As we met for coffee, a friend of mine could hardly wait to flip to the latest expert opinion on bullying quoted in her Family Circle magazine. The article on helping teens overcome rejection held many fine points, but when it talked about intervening in bullying I had to disagree.
There is a difference between the rejection invariably faced by all teens as they naturally find the social circles to which they will belong…until the next clique forms…. and bullying. And nothing can be as hurtful to an adolescent as being on the outside of a clique to which they once belonged. Most teen cliques form, norm and disband quickly. Being blindsided and unexpectedly dumped to the curb like yesterday’s snack by your “friends” usually passes quickly.
As parents it is important we keep a pulse on what is going on in our children’s lives to discern if the comments that are causing the hurt from our teen’s peers are a result of an incident that will be forgotten in a few days, or if the hazing and harassment seem to be on-going and causing your teen a great deal of stress.
According to the Director of Clinical Psychology at UNC Chapel Hill, Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D parents who intervene by contacting the bully or their parents infantilize the teen. He encourages parents to try and understand what is happening and to work with their teen to recognize the bullying is not about them but about the perpetrators.
I would agree, but this is a first level approach. If the bullying escalates to the point where your teen doesn’t feel safe at school, or they refuse to ride the bus home, or walk a particular route because they are fearful of encounters with bullies, it is time for adults to take charge and create a “teachable moment”. To take next level approach contact the school counselor if the incidents are happening to and from school or on the school grounds. If the bullies don’t attend the same school, contact the parents.
We are all sensitive to the pain our kids receive when they are socially rejected because we can all remember walking in those shoes. There is difference between allowing your kids to overcome a little rejection here and there and learn important coping skills in the process and allowing your teen to be constant brunt of torment in the hands of classmates.
For some teens, the difference is life or death.