What to Do When You Feel Like Your Child's School Doesn't Take Bullying Seriously

Mature woman talking to another woman
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Most parents know that the first step in addressing bullying is to report it to the school. Unfortunately, though, parents don't always get the response they are looking for. Sometimes, this is the result of having unrealistic expectations, and other times, it is because the school investigation takes longer than anticipated. In some cases, it may seem like the school just isn't taking the complaint seriously.

While there are still teachers and administrators who brush it off, there are plenty of educators that do their best to eradicate bullying and make sure their students are kept safe. The key to handling your child's situation is to not only know what to expect, but also know how to work with the school to make sure your child has a safe learning environment.

After all, when your child is being victimized, you simply want the bad behavior to come to an end. But you also know you need the help of the school's educators to make sure that happens. Here's what you can do to make sure the bullying is addressed and your child is kept safe.

Why You May Feel Your Complaints Aren't Being Heard

Everyone knows that teachers and administrators are extremely busy. In fact, the expectations placed on them can seem overwhelming at times. They have educational standards and goals to meet, continuing education credits to earn, and classrooms full of students to manage. Consequently, many educators are struggling just to meet the rigorous demands of their day-to-day obligations and responsibilities.

So, when bullying incidents occur, to parents it can seem like the school personnel just do not have the time or the energy to deal with the complaint. But from an educator's perspective, this is likely not the case. They are likely just as frustrated as you are that the incident occurred, but they also know the time involved in investigating bullying.

Lena Suarez-Angelino, LCSW

Have patience with the school’s ability to gather as much information [as possible], check the validity and accuracy of the information gathered, and then develop an action plan to address it.

— Lena Suarez-Angelino, LCSW

To you, it may feel like they are doing nothing—or you may assume they are ignoring you. But it takes time to look through security camera footage, interview bystanders, and talk to those responsible for the bullying, says Nikki Smith, M.Ed., NCC, NCSC, CSWC, a school counselor and manager of counseling services for a school district in the U.S.

"Investigating bullying can be a challenge for schools because there may be no proof so it’s hard for the school to act," Smith says. "Additionally, bullying is sometimes subjective or students will make false allegations as a way to try to get other kids in trouble."

So, while your child may be telling the truth about what happened to them, there are other kids who fabricate bullying incidents as a way to retaliate or draw attention to themselves. Because of this, it can take longer for a school to sort through a bullying complaint than you might expect. When this happens, it doesn't necessarily mean that the school is downplaying the allegation—they just have to uncover all the facts before they act.

"Have patience with the school’s ability to gather as much information [as possible], check the validity and accuracy of the information gathered, and then develop an action plan to address it," suggests Lena Suarez-Angelino, LCSW, a bilingual licensed clinical social worker and empowerment coach with LIGHT Collective & Co. "Oftentimes, schools get inundated with reports from students that someone is treating them poorly or unfairly...or they have large caseloads and responsibilities."

Additionally, it is not uncommon for parents to feel like bullying is not being taken seriously because of privacy laws. Schools are not able to share information about how the offending student or students are being disciplined, says Suarez-Angelino. So, when you do not hear or see anything happening it is easy to assume nothing is being done. But that is rarely the case.

"FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) has to be followed," adds Smith. "Schools also have to collect evidence, talk to the students and parents, adhere to the discipline policy, and consider student rights—both your student's as well as the other students involved."

Reasons Why People Downplay Bullying

There are occasionally people who will downplay bullying or do not take complaints seriously. When this occurs, it's usually because they do not have a strong grasp of bullying. Here are some other reasons people may not take it seriously.

  • They have limited time and resources to investigate.
  • They have other priorities.
  • There is no evidence of the bullying (i.e., no cameras, witnesses, text messages).
  • They lack an appropriate bullying intervention program.
  • They have misconceptions about bullying and its consequences.
  • They consider bullying a rite of passage or believe "kids will be kids."

However, research indicates that when adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior, they send a message that these actions are unacceptable. Eventually, these interventions can reduce the likelihood of bullying in the future. So, if you think someone is downplaying bullying, do not give up. Keep the issue at the forefront until it is addressed.

How to Have Realistic Expectations

Most of the time, bullying happens outside of the classroom setting. It can take place in a variety of different hot spots throughout the school, including the lunchroom, the hallways, the locker room, on the bus, on the walk to school, and even online. As a result, it is not uncommon for educators to be unaware of bullying within the building.

What's more, kids who bully others usually know exactly where the teachers and other adults are before they target someone. For this reason, it is often unlikely that adults will witness bullying firsthand. Only those teachers who make a concerted effort to connect with students will know what is happening outside of the classroom walls.

That said, when you make a bullying complaint, it is realistic to expect that it will be taken seriously and be properly investigated. If your child is in immediate danger of harm or if threats have been made, you may also need to request a safety plan or even involve law enforcement.

It's also common to expect that when the school begins its investigation into the bullying allegations that your child's privacy will be protected. However, you should still stress this to the people you talk to.

Make sure they know that you do not want your child's name mentioned to the person bullying them, nor should they mention it to the people they are interviewing. Bringing your child's name into the mix not only violates their rights to privacy, but also puts them in harm's way and increases the likelihood of retaliation.

Additionally, request that they not interview your child and the person bullying them at the same time. When bullying occurs, there is almost always a power imbalance, and subjecting a person who has already been victimized to this type of meeting only further injures them and puts them at risk. Conflict resolution usually does not work for bullying situations.

If your child is still experiencing bullying after you've contacted the school, or if you feel like the school has not adequately addressed the situation, there are other things you can do to ensure your child's safety.

