To start- let's make sure we're on the same page about bullies and bullying....
-- Bullying is a legal term used to define a repeated act of harassment targeting a particular individual. The usual rule of thumb here is that it happens 3 or more times.
Now of course we don't want our children being harassed even ONE time -and I get that - though calling every incident a bullying issue takes away the seriousness of actual bullying.
-- Bullies are typically kids who are insecure themselves. They use the power they feel from bullying others to make themselves feel good. They tend to confuse being feared for being liked because others are afraid to confront them about their misbehaviors.
Bullying is very real and tends to happen when adults aren't around/paying attention - I'm talking school buses, hallways, playgrounds, etc. That's why telling an adult doesn't always help in the moment. It is tough for an adult to intervene if they don't actually witness/observe the event- and others aren't willing to step up to confirm what is happening.
Ignoring doesn't work either. We've talked LOTS about how when we ignore our uncomfortable emotions they tend to grow and grow until one day everything feels horribly overwhelming and unbearable. The same is true for bullies. Ignoring can actually make the situation worse because the bully is not getting immediate feedback that their behavior is problematic. Ignoring tells the bully it is OK to be mean.
Fighting back is even worse. Did you know that most bullies have been, or still are, bullied themselves!? I know- how could someone who knows what it's like on the other side become a bully themselves? Simple- it feels powerful to take back control. Did you also know that kids who are bullied are more likely to obtain a criminal record as they get older? Yup- it's true. Fighting back may feel good at the moment, but in the long run, it is solidifying problematic problem-solving responses that can end up with legal troubles.
SO WHAT THE HECK DOES WORK?
Thanks for bearing with me while I went through the background. Here are the 3 strategies that actually DO work! These work if your teen is the one being bullied- or witnesses someone else bullying others.
1. USE SARCASM & CONFUSION
Sarcasm is the universal language of teens. By responding with sarcasm, it can completely confuse the bully. Some go-to responses teens can use are:
- "You need to take a nap"
- "You're welcome" (In fact there is an amazing video another teen therapist made about how she used this herself as a kid here: https://www.facebook.com/2abeautifuljourney/videos/891120947727977/ It's great because there is an actual live example of how this works in the video comments- totally unintended!)
2. BE KIND
Being kind to the person being bullied is HUGE!!! One of the most hurtful consequences of bullying is the isolation. Teens usually feel lonely already- add bullying and the social isolation that comes along with that and it can be crippling. In fact, it can lead to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Teaching your kid to be a kind kid is great because one small act of niceness can turn someone's day around.
3. TELL AN ADULT
Still make sure to tell a responsible adult. Most of the time- adults won't be able to do much right away. BUT if they have no idea what's happening - they can't keep a lookout for it in the future. Remember that bullying is repeated acts of harassment targeting an individual- so tell an adult every time- even if it's been resolved.
WANT TO KNOW HOW TO HELP AS THE ADULT?
Believe your kids when they tell you someone is bullying them. It takes a lot of courage to overcome the shame and humiliation of being bullied and tell an adult.
Give them strategies that work Don't tell them to ignore it, or fight back. Share some of the strategies above to help them at the moment. Help reframe what's working to mean the bully moves on from that moment.
If this is happening, make sure you document the dates, time, place, and people involved. Keep a record for yourself - don't necessarily share this with your teen because it may add to the humiliation to see it all laid out. But do keep it handy and up-to-date in case the other adults in your teen's life aren't doing what they need to be doing to keep your kid safe. My hope is that by talking about it together along the way it doesn't come to this, but if it does- you want to be prepared.
If you're looking for more help with Bullies- the School Anxiety Workshop for Teens can help. It's happening April 20th in Woodbridge, CT. Enrollment ends Friday April 13th.
I want to know what you've found helpful dealing with bullies. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Want even more positive influences in your teen's life? Teen Girls Therapy Group is a weekly space where your teen girl can connect with others dealing with anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. By talking and learning together, they learn to feel better about the relationships they have with themselves and others.
Apply for a spot now by calling 203-228-8971 or completing the contact form here.