The Dos and Don’ts

By Michelle Covington
What to do if my teen is being bullied

The answer to this is multi-faceted. As parents, you have a lot of ways you can protect and stand up for your child. Because this is such a broad topic, we’ve split it into two sections. This week, we will focus on ways in which you can bolster your bullied teen and support them. Your teen needs to know that their welfare is your top priority. Next week, we will help you figure out what to do in regards to the school or other location where your teen is being bullied.

While discussing what to do to best support and encourage your teen, we will also deal with some very important don’ts. Often, conventional wisdom on how to handle bullying can have an even more negative impact on the bullied teen. What we don’t do can be just as important as what we do to help them.

Constructive Anger

The first thing to realize is that anger is a normal response both for you and your bullied teen. Bullies are predators that have targeted your teen. Anger will have a role in your response, but the key is not to let it take over the strategy in which you handle the situation. Your child needs you to be rational in your approach and model how to handle anger in constructive rather than destructive ways.

Do:

Focus on using your anger to fuel your strategy, not dictate it. We will get into more specifics on strategy further on.

Use the 24 hour rule. It’s usually wise to wait 24 hours before confronting a bully, the bully’s parents, or school administrators. This gives you time to think through the situation and develop a plan and gives you time to shift your anger from destructive to constructive.

Don’t:

Physically or verbally attack the bully. This action has become a trend among parents of bullied children, but ultimately it is not a good way to handle the situation. These parents are letting their anger dictate their actions. Not only is it a criminal activity, you will further damage your own child’s psychological well-being.

Don’t call and blame the school without first gathering all of the information. You will probably end up making the administrators defensive, in which case they will be less likely to be helpful. Also, in some cases, this causes an increase of bully activity against your teen when the bullies discover that the parent is involved.

Psychological Fortification

Begin by making it clear to your teen that you are on their side. One of the extremely harmful aspects of bullying is that it causes the target to feel completely alone. They believe they don’t have any allies in their battle. Bullies usually know how to not get caught, and this means that teachers are often unaware that bullying is taking place. The lack of action on the part of teachers who have no proof that bullying has taken place can leave targets disillusioned and cause them not to expect adult support or intervention.

Do:

Let your teen know that they have an adult ally in you. Assure them that together, you will do everything you can to make the bullying stop. Assure your teen that it is not their fault that they are being bullied and that they don’t deserve to be treated this way.

Don’t:

A bullied teen should never be told that they need to “toughen up” and “deal with” the bullying. They are most likely dealing with feelings of powerlessness and depression. They have been psychologically torn down by the bully. It is your job to build them back up so that they have a chance to regain the dignity that has been stripped away from them, not demoralize them further.

A bullied teen should not be encouraged to fight back. Bullies target peers who are weaker than they are in some manner, whether it be physically or socially. Bullies know that they have the power. When a target fights back against the bully using the bully’s methods, they are outmatched and the bully knows it because he or she has designed it that way. It ends up causing even more harm to the target. It also gives the bully and the bully’s family ammunition against your teen when you bring the bullying incident to the attention of school administrators.

For ways that targets can stand up to bullies without fighting back, see last week’s article on Minimizing the Target.

Verbal Self-Defense

Bullies do what they do because they want to get a reaction out of their targets. They are entertained by their targets’ displays of fear, pain or anxiety. Most of the time, the best verbal self-defense is not engaging the bully at all.

Do:

Encourage your teen not to react to a bully’s taunts. Have them practice the assertive but nonthreatening body language tips discussed last week, and conceal their emotions as much as possible from the bully. Let your teen know that they don’t owe a bully any kind of response.

Don’t:

Often, adults believe that if a target could just explain to a bully that what they are doing is hurtful, the bully will stop out of empathy. While it’s possible this tactic might work with some first-time bullies, or very young bullies, it has little to no effect on serial bullies. Serial bullies thrive on the misery they cause other people. This approach would more likely encourage the bully to ramp up their attacks.

Cyberbullying

More and more teens are becoming victims of cyberbullying. This form can be especially tough for parents to handle, especially if they are not familiar with the technology involved, but there are ways that you can help protect your teen online, and even more importantly, ways in which you can help your teen protect themselves.

Do:

Have a Facebook page, or a Twitter profile, or whatever social medium your teen most uses to communicate with their friends. Make sure you know the basics of that medium and how to report abusive behavior (Facebook has instructions for you here). Friend your teen and some of their friends and be aware of what is going on. Just like with in-person bullying, you should never directly attack a cyber-bully. Instead, report them and carefully document each occurrence of bullying. Screen shots are a great way to capture and document cyberbullying.

Set rules for your teen’s cell phone use. Make a contract with your teen like this mom did. Make sure they know what is appropriate and what is not appropriate cell phone behavior. Make sure you remind them that nothing they send either via text or online is private, and most likely it will get around to other people.

Don’t:

Restrict your teen’s access to their cell phones or the internet to keep them away from cyber bullies. Most teens see this as punishment, not as protection, and they will be less likely to confide in you or see you as an ally in the future. Plus, it won’t solve the problem. The bullying will continue and your teen will find out about it from their friends at school the next day.

Positive Outlets

With the weight of the pain and misery of being bullied, most targets need a positive outlet to help them start enjoying life again and build self-confidence. Think about the things your teen enjoys doing and encourage them to participate more in those activities.

Do:

  • Participate in activities together that your teen enjoys.
  • Remind your teen of their friendships and encourage them to strengthen them.
  • Get out of town for a little while and let your teen explore some place new.
  • Bring some comedy home, whether that be through movies, books, or comics. Laughter has amazing healing properties!
  • Introduce your teen to books and movies about courageous people.
  • Make sure your teen gets plenty of physical exercise. The endorphins released while exercising reduce anxiety and improve mood. Sports teams have the added benefit of increasing self-esteem and the teen’s circle of friends, both of which are essential in protecting them from being bullied.
  • Encourage your teen to keep a journal, where they can write through the things they’re struggling with and get their feelings out on paper.
  • Get counseling. For a teen who is seriously struggling with the psychological effects of being bullied, a counselor can be extremely helpful. They give the teen another adult ally that they can talk to as well as providing real help toward healing.

While these tactics may not end the bullying that your teen is facing, they will have the much more important effect of fortifying your teen against the bullying and give them the essential ingredient in their struggle – hope. Your teen’s mental and emotional health is your first priority and should be the beginning point in your strategy.

It is not the ending point, however, and next week we will focus on the second step of your strategy, what steps you should take with school administrators, when law enforcement should be involved, and how to put an end to the bullying your teen is experiencing.

*This article was written with assistance from Paul Coughlin’s parent resource “4-Circle Solution to Bullying.” The full document will be available for purchase soon from The Protectors website.

 

Learn more about bullying on our bullying topic page.

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