You can research your state's department of education guidelines, as well as the state's anti-bullying laws or policies. In the state of Ohio, for instance, they offer the Safer Ohio School Tip Line, which is a free safety resource available to all Ohio schools. The tip line is an anonymous reporting system that accepts both calls and texts 24 hours a day.

This tip line allows students and adults to anonymously share information with school officials and law enforcement about threats to student safety. Threats that involve a mass incident or harm to a single student can be reported and will be investigated.

"Most states also have both laws and policies in place for anti-bullying," says Suarez-Angelino. "Parents can continue to go up the chain of command, including contacting the superintendent and those overseeing the school district. Parents may also want to file a police report for further advocacy and protection."

Additionally, if the bullying is related to discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

Tips for Collaboration

Smith suggests the following tips for parents addressing bullying incidents.

  • Talk with the classroom teacher first.
  • Remain calm and in control during meetings.
  • Go into meetings level-headed and open to information.
  • Chat with recess monitors to see if anything is being noticed.
  • Have open and honest conversations with your child.
  • Encourage your child to speak up right away and tell an adult.
  • Ask for ongoing communication and a plan to keep your child safe.
  • Become familiar with the school's student handbook and policies.
  • Understand that privacy laws prevent you from being told how kids are disciplined.
  • Refrain from asking for personal contact information (like the parent's phone number).
  • Look into due process policy with your state if the district ignores your complaints.

What You Can Do

While it can be extremely frustrating to feel like your concerns about bullying are being downplayed, it is very important that you persist in your efforts to get the issue addressed. Make sure you are documenting everything that your child experiences as well as the dates and times the incidents occurred.

"Provide documentation such as screenshots and printouts of messages received by your child and keep accurate and up-to-date records of all occurrences of bullying," says Suarez-Angelino.

Also, keep a record of who you talked to about the bullying and how they plan to address the issue. Then follow up with a signed and dated letter summarizing what was discussed at the meeting as well as what the next steps will be.

Administrators, including the superintendent and school board members, are more likely to take you seriously when you can name specific dates and times that the bullying occurred. They also are more likely to listen when you can point out what others have promised, and failed, to do. Here are some additional suggestions on how to get the bullying addressed.

Keep Talking Until Someone Listens

If the first person you talk to about the bullying downplays or ignores your complaint, follow the chain of command and contact someone new, suggests Smith. Keep climbing the ladder until someone takes your complaints seriously. Not only will this ensure the bullying is addressed, but it also helps your child too.

Many times, kids who are being bullied do not think their situation will improve. But when their parents show strength and are determined to get the situation resolved, this can be extremely reassuring.

In fact, your determination to make sure the bullying is adequately addressed is among one of the most important things you can do for your child. This willingness to keep talking to school officials communicates to your kids that their concerns are valid, their safety is important to you, and that they are worthy of your time and effort.

Continue to Follow Up

Once you feel that your concerns have been heard and that the school is addressing the bullying issue adequately, set a time to follow up on the progress. In other words, check in to make sure the school actually did what they said they would do. Just be sure you give the school adequate time to conduct their investigation.

"Parents may feel the urgency to contact the school on an hourly or daily basis, and while this is understandable when your child is suffering, parents have to work with the schools to allow the schools to meet their responsibilities," says Suarez-Angelino.

It's also important to communicate with your child to ensure that the bullying is in fact decreasing and that they feel safer at school. If your child continues to be harassed and abused, schedule another meeting with the administrator who is addressing the issue.

It is no secret that educators have a lot of issues to deal with, and if the bullying is not kept at the forefront, it can be forgotten. The school should be made aware of each and every bullying incident so that they can implement the appropriate disciplinary procedures.

Be Patient With Your Child

Remember that healing from bullying takes time. By the time kids finally disclose bullying, they have most likely been coping with a problem for quite some time. Remember, kids who are being bullied can be reluctant to report their experiences.

It is highly likely that the bullying has already taken a toll on your child. Kickstart the healing process by reminding your child that it took a lot of courage to talk about their experiences and that you are proud of them. You also should take steps to build their self-esteem and brainstorm ways in which they can stand up to bullying and defend themselves when they need to, says Smith.

The goal is not that you would fix the situation for them, but that you would instead empower them to take part in their recovery.

Also, stress that bullying is not their fault. They did not ask for it and there is nothing wrong with them. You can, however, use this time to talk with them about areas where they might like to improve, such as developing assertiveness skills and honing their social skills. The key is that your child takes ownership of their healing and cast aside any type of victim-thinking.

You also might want to get a mental health professional involved to help your child cope with what they are experiencing, heal from the hurtful words and behaviors, and learn how to stand up for themselves when needed.

A Word From Verywell

Nothing is more heartbreaking than discovering that your child is being targeted by bullies at school. As a parent, you want to do everything you can to keep them safe and protect them from harm, so naturally, your first step is to report the bullying incidents to the school.

But if things do not go as you anticipated or the process seems to drag on forever, this can be disheartening. The key is to be both patient and diligent. Allow the school the space and the time to conduct their investigation and enforce their discipline policies, but also make sure your child is safe and that their needs are being met.

And if the school doesn't seem to be taking the situation seriously do not give up. Contact someone at the school's district office or contact your state's department of education to file a complaint. The key is to keep the issue at the forefront until it has been addressed and your child can learn in a safe environment.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Education. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, StopBullying.gov. Prevention: Learn how to identify bullying and stand up to it safely.

  3. State of Ohio, School Safety Center. Safer Ohio School Tip Line.

  4. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. How to file a discrimination complaint with the Office of Civil Rights.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.