Dr. Robyn Silverman warns parents who think their kids may be the target of bullying to write everything down.
Parents need to internalize the practice if they want to benefit from New Jersey’s new anti-bullying law, called the strongest in the country, which went into effect in September.
“You might think if your kids get a text that isn’t nice they should erase it,” she said in a telephone interview. But the new law calls for documentation. “Write it down. Log everything: IMs, texts, e-mails — anything needs to be recorded and dated.”
The law, passed last November, requires school personnel to take part in anti-bullying and suicide prevention training; the disciplining of administrators who fail to act on bullying complaints on or off school property; and school superintendents to make semiannual reports on all acts of violence, bullying, intimidation, and harassment.
Silverman, who lives in Randolph, is a child development specialist and author of Good Girls Don’t Get Fat. She will speak on bullying at the fifth annual Joseph F. Goldberg Memorial Learning Disabilities Seminar on Thursday evening, Nov. 17, at the Randolph Middle School. The program is presented by Jewish Family Service of MetroWest in partnership with the school.
According to Silverman, social networks present opportunities for bullies that the schoolyard taunt never could.
“When dealing with cyberbullying, it’s easy to get a rumor out. On Facebook, you can reach hundreds, even thousands of people in a moment,” she said. “This is not just schoolyard thugs torturing other kids, or boys shoving other kids on the playground and taking their lunch money.”
Instead, cyberbullying is often about gaining social status.
“Today it can be girls or boys, people who are well liked, looking for power and status. Since it’s about status, they have to push you down in front of everyone else. They need an audience,” she said.
Children with disabilities, meanwhile, are two to three times more likely to be victims than peers without disabilities, according to Silverman.
Signs of bullying are the same for all children, said Silverman, the mother of two young children, one of whom attends preschool at Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael.
“If a child shows a sudden change in their interest in school or extracurricular activities — look for the classic complaint about being sick or wanting to miss school; look for any change in the way a child is performing in school,” she said. “You have to know your child — you’re looking for any skewing from their typical behavior, like a change from a happy child to one who is emotionally agitated. Or there’s a change in eating or sleeping habits.”
If a parent suspects a child has been bullied, Silverman warns against immediate reaction.
“Don’t go storming into school, and don’t retaliate or seek revenge. Take a moment. Then ask yourself what you’d advise your best friend to do, or ask someone with more perspective for their advice.”
She also counsels parents to listen to their children.
“Let them know you will not take over but that you will work together. Ask what they want. Ask: How can I help you? They need you to be what they need from you. Listen first, then offer advice,” she said.
She added that with the new change in New Jersey’s law, the school is a mandatory partner in pursuing cases of suspected bullying.
“A lot of parents don’t realize that if cyberbullying happens at home, there is something they can do: They can report to the school, and the school must work with you on a solution,” she said. “If the bullying creates a hostile environment at school and affects a child’s learning, even if it happened at home, it is still a school issue.”