Bullying is all over in the news today. It’s an important topic and one that deserve our attention as it becomes increasingly hard for today’s teenagers to safely navigate their social world.
There are warning signs to look for when you suspect that your child is being bullied. But what about when your child is the bully? How do you approach your child about it and, most importantly, make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Understanding the term “bullying”
Bullying isn’t something new and you probably remember incidents from when you were younger. You may remember kids getting shoved into lockers and “jocks” picking on the “nerds”—or maybe that stuff just happened in movies.
With today’s social media and online gaming, it’s much easier for teenagers to send targeted, hateful messages to their peers.
In general terms, bullying is using one’s power to hurt, threaten, or scare a peer for his or her own gain. Bullying includes:
- Verbal teasing, name calling, inappropriate sexual comments
- Physical attacks such as pushing, fighting, and tripping
- Unwanted physical touch
- Making threatening facial expressions or gestures
- Demanding money, schoolwork, lunches from another peer
- Purposely leaving peers out of an activity
- Sending harassing phone calls, text messages, emails, chats to a peer
- Spreading rumors about someone
- Embarrassing someone in public
According to stopbullying.gov, in order for it to be considered bullying the behavior must be aggressive and include:
- An imbalance of power: One teenager using their power (whether physical strength or social status) to control or harm others.
- Repetition: The bullying happens more than once and is likely to happen again.
Getting the call
Mother of 3, Sarah, never thought her teenage daughter would be accused of bullying a classmate. Her daughter was a good student, involved in cheerleading, and very kind and helpful with her younger sibling.
Sarah was floored when she got a call from the school principal that her daughter and some of her friends were engaged in teasing a younger classmate.
“Not my child!”
Most parents’ gut reaction to being told that their child was involved in bullying is “My child would never do that!” But it’s important that, as parents, you take the accusations from the bullied peer seriously and respond in a way that teaches your teenager that the behavior will not be tolerated.
- Process your feelings about the news before you talk with your teenager. Anger, guilt, sadness, and defensiveness are all normal reactions to hearing that your child has been accused of bullying. As parents, we are wired to protect our young.
- It’s helpful to work through these feelings before you talk with your child. Regulating your own feelings is the first step in teaching your teen to cope with their own feelings in a positive way.
- Get to the root of the bullying. It is important to name the behavior as bullying. Ask your child why the bullying behavior occurred.
In some cases, parents find out that their own child has been the target of bullying. This is a separate issue to be dealt with in another conversation, and it does not excuse their behavior. It is important that the teen take responsibility for their actions and learn from them.
- Speak in a calm, firm manner
- Avoid blame
- Ask questions that reflect empathy: “Can you imagine how they felt when you laughed at their clothes?”
Turning bullying into a teachable moment
Many parents would respond by taking away a privilege, such as video games or a social outing, as a consequence of bullying behavior. Alternatively, this is a great opportunity to build up your child’s social and emotional skills.
In Sarah’s case, her daughter was teasing another student who was of a lower economic class than their family. In addition to apologizing to the girl involved, Sarah and her daughter, volunteered at their local homeless shelter, making hygiene kits for those in need. Needless to say, both Sarah and her daughter were inspired. Later that year, they organized a clothing drive for the shelter!
Bullying is not a permanent behavior. All children have the power to change and grow:
- Model positive behavior at home, such as volunteering, helping in the community or at your child’s school.
- Be supportive and encouraging with your child. Practice kindness toward each other and say kind things about others.
- Talk about what it means to be empathetic and practice empathy.
- Find after-school or weekend activities where your teenager can practice kindness or giving back to the community.
- Work with your child’s school to make sure your teenager is supported at school.
- Help your child find healthy ways to manage their anger or frustration, such as martial arts classes or after-school sports.
Most importantly, never be their bully to your own child. Despite their adoration for YouTube stars and celebrities, you are still your teenager’s #1 role model!
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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