On Bullying, Parents Need to Change the Subject

Kids, especially teens, might be sick to death of talking about bullying in all its forms, but that doesn’t mean that the problem is any less acute or any easier to deal with. According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, over 13 million children are bullied in the country each year, with some experiencing harassment so severe that parents feel that they have no choice but to keep them home from school.

Up to now, parents were at a loss as to how they can harness this deluge of informationto deliver an effective anti-bullying message to their children. Now, several experts in both childhood development and anti-harassment in particular offer a few solutions.

The first comes from Rosalind Wiseman, who was one of the first to shed light on the extent of harassment being inflicted on bullying victims — especially instances of girl-on-girl harassment. As the author of the popular Queen Bees and Wonnabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence – the bestseller on which the movie Mean Girls was based – she is all too familiar with fatigue surrounding the word “bully.”

Wiseman, along with Cynthia Lowen, producer and writer of the 2011 documentary “Bully,” recommends that parents change the conversation, moving away from words that kids are likely to hear in the course of being lectured on the evils of harassment and the importance of getting along. Instead of talking about bullying in general, parents can focus on specific behaviors like rumor spreading, ostracism or name-calling.

Don’t assume they’ll tell you they’re being bullied. “If you ask your teenager if things are going OK at school, there’s a good chance he or she will tell you things are fine,” says Carrie Goldman, author of “Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear” (HarperOne). “It’s easy to miss things until they blow up in your face.”

Parents who want their kids to talk to them about the bad things they’re experiencing in school need to learn how to be good listeners, experts say. Teens are reluctant to share as is, but they will be even more reticent if they think that letting parents know they’re struggling will result in heedless action like a confrontation with the school administrators or a fight with the bully’s parents over the demands that harassment cease.

“Develop a plan of what your child and you want to have happen,” says Lowen. “Is it a matter of asking the principal to reassign a locker to somewhere in the building with more supervision? Is it asking a teacher to stand in the hall between classes? Is it helping your teen put together a list of things they want to bring to the principal? Do they want a counselor present?

However, being open also means accepting news that it’s your own child who is the perpetrator. For those parents who receive that unwelcome news, the first thing that Lowen recommends is to accept it and to fight the impulse to deny, deny, deny.

“Work together to get to the bottom of the issue,” she says. “Use it as an opportunity to say, ‘Things have gotten totally off-track here. How do we get this back on track?’ If your child has a lot of social cachet. If they are someone other kids look up to. If they’re a big bruiser of a kid. How can these qualities be used to be a leader among their peers, rather than someone who’s hurting their peers?”

11 28, 2012
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