With summer in full swing, our children head to parks, playgrounds and pools seeking time with friends. Yet, for many, a bully spoils the fun.
Bullies lurk behind the slide and on the Facebook account ruining not just summer — but lives. What can parents do? Bullying falls into two categories: traditional and cyber. Because the dynamics differ, so do the responses.
n Traditional bullying. Traditional bullying occurs at a specific time and place creating natural boundaries. If victim avoids bully, victim feels relatively safe. Further, both bully and victim know bully can be stopped. Somebody bigger or with authority comes along, bully is toast. Finally, with traditional bullying witnesses are limited. While the victim may feel humiliated or estranged from this group — the group is limited.
Parents can use these elements to help their child address the bullying. Victim can take some control over by avoiding places the bully frequents. While we don’t want our child to constantly run, smart people avoid harm’s way. Use this starting point to help your child take charge of the rest of the situation by saying, “You already have control in this aspect. Let’s find some other ways to give you control.”
Other controls include giving our child the skills to negotiate, skills to physically defend themselves and skills to spot others who can intervene on their behalf. Children who can turn an insult into a joke (not at their own expense) or figure out how to connect with a tormentor diffuse situations. Children who study self-defense approach life more confidently putting bullies at bay. Help your child build these skills and you will give an array of tools for dealing with a traditional bully.
Best tool? Help your child establish connections with those who can impact the bully — the lifeguards at the pool or the adults at the park. Parents hugely impact the situation when they stand up to a bully for their child. For too long experts thought “teach children to stand up to a bully, and bully will back down.” We now know this generally doesn’t work. Bullies pick victims precisely because the victim is no match. Experts now urge adults to create communities that stand up to bullying and communicate, “If you bully somebody, we will stop you.” While it’s important to avoid promoting a victim-mentality where children see themselves as powerless, our children and the bullies need the message that victim is not alone.
n Cyber Bullying. Cyber bullying lacks the natural time/space boundaries of traditional bullying leaving victims more vulnerable. With Twitter, Facebook, chat rooms and the rest of cyberville connected, victim never gets to a safe place. Even if victim stays off the internet, the attacks spread to ever wider circles. Victim never knows who has seen the message or when a post will resurface. Victim’s ability to fight back is undercut by the very facelessness of the cyber world. But, there are steps to take.
Give your children connections and identity apart from the cyber world. Because social networking is so prevalent, children can believe their online identity is their total identity. Shattering that shatters them. Kids who connect outside the cyber world fare better. Offer opportunities to explore their interests and abilities this summer. Summer trips, jobs, or camps all provide opportunities to develop a well-rounded identity beyond the internet. Further, participants see your child in a context apart from the bullying, which compartmentalizes the bullying.
Eat family dinners. Use the summers to cook out, go out and picnic. Family dinners increase child-parent communication and provide protection from all types of bullying.
Advise children to ignore the bullying in online responses. When attacked our natural reaction is to set the record straight. Yet, this generally escalates the situation. Explaining, challenging, or even politely asking a bully to leave a chat room all serve to give the bully what they want — attention. Victim’s silence may silence the bully.
Take the bullying seriously. People crave to be known. As children seek to define themselves, an attack on that identity — based on fact or fiction — strikes their core. When you take threats seriously, you communicate that your child’s identity matters. Listen to their concerns. Provide outlets that offer reprieve. Bolster their resolve to treat the bully with silence. Affirm their identity — in all its parameters. As you do, your voice rises above the attacker’s and offsets the damage.
Summer should be fun. Take these steps to protect your children and others’ children from bullying and reclaim the parks, playgrounds and pools.
Tess Worrell is the mother of eight and teaches parenting and marriage. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.