Here’s How We Can Be Better Equipped to Confront School Bullying

Imagine opening up your school yearbook and seeing your picture with your first name changed to “Isis.”  Or having your teacher call you a “raghead Taliban,” or joking that you have a bomb in your backpack, or even flat out calling you a terrorist.
Unfortunately, these aren’t imaginary incidents.  Things like this happen every day in our schools, where our kids are supposed to be safe.
As a mother, I read these headlines on my newsfeed daily.  Two days ago, I opened up my Facebook and saw a friend’s post, and my worst fear coming true, right before my eyes.
She wrote, “I picked up my kids from school today. And instead of hearing about their math test, my son burst into tears. My other son starts to explain what happened at school. Three kids came up to their table of seven other kids (five South Asians and two Caucasians). One kid asked “Why did you bomb the twin towers?” Then the other two called them “Isis” and accused them of talking about bombs.”
 Wait, what just happened here?! This wasn’t another news headline, but a friend living only 20 miles away from me in a Washington D.C. suburb, not in Florida, Georgia or California, but the capital of our country.
As I tried to wrap my head around this post, I drive, distracted, to the carpool lane of my daughter’s school. She enters the car and, ironically, starts talking to me about religion.  She is only seven years old. She tells me a boy in her class asked her what she was. She answered “100% Muslim.”  She said it with such confidence that I smile, but cautiously hold my breath for what is about to come next. But luckily, nothing came out of it…this time.
We are living in a political climate of Trump-generated hate, which is trickling down to educators and parents, and then their children.

These children repeat what they hear at home or on TV, not realizing the hate they are spewing is hurtful, and sometimes illegal.

What people don’t realize is that American Muslims are no longer following the example of some of our parents, who quietly swept these issues under the rug. We are a strong, educated, group of parents who were raised in this country, as Americans, and are a force to be reckoned with.
We can prevent many of these incidents by taming the ignorance through education and awareness.  Parents can organize seminars at their schools and help educators understand their Muslim students and foster an inclusive environment, and educate their student body that hatred is not to be tolerated.  Parents can also schedule a meeting with the school counselor and have them teach a lesson plan on tolerance, like Confronting Students’ Islamophobia.
It’s very hard to change the behaviors of  parents or teachers, but schools can–and must–set expectations for their students’ behaviors of what will and will not be tolerated.  Bullying should not be tolerated.
As parents, we need to increase our children’s Islamic literacy so they are armed with the knowledge to respond to questions or comments.  We must build their confidence in their Islamic identities, and instill self-esteem and self-respect, so they are able to set limits that will put a stop to bullying.
Unfortunately, these scenarios are going to keep playing themselves out more and more as time goes on, so know the steps to take when it happens to your family.  Teach your children to not turn a blind eye to this hate. Don’t fight back or retaliate–report it and play it smart.
My friends’ kids will be ok.  They have a strong support system, in and out of school.  It helps that both their parents are lawyers; civil rights lawyers, to be exact, in Washington D.C.  So in the words of Vivian Ward (a.k.a. Julia Roberts) from Pretty Woman, “Big mistake.  Big.  Huge.”
Bullying, however, isn’t a big “mistake.”  It’s deliberately detrimental, and it can be harmful.  It’s never okay, whether the bully is the teacher or the student.  If you’re being bullied, get your parents involved.  Tell a trusted adult.  Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it.
Written by Sam’n Iqbal