There appears to be a ubiquitous belief that children must learn how to solve problems on their own. This is often true in cases of peer bullying. Kids will be kids, right? You might even remember your own situations involving a bully and YOU figured it out, right? Now more than ever, research suggests that parents not only need to involve themselves but may need to be part of the strategy to solve the larger problem. Bullying has been around forever. It has changed in its method of transmission over the years. Despite all of our familiarity with bullying, it is not normal behavior.
When kids share that they feel invisible, alienated, terrified, embarrassed, and depressed as a consequence of frequent bullying, I take it seriously. Victims are often feeling helpless and parents can often feel this way, too. Believing your child and taking him or her seriously, is the first step towards lessening the sense of isolation. As you know with most children and especially, teenagers, asking a direct question rarely gets you a direct answer. “I don’t know,” seems to be the common response. “What did you do in science today?” “I don’t know.” Opening up lines of communication is critical and can often be more easily facilitated by asking open ended questions and not focusing on your child directly. “Tell me, what is it like during lunch period?” “Do you ever see kids at your school being bullied, what would you do?” Now that the lines of communication are open, you might even want to share with your child, hypothetically, of course, what you might do as a parent if he or she were being bullied.
Keeping secrets does not promote solutions. Teachers and school administration need to be made aware and parents should be requesting the school’s policy on bullying. This should be reviewed directly with school officials. If as a parent you do not feel heard, document, document, document all incidences of bullying and attempts to remedy the situation with the school. It is also helpful to refrain from letting your own emotions cloud the duty at hand.
Parents can have ongoing conversations with their children as they develop about value systems, fairness, empathy, forgiveness, what it means to be a role model, and a leader. Bullying looks different at different developmental stages but it is the same. The concept of “relational aggression” is perhaps a more detailed and comprehensive look at those aggressive behaviors which harm personal feelings of social acceptance. Situations like exclusion, gossiping, ignoring, rumor spreading, triangulating, and now doing all of these things in cyberspace, encompass relational aggression.
It is not uncommon to see relational aggression as early as pre-school. Bullying, in general, appears to be reported more frequently in sixth to eighth grades. If you think of the developmental tasks at hand for the youth at these ages, it is no surprise that the very normal milestones they are trying to negotiate are being cruelly undermined: self esteem, sexual identity, role identity, group identity- separating from adults and relying on friends. Kids don’t know who to turn to and in fact, often think that they are too old to ask for help from their parents anyway!
It is never too late to do something. The children that have taken their own lives or lost their lives to bullying have left a very detailed message to all of us who will listen. Take your children seriously and be available to them for support, encouragement and as a resource. Remind them that you are in this together. There are many quality online resources about bullying and prevention for parents and children to review together. This may spark the conversation that is needed.
You may contact Kelly at 610-216-8833
Kelly has been working in the mental health field for over twenty years. In addition to her therapeutic practice work at Bethlehem Counseling Associates, Kelly is a Board Certified Coach. She is enjoying her work as a relationship coach for Mastermatchmakers of VH1’s Tough Love and Tough Love Couples.