Columns, Imagine That

Shelter From the Storm

Bullying is a hot topic these days. Due to a recent rash of young people taking their own lives after being relentlessly bullied and teased by their peers, the world has woken up a little more to the emotional devastation that can happen when a child is degraded and made fun of by classmates. The attitude of “kids will be kids” has given way to a more serious view on how a child’s self-esteem is affected by bullying.

As a parent, it is often confusing and heart wrenching to learn that your child is being bullied. Often, letting them know that you love and support them isn’t enough. Bullying is especially difficult to handle in an age when kids are able to use the Internet to pick on each other.

I’ve had my own experiences with bullying and, let me tell you, from the child’s perspective, it feels like the world is about to end when the people around you see you as an object of derision. As an adult I’ve learned to shake it off, but such resilience evolves over time; kids don’t come equipped with a thick skin.

Laura Mann

Tell your child that bullying is wrong and not her or his fault.

Coming from a loving home where my parents encouraged me to do anything I set my mind to, it was a huge shock to enter middle school and learn that my fellow 12-year-olds didn’t think the same way. When we all hit puberty, kids started experimenting with complex social roles and patterns. That’s when I began to hear names like “loser” and “dogface” and far worse. It was verbal; it was social; and it became physical. I finally transferred to another school.

My parents did many things to try to stop it. They went to the school principal. We worked with a counselor. They were constantly encouraging, but it’s hard to bring about balance when you’re getting so much negativity from your peers. Here are some additional tips from someone who was bullied:

* Calmly gather information about the bullying. Tell your child that bullying is wrong and not her or his fault. Explain that you are glad he or she had the courage it took to tell you about it. My parents told me that if I was ever in a bad situation, all I had to do was give them a call, no matter what time it was or who I was with, and they’d first make sure I was safe, and then worry about the details later. Knowing of this commitment to safety is comforting to a child who feels they have nowhere to turn.

* Teach your child to seek help from an adult when feeling threatened. Assure your child that reporting bullying is not the same as tattling.

* Make sure your kids know Internet etiquette. Cyber bullying can be terrifying for a child who suddenly has rumors spreading about them at lightning speed throughout their Internet community. Search “parental controls.” There are multiple tutorials on setting them up. Trust but verify. Tell your kids you will be checking in.

* Help your child become more resilient to bullying. Help develop your child’s talents or interests. This is central to raising a confident, creative child. Encourage your child to be physically active. If a team sport is not an option, self-defense or martial arts classes can be a good choice; most martial-arts teach avoiding confrontation while keeping you safe.

* If your child is LGBT, Web sites like itgetsbetter.org and thetrevorproject.org are great support for families who struggle with LGBT-related bullying.

Home is where the heart is. Make sure your child has a safe and loving home environment where she/he can take shelter — physically and emotionally. Remember that, as a parent, you are the adult and you have the ability to give your child tools to protect themselves against bullying. Imagine that!

Laura Mann is a freelance writer and blogger, and a student in Emerging Media and Communications at the University of Texas. She often co-authors the “Imagine That!” column with her father, storyteller Michael Mann. This column was written by Laura.
© Michael Mann, 2010, all rights retained. Printed by permission of the author.

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