According to the American Justice Department, one out of every four children is
. Studies show that those statistics leap for homosexual youth, who are bullied at an alarming four times the rate of heterosexual youth. What's more, 85 percent of children with disabilities are regular victims of social exclusion and verbal and physical abuse by their peers. It doesn't take a statistician or a news reporter to make clear that bullying is an epidemic among today's children and youth. What is it that affords resilience to some young people while others are driven to self-destruction? It is an important question for parents to ask, since understanding the answer provides clues on how to protect their own children from the life-threatening impact of bullying.
How to Help the Bullied Child
Resilience literature talks about the importance of things like intelligence and creativity in strengthening a child, and champions the role of at least one consistent, loving caregiver in each child's life. These factors cannot be understated. Another protective factor seems to be instilling a positive future orientation in each child. What is a positive future orientation? When a child is in the heat of the moment -- facing intensely cruel physical and/or mental cruelty at the hands of his peers that makes school attendance unfathomable and daily life unbearable -- is that child able to see beyond their current situation and believe that things will get better? The ability to "take a long view" is difficult for young people who, by their very nature, live in the here and now. Teaching kids to think about how things will be in the future is a critical factor in helping them move past the torturous moments of the present. Instilling a "this too shall pass" mindset is critical in strengthening our kids to endure and persevere through difficult times. Make it a habit to help your kids think about their future. Ask them questions like:
- What do you look forward to being able to do when you become a teenager? When you turn 16? When you go to college?
- What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you need to do to get there?
- Where do you think you might want to live? Who would live with you?
The precise questions are not as important as the fact that you are helping your kids develop a view of their future and to stay focused on how life can be, as opposed to the realities of how it might feel in the present. Protecting children from bullying is a complicated, multi-layered task. Parents must fortify their children with coping skills and internal strengths to stand up to the bullying their will see, hear, observe, and receive. Knowing how to take the long view and live with the faith that things can be better is a critical factor in helping kids withstand the here-and-now realities of their world.
For additional information and ideas on helping kids cope with bullying, check out Signe's latest book, Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Cope with Bullying, available November 15th!