The answers to bullying can’t be found in a backpack


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August 10, 2011

There are decidedly two camps on the subject of back to school: Those who would say “can’t happen soon enough” and those who whine “really, so soooon?”

I’m talking about parents here, not their kids.

But as the days grow shorter, the back-to-school shopping lists grow longer. Even those of us who prefer the languid quality of summer days that lack structure and schedule realize that the start of school offers something akin to another shot at New Year’s resolutions.

This academic year, homework will be organized, you won’t forget to get the health cards filled out, you’ll sign up for not one but two PTA committees.

However you feel about the start of the school year, it’s vital that your child be excited and energized about going back to school, seeing friends, learning new things. And part of that is going back to school with the right kind of school supplies — the things that make kids feel confident as they head into a new school year: cool binders, gel pens, techno-color notebooks and new backpacks.

I confess I was intrigued when I came across information about a new type of backpack called the iSafe meant to address the serious issue of bullying in schools.

It was designed by Edric Sizemore, a Chicago businessman, to “keep children safe in school.”

“It looks like an ordinary backpack,” Sizemore told me recently. “But there’s a small flap on the shoulder strap. You pull up the flap and then pull the cord and the bag is in activation mode.”

Activation mode involves setting off two sirens that in Sizemore’s words are “louder than most car alarms” and a strobe light that can be seen from 400 yards.

Sizemore is the first to admit that his product, which sells for $59.99, doesn’t address the root causes of bullying and shouldn’t be used for more benignincidences of verbal bullying.

“I will not say that iSafe will prevent bullying. But when that bullying escalates into a physical confrontation . . . this is a tool for children to use.”

The real problem is that at the point a parent is buying an iSafe for a child, the bullying problem has spiraled well out of control.


The iSafe backpack features sirens and strobe lights. (iSafe)

According to the Department of Education, almost 43 percent of sixth-graders faced some sort of bullying at school in 2007, with 14 percent reporting some sort of physical injury. The good news — if there can be such a thing amid numbers like that — is that bullying seems to peak in those often-horrible middle school years and tapers off considerably in high school.

But like so many parenting issues, the real solutions lay in the relationship you have with your child and your willingness to spend time helping your child learn how to cope with life’s difficulties.

Cynthia Glass, a Montgomery County psychotherapist with a specialty in family issues, worries about the message buying a backpack armed with an alarm sends.

Kids “could get bullied for carrying the backpack,” Glass said. More importantly, it doesn’t address the types of bullying that are so pervasive. “Bullying is so much more than just a physical thing. It’s verbal, it’s cyber.”

Glass urges parents to be aware of the signs of bullying in their children, which include:

• Damaged or missing clothing, books, electronics or other personal items.

• Unexplained stomachaches or headaches.

• Trouble sleeping.

• Eating a lot when they get home (which could indicate they’re not eating lunch at school).

• Suddenly doing poorly in school.

If you notice one or more of these signs, Glass says it’s time to talk to your child, identify the problem and then develop strategies for dealing with the bully.

“Role-playing works really well with kids. Practice is really important. Whether you’re an athlete or a dancer or a musician, they all practice a lot in order to succeed. So your child should practice what they can say in a bullying situation.”

Other suggestions from Glass:

• Be self-confident: “Tell your child to look in the mirror. Do they stand tall and look confident, or do they look miserable?” Bullies will gravitate to the child who looks vulnerable.

• Ignore them: “Bullies love attention.” So even though it may be hard, your child should “walk away,” Glass advises.

• Protecting themselves: If there is a threat of physical danger, your child needs to know to get away. “Tell an adult you trust or go to a safe place, which could be the library, the office or a favorite teacher’s room.”

The start of the school year should be a time of excitement and anticipation, but it’s also a reminder that your child is heading off into a part of the world over which you, as a parent, have limited control.

So when you send your child to school this year, make sure that she knows what to do if a bullying problem arises, let her know that she can always come to you with problems and that you will always be a sounding board, and when needed, an advocate.

Those are far more important tools than an alarm-activated backpack.

Tracy Grant, the editor of KidsPost, writes about parenting issues every other week. Send ideas and rants to grantt@washpost.com.

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