The spotlight on bullying in schools has been brighter in recent months, and with good reason. Bullying has been implicated in suicides as well as in violent behavior such as school shootings, and in any case can cause self-esteem issues, which in turn causes kids to act out in various ways.
For kids who either identify as or are perceived as lebsian, gay, bisexual or transgender, bullying is even more common than for the general population, according to StopBullying.gov.
Parents are understandably upset and concerned about helping their kids deal with bullies, especially after recent news reports like these putting the spotlight on bullying:
A girl who was allegedly abducted and murdered by two Virginia Tech students was said to be bullied at school prior to her disappearance. (New York Times, February 2, 2016)
A student with Autism in Northern California had to go to the emergency room after being hit in the face with a traffic cone. His mother alleges that the student was being bullied because of his autism. (FOX40 Sacramento, January 28, 2016)
A San Antonio, TX mother alleges that students are purposely spraying perfume near her daughter, who is severely allergic to it, as a form of bullying (NBC4 San Antonio, February 1, 2016)
The good news is that a quick Google search shows that both parents and students are trying to do something about bullying. Sometimes bullied kids take to social media to share their stories and make other kids aware of how bullying affects them, and parents are more and more frequently turning to news stations to help put the spotlight on bullying if they can’t get school administrators to take their concerns seriously.
Many parents would prefer to prevent bullying before it occurs. No parent wants to see their children suffer, and parents don’t want to think their kids could become bullies, either. Here’s a few things you can do if you’re worried about bullying.
Make sure to keep lines of communication open. Talking to your kids is the most important thing you can do to prevent bullying and other serious problems. If you’re having trouble getting your kids to talk to you, try doing more active listening with them. Active listening is a technique that counselors use that parents and other non-professionals can also learn. It consists of listening closely to what someone else says and then paraphrasing what you’ve heard, especially feelings the person expresses. For example, if your child says, “Today at school Danny told me he doesn’t play with girls anymore!” you could say, “You were upset today when your friend wouldn’t play with you because you’re a girl.” By practicing active listening, you build trust and understanding with your kids so that they’re more likely to tell you about important things in their lives — like bullying issues.
Look for teachable moments. One of the things that makes bullying so pervasive is that kids don’t always know that they’re being bullied (or that they’re acting like bullies!) Sometimes kids think that they provoked another child’s behavior or that they deserve to be bullied for “acting like a baby” or “acting weird.” Talking to your kids about bullying can be helpful. Rather than dedicating time to this conversation, consider looking for moments where you can teach about bullying. You probably already stop your kids from hitting each other or saying mean things to each other; when it happens, this is a time you can point out that these behaviors are like bullying. You can also watch television with your kids and talk to them about storylines involving bullying to try to generate a conversation.
Encourage kids to speak up. Some experts believe that peer influence has a greater effect on bullying than anything else. If more popular kids speak up when a less popular kid is being bullied, it may have a positive effect. Of course, kids don’t want to stand up for others in a way that puts them in danger, but you may want to talk to your kids about saying something to their friends if they see them being mean or befriending kids that seem to be isolated and/or picked on.
The more support your child has, the less likely he or she is to either become a bullying victim or bully others. In addition to the tips above, continue nurturing your child’s self-esteem and encouraging his or her talents and interests. That will help your child grow into a happier, more self-confident adult in addition to providing some protection for bullying.
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