October is National Bullying Prevention Month and yes, it's almost over and I'm finally jumping on the bandwagon. Why didn't I before? I was so wrapped up trying to get my child out of school, then into school at home and now home school that it slipped by but I just couldn't keep silent about the topic. Here's why. I don't think that we'd be in the situation we're in now if it wasn't for bullying and our doctors agree.
Want to know what sucks? It doesn't take much for a beautiful, smart, talented girl to feel like she's worthless. All it takes is a few lunchroom comments by “close” friends. A couple secrets in the hallway. Some hurtful questions on ask.fm. A few times of not being invited to things. It begins simply and unfortunately, over time, it snowballs out of control.
As a parent, it's incredibly hard to watch your child's self-esteem slip away because of bullying. We try to raise confident kids and it's our job to encourage them and build them up but at the end of the day guess what? They really don't care what we think. We're just parents. They really care what their peers think and we can't control our own children let alone those of others so in a way, we're slightly helpless. It really sucks.
So, what can we do? I'm not a parenting expert but we've been dealing with bullying issues for two years and even though my child's homeschooled now, they still continue. Why? The phone. There's no escaping cyber bullying. Once something's said on social media, it gets a life of it's own. And, these teens have learned how to anonymously (and sometimes overtly) torture each other online. It's terrible. I'm very open about the fact that I think all teen's social media needs to be monitored- especially if you think they're being bullied. If you have a sad teen and are wondering what's going on, check their phone. Privacy goes out the window when it comes to making our kids safe. Period.
What else can we do? While we can't stop bullying, we can support our teens which is what I've tried desperately to do the past couple of years. Some of it's worked and other things haven't. Every teenager is different. Here's my list of things you can do to help your teen deal with bullying.
Read the book Queen Bees and Wannabees– Want the best advice on how to navigate middle and high school? This book is a must-read. It not only explains how cliques and bullying work, it gives you the ability to sit down with your teen and have a discussion based on what you read without sounding like an idiot. It also challenges you to separate your feelings about your teenage experience so you're dealing with your child's emotions not your own. Can't get your teen to talk. Pop in Mean Girls- it was based off the book. You can order the book off Amazon here: Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence. Have a boy? You may want to check out: Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World
Listen to your child– We spend so much time talking as parents. Telling our kids what to do. Spend some quality time listening to your child talk about what's happening at school, dance or online. You'll not only get a clearer picture of what might be happening at school, your child will feel like their opinions matter. That's priceless.
Be clear about the definition of bullying– Any time your child is uncomfortable or afraid, they are being bullied. It doesn't have to be as overt as stealing lunch money or making fun of someone in front of a group. There is one commonality with bullying- it happens over and over. So, if your child is upset from a one time situation, you need to discuss why it was hurtful or wrong, and encourage them to move on. If it happens again and you see a pattern, call it like you see it.
Remember there are three sides to every story– There's your child's side, the bully's side and what really happened. We, as parents, don't ever want to think our kids do anything wrong and we want to protect them. Unfortunately, how they perceive a situation and how the other child sees it, may be two totally different things. Try and be as diplomatic as possible- let your child work through the issues. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with negative situations.
Pay attention to what you say to your child– The biggest mistake I made as a parent was saying these three words to my daughter- “They're just jealous.” Guess what? It doesn't help because when your kid is on the receiving end of the bullying, they don't really see what anyone would be jealous about. It makes no sense to a teenage brain. Instead explain why the behavior is hurtful or wrong and how they can handle the situation better. In our case, we had a friend that would insult Rosie and then say, “Just kidding.” Guess what? She wasn't- it was her way of putting something really mean out there and then taking it back so she wasn't responsible (it's also a great tactic when you're caught at school. So easy to say, “I was just joking. I didn't really mean it.”)
Give then some coping skills– If you have an extroverted child, it's really easy to coach them to say, “I didn't appreciate the way you treated me. Please don't do it again.” Unfortunately, not every child is capable of standing up for themselves and that's okay. Encourage them to walk away. If they have a teacher or counselor at school that they trust and it's a persistent problem, suggest that they go speak with someone. If it's a situation that continues at home on social media, explain why they need to back away from the phone so it stops.
Ask your child for feedback– If it's persistent and you feel the need to intervene, ask your teenager how they'd like you to handle the situation. There's nothing worse than calling a parent when your teen doesn't want you to and it can escalate the bullying situation. If you feel like the problem is not going away and you need to do something, make sure your teen is on board. Otherwise it's a recipe for disaster.
Let school handle what happens on their turf– All schools have a no tolerance policy. If you're lucky enough that your bully's been caught, let the school enforce their rules. Yes, you can have an open dialogue with school leadership, but let them do their job and be the bad guy. If their not willing to get involved, call the school district or state hotline. They'll have to handle it off the anonymous tip.
Have an open-door policy– Guess what? Your teen isn't nice all of the time and they're going to do bad things too. Make sure your child knows that your door is always open- that you're there for a hug and a chat. That way, they'll come to you for advice- even when they've been the Mean Girl.
Encourage your child to stand up for others– If your child isn't the target, help them to understand that the only way to truly stop bullying is to stand up for others. If they see a situation that they know is wrong, teach them to advocate for other kids. Take the time to share with them that they can make a difference in someone else's life if they just learn one simple word- “Stop.”
What are your tips for handling bullying issues with your teen?