Bullying has never been a laughing matter. Kids (and adults) have been dealing with the classic abusive power imbalance since, it seems, the beginning of time. Most have survived and come out stronger for it.
But a few have not, and recent extraordinary examples of that have brought a whole new level of attention to the problem of bullying, which has been taken up a notch in the Internet age of 24/7 socializing. For some, that means 24/7 bullying, and for parents it means higher stakes in helping their kids deal with the problem before it gets completely out of hand.
Here, five ways a parent (or any adult) can intervene to help a bullying victim find a way out, or at least a way through, this type of peer abuse.
The first strategy is simply to recognize that bullying is going on -- which is not always a simple task.
Bullying comes in several different -- sometimes interconnected -- forms, including physical, verbal and psychological. If the bullying is physical in nature, the chances of recognizing it are increased. A parent is likely to notice torn clothing, a black eye or a bloody lip that shows up on a regular basis.
But even physical bullying evidence can be hidden or explained away; and psychological and verbal bullying can leave no physical evidence at all. The best way to recognize if your child is a bullying victim is to look for a wide variety of signs that, individually, may simply mean "teenager" but collectively could indicate a bullying situation.
A few of these warning signs include:
- Unexplained anxiety, moodiness, depression
- Appetite loss, difficulty sleeping, teariness
- Sudden drop in grades or interest in school
- Frequent illness or health complaints
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Seems afraid to go to school
These types of signs can be cause to worry, but they can't tell you what's going on. To even begin to find out if your concerns are valid, you need to ask -- which can be harder than it sounds.
Asking a 10-year-old to talk to you about bullying is hard enough. Asking a teenager can be downright ghastly and seemingly pointless. But talking to your teen is a strategy that can't be skipped, and it may prove more fruitful than you think (even if your teen brushes you off).
You can be direct ("Is someone giving you trouble at school?") or indirect ("I've noticed you seem anxious when you leave for school -- is something wrong?"). As long as you say something and say it without judgment, accusation or disappointment, you may find your teen was just waiting to say something about it.
Or, you may get the standard "I'm fine" response. In the latter case, don't push too hard. The main point is to show a possible victim of bullying that he or she is not, in fact, alone; that someone sees what is happening, cares what is happening and wants to help.
In the event that your teen wants to talk, the next step is to listen -- and then, if possible, offer some helpful, not harmful, advice about coping with the problem …
Coping with bullying is difficult, and it's not about fighting back or "sucking it up." It's about mind-control, demeanor and walking away like you couldn't care less even though you care a lot.
Bullies are in it for a reaction. That's where the feeling of power comes from. The idea is, if there's no reaction, the bully will give up. So "ignore it" is a good, standard piece of advice for a bullying victim. Some others include:
- Avoid the area where the bullying often occurs or put a block on the bully's e-mail address.
- Choose a couple of real friends to discuss the bullying problem with, or join a group activity or club where new friends may be found.
- Take up a new activity, like martial arts or yoga, that can help build confidence and lift mood.
- Discreetly tell a teacher or school counselor about what's going on. (He or she may be able to intervene without anyone knowing how he or she found out.)
- If you must respond, use humor -- it can diffuse the situation and make it difficult for the bully to continue the attack.
In some cases, a parent may be able to actively assist in the development of effective coping methods …
Suggesting your teen take up yoga or contact a counselor is one thing; helping make it happen is another. A little research can go a long way toward setting a positive step in motion.
Put together a list of possibilities for new activities that can build confidence and/or open up a new social circle. Check out schedules for yoga, martial arts, guitar, drums, choir, chess or weight training -- any positive activity you think your teen may be interested in -- and put the list in your teen's hand.
Locate e-mail addresses for school personnel you think your teen may feel comfortable talking to about the bullying situation. E-mail might be an easier forum for that initial contact.
Finally, don't go it alone. The increase in media attention on the bullying problem has led to an increase in community attention, as well. And that means resources …
You, like your teen, are not alone in this. There are resources out there for children, teens and parents in the midst of a bullying situation, not just schools and teachers and counselors but also entire organizations dedicated to the problem -- so use them.
Talk to your child's teachers, guidance counselor, principle, coach or instructor, and ask for assistance. Sometimes, just letting an authority know what's going on can help you and your child feel more secure: Someone is aware of the situation and keeping an eye on things.
Beyond the school, a few of the anti-bullying groups out there to help you and your child include:
Whatever you do, just do something. If you suspect your teen is the victim of bullying (or is the one doing the bullying), speak up, reach out, and be present. Whether or not they're being bullied, the best thing parents can do for their teens is be involved. Always.
For more information on bullying and other parenting topics, check out the links on the next page.
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- "Cyber Bullying: Statistics and Tips." i-SAFE. (Nov. 22, 2010)http://www.isafe.org/channels/sub.php?ch=op&sub_id=media_cyber_bullying
- "Dealing With Bullying." KidsHealth. (Nov. 22, 2010)http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/problems/bullies.html
- "Parenting Tips on Bullying." Parenthood. (Nov. 22, 2010)http://www.parenthood.com/article-topics/parenting_tips_on_bullying.html
- "Stop Bullying Now." HRSA. (Nov. 22, 2010)http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/adults/tip-sheets/default.aspx