Homework isn't the only thing some Michigan kids dread as they head back to school, as a new nationwide analysis ranks Michigan worst for bullying. According to the online-survey site WalletHub, the state is also third for the percentage of high-school kids bullied on school property.
As an expert in adolescent violence, Janet Olsen, an academic specialist with Michigan State University Extension suggested parents learn the school's bullying-prevention strategies. In Michigan, she explained, state law requires that schools adopt policies to prohibit bullying behaviors and have procedures in place so they can respond.
"It also requires that schools provide training for staff and educational programs for kids and parents, that would focus on strategies for preventing, identifying, responding to, reporting these kinds of things," she said.
Olsen encourages parents to speak regularly with their children about their school day to learn about possibly harmful situations. If bullying is suspected, parents can reach out to a teacher, guidance counselor or another trusted school staff member to help decide the best way to respond. The WalletHub report ranked Michigan 17th among states for anti-bullying laws.
Olsen recommends parents and students know the differences between simple peer conflict, bullying, and harassment. She explained federal law forbids discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, gender, and disability, under which certain types of harassment fall.
"If my daughter reports to me that the boys in a particular class continue to make remarks about her body or jokes about sexual favors, that's contributing to a hostile climate, and that's harassment based on sex," she added.
Kids are not always forthcoming when they are being bullied, said Olsen, and she suggested looking for non-verbal signs.
Olsen added, "Are there injuries that aren't explained; are any valuables missing without explanation? Might a young person not want to go to school, I'm putting this in 'air quotes,' because they have a headache, or stomach ache or some kind of psychosomatic issue?"
She said parents should also discuss tolerance with their children, and encourage them to speak up for others who may be victims of bullying.
The study's full results can be read here