Blog · Sep 28, 2021
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. It's a good time to talk about what parents and caregivers can do to strengthen their teen’s resiliency to bullying, but before we tackle what parents can do, let’s talk about what bullying is.
Bullying is more than teasing or name calling. Bullying is repeated, aggressive behavior intended to intimidate or hurt someone physically or emotionally. Whether in person or online through social media or gaming platforms, bullying affects everyone involved including the target, witnesses, and the bully.
Teens ready to express their feelings with confidence are less likely to use aggression to meet their needs for position, power, and safety. When parents talk with their children about their own emotions and how they manage them, children learn that it is okay to acknowledge and address emotions together. This promotes a home environment where emotional awareness and open communication is the norm and teens are comfortable sharing their fears and their joys. In this family dynamic, teens are more likely to seek advice and support from their parents and less likely to suppress their emotions, which if left unaddressed can lead to aggressive or self-destructive behavior.
Teens learn behavior through observation. What they observe at home sets the model for their concept of what relationships should look like. If they observe respectful interactions and peaceful conflict resolution, children learn to prioritize their relationships, even when they are in conflict. Talk to your teens about forming and maintaining healthy relationships and demonstrate that model of respect for them.
A culture of open communication at home promotes an environment of trust and support. When adolescents and teens feel they can be open and honest with their parents and caregivers, they are more likely to seek help at the first sign of concern or uncertainty. Listen to your teen. Ask questions about their school day. Get to know their friends. Listen to what they are saying and what they are not saying. When you have a strong understanding of what their life is like, who they spend their time with, and what worries or excites them, you have a baseline to evaluate indications that something is wrong. They will be more likely to come to you to talk about potential bullying situations so you can help them manage them before they escalate.
Be ready for them to share things you may not want to hear. If they are doing or have done things that make you uncomfortable or flat out disapprove of, talk with them about your concerns without dismissing them.
Human beings are social creatures. We derive strength and comfort from the close bonds we develop. Get your teen involved in activities outside of school like sports or clubs where more friendships can be cultivated. Teens thrive in the connectedness and belonging of a supportive social network. Teens with healthy friendships are more confident and secure in themselves and less likely to be involved in bullying behavior.
At some point, your teen may be the target of aggression or harassment. Talk with your teen about healthy ways to respond to the negative behavior. A quick response from your teen would make clear the negative behavior is unacceptable. For example, if a peer is spreading rumors about your teen, your teen could say, “we don’t have to be friends, but stop spreading rumors about me.”
As children grow up, they will begin to pull away as they become independent individuals. However, as mature as they become, they still need you in their corner. During these developmental years, open communication, support, and seeing you as a positive role model will prepare them to overcome the negative behaviors they encounter.