“The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round...”
Singing countless rounds of “Wheels on the Bus” to your toddler probably painted a cheery image of the iconic, bright yellow school bus, exciting him about the day he’d be big enough to ride the bus to school himself.
Now, however, he’s older and regularly riding the bus to and from school—and dreading it each day, each way. That’s because what he has discovered is not so singsong happy. Chances are he’s either being bullied himself or witnessing other children being bullied—physically, emotionally, verbally, or socially—on a daily basis.
“School buses represent the number two place for bullying, second only to the playground,” says Quintina Strange, founder of Bully Buzz, a national bullying intervention and empowerment program.
Strange, a mother of two children who were bullied, created the Moreno Valley, Calif.-based program in 2010. Young adults, teens, and young children can submit bullying reports and request help confidentially, either online at www.bullybuzz.org or via a toll-free hotline at 855-BUZZTIP (855-289-9847).
Bullying on the bus shouldn’t come as a surprise. Think of your child’s bus like a school on wheels. According to the American Public Health Association, 440,000 school buses transport 24 million students to and from schools in the United States every year. Collectively, these buses travel 4.3 billion miles daily, with only one adult to get them to their destination safely.
The school bus is like a classroom where children learn positive and negative behavior, in small, steady chunks of time. “With school buses serving as the first and last school function for millions of schoolchildren every school day, our efforts to restore and maintain safe, calm environments on the school buses sets the stage for restoring everything in between,” says Nicholas Pizzo, director of organizational development for Student Transportation Inc., a school bus transportation company based in New Jersey.
Unlike school or an open playground where teachers are available to help when there’s a problem, there’s only one adult on the bus, the driver, who’s busy keeping her eyes on the road, making it difficult for her to monitor bullying, as well. Add to that the contained environment of a school bus ride, which can last 30 minutes or longer, and a child can feel trapped and helpless.
Ensuring a safe ride is a shared responsibility among the children, the school, and the bus company. What can—and should—your child do if she is being bullied or is a witness to bullying?
Tell someone. “Convey to kids the difference between ‘tattling,’ which is when someone is trying to get someone in trouble and ‘reporting,’ which is when someone is trying to get someone out of trouble,” advises Pizzo.
Let your child know his voice is being heard. Take time to really listen. “When your child says that she’s being bullied or that’s there’s bullying on the bus, listen,” Strange says. “We’re so busy being wrapped up watching TV, playing sports, paying the bills, making sure homework is done.” Your child has the right not to be harmed or touched and also has the right to help others who are being bullied, Strange says.
If bullying continues, speak up and do something about it. Lead by example. “We have to be responsible as adults,” Strange says. “Let your child know, ‘This is not how it goes.’ ” Take corrective action, whether it’s contacting the school administration, the parents of the bully, or the bully himself. “Bad habits, if not dealt with as a kid, carry into adulthood.”
Besides dealing directly with your child’s situation, there are other things you can do:
Communicate zero tolerance for bullying. This should be communicated clearly to your child—within the school and on the bus. To ensure that this message gets through to all students who ride their buses, Student Transportation Inc., visibly posts clear anti-bullying rules on their buses, with statements such as “Students on this bus do not tolerate bullying,” “We will not bully others,” and “We will tell bus drivers if someone is getting bullied.”
Have strength in numbers. There are usually more children on the bus desiring a peaceful ride home and not making trouble than there are bullies. Use this to your child’s advantage. “We need more kids willing to step in and say, ‘This is not right,’” Strange says. “If you love yourself and won’t allow yourself to be hurt, then you won’t allow another person to be hurt.”
Know that the situation can turn around. An innovative approach Strange uses on her Bully Buzz hotline is a program called My Brother’s Keeper. She puts former bullies to work on the hotline “so that they can hear the pain caused by bullying.” The former bullies also become peer consultants, now helping, not hurting, those being bullied. The intervention costs $30 and kids are enrolled in the 90-day program by a parent or guardian or are placed in the program through the court system, as retribution in the form of community service.
Why all the extra effort to help the bullies themselves? “These kids are our future,” Strange says. “Some of these kids need counseling but don’t [get it] because they let pride get in the way.”
Equally important is teaching our children to speak up when they witness bullying on the school bus; likewise, adults need to listen to the concerns of children who say they’re being bullied, speak up when they learn of bullying behavior, and contact school and bus officials. If all that fails, parents may need to deal directly with those involved—or contact their local law enforcement officials for assistance.
For more information on the Bully Buzz, visit www.bullybuzz.org or call the hotline toll-free at 855-BUZZTIP (855-289-9847).