My Child Is Being Bullied. What Can I Do?
As parents, we do everything we can to keep our kids safe. We also know there are times when we have to let our kids fight their own battles. However, when it comes to bullying, there is no question: parents have the right and the responsibility to demand the safety and security of our children. We also have the power of state and federal law behind us when schools, houses of worship, athletic teams, and other groups drop the ball.
What is bullying, exactly?
There’s a difference between a kid with poor manners, a “sore winner,” and a bully. StopBullying.gov defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”
Bullying can be verbal, social, or physical.
- Not bullying: Child A calls Child B “a jerk face” one time.
- Bullying: Child A repeatedly teases and taunts Child B; calls Child B names; and threatens Child B with violence or retaliation.
- Not bullying: Child A always picks Child B last for kickball.
- Bullying: Child A posts personal information about Child B online, spreads rumors about Child B, or forces classmates to ignore Child B.
- Not Bullying: Child A kicks a wild ball during soccer practice and hits Child A, but refuses to apologize.
- Bullying: Child A hits, scratches, punches, kicks, spits, or otherwise physically harms Child B, and/or encourages others to do the same.
As parents, you should speak to teachers, counselors, and other parents if your child gets into some kind of altercation with another child, especially if it’s physical. Just remember that a one-time fight between two kids does not necessarily indicate bullying by legal standards.
How can laws help my child?
While no federal anti-bullying law exists, there are federal anti-discrimination laws which protect people on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sex, age, and abilities. If your child is being bullied for any of those reasons, you could file a lawsuit citing violations of federal anti-discrimination laws or ask for help from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
The state of Tennessee has an anti-bullying law under TN Code § 49-6-4503 (2018). This law says, “Each school district shall adopt a policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation, bullying or cyber-bullying.” Tennessee also requires that all teachers and counselors at a school be given copies of the policy, and that the following information be included in those policies:
- A statement prohibiting harassment, intimidation, bullying or cyber-bullying
- A definition of these terms
- A description of these terms
- A description of expected student behavior
- A statement of the consequences for students who violate the policy, and what actions will be taken
- Procedures for reporting and investigating allegations of these acts, and what the district will do during and after the investigation
- A statement prohibiting retaliation against an accuser
- A procedure for dealing with false allegations
- Titles of all people responsible for implementing the policy
The list above is a shortened version of the full list of requirements. We encourage you to read the full text of the law here. Educate yourself about what the laws demand and what schools and districts are required to do.
The problem with laws is that unless they are enforced, they are useless. Some schools are better than others at implementing the policies required in their handbooks. If you find yourself in that situation, consider following the steps outlined below.
What should you do if your child is being bullied?
If your child is suffering bullying, there are a number of things you can and should do:
- Document the incident. Take pictures of any physical marks and take notes of your child’s description of the event, where it happened, who was present, and the date and time he or she says it took place.
- Take your child to the doctor immediately. If your child has physical injuries – especially injuries which caused cuts or other open wounds – take your child to the pediatrician or an emergency room ASAP. Save any records or receipts from your visit. Not only is this medically necessary, being seen by a medical provider soon after the incident will serve as evidence if you have to file a complaint later on. You should also ask your child’s pediatrician for recommendations for counselors and therapists. Bullying can leave invisible scars that last longer than physical ones.
- Review the school’s antibullying policy. If your child’s school has no handbook or antibullying policy, contact the District School Board and ask them to explain to you what your child’s school is required to do to protect your child.
- Contact the school, complain in writing (email or letter), and schedule a meeting—every time an incident occurs. Meet with the principal, vice principal, and guidance counselor. Request that any teachers who may have been aware of the problem attend the meeting. Bring an attorney if you feel it will help; you’re legally allowed to do that. Check the school handbook and state laws to ensure their planned response to the bullying agrees with the policy their handbook or the District School Board requires. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to voice your concerns and remind them of those requirements.
- Document and keep all correspondence with the school. It’s evidence, and you’ll need it to support your case. Without it, your dealings with the school will become a matter of your opinion of events vs. the school’s opinion of what happened. Save all emails, letters, and texts with school officials. Take pictures of any forms related to the incidents that the school gives you to fill out. Documenting what happened is critical.
- Get a lawyer. Schools have to follow the laws. If you find they are not, get a lawyer. If your child has been repeatedly bullied and the school refuses to intercede or the school’s efforts are not keeping your child safe, you need a lawyer. If your child has injuries or mental trauma that requires treatment, get a Gladiator.
Bullying can cause lasting harm. In some cases, it can become life-threatening. The groups we depend on to educate and care for our children have a sacred charge. When they violate that trust and refuse our children their protection, it can leave any parent feeling angry, frustrated, and helpless. If that happens to you, get help. Call an attorney to assist you or give us a call. Our offices are safe and secure, and your consultation is free and confidential. We’ve helped many parents gain protection and justice for their children, and we’re here for you if you need us. Give us a call at 615.425.2500 or fill out our contact form, and we’ll help you schedule a time to come talk with us at one of our offices in Nashville, Hendersonville, or Knoxville.
More resources for parents
- Cyberbullying Research Center. Lists states laws, reference materials, and helpful tips for parents.
- BAM! Guide to Getting Along. Information for students about how to deescalate tense situations, which may help bullied students reach an adult or a safe space.
- How to stop bullying at school. Tips for students to teach them how to stop bullying before it starts.
- FBI Safe Online Surfing Internet Challenge. Online challenges designed to keep kids safe on the internet.
- SAMHSA’s KnowBullying app. A free app for parents to help them talk with their children about bullying.
- Psychology Today. A free database listing child therapist and counselors. You can search by city name, zip code, or counselor name.
Nashville personal injury attorney Rocky McElhaney is a well-known and respected lawyer as well as published author, helping Tennesseans through difficult times since the turn of the century. Rocky builds friendships with his clients, not just professional relationships. Rocky McElhaney is a Super Lawyer, AV Rated by Martindale Hubbell, has been named a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association and has been awarded Best Lawyer in Nashville by the Nashville Scene Readers’ Poll
The Rocky McElhaney Law Firm represents people who have been injured by car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, negligent premises owners, defective products and many other forms of negligence throughout the state of Tennessee. The firm also represents clients in the areas of workers’ compensation and Social Security Disability claims.