All across the country, we're hearing and seeing incidents that involve bullying at an alarming rate. We read and hear stories of triumphant celebrations of situations that are brought to light by victims as they overcome the oppression. Sadly, with that are heartbreaking stories of those that succumbed to the power play between them and the bully.
Recently, I needed to confront this monster face to face myself as one of my sons informed me of an episode that took place with him. I have never had to face this before as their dad handled such conflicts. My first reaction was to march to this other child's home who dared to think he could dominate, hurt and threaten MY son! Common sense prevailed and the thought was just that...a thought. It's heartbreaking to one day realize that there is something, someone in existence that's playing a role in preventing you from protecting your children. Nothing makes a parent feel more powerless and helpless than the inability to keep their children safe.
What is bullying? "Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumours, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
There has been quite a bit of "how to" and "what to do" propaganda in circulation in light of recent events. Yes, I agree that bullying is unnecessary, preventable and without a doubt tragic. I also agree that there are certain steps that both a parent and the child must take in order for the acts to be contained and stopped! I can sit here and tell you that as a parent, I DID those very things that all agencies, websites, counsellors and advocates tell a parent that they are "supposed" to do. That worked fine when my kids were little.
What happens when they become teenagers and are now caught up in the peer pressure of "Don't Be a Snitch"? What happens when the stigma of "snitching" on peers overwhelms your child's instincts to trust the system? Why is it so difficult for so many teens to follow the guidelines that were instilled in them from a very young age? "Snitching" happens to be a term common among teens and is something I've been dealing with recently. It segregates them from the accepted group...the one that stands out...the one that is now a target to be bullied.
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It's one thing when they're able to come home and talk to dad about this. What now that dad isn't around, and mom is the one you rely on? The simplest of solutions was counter intimidation. In spite of all that we're taught, the reality and my experience has been that an alpha personality needs to make themselves present in a way that basically shows the opponent -- hey, don't mess with me! I realize that is counter-intuitive to everything we are taught on how to handle such conflicts"? In a classic textbook scenario, yes, I would 100 per cent follow the steps on how to resolve this conflict:
1) Walk away from the situation
2) Notify the yard duty and/or teacher
3) Inform the parents
4) Escalate to Principal if needed
5) Mediate with parents of other child(ren) if necessary
According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, children who are upset or withdrawn because their parents have separated -- especially if they've had to move and change communities or schools -- are quickly identified by bullies as easy marks."
As a parent of children coming from a hostile environment, I have a fairly different set of responsibilities in addition to the traditional safe-guarding of our children. We have to:
a) Establish a rapport and a relationship with teachers & school authorities that are very open and candid. They are our allies, our ears, and our eyes in an extremely vulnerable and sensitive time of our lives.
b) Establish trust and open communication with your child in the event that an unfortunate incident (be it bullying or something else) occurs.
c) Don't react -- Remember, your teen is feeling the emotions 100 times more magnified than you are. They're the ones LIVING the hell day to day. Be sensitive to them and the situation. Most importantly, LISTEN to them.
d) Make yourself available -- it's easy to get lost in your own drama. Make them a priority. Think back to when you were their age and put yourself in their shoes. All they want is for you to listen and understand them.
e) Actions speak louder than words. Show, not just tell them that they are a priority. Don't assume that they know what's on your and their mind. Ask, probe and Yes... be nosy! Resistance today is welcomed tomorrow.
f) Instil in them early on that they are not alone! It's easy as a teen to find an excuse to isolate yourself. Be a nag, be inquisitive -- do it lovingly, stay involved in their day-to-day life.
g) Be there for them. As clichéd as this sounds -- BE THERE! Refer to my post on "Let's Go for A Drive" When they open the door to communicating with you, nothing else should take priority! Listen, talk, verbalize, communicate and connect with them.
These are not guaranteed rules or techniques for helping to curtail bullies. They are however guides to establishing trust and understanding within your family dynamics that have worked for me and my two sons, that may prevent and help a situation that could have otherwise let to tragedy or destruction. As a parent who values and prides in a good relationship with her adolescent children, I cannot stress to you enough the importance of establishing trust, transparency and communication.
By Vaishali Sharda
Follow Vaishali on Twitter @v4vaishali
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