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What to Do If Your Child Is Bullied

Bullied child sitting with knees up and head down in empty high school hallway

Bullying is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. Not only can bullying have devastating effects on school-age children and teens, there can also be legal consequences to schools that do not respond to credible cases of bullying, sexual harassment, or sexual assault.

Nowadays, bullying often happens outside of school on the internet. Cyberbullying is used to taunt or humiliate another individual and can be just as painful, if not more painful, as being bullied or harassed at school.

If you suspect your child is being bullied or harassed, there are steps you can take to stop or prevent it from happening again. In some cases, bullying can violate the law and result in criminal charges or it can be the basis of a personal injury claim.

Warning Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied

Bullying can take many forms and may occur in a number of situations, inside and outside of school. From a legal perspective, bullying is defined as verbal, physical, or mental acts committed by a student to harass, intimidate, or cause harm to another student. 

Bullying happens at public schools, private schools, charter schools, and online schools. Any child can be the victim of bullying, but children with special needs or children who don't fit traditional gender identity norms are particularly at risk.

Below are possible warnings signs that your child is being bullied:

  • Your child comes home with unexplained bumps, bruises, or cuts on more than one occasion
  • Your child spends a lot of time alone, both at home and at school, and has very few friends
  • Your child does not enjoy school as often as he or she once did
  • Your child misses school often or asks to “stay home"
  • Your child's school work starts to decline
  • Your child appears sad, depressed, or moody at all times
  • Your child increasingly suffers from low self-esteem
  • You notice a considerable change in your child's appetite or his or her desire to eat
  • Your child takes an alternate route to school, even if out of the way
  • Your child complains of physical illnesses, such as headaches, backaches, and stomachaches
  • Your child has trouble sleeping, or falling asleep and/or has recurring nightmares

What You Can Do

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to stop or prevent bullying from happening or re-occurring to your child. Legally, school officials must do all they reasonably can to help stop and prevent bullying they know (or should have known) about that results in serious mental or physical harm to a student. Otherwise, the school district can become legally responsible if it has not done anything to prevent or stop the offending behavior.

If your child is being bullied, you can take the following actions:

  1. Become an active listener. It is extremely important that you talk with your child each day and ask open-ended questions throughout the school week. Often part of the challenge is getting your child to open up, so being an active listener will go a long way.
  2. Make a complaint to the school. The next step is to contact your child's teacher, principal, or school administrators and explain the circumstances surrounding the initial behavior. Depending on the situation, it is important to put in writing the date, details, and nature of the incident(s).
  3. Set limits with your child's activity online. Many kids are bullied or harassed on social media because other kids feel free to say or do things behind a screen that they would never do in person. Depending on your child's age, monitor your child's online activity and set appropriate limits on device usage.
  4. Keep a detailed record of all accounts. It is also important that you keep detailed, accurate records of any additional incidents that occur, and the response received from the school. Be sure to include statements made by your child and any other potential witnesses, as well as an account of how your child felt emotionally.
  5. Speak to the school's guidance counselor, if there is one. Ask whether the school has a contact person trained to deal with bullying and, if so, set up a meeting with them and your child.
  6. Refer to the school's code of conduct to make sure the school is doing what it is required to do to prevent acts of violence, such as bullying. Many states have passed anti-bullying laws that require districts and schools to have anti-bullying policies and processes for investigating and responding to bullying. Some state anti-bullying laws include civil rights provisions for bullying based on protected characteristics such as national origin or sexual orientation.
  7. Seek legal advice from an attorney. Finally, if the school or district has not provided a reasonable solution, it may be necessary to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to get legal advice. Lawyers specializing in cases involving bullying can help victims and their families pursue legal claims against schools and/or parents who are not working to prevent the problem from occurring.

Can I Sue a School for Bullying?

It is possible to sue a school for bullying that the school knew or should have known about but failed to prevent if it resulted in serious harm to a child. However, it is not easy because most states have sovereign immunity laws that protect government entities from personal injury or tort claims. There are exceptions to these laws in all states. Negligence claims against school districts or teachers should be discussed with an experienced personal injury attorney who knows the state and federal laws that apply.

Get Legal Help With a School Bullying Dispute

Once dismissed as merely "kids being kids," school bullying and sexual harassment are now taken very seriously, particularly in the wake of countless suicides and school shootings involving bullying victims.

If you believe your child's school has been negligent in its legal duty to provide a safe learning environment, leading to serious instances of bullying behavior, you may want to explore your legal options. Find an education law attorney or personal injury attorney near you and get some peace of mind.

Next Steps

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