In my work with teens, I am constantly reminded of the power that peers have in a young person’s life. Often a teen’s peer group can be a much-needed source of support and affirmation during a challenging time in life. We should not underestimate the benefits of a well-grounded, reliable, and kind group of friends. However, the opposite is unfortunately also the case, and we know all-too-well how damaging the effects of negative peer interactions can be for our youth. For this reason, it’s essential that parents be aware of and equipped to deal with both sides of the bullying issue. In this article I draw on insights from Carl Pickhardt’s book Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence – a book that I often recommend to parents of teens and pre-teens – and focus on helping parents to identify and prevent bullying.
Why Do Adolescents Bully?
As adolescents begin to separate from their parents and search for an identity apart from their family, their need for peer affiliation becomes paramount. Young teens want to know that they fit in, that they belong, and that they’ve got people who “get” them. The problem with fitting in is that other people then have to fit “out” so to speak. This “in/out” dichotomy means that teens are at risk of becoming intolerant of peers who look, talk, and behave differently. Particularly in middle school, when adolescents are often unsure of themselves, searching for identity, and feeling awkward and self-conscious, young people can turn to bullying and other “mean behaviors to compete for social belonging, assert social dominance, and defend social position” (p. 205). This explains why even good kids can become involved in bullying and other unkind behavior in an attempt to manage their social world. If you’re interested in reading more about why kids bully, check out Pickhardt’s book Why Good Kids Act Cruel, and stay posted for an upcoming article on this topic.
How Can You Prevent Your Child From Bullying?
By being proactive, you can help to ensure that your child does not become involved in bullying activities. Here are three suggestions that parents can implement in order to prevent their children from become bullies.
- Communicate That You Know What They’re Going Through
Make sure that your son or daughter knows that you’re in the “social know” (p. 207). Before your child enters middle school, share your understanding with him of what to expect. Let him know that this is a time in life where kids like to find groups to fit into, and that there can be more teasing, bullying, excluding, rumoring, and general meanness. Tell your child what to do if he experiences these things, and encourage him not to get involved in doing any of these things to others. This is a time in life when adolescents often feel that their parents are clueless about what goes on in their world, so let them know in advance that you’re not clueless about what they are experiencing.
- Help Your Child to Understand Diversity
Pay attention to how your son or daughter talks about people who are different from the social norm – “She dresses funny so we don’t hang out with her” – and take any opportunity your child presents to help her see the world from the other person’s perspective. Instead of simply telling your teen that it’s wrong to treat people poorly, provide her with tools that enable her to see other perspectives and relate to people who are different from her.
- Enable Your Child to Appreciate People from Various Backgrounds
Encourage your child to get involved with different kinds of people. Promote activities where he will encounter diversity and meet people from different social groups. Your child will be less likely to participate in bullying tactics, such as ganging up and excluding, when he knows and likes people from a variety of backgrounds.
- How Do You Know When Your Child is Being Bullied?Signs that your child may be being bullied can include the following:
- a sudden drop in self-esteem,
- unexplained anxiety about attending school,
- social withdrawal,
- stolen or damaged items,
- a drop in grades,
- secretive or discouraged responses to texts, emails, snapchats, Facebook messages, or other forms of electronic communication that we know as cyber bullying (p. 209-10).
If your child displays one or more of these signs, it does not necessarily mean that they are experiencing bullying. Before jumping into action, make sure that you listen to what your child is going through and seek to understand it as best you can. When you do sit down to talk with your son or daughter, make sure that you seek to listen, empathize, and offer emotional support. Try to find out exactly what’s happening, and strategize ways to deal with and combat any bullying that’s going on (p. 210).
Christian Counseling Can Help to Prevent Bullying
A trained Christian counselor can provide help and intervention for teens on both sides of the bullying issue, as well as for parents who need support, encouragement and tools for helping their child. The best intervention is early intervention, so don’t hesitate to reach out for support if your child has experienced or been involved in bullying. Or, if after reading this article you feel ready to schedule an appointment for either yourself or your teen, sign up for a “risk-free” first session through our online scheduling tool.
Pickhardt, C. (2013). Surviving your child’s adolescence: How to understand, and even enjoy, the rocky road to independence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
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