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Bullying…Is there anything a parent can do?

Bullying is an issue that everyone is talking about. Many programs have been created recently attempting to reduce the bullying going on in schools. There are many forms of bullying including cyberbullying, physical bullying, and emotional or verbal bullying. Whether we admit it or not it comes from other teens, teachers, parents, and even coaches. It becomes complicated because the perpetrators often don’t see themselves as the bad guys and the victims are often seen as wrong or deserving of the treatment they are receiving. The circumstances that often lead to bullying can be a twisted series of events with many different sides and views. As a therapist, I have worked with kids who are truly victims for reasons that are out of their control. I have also worked with kids who uncover for me a series of decisions and behaviors that have triggered or at least contributed to the treatment or bullying they are experiencing. No one is deserving of bullying no matter what poor decisions or mistakes they have made. I believe that it is our job as parents, therapists, and school staff to better understand the culture of the teens in the immediate community around us and then create and implement interventions that will create a safer environment.

Now, this is a huge task that cannot be solved or even fully addressed in this short article. What I am going to address is how to parent your child who is experiencing bullying. Parents can only do so much and as difficult as it might be you must focus on what you control in these situations rather than going down the path of trying to fix things that you cannot fix or control. Going down this path will lead to arguments with your child, resentments when things backfire or get worse, and feelings of hopelessness. Here are 5 things that you can control in addressing your child being bullied.

1. Love and listen

So often parents will become super detectives and out of love end up interrogating and nagging their child in an attempt to figure out what is going on and how to fix it. I understand the response and theoretically, it actually makes sense. In real life, however, this leads to arguments at home, more shame for the teen, and more confusion in being able to understand the circumstances of the bullying. Sometimes the child voices it outright and sometimes it is something that parents figure out by noticing moods and piecing together bits of information. Instead of getting to the bottom of things, let your child know you love them and ask if there is anything you can do to help. If they begin to talk, listen and save your advice. Remember that if you give advice and it backfires or displeases them you will become a target for their bad feelings. Some will take time to talk and some won’t talk at all.

2. Do not walk on eggshells

When parents feel bad for their child, they often walk on eggshells in an attempt to “not make things worse.” Parents will stop following through with boundaries and, because they feel bad for their child, refrain from parenting. This can result in the parents becoming frustrated with their child. When teens don’t take your advice or appreciate how easy you have been with them you run the risk of building your own resentments, which in the end will make everything worse. Maintain your boundaries and expectations of them but recognize the opportune moments to love on them. Be extra careful to rely on boundaries rather than becoming angry or argumentative. Let them have their feelings and outbursts and remember that you are an adult who is walking alongside them, not for them.

3. Enlist help with prudence

One of the greatest conundrums for parents who have teens who are being bullied is deciding how much to get involved. It is important to assess the situation. At times enlisting help (for example from the school or coaches) can make things worse. You may not have all the information and involving others may result in more shame and possibly escalate the issue for your child. There are some specific issues that will require you to enlist help even if your child does not want you to. When your child is being physically attacked, when there is sexual abuse, and when there is some sort of criminality aspect, you must involve the schools or institutions involved. If your child is asking you to enlist help, do it together with them. Get involved but do not take over the problem-solving process for them completely. Be very careful to stay away from trying to join with other parents in problem-solving. I am not saying that this never helps, but more often than not it makes the social situations that the parents do not see and don’t understand more difficult. The parents may believe and think that the problems were solved, but usually whatever social dynamic existed before will mutate into something worse. The other issue with enlisting help from other parents is that even if you believe you know them well when it comes to parenting even well-meaning adults can become protective, naïve, and at times even delusional.

4. Offer resources

Whether it be paying for a therapist, getting help for your child’s ailments or deficits that may be the target for bullying, or doing the work to spend more time to create a healthier environment for your child, you do have some resources to offer. All bullying scenarios are different, and some resources will be appropriate for one child and one situation and not another. Think about what resources you have available and offer them to your child. Now please notice I am using the word offer, not force. It is so hard to know what your child could do to make their life better and then have them reject your help but jamming help or resources down a teen's throat never ends well. When you force resources upon them you damage your relationship and you create another burden and stress in their life. Parents who offer resources and then can let go and be patient get much better results in the long run. Let’s be honest, it is not only teens who struggle to utilize the help offered to them. Most, if not all, adults fail at one time or another to follow through with utilizing a resource that will help their circumstances.

5. Help yourself

I cannot define for you what “help yourself” means. I can say that it is abundantly important that your child’s struggle does not become your mission in life. It cannot take over your day, week, and other responsibilities. More than anything that your child needs when they are struggling is a happy set of parents. Whether it is being bullied, depression, or something else that must be overcome by your child it does not help to have you follow them into misery. If they are not ready to accept help or better their situation, do not become obsessed. You are going to feel bad, but you are still on your journey and you have to practice self-care. You cannot give up your routines and sacrifice other important relationships trying to fix your child’s problems. If this sounds cold or goes against your instinct as a parent, you are not alone. Remember that the goal of parenting is not to fix all problems now. The goal of parenting is to maintain the relationship and be the best influence possible for them in the long run.

Bullying is an issue that has existed in every generation for teens. It is both a macro and micro issue and as a society, we have a long way to go in terms of eliminating or even reducing it. If you are a parent who has or is experiencing the heartache of seeing your child hurt by bullying I hope this article guides you and your family towards healing. Before you let your emotions take over your reactions please remember to focus on what you control and leave the rest. Put into action-loving and listening, do not walk on eggshells, enlist help, offer resources, and be sure to take care of yourself.


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