Every day, children and adolescents across the country endure teasing, physical bullying and cyberbullying. As a parent, if your child is being bullied, you want to do everything you can to put an end to it. Many parents, however, don’t know where to start.
G.E.A.R. Parent Network, a Crisis & Counseling Centers (C&C) program, provides resources, support and workshops for parents of children with emotional and behavioral health needs – including bullying. One mother, who has been using G.E.A.R.’s general parent support services for more than 12 years, began seeking specific guidance on bullying last year.
Deanne is a Kennebec County resident and mother of three whose 16-year-old daughter lives with Asperger Syndrome and bipolar disorder. When youths have behavioral health needs, bullying often exacerbates their symptoms.
Deanne’s daughter was bullied throughout the school year, but her diagnoses often prevented her from recognizing bullying when it happened. “She would know when her gut would feel bad, but she couldn’t always vocalize, ‘This person was staring at me and that’s what made me feel uncomfortable,’” Deanne said. “Her diagnosis plays a role in her perception of overreacting and underreacting when she doesn’t recognize what’s going on right in front of her.”
At the beginning of the school year, Deanne’s daughter was cutting. When other students noticed the scars, they began harassing her with cruel comments and encouraged her to continue engaging in self-harm.
As parents, Deanne and her husband were devastated and shocked to learn the extent of the bullying. “I think other kids recognize that she is different,” Deanne said. “She’s got into the emo look, wearing some darker clothing and eye makeup. They definitely pick up on how she visibly and behaviorally stands out.” But that’s no excuse for bullying, she added.
When Deanne’s daughter felt uncomfortable at school, she went to the health center to sleep – the only coping mechanism she knew. Over time, Deanne worked with the school nurse to offer alternative strategies. “I put tea bags in her backpack…to help her relax more,” Deanne said. The nurse also began communicating with her to learn which class she had come from and identify the bullying students.
As a result of the bullying, her diagnoses and her accompanying depression, Deanne’s daughter had low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts throughout the school year. In Maine, 22.4 percent of high school students report being bullied on school property. Maine law requires all schools to implement policies and procedures to address bullying and harassment.
Deanne and her husband reported the bullying to school administrators, meeting with them a total of seven times to discuss possible solutions. Ultimately, however, their family found the best professional help outside the school district, through a clinician who visited their home as well as G.E.A.R. Parent Network.
Deanne credits G.E.A.R. with helping her overcome the challenges – bullying related or otherwise – she has faced as a parent. G.E.A.R.’s regional parent support coordinator for Kennebec, Somerset and Franklin counties, Diane Bouffard, has developed a close relationship with Deanne, but Deanne knows she can count on any G.E.A.R. staff members to share their firsthand knowledge.
“If I know that a certain G.E.A.R. rep has had a similar experience, I call them directly. Without G.E.A.R., I also wouldn’t have been knowledgeable about other agencies, such as Maine Parent Federation.”
Although Deanne’s daughter has emotional and behavioral health needs, anyone can be the target of bullying. Depending on the setting, some groups – such as children with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered youth – may be at a higher risk of being bullied. Bullying affects all young people, including those who bully others, those who are bullied and those who witness bullying.
G.E.A.R. Parent Network has developed a “What You Should Know About Bullying” Pocket Pal, which parents and youths can reference as needed. The detailed, easy-to-use guide defines bullying and cyberbullying, who is affected, how to prevent bullying, and how to support victims. To obtain this resource, stop by a G.E.A.R. workshop or C&C’s lobby at 10 Caldwell Road in Augusta.
G.E.A.R. Parent Network empowers parents and caregivers of children with emotional and behavioral health needs to effect life decisions based on their family’s strengths and needs. If you are being bullied or see bullying occur, you can contact G.E.A.R. Parent Network for guidance at 1.800.264.9224, or visit gearparentnetwork.org.