A 10-Year-Old Muslim Is Called A Terrorist On The Playground. How Should The Parents Council This Child?

Question: A 10-year-old Muslim is called a terrorist on the playground. How should the parents council this child? Should they do anything about the bully?

Answer: Bullying is a serious problem in school. The parents need to understand and transmit to the child what bullies are about -- that bullies generally feel bad about themselves, that they've been bullied themselves, that they've been scapegoated and they take it out on other kids. Typically the objects of bullying are kids who are vulnerable and who are different.

So if they're different because of race, ethnicity, religion; if they have some disabilities, physical or emotional disabilities; they're going to be potentially nailed. Now they should talk with the child about what's happening to her. Obviously this bully is drawing upon the media coverage of terrorists and making associations as some people in our society unfortunately have done. And ask her, "How does it make you feel? Is it one bully or are there many of them? Are others of your friend being picked on or bullied?" And then we can think about a response.

Now, there are two different kinds of responses. The child can confront the bully, but some kids may or may not be able to do that. They can ignore the bully and just dismiss them, which is another approach. What's the best approach, I think, is for the parents to approach the school. Tattling, usually in our culture, gets kids in more trouble and even fans the flames of the bullies.

So what we need to do I think, is the parents, teachers and principals need to create a culture in which this kind of behavior is forbidden and give kids permission to report it when it happens. That way, the culture of school changes and bullying will change. Right now, unfortunately, that doesn't really occur at a systematic level. I think the parents should work with their teachers and principals to help create that kind of culture.