How to talk to decision-makers about bullying in schools

Tips for parents

A girl writes at a desk

Know your rights

Every child has the right to go to school safe from violence, including from their peers. Children also have the right to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of information. When children are victims of bullying and cyberbullying, these rights are not respected.

Having a legislative and policy framework that guarantees children’s rights to quality education and protection is a critical foundation for a safe school environment. The Convention on the Rights of the Child spells out the obligations of governments to ensure that children’s right to learn in a safe and secure environment. The Convention specifically calls on all countries to take appropriate measures to ensure protection of children from all forms of violence, injury, abuse.

Why engage policymakers?

As part of UNICEF’s campaign to #ENDviolence in and around schools, children and young people from around the world spoke out and called for governments, teachers, and parents to take action to ensure that they feel safe in and around school.

In two separate UNICEF polls, young people consistently cited governments as having a key responsibility to prevent and respond to bullying, including online, through policies and regulations.

Parents – as voting citizens who can hold their local policymakers accountable – have a unique role to play in ensuring that children’s voices are heard by advocating on behalf of children with decision makers.

How can policymakers help prevent bullying?

To be an effective advocate, the most important first step is to know what policies, regulations or laws are available in your community. You can learn more through research, talking to school officials, other parents, and community leaders or even your local UNICEF office. Some questions you might consider asking are:

  •  Are statistics and data on the prevalence and incidents of bullying in schools collected and made available? If not, are there plans to collect this information?
  •  How are anti-bullying policies, including cyberbullying, currently enforced and monitored in schools?
  •  Are schools required to have a policy to prevent and respond to bullying?
  •  Do students have safe procedures in place to report bullying?
  • Has bullying awareness and prevention been integrated into school curricula and teach training?

As you learn what policies are or are not in place in your community, the next step is to learn who has the authority to make these policies and decisions. Are the decision makers:

  • Local: for example, school leaders, parent-teacher associations, school boards, town or city councils?
  • Regional: regionally elected or appointed officials or ministries?
  • National: nationally elected or appointed officials or ministries?

Once you have learned more about what policies are in place in your community and who controls those policies, you can decide what issue is most important to you and your child to engage policymakers on.  

How can I effectively engage my policymakers?

Given that policymakers have a lot of issues to address, it is important to find out the best way to influence them. A few effective ways to engage policymakers depending on where you live include:

  • Writing a letter, calling or meeting with your policymaker
  • Speaking at a town hall meeting or a committee meeting related to schools and violence
  • Writing a letter to the editor to be published in your local newspaper
  • Using social media to voice your opinion, engage more people, and contact policymakers
  • Starting and/or signing a petition to be delivered to policymakers

Some tips for effectively engaging policymakers:

  • Remember that you don’t have to be an expert! Tell your personal story and share why you are passionate about the issue. If appropriate, consider including your child so that he or she can use his or her experience for positive change.
  • Build support. You don’t need to go it alone. Are there other parents, teachers or community members who share your concern? Joining together helps better a stronger case for the need for policy change.
  • Have a clear ask. What do you want your policymaker to do? Pass a new policy? Enforce an existing one? Raise awareness or commit new resources to an issue? Whatever your ask is, be concise and stay on message so that your policymaker knows what you are seeking to change.
  • Follow up! The key to policy advocacy is to build lasting relationships. Policies and norms take time to change, but when you know what needs to happen and have relationships in place you can work together for long-lasting change.