Bullying is a prevalent issue in many schools across the United States. Not only does it occur in the schools themselves but it can also take place in neighborhoods and via electronic communication such as email, social media, and texting. There are several ways that both parents and teenagers can step up and help stop bullying. Read on to find out how you can help not only the bullied but also the bullies.
Know What Bullying Is
Bullying is repeated or repeatable behavior that is unwanted and that includes a power discrepancy. What this means is that the person doing the bullying will have more power than the victim. The power could be physical, such as an older teen bullying a younger child. It could be mental, such as a neurotypical child bullying one who is on the autism spectrum or who has a mental health disorder. Or it can be social, which is when a popular teen bullies a less popular teen. Note that only one of these power differentials needs to be present. A younger, smaller child with a lot of friends might bully an older, larger child who is a loner, for example.
It is equally important to understand what bullying is not. A one-off comment that was not meant to be cruel and that isn’t repeated is not bullying. Neither is a case where one person does not express that mild teasing is bothersome or if one person does not like the behavior of another individual who is not doing anything malicious or out of the ordinary.
Learn About Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that has come about only in the most recent generation. Rather than taking place on the schoolyard or at someone’s house, it takes place via the internet or other electronic platforms. It could include harassing emails or texts, impersonation, mean things posted about someone else on social media, or the distribution of unflattering photos.
One major difference between cyberbullying and traditional bullying is that it can happen extremely quickly. While word can travel throughout a school by word of mouth, it is not an instant process. With cyberbullying, one individual can spread an inappropriate photo or a fake website to an entire classroom within seconds. Another difference is that the power imbalance can be unlike what a parent might expect. For example, a younger, smaller, less socially competent child can cause significant social damage to an older, larger, more popular child via electronic media.
See Something, Say Something
One way that teens and parents can help stop bullying is by saying something when they see or hear inappropriate behavior. A teen should feel free to call out a classmate or friend who is bullying someone else. Sometimes simply labeling poor behavior as bullying can cause the bully to stop in his or her tracks and realize the impact that his or her words or actions are making. Many people who are bullied won’t speak out themselves, so speaking out for them is a big help.
This can apply to traditional bullying as well as cyberbullying. For example, if one teen is harassing another teen by stealing his lunch or knocking over his books, another teen can call the behavior bullying and step in to end the altercation. If a more popular individual is verbally abusing a less popular individual, a teen can verbally stand up for the person being bullied. With cyberbullying, a teen can confront the one doing the bullying. He or she can also report posts to the platform they are on or forward them to a parent or another adult who can help.
Model Good Behavior
Just as parents teach their young children how to resolve differences and how to behave when someone has wronged them, both parents and teens can model good behavior to other teens. For example, if you are a teenager whose friend is planning to send cruel emails to a classmate due to a perceived slight, you can tell them about a time that you successfully contacted someone to resolve a similar issue.
Parents should be careful to treat others the way they’d like to see their teen treat others. This means that when there is a power difference and the parent has more power, they should always act courteously and politely. For example, if you are upset with a customer service representative, it is important to calmly ask for a manager and to not verbally disparage the representative. Remember that your teens are watching you and imitating your behavior; be sure to give them correct examples to emulate.
Work with the School to Stop Bullying
If you do notice bullying, you can make a difference by following your school’s published anti-bullying policies. Some schools’ policies include cyberbullying whether it takes place at school/during school hours or at other places and times. There are often specific procedures to follow when it comes to reporting bullying as well as what constitutes bullying.
These policies might be in your student handbook or available from the guidance office. You also might be able to find them on your school district’s website. If you are not clear on what the policy is, you can ask for clarification. Knowing ahead of time what a school’s anti-bullying policy is will allow you to be proactive as you try to help stop bullying.
Work with the Local Authorities
There are also some types of bullying that are not only against school policy but also against the law. Threatening, disseminating sexual or inappropriate photographs, and physical assault are all illegal. So are some types of harassment, such as stalking. You can contact your local police station to find out whether you are dealing with a situation that they would get involved with. If you are, work with the local authorities to help stop the bullying that is taking place.
Understand that by stepping in to stop bullying, you are helping not only the victim but also the bully him- or herself. The sooner he or she can be held accountable for those actions, the sooner they can get the help that they need to grow into a productive and socially competent adult.