Bullying and cyberbullying may be prevented with intentional parenting. However if it does occur, there are some ways that parents can respond to help their kids cope.
Preventing Bullying and Cyberbullying
Everyday, kids are bullied at school, while engaged in extracurricular activities and online. Therefore, learning about preventing bullying and cyberbullying is important. Face to face bullying can take the form of threats, intimidation, name-calling, spreading rumours or excluding someone from a group. Aggressive behaviour typically needs to be recurring in order to qualify as bullying. However, the fear that a single incident of brutish behaviour might happen again can extend the impact on the victim.
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that’s carried out in social media and smartphones. While not face-to-face, it can be just as harmful. It is very public, so word travels very quickly. Furthermore, once images and comments are posted, they can exist virtually forever online. In addition, online bullies wreak havoc anonymously, often with little fear of being discovered or punished. Their harassing comments may even include recommendations that victims harm or kill themselves.
Indications of Bullying or Cyberbullying
You might wonder if your son or daughter is a victim of bullying or cyberbullying if:
- You notice marked changes in patterns of daily activities, such as overeating or eating much less than normal
- Your child experiences plummeting grades in school, expresses an unwillingness to attend school, or complains of ailments in order to avoid having to go to school
- You see changes in your child’s sleep patterns
- Your child exhibits symptoms of depression
- You become concerned about your son or daughter’s use of drugs and alcohol
If you see these signs, you need to talk with your child. One way to bring up a difficult topic is to de-personalise it. For example, you might mention that “some people” have encountered bullying. You can talk about the problem as a universal issue. Then, transition the conversation to direct it more personally:
- “I’ve heard a lot of people talking about bullying lately. What does that mean to you? Have you ever felt bullied by someone?”
- “On social media, do you see any of your friends getting picked on? If so, how have you responded?”
Safeguarding for Preventing Bullying and Cyberbullying
Openness – Check in with your child often so you can be better able to spot signs of bullying. Some of the issues that lead to bullying could be embarrassing or involve wrongdoing. Don’t be afraid to bring up concerns. Conflict can be helpful to the growth of your relationship.
Confidence – Encourage your child’s strengths and passions. Taking part in activities she loves or excels in will help your teen develop confidence. This can ward off the attention of bullies.
Boundaries – Set guidelines for technology use. You may wish to draft a contract stipulating the type of conduct you expect from your child. For example, explain which websites he can visit and how much time he’ll spend online. Be specific about where his phone will be when he sleeps. Talk with your teen about what he think some reasonable guidelines should be and why.
Accountability – Let your child know that your job as a responsible, loving parent is to be aware of her online activities. You want to see that your child is being treated well, treating others well and being a good decision-maker.
Talk to your child about how bullying has been around since the beginning of history. Actually, it is not unique to this generation; it’s a humanity issue that even Jesus faced. Once you’ve worked on preventing bullying and cyberbullying, you can begin to work on responding to these issues.
Responding to Bullying and Cyberbullying
The effects of bullying and cyberbullying can be dramatic. They demolish self-esteem and lead to depression and anxiety that can last into adulthood. Neurobiological research confirms that social pain is equivalent to physical pain. Consequently, in the most tragic cases, teens and preteens may feel driven to self-harm or suicide. If your teen is being bullied, she needs help immediately. Some things you can do include:
Give her some tips about how to deal with a bullying incident. For example, use humour to defuse a tense situation, use straightforward language (“That’s enough!”) or, if possible, walk away.
Rehearse with your teen where she can go at school if she ever feels threatened. State a specific location or a person such as a school counsellor, a trusted teacher, or administrator.
If your child is being bullied, you might be tempted to give free reign to strong emotions, especially in a meeting with school officials. Resist the urge. Yelling or reacting explosively may embarrass your child and cause her to NOT tell you about future episodes. Calm, measured action is more likely to lead her to want to tell you.
Encourage your child to talk with you or another adult whens she feels intimidated or afraid. This will help her get help and perspective on the other person’s behaviour to help her end the bullying. In some situations she may feel emotionally trapped in feelings of fear. Therefore, talking can sometimes help her break out of the “loop” of fearful emotions.
A Word of Caution for Parents
Children who bully or have been bullied have an increased likelihood of developing a psychiatric disorder. This is a great reason to work intentionally on preventing bullying or cyberbullying in the first place. However, when responding to these issues, consulting a licensed counsellor who works with children is recommended.
Should You Teach Your Child to Fight Back?
Many parents want to teach their children to respond to bullies with physical violence. While self-defense training is helpful, advising children to answer violence with violence is not recommended. Physical aggression can escalate to a point where your child’s safety—or even life—may be seriously threatened. Likewise, schools that have a zero-tolerance policy for violence may impose punishments on your child, even if he is not the instigator of a fight. Therefore, preventing bullying and cyberbullying and responding to these issues is important. Building social and emotional skills and teaching coping skills are effective ways families can help children deal with bullying.
Responding to These Issues When Others Are Being Bullied
How can you help your child if one of his friends is being bullied or cyberbullied?
Teach him to be aware. What might he see in a friend or classmate who is afraid or hurting? If he can’t think of any signs, provide some examples. For instance, mention someone walking the halls with his head down; remaining quiet; being tearful or trying to stay out of sight.
Talk about kind phrases your child can offer to that other person, or actions he can take. Isolation is one of the most painful results of bullying or cyberbullying. When responding to these issues, some compassionate phrases might include, “Would you like to eat lunch with me and my friends?” “Can I walk you to the office so you can talk to someone about what’s happening?”
If your child has become a bully, this doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. Some personalities are more vulnerable to becoming bullies. Talk with the school counsellor or a licensed counsellor to begin getting the necessary help for your family and your child. Additionally, pray diligently for God’s softening of your child’s heart.
Ask Questions and Communicate
Preventing bullying and cyberbullying and responding to these issues begins with questions and conversations. So, talk to your kids about being noticers, builders and connectors.
Be a noticer:
- Have you ever witnessed bullying or cyberbullying? If so, what did you see? What did you do?
- Who tends to bully? What do you think is going on in a bully’s mind? What is going on in the mind of someone being bullied?
- What’s being done about bullying in your school?
Be a builder:
- If a person were bullied, what would it be like for people to step in and help?
- What are some easy ways to authentically encourage others?
- Why do you think cyberbullying has become more common? How can we use technology in more positive ways?
Be a connector:
- What stops you from finding help for yourself or another person being bullied?
- What are some resources at your school for people who are being bullied? Who needs to know about the bullying to be able to help?