It is not odd to hear in the news these days: "Teenager commits suicide due to bullying." Sure, it is not always as serious as suicide, but the effects of bullying can cause mental and emotional problems to children and youth of all ages.
Bullying is not an easy problem to deal with. Due to fear of being hurt, embarrassed, or losing friends, kids usually keep the issue inside and do not tell an adult. It is also hard to read signs, unless the kid is showing obvious signs of depression, crying, etc. These days, with Islamophobia rampant in the nation, our kids are the bulls-eye for bullies, and we as parents, community members, and friends need to be very aware of what is going on around us.
Parents need to take the time, especially after school, to talk to their kids and ask how their day went. Ask questions which will require the kids to give in-depth answers – for example, after asking how lunch was, a parent can ask "Who did you sit with? Did you have a good time?" If parents start this routine early on in the kids' school lives, the kids will learn to trust their parents and won't feel like parents are "prodding" or being "annoying". They will also feel comfortable sharing problems if and when they encounter them.
If parents do find out that their kid is being bullied, there are many ways to address the problem. Parents should first bring awareness to the issue with the kid's teacher and/or principal. Request a conference with the teacher and explain what signs and complaints the kid has brought up. It is the teacher's and school's duty to do an investigation and look in to the matter, and of course, to keep in touch with the parents and keep them updated. Schools can address the problem, offer counseling, and also give consequences to put an end to the problem. A parent cannot just hope the problem will go away without telling any authority at the school.
Parents also have to take an active role in helping deal with bullying. There are many ways to get active in a school's organization. Parent-teacher organizations (PTOs) allow for programs, such as anti-bullying shows, lectures, programs, to take place in the school. Many times reflection through writing allows for kids to release their feelings that they may not feel comfortable sharing out loud. Helping to set these programs in place can hopefully change the school environment to more positivity and teamwork.
Kids also have to be taught how to behave and respond to bullies. Teaching kids how not to respond with anger is important, so that the cycle does not continue. Yes, it is important for kids to be able to defend themselves, but teaching kids to be rude back will not help them develop into problem-solvers; rather, they will just learn how to respond aggressively. When kids learn to be problem-solvers, they will be able to define their problem, converse in a respectful manner, and create solutions. If parents only teach their kids to run away from the problem or fight back, then the kids will not develop into strong problem-solvers, which will hurt them in the future, when there may be issues of discrimination, racism, oppression, etc. in which they have full right to solve through realistic means.
Another significant problem are parents who do not want to accept that their children are bullying others – this is why it is important as a school or a community to tackle the problem in large-scale manner so as not to single people out, unless it is a life-threatening issue. Further, establishing an open conversation with our kids will allow parents to find out if they are involved in bullying themselves. If that is the case, it is imperative for parents to look into causes of what is causing this behavior – lack of attention at home, health problems, etc. It is also very important to teach our children the examples of our beloved Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) and how they treated even their enemies with the utmost kindness and respect.
As all religions teach us to treat others how we want to be treated, we want our kids to be able to live up to this rule, and most importantly, be living examples of dedicated Muslims who teach and want to inspire others to be the same. In order to inspire our kids to be proud Muslims, they first need to be able to have strong self-esteem, which can be dangerously hurt through bullying.