Every parent has fears about bullying. While bullying statistics often vary, the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2011 School Crime Supplement reports that close to 30 percent of students in middle school through high school (grades 6-12) have been bullied.
Unfortunately, the open doors of social media and the Internet have allowed bullying to evolve and take a darker turn within cyberspace. Cyberbullying is often anonymous and can range from mean texts and messages to vicious rumors and even revenge porn. According to DoSomething.org, “nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once.”
The prevalence of bullying leaves many parents feeling as though their child is a lamb to the slaughter. No one can predict who will be victimized, although statistics show that kids who have disabilities, students of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+ might be more at risk than other students.
Parents have a voice and a role in protecting their children at school and online. Empowerment begins at home, and parents are a child’s best ally and advocate. Your child will experience bullying, and while they might not be the victim, they will witness a cruel act during their school years. Here’s how to help your child thrive and survive during even the most volatile peer-pressure ridden years of their youth:
Keep Communication Open
Parents set the tone for family communication. If you don’t ever talk, how can you expect a child to confess their fears…or even their torment? Always set aside time to share and talk as a family. Maybe this is dinner time or maybe it’s just during a ride to practice or a game. Let kids know that they are a priority…and that their lives (and the events in their lives) matter to you! If you notice that your child is acting odd or just not their typical selves, find a moment to talk to them quietly and alone.
Encourage Friendships—Human & Furry
Every child needs a circle of friends. Kids who fly solo almost seem like sitting ducks to predatory bullies. Encourage kids to reach out to others, ask them about extracurricular activities that they’d like to pursue…and then encourage them to sign up. Sometimes even martial arts classes help build self-esteem for kids who lack confidence. Be your child’s greatest fan! It’s also ok for kids to lean on their pets for comfort. Big retrievers, small terriers and even cats make great companions for children. The best part about our furry friends? They don’t tell anyone our fears, our secrets or judge our tears.
Tell All About It
Kids should always be empowered to tell a teacher or another adult if they feel threatened in any way. This includes messages online, too. If your child has been a victim of bullying, contact the school and ask for a meeting with the principal. Be sure to bring as much information (and evidence) as possible. If a resolution is not amicable, move up the ladder to the superintendant. And, if the bullying involved possible illegal activities or images, contact the authorities.
Every child has a strength. Some are natural athletes, others are little Einsteins in the making. Whatever makes your son or daughter special…celebrate it! Building confidence means building self-esteem. Avid readers might be encouraged to write their own novel or take a writing class…where they may meet like-minded soulful writers! There is something out there for every child. Celebrate their individuality, their strengths and their own special light!
According to a 2001 study titled “Naturalistic Observations of Peer Interventions in Bullying,” more than 50 percent of the time when peers stepped in and intervened, the bullying stopped. Kids can make a difference. And when they see bullying, they can speak up…and they should. If a child is fearful that the bully will become aggressive, they should tell an adult instead.
While bullying statistics can overwhelm parents, proactive involvement and empowerment is the most important step parents may take to help children combat bullying. No parent knows if their child will be victimized, but teaching children how to handle a bullying situation, how to find their voice and not feel so alone is important to giving them the skills they need to survive and thrive during their adolescence.
“CLiF Note”: Books are a great tool for teaching empathy and acceptance and inspiring conversations with your kids about kindness, bullying, and dealing with emotions. Here are 14 favorites designated “Must-Read Anti-Bullying Books for Kids by weareteachers.com.
Amy Williams is a freelance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety. Follow her on Twitter at @AmyKWilliams1.