Most children will have an encounter with bullying sometime in their life. It’s an unfortunate truth that bullies exist and often persist at many schools. As a parent or guardian, you may not be able to stop bullies from cropping up in your child’s life, but you can prepare yourself for any situation, should it arise.
Many interventions can and should be tried in the event of bullying before seeking legal representation. Some escalated circumstances, however, may call for the advice or assistance of a lawyer.
What Defines Bullying?
The legal definition of bullying varies from state to state, but the general premise is that it constitutes an aggressive, unwanted behavior by one or multiple students against another. It may include, but is not limited to:
- Physical assault
- Verbal aggravation, such as name-calling
- Making threats or demands
- Sexual harassment
- Spreading damaging rumors
Your child’s school will likely have its own policy on and definition of bullying, which can take many forms, and doesn’t always look the same. All types of bullying are serious and need to be dealt with, but not all need the specific attention of a lawyer.
Signs That Your Child Is Being Bullied
Before you can do anything about bullying, you have to know about it. It helps to know what kinds of bullying there are, as listed above, but it’s also important to understand the different reactions or warning signs your child might display if they are being bullied.
The response will manifest differently in every child. You know your child best, but some common signs that they might be a victim of bullying at school include:
- Signs of physical harm on your child
- Less interest or enjoyment shown in school
- Asking to stay home frequently or complaining of illness
- Distraction or difficulty completing schoolwork
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty falling asleep
If you notice your child exhibiting any of these signs, especially more than one at the same time, you may want to approach having a conversation with them about bullying.
What To Do Next
The most important thing to do first is to talk to and listen to your child. This can also be a very difficult step, as they may not want to open up about the experience they are undergoing at school. Practice patience and ask general questions to better understand what’s going on.
Once you’ve opened up a dialogue and established that the bullying is happening, start keeping records of what your child has told you, plus any further incidents. This will be useful if you need to speak to school officials or legal authorities.
If the bullying continues, reach out to your child’s school to file a complaint. Issues can often be resolved at the school level if their policy is robust and their staff is proactive. If necessary, set up a meeting with the guidance counselor to discuss the bullying. They can be your child’s advocate until the situation has been defused.
When to Call a Lawyer
If all other attempts to solve the bullying issue have failed, it may be appropriate to seek legal counsel. For instance, if you feel that your child’s school may not be doing enough or isn’t responding to your requests for help, a lawyer might be able to step in.
In some cases, you might simply need a lawyer to help you understand your state’s anti-bullying laws and what your child’s school needs to do in compliance with those laws. They can hold your school accountable if they aren’t doing enough to help your child navigate the situation. They can also advise you on who to contact if your child’s case isn’t receiving adequate attention from the school authorities.
You might also want to consider a criminal lawyer when the bullying takes the form of what your state might qualify as a criminal behavior. Example behaviors include assault, stalking, cyberbullying, and child pornography. The bullying might also count as discrimination if its basis is your child’s race, gender, religion, disability, etc.
Bringing a legal claim against your child’s bully will not result in a criminal charge, though it may go to the juvenile justice system. Regardless, there will be serious consequences for the student or students responsible for bullying your child.
Preparing For The Future
Hopefully, your child will never face a bullying situation serious enough that you need to seek the aid of a lawyer. But it’s important to be prepared for anything. Knowing the warning signs and what to do about them will keep you informed and keep your child safe, no matter what happens.
Thank you for visiting Education and Behavior, a free resource for parents, educators, and counselors to support children as effectively as possible in at home, in school and in life!
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Darryl R. Smith, Criminal Defense and Civil Litigation attorney, was born in Staten Island, New York and raised in Piscataway, New Jersey. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008 summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and Legal Studies. Darryl went on to attend Vanderbilt University Law School. During his law school career, Darryl Smith was recognized by Vanderbilt University Law School as a Chancellor’s Scholar, and also was named Senior Editor for the Southern Regional BLSA Law Review Journal. He graduated from Vanderbilt University Law School with his Juris Doctorate in 2011, and moved to Orlando to pursue his dream of practicing law in Central Florida. His current practice is Smith & Eulo Law Firm.