SCARBOROUGH — The first month or so of a new school year is a perfect time to talk about bullying. Parents and schools should take bullying seriously because it is harmful and has long-term effects. It is not a joke or “kids being kids.” It is a violation of the law.

Bullies may target anyone for any reason – perhaps a quiet child or one with low self-esteem. They might target a child of a different race or ethnicity.

Many children who are bullied keep it to themselves until it gets so bad they feel they must tell. Others keep it inside forever. Either way, bullying can leave lifelong emotional scars.

In my counseling job, I often asked parents to think of a childhood situation when they were bullied. Almost always, adults could remember a time when they were excluded or made fun of and how much it hurt. Most of them could recall exactly what was said or done and how badly they felt about it. Adults should keep that in mind when helping a child victim.

For parents, teachers and schools to take action, they must first know what is going on. Encourage your children to tell you what is happening at school. Ask them about their day, not only in the classroom but also about lunchtime, recess and the bus. Know who their friends are and find out what’s going on both in and out of school.

If your child is getting bullied, let the school know right away. Do not encourage your child to retaliate. This usually makes matters worse and may lead to your own child getting into trouble.

Make sure your children know they are victims and not to blame. Sometimes kids feel there is something wrong with them and they deserve it. Unfortunately, some adults think that if a child is bullied, they must have brought it on themselves.

Some children might be bystanders in a bullying situation. A bystander is a person who sees what is happening. Interventions from bystanders can be an effective way to reduce incidents of bullying.

There are some reasons why students who observe bullying might not want to intervene. Children think that if they say something, they themselves will become a target, they may get into trouble, it won’t work or others will tease them for getting involved.

School personnel and parents can teach children to be effective bystanders. When children know what to do, they feel stronger and in control. Of course, bystanders must always keep safety in mind and not insert themselves into dangerous situations when adult help is needed.

The first thing to do is find someone to tell. Telling should always be the first line of defense. Another helpful response is when a group befriends the victim. By taking an action such as saying, “Come play with us,” the group empowers the victim and isolates the bully. When the bully watches their victim leave to play with others, the bullying didn’t work.

There are many ways adults can stand up against bullying.

Never ignore the situation. Children count on us to protect them.

 Do not blame a child for being bullied.

 Listen carefully and ask calm questions. Don’t jump to conclusions.

 Help the child figure out some ways to respond, like telling an adult or being a friend to someone who is bullied.

 Let the school know if you have any concerns about what is going on.

 Encourage your child to find friends and activities that are safe and fulfilling for them where they can be successful.

 Help your child find someone to play with who appreciates his or her friendship.

 Tell them not to hang around with kids who are mean and hurtful to others.

 Do not encourage striking back at a bully. Your child might get hurt or even be blamed for being a bully.

 Be a good role model for children. Don’t be a bully in your own interactions with others. Children learn more from observing what you do than from what you say.

All schools should have a zero tolerance and zero indifference policy against bullying. If you make a report and nothing is done, keep following up until someone listens. No child deserves to be a victim of bullying.