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The Best Way to Handle Bullies

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Traditionally, we might think of bullying as picking a physical fight with someone and taking possession of some lunch money or worse. But today bullying isn’t limited to physical assault or stealing. Bullying can take many shapes and sizes. According to a study by the National Education Association, every day 160,000 students miss school for fear of being attacked or bullied.

In the Lifetime movie “Odd Girl Out,” a teen daughter and her mother have difficulty handling the wide-spread problem of emotional bullying among girls. Let’s look at this scene from the movie: Several girls are talking together at the school lunchroom. Vanessa approaches, but as she gets closer, the others turn away from her with their backs to her, effectively shutting her out. As Vanessa leaves, the other girls laugh and comment on her discomfort. Is this bullying? Yes! While boys are generally more overt, girls tend to use covert methods, such as excluding.

Adults sometimes have difficulty understanding how these seemingly tame tactics can cause so much distress for adolescents. It’s only teasing . . . right?

What is bullying?
Keep in mind that the intention of bullying is a deliberate activity to hurt someone physically or emotionally where the bully derives pleasure from another’s pain.

Bullying includes: excluding, ignoring, humiliating, teasing, name-calling, attacking, spreading rumors, taunting, being pushed – and the like. Any form of bullying can be deeply disturbing for kids, and parents need to take it seriously.

Vanessa had difficulty accepting that her best friend could suddenly turn on her and silently takes the abuse Stacy and her clique dish out. Vanessa’s mom notices her daughter’s misery, but believes the girls are just having a harmless spat. As the nasty rumors and public ridicule escalate, Vanessa soon transforms from a happy to a withdrawn and desperate teen. Fearful of the next onslaught, she starts cutting classes. At this point, mom realizes that something is seriously wrong; but Vanessa – not trusting her mom to hear her and understand – refuses to talk about what’s really going on, until her suicidal thoughts land her in the hospital. Now there’s a huge wake-up call for both mother and daughter!

Many parents and school officials don’t take action because they’re not exactly sure what to do. The usual advice offered by adults is: Just ignore it! So, most kids either say nothing or, after enough taunting, retaliate. Neither response generally works. It didn’t work for Vanessa. Kids need to learn how to courageously stand up for themselves without getting aggressive. And they need to have adult support. That’s why we are starting to see grants being made available to teach adults and kids how to handle bullies at high schools and prevent violence from occurring.

It turns out that Vanessa’s mom hadn’t yet resolved her own past about having been the “Odd Girl Out.” This contributed to her inadequacy in helping her daughter take back her power and stand up to her tormentors. The bullied need someone to listen to them with empathy; they need help handling their feelings and help building their courage to take appropriate steps - without physically lashing out - and becoming bullies themselves.

How can you help?

If your child tells you that she is being bullied by her friends and doesn’t want to go back to school. It’s important for you to first acknowledge her feelings, instead of dismissing them. Let her know that you understand that it’s scary to be bullied. Have her report the incident at school and teach her this effective way of handling bullies, to be strong and not give into feeling terrorized. Keep in mind, bullies love seeing the look of fear on their victims’ faces.

Have your daughter (or son!) imagine the bully making threats, but not in her usual voice. Let your teen select a non-threatening voice; perhaps, that of a cartoon character, or see the person look small, in a clown’s suit.

It’s important to repeat the image and hear the bully differently until a shift takes place (she begins to smile or feel lighter, more confident). This proven method works great with some practice for preteens and teens (and adults, too!). Then, the next time your child is up against a bully, she will stay grounded in her own personal power and say something light-hearted, instead of giving the bully the reaction she’s craving. Most bullies will soon loose interest and turn to someone else more “fun” to torment.

Help your teen understand that if a friend is now bullying them, he or she is no longer being a friend. It’s best to make new friends who share the same understanding of what it means to be friends.


Author, Coach, Parent/Teen Expert

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