As a parent, specifically of a child with a social, emotional, behavioral or mental health challenge, bullying is something that is probably on your mind quite often. We hate the fact that some children have endured, and are enduring bullying and we want to be able to help parents put a stop to it. Bullying is not a "rite of passage" or something that comes with the territory of growing up, it is a massive issue that plagues the halls of our schools, the aisles of our school buses, and the screens in front of your children's faces. Not only does it make children fearful of going to school or going on social media when they have an active bullying situation, but it can also have a longstanding impact on the child being bullied that they may carry with them the rest of their lives. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance sat down with a father, and grandfather; Fred Jacobs, who suffered from severe bullying during his childhood and to this day is affected by the things that happened 50 years ago.
"I wasn't a tough guy, I was not an athlete. I was just an average kid trying to figure this thing out we call life. I would go to school and get beaten up, I contemplated dropping out. My parents wouldn't let me drop out. If I allow myself I can still feel the punches," said Jacobs when thinking back on the days he was bullied. He mentioned that this had an immediate and long-term impact on his mental health. "I had major anxiety of the unknown, not knowing when or if I would be harmed. I still have trust issues because of the bullying." While depression and anxiety are two things that were immediate, and longterm, substance abuse and addiction came later for Jacobs.
"Self medication with drugs and alcohol came later, and thank God is no longer in existence. That's what happens to people who suffer from trauma like bullying. They can isolate themselves, or self medicate in their own way. A lot of people don't talk about childhood trauma and how it never really goes away."
While Jacobs went through severe bullying he said he feels like kids these days can get it even worse than he did. His bully was not able to follow him home and harm him when school was not in session. Today's kids can suffer from similar playground and bus bullying like Jacobs however now it seems to never have a shut-off switch because of cyberbullying. Social media has allowed our world to not feel so big anymore. It connects families that span across the world, on our platforms it connects parents who have gone through similar struggles, but to a child who is being bullied, it tethers them to the source of their fear and does not let go. Jacobs was able to find peace and solace at home with his loved ones. It was school that he was scared of, not his house.
Now when children go home there is no off switch to interacting with their classmates. While this can be an opportunity for them to chat and bond with their friends it can also be an opportunity for their bully to continue to inflict harm on them. Jacobs wanted to encourage parents to have incredibly open communication between themselves and their children. Make sure that your child knows that you are always there for them to talk to about things that are going on. Jacobs also recommends that you are vigilant about the things that your child are doing online to ensure their general safety, as well as hyper-aware of how their moods and mental health ebbs and flows.
Jacobs number one piece of advice for parents who have a child that is being bullied to keep pushing until it is resolved. "You know that saying, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. In this case, it is very true and it is important that you keep going to the school and making sure the issues that your child is facing is being taken seriously. "Get the facts. Get the names, the places where it's occurring, particular classes where it happens. Take all of the facts that you have to your child's school in a calm way, and try your hardest to keep your emotions under control. Even if your child has been labeled a "trouble-maker," don't stop until it has been fixed," said Jacobs. In his opinion, Jacobs thinks the most impactful thing you can do is get together with other parents whose children are experiencing similar things to yours. "If you get a group of parents together and have that group sit in the front row of a PTA meeting and bring it up in a non-threatening way they will be forced to take the issue much more seriously. You are the taxpayers."
As for what Jacobs thinks the school can do he wanted to emphasize that kids go to school to learn and not to be in a hostile environment. "The teachers and children are at risk. Teachers are walking out of the classrooms, kids are too scared to focus on learning," said Jacobs. He went on to say that schools need to be aware of whats going on in their walls and make sure they are taking a strong stance against bullying.
"I still feel myself back in that mindset when I get put in situations that makes me feel threatened or trapped. I can feel it welling up in me again," said Jacobs. By making his mental health a priority Jacobs is in a much better place than he has been before. He has been sober for many decades and while he still struggles with depression and anxiety it is nowhere near as debilitating as it was when he was a younger man.
Being a father, and grandfather Jacobs is able to see bullying from a different perspective. When asked if his kids were bullied he said that they were not, at least to his knowledge. None of his kids had come to him needing help with a bullying situation. As for his grandkids, he said they have experienced bullying and felt like it was even worse because of the new added aspect of cyberbullying. Jacobs told his grandkids what he would tell any child that was being bullied. "Tell a person in authority, at your school and at home. I can't go to school to protect them every day and neither can my son (their father). We needed to equip them with the knowledge that they do not have to face this alone, and getting help is not "snitching."
Jacobs has been impacted by bullying in a way that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. He wants to use his story to be an advocate for parents, schools, and children that bullying is not something that needs to be taken lying down. He wants to urge schools and parents to be vigilant about what is going on with their children, and how things that happen are impacting their mental health. He wants young children who are being bullied to realize that their self worth is not tied to what this one particular classmate thinks of them and that seeking help is them showing strength not weakness.
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For more resources on how you can protect your child from bullying at school visit: