Social media creates such an interesting window into the world. Yes, it tells us we’re obsessed with dancing baby animals, but it also gives us a look at the better side of ourselves. It tells us what we share, and apparently, being the victim of a bully is a top shared experience.
A Facebook page was recently set up in support of Whitney Kropp, the Michigan teen who discovered she was nominated homecoming queen as a prank. This girl-fights-back story resonated so much that the page received 96,000 “likes.”
The outpouring of support for her speaks volumes. Most adults not only recall being bullied, but remember the minute details of the experience. We want to protect our children, but we can’t always be there beside them, and that’s scary.
So what can we do?
Start early and give your child a strong sense of self. You may not realize that encouraging your son to pursue his passion for music can help.
But in doing so, you give him a source of confidence which makes him a less attractive target, as well as the ability to ignore when possible, and confront when necessary.
Foster friendships for your children in different places. Having friends in separate “worlds” reminds him that he’s not defined by his peers, and soothes the hurt if he is targeted. When school gets rocky, he has his band friends, or neighborhood friends.
Live by example. Don’t encourage put-downs and gossip at home. Express how much you appreciate your child’s kind nature, and remind him that he can be the bully, as well as the victim.
Communication is critical. I’ve shared my own experience as the victim with my kids, so they see that words can hurt, and that with persistence, I found people and places that made me happy.
Define for your children what bullying is, including verbal and cyber-bullying. Don’t dismiss what seems subtle or minor to you. When bullying happens online, encourage your child to come to you, and brainstorm together about how to deal with it. Sometimes it’s better not to respond, but do save the evidence in case things escalate.
Witnessing bullying can be traumatic. Talk to your child about what they can do, who they can tell, and that you and other adults will step in if necessary. Learn about your child’s school policies and look for ways to get involved in anti-bullying efforts.
Watch closely for signs of depression. Never tolerate or dismiss violence or sexual abuse. Educate yourself with sites like www.stopbullying.gov.
For us, addressing bullying ultimately made my daughter stronger. A classmate treated her poorly, but she continued to seek the other child’s attention. We talked (and talked) about what a friend is, and is not.
We examined how it made her feel and why it was so uncomfortable to confront. I tried to give her the time and space she needed to reach her own decisions. At last, she chose to distance herself, and realized she was not the only victim.
She’s grown from it, and so have I. Hopefully, when you confront the issue together, you can do the same.
• Tiffaney Isaacson is the injury prevention coordinator at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Reach her at (602) 546-1712.