The emotionally charged issue of childhood bullying is back in the forefront of public attention after the opening of the documentary, Bully, earlier this month. According to the Department for Health and Human Services, between1/5 and 1/3 of teens report being bullied within any given year. While kids may often be aggressive to one another, to qualify as bullying, this behavior requires specific qualities: it is repetitive and uses an imbalance of power with intent to cause harm.
Some parents of children being bullied may feel powerless to stop the harassment and protect their children, despite their best efforts. After the suicide of their 11-year old son, Kirk and Laura Smalley were able to move beyond their deep pain and create something positive honoring Ty’s memory. They began lecturing about the problem and created a website, Stand for the Silent. It encourages others to get involved and prevent further persecutions by being supportive of the intimidated kids, empowering youth to create cultures of kindness and stand up to bullying.
Parents can help promote upstander – rather than bystander – behavior in their own children by role modeling empathic behavior toward others. Here are some steps you can take to help create a safe environment, a Just and Caring Community, for all kids:
Talk openly. And often. Use the good communication techniques you’ve learned over the years – using active listening, sending i-messages, attending to non-verbal signals, keeping your emotions in check. Encouraging honest conversations with your children teaches them to trust themselves in expressing their thoughts and feelings to others.
Show kindness and empathy. Nurture positive relationships around you and express your gratitude for them. Lead in helping your child find healthy, non-abusive ways to resolve conflicts. Reinforce the family rules, including those that don’t tolerate behavior that is harmful to another.
Respect diversity.Broaden your own circle to include more of the rich cultural tapestry of your community. Encourage your children to accept and learn about others who are different from them.
Care for others.Reach out to help and support those who need comfort. Give back as you build an atmosphere of responsibility and compassion in your home that can extend into your child’s world at school and beyond.
Act to protect those in danger. Get involved yourself in causes you believe in and let your children know that actions can generate effective outcomes. Reinforce your teen’s commitment to create a safe school environment and take actions to defend a victim of bullying.