Many parents shake their heads in dismay at the fact that their teenage children confide so little to them about being bullied.
You hear it every time the news carries yet another report of a teen suicide allegedly caused by bullying. “I just never knew she was in such pain” parents lament. [Link to enfield ct suicide]
So how do you get your child to confide in you before it’s too late?
It’s simple but it’s not always easy.
STOP judging. Stop preaching. Stop criticizing.
- Prove you are trust worthy.
- Prove you can keep a secret.
- Prove that no matter what they do or say you love and accept them.
START LISTENING. Seriously. I know you think you listen but most of us don’t. Listen carefully.
That does not mean you accept their behavior when it is inappropriate or negative.
It means you ACCEPT THEM. Exactly as they are.
It doesn’t mean you smother them and follow them around begging them to talk to you. It means you pay attention to what’s going on with them. Sometimes the signs are subtle. But they are there.
Make Yourself AVAILABLE. You can’t listen if you’re never available.
There are two factors going on that we as parents need to pay attention to.
- There will always be mean people in the world.I read one comment by a parent on a teen suicide news article that basically said, she had approached a school administrator about her daughter being bullied and was told that her daughter need to develop a “tougher skin.” Here’s the challenge. If we protect our kids all the time from anybody who is not nice, our kids have no coping resources to deal with nastyness in other humans. So on a certain level we do need to develop “tougher skin.” All of us.But how? And how do we teach a teen (who may not be exactly listening to us) how to not take mean behavior, teasing, taunting, name calling, gossip, exclusion, etc. personally? It’s a double pronged approach. We need to continue to educate young people about the power their words and action have to negatively impact other people. But we also need to teach them how to manage their internal feelings, stress, and emotional pain in a positive, effective manner. Most adults don’t know how to do this so how can we ask our kids to? We can start by practicing what we preach…
- According To Bullying Prevention speaker Mike Donahue, Teens are subject to the rules and laws of at least two separate and distinct governments.There’s the school administration and all of it’s rules and regulations and then there is the dominating social order (there may also be an entirely separate set of laws on the family level). Where there is a conflict between the two governments, the unwritten social laws trump the school handbook. Kids figure out pretty quickly that if they tell a teacher or school administrator about being bullied, they are likely to suffer even more. Think about it. There are thousands of unsupervised moments every day when kids can be cruel without an adult noticing. If your child is the one who “told” do you think the person who was mean (or his or her friends) can’t get even with him or her? Does that make sense?
You are not getting your teen to talk to you so that you can go and report the harassment at the school. That’s probably a bad idea (as long as it’s still in the verbal stage and no physical threat is imminent, if it’s physical that’s a whole other situation).
You are encouraging your teen to talk to you so you can support them in creating strategies that will empower them and enable them to handle their own problems .
Let me put this bluntly: You are encouraging your teen to talk to you so that they have other choices besides killing themselves.
What I see is that in spite of all the “Anti-bully” hype and legislation and stringent new rules, there are precious few if any resources for teens to learn how to stop feeling bad and start feeling good.
I discovered a powerful set of techniques when I first studied Neuro Linguistics. When I started working with severe anxiety and phobia sufferers I got to see first hand how people could be literally tortured by their own internal beliefs and thought processes. It was my ten years of work as a therapist that gave me the tools to share with teens that can actually give them the power to feel good about themselves no matter what anybody else says to them or about them.
The strategies I teach teens are more than just pretending not to be bothered by what other kids say. They are not about “toughening up.” They are about turning whatever negative stuff happens in your life and using it a fuel.
I often use the analogy of a guitar to explain what we have to learn how to do for ourselves. Some of us are born highly sensitive and open. It’s not accident that most of the bully-cides were highly sensitive, creative, intelligent, gentle souls.
It’s like putting a beautiful guitar out into the world with no protective case. It will vibrate with any other sound around it. It’s strong in some ways (think of the tension of the strings) but extremely fragile in other ways (like if it gets stepped on). There is nothing wrong with it. It’s a perfect guitar. It just needs some protection.
We need to teach our kids how to create a “case” around themselves so that they are able to protect themselves from whatever mean people they may encounter in the world.
Does that make sense? I know we want to go after anyone who has caused our child pain. We want to make them pay. We want it to stop. We want someone to DO SOMETHING! We want “those bullies” punished.
Unfortunately while it seems like it should make everything better, that is not solving the problem. Ultimately we can not control the behavior of other people. We can only change our own responses to adverse events.
I wrote a short book with a few of the strategies I teach people of all ages for dealing with internal and external challenges.
Check it out here: The Bullyproof Kid
If you have questions please feel free to leave a comment below or to contact me personally using the form below