Dads can prevent bullying

Dads Can Prevent Bullying – James Watts

Much has been written on the subject of bullying. Most writers correctly differentiate between the occasional school yard scuffle and the persistent and pernicious harassment of an individual. Some have tried to profile both the bullied and the bully and scorn is generally heaped upon the bystander. A plethora of ‘solutions’ have been offered and yet the problem persists. Worse, with social networking, the problem seems to be escalating. Having taught in a variety of settings both in Canada and in Africa and having been a high school Principal for 18 years I offer to the discussion both my empirical research and a simple solution. (That ought to raise the hackles of those who believe that for a solution to work it must be both complex and next to impossible to implement!)

My first observation is that there is neither rhyme nor reason why one student gets bullied and the next does not. The smart student, the short student, the bespectacled student, the wallflower, and the jock all have the same chance of finding him or herself locked in the cross-hairs of a bully’s aggression. I have taught classes for students with behavioral deficits (aka ‘bad kids’). At times I had two students in my class. Invariably, when a third student was introduced to the group, one of the three became the target! I have yet to decipher the teen-code for target selection!

My second observation is that bullies come is all shapes, sizes and intellectual capacities. They are not all products of having been bullied or abused and most cannot articulate why they act the way they do. Unfortunately many teachers and administrators react to these students as the CIA would a highly trained, terrorist operative instead of the confused mess of hormones and neurons we call our students!

My final observation leads to the solution. I have noticed that students whose dads are involved in their schools are far less likely to be bullied or to be bullies. Too simple? I warned you! Many dad leave school and all things academic (with the exception of math and science projects) to mom. This might be a logical division of labor or it could be for strategic reasons, availability, or just plain laziness. The few dads who darken the doors of their child’s elementary school miraculously disappear just when they are needed the most – during high school. Attend a school’s bake sale, the PPO or home and school meeting and you will think that you had stepped into a woman only zone. (Thank God for these amazing, hardworking Moms who offer many, non-billable hours of service to cash-strapped schools.)

There are three reasons why children whose dads are involved in their schools do not find themselves at either end of the bullying spectrum: I have noticed, as I have been involved in my children’s schools – chairing governing boards for the past 10 years – that my children’s peers get to know me. As much as I would like to be known for some real or imagined successes in my life, to these young people I am Micah’s or Sophie’s dad. For a would-be bully, knowing that there is a dad and that he is often seen in the school, is a strong deterrent.

The second reason is the confidence it bring to a child knowing that, if there is a problem, his or her dad, can find the front office; an office where he has influence because of his involvement in the school. (Fair or unfair, I grant more time to the complaint of a parent who has been involved in my school than I do to the parent I have never met.) This confidence shields kids making them impervious to verbal and psychological attacks and occasionally secure enough to stand up for others.

Finally, a dad who is involved in his child’s school sends an unmistakable message that he cares enough to take the time to know what is happening in his child’s life. It is this dad who is more likely to have a ‘relevant’ conversation with his child. It is this dad who will be perceived to understand the teen-dynamic (even if he needs to fake it a bit!). It is this dad who will model to his son how to be a man.

So dads, if you really want to bully-proof your child, get involved in his or her school. Go into the school’s office tomorrow and ask how you can help out; join the home and school organization, stand for election for the governing board, attend sports events. In doing so you will be protecting your child, and other children, from the potentially damaging effects of either side of bullying.

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