked through the forest, we spoke about life. My friend was born in China and is married to a Jewish man. Both successful doctors and have two children, the youngest a Senior in high school. As we came to the end of our nearly three-hour trek, she shared that her child had written their college essay. Their most impactful moment described the brutal verbal assaults they endured throughout their years in high school. My friend, with pain in her eyes, explained that her child was tormented with racial slurs that are too vile for me to put on this page. She never knew.
After our walk, I attended a webinar titled Preventing and Intervening in Identity-Based Bullying by the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. During the webinar, they spoke about the types of bullying: physical, verbal, relational/social, property damage, and cyberbullying. In addition, they shared the following definition of bullying:
“Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth, including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.” (source: Gladden, Vivolo-Kantor, Hamburger, & Lumpkin, 2013)
Of note, identity-based bullying is defined as “any form of bullying related to characteristics considered part of a person’s identity or perceived identity group, such as race, religion, disability, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical appearance, etc. (source: Edutopia) So how do we help our children, especially those who are part of a minority or marginalized group, thrive despite bullying?
Ways to Protect our Kids from Identity-Based Bullying
- Name it: Despite the overuse of the word, our kids must know that we understand that 1 in 5 high school students reported being bullied at school in the last year. The numbers are much worse for minorities
- 19% of Hispanic and 18% of Black students report experiencing bullying
- 40% of LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) kids report experiencing bullying in the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance 2019 report
- According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 81.5% of Asian American Pacific Islanders report experiencing bullying or verbal harassment.
- And GLSEN reports that 79.6% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of a personal characteristic.
- Watch for behavior changes: My friend knew her child quit soccer, both the high school team and travel, but did not know why. Our children are not always forthcoming with what is going on. In my case, my children have expressed concern that I will go “mama bear” to intervene. I get it. I need to keep things in check, even when they are hurting my baby. But watching for signs is vital. Especially if your child is at-risk either because they are part of a minority/marginalized group or because your family is part of a marginalized community. Changes in friends or activities, isolation, depression, suicidal ideation, and cutting could signal that something is going on.
- Counseling: Let me first say it is expensive, I know. Some insurance actually covers these visits. More on this in an upcoming post. Suppose you have a child who is part of a marginalized/vulnerable community. In that case, I highly suggest getting a counselor before a problem arises. If you cannot afford private counseling, reach out to the school guidance counselor. Ask them to develop a relationship with your child. Express your concerns about bullying. Another opportunity is with mentoring programs. You can find mentoring programs through the National Mentoring Resource Center.
- Get Involved: As a working mom, I know this is a tough ask. With four kids in three different schools, it is impossible. However, school involvement is a sure way to impact what is happening. Talk to administrators and teachers about bullying and your concerns for your child and those around them. The federal government’s bullying prevention website (www.stopbullying.gov) reports that if a youth (an ally) steps in to interrupt bullying, the bullying stops almost 60% of the time. We need to ensure this messaging is getting across to all students.
So, what is the number one way to protect our kids from identity-based bullying? Ensure you do not foster an environment of bullying at home. Do not speak ill of another group or make stereotypical generalizations. Each of us has our own biases; we must learn to recognize these blind spots and work to make changes. As one of my good friends says, “Other Is a Myth.” We are all other, essential, and the world would be less beautiful without diversity.