Your teens are getting ready to head back to high school and some of them are just beginning as freshmen. All summer long, I have been working with focus groups of teens and they have been talking to me and to each other and have been quite candid about their thoughts about bullying. They have shared their most intimate experiences, their concerns and their very creative ideas about how to deal with bullies.
This is what your kids want you to know about the bullying experience, but might never tell you. You see, they don't want to upset you, disappoint you, worry you and are even concerned that you might not be interested. They are wrong. I know that but they don't. Here is what they are not telling you:
1. The majority of your teens report that while they may not have been bullied, they have witnessed a peer being bullied.
2. They have not always been sure how to intervene at these times, but they have ideas.
3. They frequently and in large numbers report that an adult should be told about bullying incidents, but feel that even when they tell adults the adults are NOT likely to intervene effectively. They report that adults look the other way, don't take bullying seriously enough and even give meaningless consequences to the bully.
4. By and large, the well-spoken and passionate teens feel that the adults are letting them down in this arena. YIKES. I know that no adult in a position to help teens wants to be seen as ineffective and dismissive.
5. Your kids have some very creative ideas about how to handle bullies including:
a. attempting to befriend them in the hope that a bully can become an ally.
b. making the bully laugh so that the bully learns a different style of interacting.
c. letting the bully know the impact that they are having on others. Many teens feel that bullies are clueless about their painful impact on others.
d. asking them about their lives. Many teens feel that bullies are probably hurting. It's amazing isn't it that teens feel empathy for bullies?
e. they have even expressed that you raise your kids to have empathy so that they are less likely to act in a socially aggressive and emotionally painful manner. These large groups of male and female teens have been telling me all summer long that they are concerned that some parents may inadvertently be raising bullies.
Your teens would also like you to know that:
1. They see many parents acting as bullying role models for their kids. They worry that you may be encouraging exclusivity, cliquey behavior and even physical aggression. Teens are and always have been watching the adults around them.
2. They think that adults should curtail gossiping because kids mimic them and gossiping is one of the worst and most hurtful forms of social bullying. They are on to something here; aren't they?
3. They worry that you are bullying your kids in the privacy of your homes and that your kids are going to school upset, frustrated and looking for a place in which to practice what they have learned at home.
4. They are concerned that you might not even have given consideration to the idea that your own kid may be the bully. They think that you should consider this idea and work with your teen to be a kinder and more empathic individual.
I do not want to leave you with the impression that teens all blame the adults in their lives for the bullying behaviors of teens. Many teens reported learning empathic and pro-social behaviors from their parents. Amen to the child-rearing style in those homes. We need more of that. We need parents to realize that you are your teens' most important role models. I have been saying this for years. Take this important opportunity in your life to teach your kids that their words and behaviors can either soothe and comfort or destroy the hearts and souls of their peers. Do not ever rule out the thought that your own child may be the bully at times and if you suspect this then work with your child to change this behavior.
We all remember own experiences being both the bullies and the bullied. None of us flourished from these experiences. In fact, many of us became emotionally and physically sick during these times. Your kids and I are calling upon you to be aware of your role and power in helping to both raise good kids and to become even more aware of the terrible interactional cycle of bullying that continues to persist in high schools all over.
Own your power.
Help your kids.