Plenty of parents approach the tween years afraid that their child might become a victim of bullying. Few stop to think about what it would mean if their child actually was the bully. But according to a psychology study out of UCLA, 30 percent of teens admit to having bullied others in the past.
Which means that a lot of tweens and teens fall into the trap of being the bully.
We all want to think of our kids as knowing better. We all want to believe we’ve instilled a different sense of responsibility in them. That our child would never be the bully. But the hard truth is, in their quest to navigate the ever-evolving social dynamics of middle school and to cement their place in that social hierarchy, all kids are capable of doing things that go against the lessons they might have been raised with.
So what are you supposed to do if you get that call? The one where another parent is on the other line, simply wanting to let you know that your child has been bullying theirs. Or maybe it’s the principal calling instead. Or maybe no one calls, but you see something that leads you to suspect your child is bullying another.
What do you do? What do you say? How do you put a stop to it, once and for all?
First and foremost, the Pacer Center recommends considering your language. Specifically, instead of accusing your child of being a “bully,” they recommend you should adopt the language of “a child who bullies.” This reduces the behavior to just that: A behavior, not a characterization of who your child is.
From there, it’s time to have a talk with your child. It’s possible they don’t even realize what they are doing is bullying, but either way, it’s your job as a parent to help them understand the negative impact of their actions.
Resist the urge to make excuses for your child’s behavior, or to allow them to brush that behavior off as simple teasing. You have an opportunity right now, in this moment, to make an impact. The first inkling you have that your child may be bullying another is the single greatest chance you have to put an end to that behavior.
Still, you need to understand why it is happening. If your child won’t talk to you, it might be time to consider child or family therapy. You need to get to the bottom of why your child is acting out against another before you can help him or her to curb that behavior.
A professional might also be able to help you learn whether or not there are underlying issues (like depression, anxiety, or a learning disability) that are contributing to how your child is interacting with others.
The good news is that once you are aware of your child’s behavior, you can make your expectations for how that behavior needs to change extremely clear. And you can make it a point to follow up with those who might have added insight into how your child treats others moving forward—teachers who see your child when you don’t, and the parents of children your child has targeted in the past.
None of this is comfortable or easy. It can be hard to admit that you child has been bullying others, and even harder to approach those whose children might have been negatively affected by that behavior. But opening the lines of communication is one of the best ways you can express to others that you are not simply accepting this behavior. It’s also one of the best ways you can ensure your child knows you aren’t just going to let this behavior slide.
One more thing: You might want to take a minute to look inward, and to ensure you are modeling behavior that is in line with how you want your child to treat others. Adults can sometimes be bullies too, even when they don’t mean to be. And our kids are always watching.
So be the example… make sure you are always treating those you interact with how you hope your child will treat their peers in the future.