What can a parent do to be sure this doesn’t happen to your child (being bullied or becoming a bully)? And, how can you tell if something is awry?
Use a prevent defense:
• Keep the lines of communication open. Start talking to your child (from preschool and up) about friends and relationships at school. Make sure your child feels comfortable telling you about things that did not go well for him that day.
• Use this news story as a conversation starter with your tween or teen. It is a perfect, scary example of why you are interested in their social lives.
• Know who your child’s friends are. Develop a relationship with them so that you have your finger on your child’s social pulse.
• Set up media ground rules. Example: your teen can only have a facebook page if she makes you one of her friends.
• Teach your child to speak up. If someone is treating him poorly, he needs to tell an adult—a parent, teacher, or a school counselor. He should not be afraid that the bully will hurt him or retaliate if he “tattles”.
• Teach your child about healthy social relationships. Social skills are not natural—they are learned. It’s not okay to tease, ignore, or threaten another person. If every parent prioritized this, there would be fewer bullies in the world.
• Teach your child empathy and that there are consequences for behavior. Unfortunately, children rarely see the natural consequences for inappropriate or violent behavior—TV show villains, cartoon characters, and videogame heroes never face the same fait they would in real life. While it would be nice to just avoid all these negative media messages, it’s more realistic for parents to talk about them when their child is exposed to them.
What to look for:
• Is your child avoiding going to school or to certain activities?
• Is your child more quiet/reserved/detached than usual?
• Look for any unexplained bruises or cuts.
• Ask your child if anyone is bullying them or treating him poorly. If you don’t believe him, dig a little deeper—talk to his teachers or counselor and ask them to do an observation. Talk to his friends if you need to.
• If you don’t think your child is safe, do not send him to school or activities where he may be at risk (until you can assure his safety).
Bullies have poor self-esteem, so they tease other people to feel powerful over them. It’s ruling by intimidation. If you witness your child mistreating another child, you need to call him out and put a stop to it. And, it’s your job to help him feel good about himself, without hurting someone else to accomplish it.