Hi everyone. You’ll often hear me giving support and advice to parents of bullying victims. But what if you’re a mom or dad who suspects your child may be the bully? How can you know for sure, and what should you do? I thought I’d take some time to address school bullying from this vital, and too often over-looked perspective.
No parent ever wants to consider the possibility that their son or daughter could be one of the mean popular kids at school, those who shun and dismiss anyone who’s different. I call them Elite Tormentors, and the caring, compassionate popular students who stand up for the underdog, Elite Leaders. I understand first-hand the damage these Elite Tormentors can cause because from fifth grade through high school, I was at their mercy for the same reason so many kids are today, simply for being different. Thirty years later, I still bear the scars. That’s why I travel the nation’s schools, working deep inside the trenches with students, teachers and parents, sharing my story in an effort to inspire change, and show the world that bullying is not just joking around, it damages you for life.
If you suspect your son or daughter may be an Elite Tormentor, don’t make yourself sick thinking you must have done something wrong. This isn’t about you. It’s about your teenager’s desperate need to fit in. Their behavior is a misguided survival mechanism. But make no mistake. You must take a position.
What are some of the warning signs? To recognize them, you may have to commit the one dreaded parental sin second only to embarrassing your child in front of their friends. You may have to invade their privacy! Please don’t think I’m trying to make light of the right to privacy, but when that privilege allows a child to hide acts of cruelty against a classmate, it should be taken away until they earn it back. When your child is on the phone, pay attention to her tone and demeanor. Does it sound like she’s making a joke at someone else’s expense or gossiping about another student? Keep an eye on her when she’s on the Internet. When she instant messages her friends, is she bad-mouthing others? What blogs does she frequent and what are some of the things she and her friends are posting? Does she participate in nasty e-mail-a-thons with other students? The more you know, the more you can protect everyone. One of the reasons I’ve joined forces with SocialShield is because they’re so effective at helping parents obtain this kind of information, while still respecting the child’s sense of privacy.
Another effective technique for outing an Elite Tormentor – casually have a conversation with your child about who’s popular at school and who’s not, coaxing her into revealing the names of those students who struggle to fit in or who strike her as lonely. A week later, ask her if she’d like to host a party, suggesting it might be nice if, along with her friends, she invited a couple of the forgotten ones, too. If she agrees despite what her friends may think, she’s not an Elite Tormentor. In fact, she’s probably an Elite Leader. If she won’t because she’s fearful her friends would “freak out” but feels badly about it, she’s most likely a bystander. But if she recoils at the thought or acts indignant, perhaps even laughs, chances are you’re living with an Elite Tormentor.
If your suspicions are confirmed, here are a few suggestions:
- Most Elite Tormentors don’t even realize they’re being hurtful. In their minds, it’s all just joking around. You need to teach your child that bullying just isn’t the mean things you do, it’s all the nice things you never do, like letting someone sit alone at lunch every day or always choosing the same person last when dividing into teams.
- Try a compassionate form of discipline that will help your child reconnect with the kind person within rather than the insensitive teen they’ve become. For example, in lieu of grounding your son, require him to perform one act of kindness for a different person every day for two weeks. Each night before he goes to bed, he must record in a journal the kind act he did that day, the recipients’ response, and how the response made him feel. Make sure he obtains signatures and phone numbers from the recipients so you can verify his compliance. If he’s remiss, then use a traditional form of punishment like grounding him as a consequence.
Remember that there’s no such thing as a bad child, only bad situations that need correcting. With love, patience, and most of all, compassion, your family will get through this. If there’s any way that I can help, please email me email@example.com. Check out my tour schedule at jodeeblanco.com. Perhaps I’ll be speaking in a town near you, and I’d love the opportunity for us to meet in person. Until then, be safe, be well and be vigilant.