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My fifth-grade son has started to have problems with a few boys at school. He used to play with these boys and now they are picking on him. My son is not a fast runner at school, and sports seem the only way a child can fit in. We live in a small community of 800 and there are not a lot of extra activities for the children to do. He loves computers and video games and we limit his time on them. He loves to play football, but he is not the best. So the boys will tease him if he plays, and if he doesn't play they call him a scaredy-cat and baby. I've talked to the teacher, who said they would keep an eye on the kids at recess. But my son doesn't want them talked to by the principal or to have me talk to their parents -- he feels they will get on him more. It is hard to see my son hurt by this -- how can I help him?
It's very difficult for parents to watch their children be singled out for ridicule because they are considered, by a few, to be different or not quite as good. There are some ways you can help.

In my experience, talking to parents of the harassers is not a good option, unless you know them well and are sure they would not approve of their children's behavior. The harassment is taking place at school and it is the school's responsibility to stop the bullying.

Bullying and harassing cause so many children to hate school and sometimes to drop out. I applaud your efforts to find a way out of this dilemma. I think having the teacher intervene is a very appropriate first step. Does your school have a peer mediation program or could the school counselor set up one between your son and one of the harassers? If such mediation took place, your son would feel more in control of the situation and learn ways to assert himself. Also the harassers would know that this is serious business.

Your son is like so many kids his age who believe that the intervention of the principal will only make things worse, and sometimes it can, if not handled correctly. However, if the mediation does not work, or the school can't or won't do it, then I believe you have to involve the principal -- not with just a warning, but with some kind of consequences for the harassers (in-house suspension or whatever the school has set up for bullying behaviors). The school has the moral and legal responsibility to make sure that every child has a safe environment for learning. Your son does not have a safe environment and he is beginning the dropping-out process.

If none of the above is done by the school, or if the harassment and physical assaults continue, file charges against the bullies with the student resource officer (policeman) or the local police department.

For the sake of your son's emotional and physical safety and for a safe non-hostile atmosphere for all other children, you have every right to call upon the school to examine and perhaps change the way it handles teasing, name calling, and all other forms of harassment.

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