Bullying doesn’t have to be anything more than a rumor or a dirty look to be hurtful. Bullying, backstabbing, exclusion and alienation— these things snowball quickly. Mean girl cliques have an arsenal full of insidious psychosocial techniques. If your daughter is the victim of their taunts and relational aggression, she probably dreads the school hallways and may even experience abuse on social media sites.
As the parent, you can sense when something’s wrong. You can tell she’s distant and withdrawn. When you ask her what’s wrong, she replies, “Nothing, Dad. Just school stuff.” Bullying has expanded from what is used to be. Technology and social media make it easier and faster to spread vicious rumors, name call and break a young person down. Yes, a malicious Facebook status update or Instagram photo can be just as (if not more) hurtful than being pushed at the playground.
Mean girl cliques have more tools at their disposal. I-Safe Foundation reported more than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online. About 25 percent have been repeatedly bullied through their cell phones. The Hartford County Examiner reports that only one out of 10 adolescents tell their parents about cyberbullying. If that’s true, how can you help your tween?
Create Open Dialogue
Forget uncomfortable talks about sex, alcohol and drugs. Bullying and cyberbullying have practically jumped to No. 1 on the list of Big Discussions. Troubling encounters with peers can be golden opportunities for learning. In 2012, Lee Hirsch, a Sundance award-winning filmmaker, directed a documentary called “Bully.” The film follows five kids and their families over the course of a school year. It explores the many sides of the bullying crisis in America and is a good stepping stone to create an open dialogue about bullying within your family.
You’re a dad, so many of your daughter’s concerns might seem superficial. From acne and a bad haircut to jeans that aren’t trendy enough— any one of these can trigger bullying. Denying that these things have relevance in your young daughter’s life is a dead end. In a middle-school environment full of pressures to fit in, having the right haircut or a pair of True Religion jeans can distinguish between life and death. In other words, if your daughter comes home in tears and pleads with you that she wants to switch her eyeglasses for contact lenses from visiondirect.com, express empathy. Support her by respecting the decision and helping her make the switch. Use the opportunity to explain that changing appearances and fashion choices can be fun, but shouldn’t be done to please other people. It won’t solve the problem, but empathizing with her will open the doors to dialogue for deeper issues.
Do Not Intervene
Once your daughter confides in you about being bullied, move slowly. In the heat of the moment, you may be quick to call the school principal, email the guidance counselor or drive over to the homes of the mean girls to give their parents a piece of your mind. This may only stress the situation. As a start, let your daughter be autonomous and navigate the situation independently. Empower her at home, but don’t overwhelm her by being an overbearing protector. If bullying grows into extreme aggression or becomes seriously threatening, then take action. You’ll know when the line’s been crossed, and it’s time for you to step in.