Raising Teenagers-Part 4: Bullying
Being a teen is hard.
I believe that it is significantly more challenging for teenagers today than it was a generation ago. The world is so much more complex and teenagers have so much more to balance now. School schedules, sports and other extracurricular activities, personal relationships, family responsibilities and chores…it’s a lot to handle for the child who is simultaneously searching for who he or she is. Add the challenges and dangers of social media and it’s potential consequences and it can be extremely difficult to navigate without a good support system.
Bullying has always been around from generation to generation, in one form or another. I remember “mean girl” behaviors and passing notes, and even the “slam book” getting passed around with not-so-nice things written in them. Even the occasional physical fight was seen as something that was just part of growing up.
Now, as I’m raising teenage daughters, I notice lots of similarities, but lots of differences as well. Social media and the internet has made it extremely more difficult for teenagers to find their place in the world. When kids bully now, it’s more through the use of text messages, Snapchat (a fun app where pictures and videos can be sent to others, put then disappear after a period of time, leaving no trace), and even Facebook. The big difference with teens and bullying now with the prevalence of social media and cell phones is that they cannot get away from it.
We as adults know that once something is out on the internet, it never goes away. Sure, it’s deleted from a page or an account, but it’s out there, somewhere in cyberspace lurking. Try googling yourself and see what comes up. You may be surprised.
When your child is mistreated, it’s very hard to watch. Bullying is about kids using power to control other kids, and sometimes with the intention to cause harm. It is hurtful and humiliating. It’s not an accident or joke—it’s a repetitive action that happens to a designated person or group over a period of time.
Here are some tips I’ve learned to help you and your child deal with situations like this:
- Keep the communication flowing. You don’t have to be a helicopter parent, but know your child. Know when he or she is behaving differently than the norm. Have an established relationship of trust where you both can discuss what’s going on in her life. If she tells you she’s being bullied, let her know that it’s wrong and she has a right to take steps to stop it, and you will help her.
- Unconditional love and support. Make it clear to him that you love him NO MATTER WHAT. He’ll make mistakes and poor choices. He needs you to be the safe place he can come back to. This doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences for his actions, just that you will help him through whatever he faces in life and never abandon him. This foundation will give him the tools to overcome bullying. Share stories of things that happened to you when you were younger, and how you felt. Encourage him to talk to other adults like an aunt or school counselor, coach or a friend’s parent he can trust.
- Foster her self-esteem in a positive way. You can read more about fostering self-esteem in your teen here. Teenagers who have a positive sense of self and strong core values will be less likely to be pressured into engaging in risky behaviors that put them in compromising situations. They will also be better equipped to handle difficult situations with others.
- Teach her to choose her friends wisely. If she can surround herself with people who are kind to others and avoid gossip, she will be kind to others, too.
- Don’t over-personalize it. When our kids feel pain, we often feel pain right along with them. Listen well and help them find ways to deal with the situation at hand.
- Don’t be a helicopter. It’s very tempting to swoop in and take control of the situation once you find out what’s going on, but it’s not helpful for the child in the long run. Be calm and listen. Strategize together and ask her how you can help. This will empower her to handle situations like this in the future.
- Don’t minimize. If your child is being bullied, don’t tell him he’s being too sensitive. He needs you as an advocate to help him deal with this situation.
- Teach her not to react out of fear. It’s not her fault. Don’t ask what she’s doing to cause them to bully her. Let your child know that it’s not them—anyone can be a target. It’s often just a case of wrong place, wrong time, and any kind of difference or vulnerability can do it. The best way to help your child not be a target is to help them practice not reacting from fear or anger. If she gets visibly upset, cries or lashes out at the bully, she’s feeding into the behavior they are looking for…a reaction. Teach her to say something short, then leave the scene. Phrases like “Stop it” or “I’ve got enough” and walking away are often enough to diffuse the situation.
- It’s not about her. Most bullies pick on other people to feel better about themselves. It usually has nothing to do with the victim. Remind her that people who try to make others inferior are only seeing their own inadequacies reflected back at them, so they feel insecure and lash out.
Your child has a right to feel safe. Let your child know that you’re there to help and work with him so that things won’t get worse. Listen to the story, don’t be reactive, and ask how you can be most helpful. Teens need to know that there is someone more powerful than the bully that is on their side and will put a stop to the bullying. That person is YOU.
Thanks for reading! If you’ve found some value in this, please share!
This video briefly mentions how I discussed alcohol and the risk of rape with my daughters.