As parents, we regularly struggle with the difficult issue of bullying. Could my child be a victim? A perpetrator? How much should I monitor their social networking activity? Tough questions such as these can swirl around a parental psyche causing all manner of stress and uncertainty. Wouldn’t it be nice to talk to someone who deals with bullying every day, striving to make sure kids treat each other equitably and with kindness? Wouldn’t it be nice to talk to a school principal?

As part of our Special Edition on Bullying, we’ve brought the principals to you. Middle School Principals Hugh McDermott (Irving Middle School/Lincoln, Nebraska) and Bully B’Ware Director Cindi Seddon (Como Lake Middle School/Coquitlam, British Columbia) weighed in on the tough questions.

Education.com:

As a principal what would you say is the #1 fact every parent should know about bullying? The #1 myth?

Cindi Seddon:

#1 Fact: Bullying occurs everywhere. There is not a place where kids gather where the potential for bullying does not exist. Parents really need to take a child’s perception as reality. #1 Myth: If you ignore it, it will go away.

Hugh Mcdermott:

# 1 Fact: Bullying happens in every school and mirrors our communities. Bullying has been around forever and what we want to do is reduce the amount of bullying that happens. Bullying can be subtle and discrete or continuous and openly physical. # 1 myth: Our schools are “bully-free.” Our communities are “bully-free.” Our states are “bully-free.” Our country and our world are “bully-free.”

Education.com:

What would you say are the primary manifestations of bullying?

CS:

It’s an even mix. Physical fighting ebbs and flows. Our biggest challenge in schools right now is dealing with the unknowns of cyberspace. It’s unmanned. Researchers have likened it to the Wild West. Young kids don’t have the life experiences to know what not to do and how to stay safe.

HM:

Some of the primary ways kids bully here at Irving are similar to other schools I've worked in -- lots of verbal threats and intimidation, some physical aggression -- pushing, shoving and fighting. More electronic harassment than ten years ago, subtle and discrete acts of aggression when no one is around or looking.

Education.com:

What is the first thing a parent should do if her child comes home and says he or she is being bullied at school?

CS:

Parents need to listen and take the report seriously. Make sure you can talk to your child alone and uninterrupted. Listen to your child and do not dismiss his or her comments. Ask lots of information seeking questions after the story has come out. Express thanks to your child for telling the story and assure him or her the problem is going to be dealt with quickly and thoughtfully.

HM:

What I would encourage is that, at least initially, (again depending on the severity of the bullying incident or situation) parents support the victim and look for positive, active steps he or she can take to confront the bully. For example, you might encourage your child to write down what happens, when, where, any potential witnesses. Keeping a log or written record that can then later be shared with school officials can help determine patterns and routines of the bully and the situation in general. Having the victim write a note to the bully indicating that he or she has given a copy to the principal or other school administrator is another way to let the bully know that his or her actions must stop – and that others will be watching!

Education.com:

In your years as a principal, would you say bullying is a bigger problem than it was 5-10 years ago, or are things generally improving?

CS:

In schools and communities that have focused heavily on the issue there has been significant lowering of those kinds of behaviors. Unfortunately, we become complacent once there is a small improvement. Maintaining a positive school culture should always be of the utmost priority.

HM:

I think in my 18 years of being a middle school principal, bullying has increased in that we are being made more aware of it by our students, parents, and the media. Legislatures are passing “bullying laws” and requiring districts to have “bullying policies.” Unfortunately, I think students have learned some sly and sneaky ways to do their bullying. The use of technology such as cell phones, text messaging, and computers has certainly made bullying more prevalent because, like adults, middle school kids don't always think about how hurtful or awful the language they use and then send with the push of a button can be. These forms of communication are “faceless” and “impersonal,” and when students are very upset, are used without much if any thought.

Education.com:

Have you implemented any programs in your school to prevent bullying? Have they been successful?

CS:

My program Bully B’Ware Productions consists of books, a DVD, teacher resources, and a website all dedicated to tackling the issues that come with bullying. Currently we are focusing on cyberbullying. There is a huge demand for cyberbullying materials. We meet with parent groups. We train staff on how to deal with bullying in their schools and how to implement policies to prevent bullying on school and community levels. People can read more about what we do at www.bullybeware.com

HM:

At Irving Middle School we have implemented several strategies and programs to try to reduce bullying and prevent it all together. Our counselors have put together a presentation that they give to all classes at all three grade levels (6-8) during the school year. During these presentations, they talk about bullying, what students can do to recognize bullying, what they might do to resist or personally confront bullying, and multiple ways to take personal responsibility for stopping bullying. Over the course of the last 3-4 years, we have implemented a program with the University of Nebraska

Lincoln Department of Educational Psychology called “Target Bully Intervention Program” that provides detailed assessments of students who have a chronic issue bullying their peers.