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5 Things to Teach Your Teen about Bullying

  1. It’s not possible to avoid all conflict: Conflicts will happen – it’s inevitable – and even though it may make you uncomfortable, you can learn how to deal with it. The goal is not to avoid conflict, but to learn how to handle the conflict competently while treating yourself and the other person with dignitySEAL: Stop, Strategize, Explain, Affirm, Lock
  2. Teach your kids an in-the-moment strategy: First, they should try to breathe, observe who is around and breathe again. Then, identify the bad behavior and try to find the courage to voice those feelings. For example, “Stop pushing me into the lockers, I want to walk down the hallway in peace. I know you can do whatever you want, but I want you to stop.” Or, “Stop sending texts to everyone in the grade that no one should talk to me.” Next, if they can walk away, they should think about walking towards safety, like a classroom where they can see a teacher they trust. They should not retaliate or threaten to retaliate as this often leads to an escalation of the bullying.
  3. The acronym SEAL is helpful for teens to remember what to do. SEAL stands for: Stop and Strategize where and when you’re going to speak to the person. Explain what you don’t like and what you want. Affirm your right to be treated with dignity and your responsibility to do the same and Acknowledge anything that you did that contributed to the problem. Lock: lock in the friendship, lock it out or take a vacation. *** SEE FOOTNOTE FOR IMPORTANT NOTE
  4. Ask For Help – It’s Not a Sign of Weakness: It’s important to teach them reporting a bully is not snitching. People report when they have a problem that is too big for them to solve on their own. But it's also important to tell your child that you understand why they would be reluctant to come forward. They should report the bullying to an ally: an adult they trust to help think through the problem. That can be you, their parent or guardian, a relative, teacher, counselor, coach or other trusted adult. When reporting, they should avoid describing the bullying in generalities like, “He is being mean.” Instead they should be specific about the bullying behavior, where they are when it occurs, and what they need to feel safe. If they are scared to go to school, show up for practice, or any other activity, they should tell the adult who is in charge and then follow up that conversation with an email thanking them for listening to them and then what they can expect as far as follow up.
  5. Don’t Ignore Bullying When You See It: It can be scary for a teen witnessing bullying, either in person or online, to do something about it. They may fear being bullied themselves or being seen as a snitch. But ignoring the bullying reinforces the abuse of power by supporting the bully – so it’s important to speak out. So what exactly can kids who witness bullying do? They can try humor as a distraction, just make sure the humor doesn’t put other kids down, including the bullies. They can also point out that it’s fine for people to disagree, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to demean or humiliate or ridicule somebody else. Another tip – kids often confront a bully by asking a question, like “Why are you being so mean?” But there really is no good answer to that question – it will only open up a longer conversation with the bully. So don’t ask questions – just name the bad behavior and say you don’t like it. Keep it direct, short and simple.

5. Report Cyberbullying to an Ally

In today’s world, cyber-bullying is a common part of the bullying people experience overall. Like other kinds of bullying, it’s important that kids report cyberbullying to an ally. As a parent it’s important that you don’t jump in and intervene immediately. Instead help your teen to develop an appropriate strategy where they feel some degree of control. If your teen has done all he or she can and the cyberbullying hasn’t stopped or has escalated, then your response has to move up to the next level. For cyberbullying that has happened on school grounds, set up a meeting with the teacher that also includes your child. Bring as much documentation as you can including screen shots of any abusive communication. Using SEAL, develop a plan with your child to frame how and what they want to say in the school meeting. Using the same strategy, if there’s an inescapable pattern of harassment or stalking (in or out of school) or your child feels physically threatened, it’s time to alert police.

** FOOTNOTE: It's common for children and teens to think any bullying prevention strategy won't work. When you talk to your child about speaking up, it's ok to acknowledge that they don't think it will work. That acknowledgment may be critical to convince your child you have a clue what it's like to live in their world. But the goal is to redefine what it means to be "successful" in a confrontation. It's not to be best friends afterwards or convince the other person you are right. It's to face an intimidating situation with confidence, skill, and dignity. Strangely enough, if your child plays any kind of video game you can use their gaming strategies to tackle bullying as well.

Here are two questions you can ask them and one statement you can say that they can think about:

When you’re preparing for a battle in a video game what do you do?

Do you prepare thinking the battle is going to go exactly as you practiced?

You don’t play assuming it’s going to go perfectly and when it doesn’t, just give up. You prepare by thinking about the possibilities that could happen and prepare. You go in as brave, smart and strong as possible. That’s how I’m asking you to think about preparing for a social conflict in real life. Except instead of the goal being to win the battle or score the most goals, your goal is to speak your truth, face the situation courageously and don’t let the other person control the situation so you end up feeling bad and stupid or even worse you end up apologizing for even trying to face the problem.

- These tips provided by Rosalind Wiseman, parenting educator and author of several books including "Queen Bees and Wannabes".