6 Ways Parents Make Bullying Worse
Bullying. It’s a scary word that invokes strong emotions in many parents. What would you do if you found out that your child was being bullied? Before you answer, check out these common mistakes parents make when it comes to bullying in their teen’s life.
1. Miss the warning signs. Most teens will not tell their parents that they are being bullied either out of embarrassment, or because they fear your involvement will make the bullying worse. So that means that you, as the parent, must be vigilant and watchful for the subtle signs that your child is being bullied. Examples are:
- vague complaints of pain, such as frequent stomachaches or headaches,
- not wanting to go to school, or
- mentioning there is a lot of “drama” at school or that other kids “mess” with them.
2. Overreact. Parents automatically feel hurt when their child is hurt. Although it is natural to get emotional and/or angry, acting on those emotions will only result in mistakes. Many parents jump to their teen’s defense without finding out all the facts. Some parents immediately call the school, the teacher, the coach or the principal without giving their child a chance to navigate the situation. Parents should first collect information about what is occurring and then talk through possible solutions with their teen. It is quite possible that when you discover the facts, your child is actually just dealing with normal conflict. There is a difference between unkind behavior and bullying. For something to constitute bullying, there must be 3 elements present: a power imbalance, an intent to harm your child, and repeated incidents. Until all the facts are in, don’t simply assume your child is blameless either. It is normal for children to fudge the truth with their parents to avoid getting into trouble. If you do determine that it is bullying, take a deep breath and put together a logical plan of action.
3. Ignore the bullying. On the other extreme from overreacting, is doing nothing. How many times have you heard someone say, “oh, just ignore them and they’ll stop”? While that advice sometimes works in minor childhood teasing, it generally does not work in cases of bullying. Some parents mistakenly think:
- If they ignore a situation, it will go away.
- This is just “kids being kids” or everyone gets bullied sometime in life.
- This is just a disagreement and their child should work this out on their own.
- This is just a phase, and the bullying will stop soon by itself.
- Their child should “become friends” with their enemy.
- They don’t want to “rock the boat” or cause trouble.
Bullying will not resolve itself, and it absolutely should not be tolerated – parents must take action. Gather as much information as you can, and truly listen to your child. Do not make light of the situation or tell your child they should toughen up. Make a commitment to them to help them resolve the issue. Assertiveness – standing up for your right to be treated fairly or advocating for yourself in a positive way – is an excellent coping mechanism (last week’s blog was how to teach your teen to be assertive). Role model it for your teen by demonstrating conflict resolution, not conflict avoidance. Your teen should learn from your actions that is appropriate to stand up for yourself when people say hurtful things or push you around.
4. Focus on the wrong things. Sometimes parents get so mad that they want justice or revenge. They lose sight of what their ultimate goal is: helping their child move beyond the bullying incident. Research shows that the most helpful actions for bullied victims are support, affection, and friendship. Help your child cope and feel stronger by encouraging friendships and fun activities with the family. Focus your energy on what is happening with your child, not on what is happening in the bully’s life.
As parents, the main focus should not be on the punishment the bully receives, but determining whether or not the bullying has stopped and whether or not your child is safe. If the bullying is continuing, then you do need to follow up with the appropriate authorities, but if the bullying has stopped, you need to let it go. If the bullying occurred in school, recognize that federal law prevents schools from telling you anything about another child, including the punishment of your child’s bully.
5. Forget to develop an action plan. The most important thing parents need to do is help their teen overcome the bullying. Here are things parents should do:
- Document your case. Write down every incident with times, locations, witnesses, and events.
- Contact authorities. Do not try to address the issue with the bully or his parents yourself. If the bullying occurs in school, talk to the administrators. If it’s outside the school, contact the police.
- Have a problem-solving session with your teen and develop an action plan.
- Work hard to build your teen’s self-esteem. Teach them assertiveness skills (last week’s blog tells you how). Talk to them about how to avoid bullies. Encourage positive friendships.
- Get your teen professional counseling, if you suspect they are depressed.
6. Resort to child’s play. While it is very tempting to want to defend your child, engaging in childish behavior is one of the worst things a parent can do when their child is bullied. Do NOT gossip or spread rumors about the bully or their family, post mean comments online, call the family to berate them, or try to turn other people in the community against them. It is important to model socially civilized and appropriate behaviors to help your child overcome this difficulty. You are not teaching your child to be strong by acting rude to people who hurt them.
Generally, the best way for parents to handle a bullying situation is to remain calm, collect the facts, remember that there are two sides to every story, and develop a solution-oriented, problem-solving approach.