By Tiffany Ran
Northwest Asian Weekly
On April 10, Rosetta Lee, a national anti-bullying expert and science teacher at the Seattle Girls’ School, held a lecture that addressed ways that parents can prevent and address bullying. Lee’s start in addressing bullying began when she observed that bullying was the primary term in which kids played out bias in social settings. She started doing more work and research regarding kids and bullying. More recently, Lee notes, bullying has been less about pushing or name calling, and has grown to be more subtle, being more about exclusion, rumors, and avoidance. This week, Lee, a first generation Korean immigrant, provides her input on how the Asian community and immigrant parents can spot bullying, and better address it with their children and within our community.
NWAW: How would you advise parents to speak with their children about bullying if their children are victims of bullying as a result of something heavier like racism or homophobia?
Lee: I think what’s really important to note is [that] the response has been very much, “Oh, it’s a rite of passage. I’ve experienced it, too. You just have to grin and bear it and it’ll pass.” And that’s one way to go, but some people don’t have the other ancillary things in place and the [ability] to recover from it. So it’s really about helping the kids understand what’s going on, to help them understand, “Yes, it has happened a lot. It also happens to adults. We do grin and bear it, but also, you don’t deserve this. Here are some ways that you could speak up for yourself and if that’s not working, you need to bring adults on board. And if the adults in your life aren’t hearing you, then how can I support you?”
NWAW: What about parents who come to find that their children are the ones that are doing the bullying?
Lee: The initial response we’re going to have is, “Oh no, what did I do wrong?” I think it’s important to look beyond that because today’s young people are facing a lot of training that goes beyond parent training. There’s a lot of training in terms of just making you feel bad about yourself. Young people are one of the largest consumer [groups] in the United States, and a lot of advertising is geared to them. And consumerism doesn’t work if everyone is happy with themselves. Consumerism only works if you don’t feel good enough, if you don’t feel pretty enough, if you don’t feel smart enough, and maybe if you get this or wear this, or use this, you’ll be worthy enough. It’s important to find out what is going on for your child that he or she often feels the need to resort to this.
It’s this feeling of not having enough control in your life, or somehow the only way to gain acceptance is to be more powerful or to act like a certain group. Unfortunately, groups make kids say and do things that sometimes they would never do themselves. More and more research that has turned up, particularly with relational bullying, is that oftentimes the bullies are very, very charming to adults. I would invite parents to not write it off and say, “Oh no, not my Julie” or “Not my Johnny.” It would not be brought to my attention unless it has been happening to a degree, and it caught somebody’s attention. By allowing it, they are allowing their child to behave in a degree that is rather disruptive because kids who persistently bully never learn to have healthy, equitable relationships. The only way they have relationships is by power dominating, which, let’s face it, is not a healthy form of relationship and which begs the question, what happens when someone more powerful than you comes along?
NWAW: What kind of warning signs should parents look for to know that lines have been crossed?
Lee: First of all, I do think it’s important to say that we should let kids develop their own interaction skills to a degree. I’m not saying that we need to take over because that takes away from their ability to develop healthy interaction skills. What we can do is teach them conflict resolution skills. When something is bothering you, how can you communicate that effectively and assertively without resorting to aggression? Then, let them get back into the social fray, so they could work things out.
The signs to watch out for with bullying are beyond conflict, in which we’re talking about a differential power. We’re talking about someone who is bigger or stronger, someone who has a larger group, or social power, compared to someone who has less of that. Then we’re talking about intense harm. Intense harm is when you tell a person, “Hey, what you’re doing is hurting my feelings or embarrassing me, please stop,” and the person continues to do it. Then there is an intention to harm at that point. And then, this is repetitive and sustained.
NWAW: For immigrant parents who may not know much about their child’s school environment, culture, or may not even speak the language, how would you advise them to deal with a situation where their child is bullied?
Lee: I’m a first generation immigrant myself, and a lot of the messages I got were, “Keep your head down, don’t rock the boat. Just get the best education that you can and succeed.” I get that to some degree, but what we can do is think about how do we gather together as a community to advocate for ourselves? Particularly with a lot of immigrant communities, there are a lot of cohorts that get together. I remember that my parents had a very strong Korean community, despite the fact that we were in a town that had very few Asian families. So thinking of how do we gather together to figure out what our common experiences are, and using that common voice to really advocate for ourselves, so that it’s not up to the individual parent that doesn’t understand American culture, or language, or school systems. You could live in a community where you can have people who are more understanding, or bi-cultural, who can together act as advocates in the community, rather than an individual parent coming forward.
NWAW: What are the protections that students have against cyberbullying, and how should parents address that?
Lee: There are many states that have different levels of varying anti-bullying statutes. [In] Washington state, we have one of the most strongly worded and explicit anti-bullying policies, and it is legally applicable to public schools. I believe many private schools treat this issue [with] primary [importance] as well. The baseline is that anything that is happening outside of school — even if it’s happening inside of school, or let’s say, in cyberspace — if it’s impacting students to a degree, that it’s impacting their sense of safety and ability to be at school and feel safe, it is within the school’s right to do something about that.
Kids will be much savvier in technology than we are. Part of the things I invite [families], particularly immigrant families, to do is to talk to their kids about what their online life is like. Don’t expect that you’ll know everything, but open that dialogue in terms of anything online that happens that makes them feel unsafe or feel that they’re somehow in danger, [parents can say,] “I want you to let us know, so that we can help you negotiate.”
With immigrant families, the thing that becomes difficult is that kids become translators with the school front. Why many kids don’t want to come forward is because, ultimately, they’re going to have to be the translators. Again, this is where the community comes in as a larger advocate. (end)
Tiffany Ran can be reached at email@example.com.