“Bullying is when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who is weaker or who they think is weaker. Sometimes it involves direct attacks such as hitting, name calling, teasing or taunting. Sometimes it is indirect, such as spreading rumors or trying to make others reject someone” – Centers for Disease Control
Bullying has become a widely discussed concern for children in elementary, middle, high school and college. As our world becomes more complicated with technology and changes in school environments, kids, adolescents, and young adults are finding their social worlds more difficult to navigate due to increased negative attention and communication. News and social media outlets have highlighted increased statistics in depression and suicidal behavior due to bullying.
The pervasiveness of children and teens mistreating other children or teens is overwhelming.
How can parents best help their kids when it comes to bullying?
- Parents can communicate about bullying with their child and with the school.
- Parents can demonstrate empathy with their child when they feel the intense feelings caused by peer rejection.
- Parents can determine if their child needs more supervision at school or on the internet, or anywhere the bullying is occurring.
- Parents can help kids develop empathy for others to decrease the amount of bullying activities in which their child or teen may participate.
What can I do if my child is being bullied?
When a child is being bullied by a peer they may or may not express this experience to their parent or teacher. If your child is telling you that they are experiencing this sort of mistreatment, it is very important that you listen to them, take in the details and give them the clear message that “you do not deserve this sort of treatment”.
The experience of being rejected by peers is extremely painful to a child or adolescent. Validate their feelings, even if you don’t view the experience as “the end of the world”.
It is equally important to follow up with your child’s teacher (if the bullying is happening at school) and engage the school as an ally to assist your child when they are mistreated.
Letting your child know that they are not alone with this trouble, that you will help them, is an essential message for you to give.
Children in elementary school often are more comfortable with their parent intervening. An adolescent in middle or high school may be reluctant to tell their parent they are struggling with a peer.
Privacy from parents, especially when it involves peer relationships is highly valued by teens. If your adolescent describes being mistreated by peers at school, or through social networking (Facebook, text, twitter, email), it is also important that you listen carefully to the details, and give your child the clear message that “you do not deserve to be mistreated”.
This message is far different from “maybe you shouldn’t be on Facebook”. Blaming the adolescent for being the target of bullying leaves you without an opportunity to communicate, advocate and help develop empathy.
Bullying that occurs through social media or in activities outside of school is more difficult for parents to find out about and also difficult to prevent.
Assess how much of the bullying your child experiences is happening at times where less adult supervision takes place. Is your child being teased on the bus? On the internet? In P.E. class where the teacher may not be able to hear or see everything that every child says or does? Can more supervision be given?
Parents who do not suspect their adolescent child is suffering from bullying, it is still recommended that parents open up the communication about this topic with your adolescent child frequently.
For example, ” I just wanted to check in with you about how things are going at school. Are you ok? Are you having problems with other kids? Are you being treated fairly”. Watching him/her respond is as important as listening to their response. Take note of their non-verbal cues to determine how many questions you will ask about bullying.
Reassure them that you want to know if they are struggling, that you want them to be able to unload that burden when they are at home or with you.
What if my child is the bully?
When a child is bullying, it can be for many different reasons. Finding out the source of your childʼs issues with bullying is important.
Perhaps he is feeling powerless over his life. Perhaps she is the target of teasing and taunting from older kids and acts out against other children to maintain control.
Perhaps teasing, use of derogatory language or physical intimidation are occurring at home. Helping the child or adolescent understand how this impacts them, and how their behavior impacts other is key in helping them develop empathy.
Children and adolescents should be held responsible for bullying behavior. However, the focus of the discipline should be on improving the child/adolescentʼs behavior and empathic response, not merely on punishing them.
Provide your child with multiple ways to develop empathy or empathic feelings about others and their feelings. Instructing a child or adolescent that their bullying behavior causes emotional damage to others is essential, but this takes time.
Regularly engage your child in discussions about how their behavior can positively impact others when they are caring, empathetic, and inclusive of their peers. Give them credit for positive peer behavior to reinforce the expectation. Allow your child or adolescent to see adults who demonstrate empathy and citizenship to improve their view of themselves in relation to others.
It is important to note that this will not eliminate all bullying behavior from all kids. Parents do not need to create a world in which their child never faces difficulty or frustration. These suggestions can help parents advocate, educate and more positively influence their children/adolescents ability to cope with such hardships.