It typically begins with a phone call from either another parent or your daughter’s school. The accusation of bullying hits you like a rock. You can’t believe it. Your daughter was raised to be better than this. You’ve seen her helping others and being kind. Unfortunately, these attributes don’t keep her from engaging in bullying behaviors. While all of us would like to believe that our children would never intentionally harass, threaten or ridicule another child, cyberbullying has become a growing problem as it can affect kids and adults alike while contributing to mental health-related problems.
The bullies are out there- and they may be closer to home than you think.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is a type of youth violence characterized by aggressive behavior that is unwanted. Most bullying occurs between peers or dating partners, where there is an imbalance of power. There are several different types of bullying, including physical, verbal, emotional and cyber bullying.
Those First Moments
When that phone call comes in, or you’re standing face to face with an adult or teenager telling you your daughter is a bully, your first instinct may be to get defensive. This will only make matters worse. Instead:
Breathe. Such a simple action may seem too simple. However, taking a second to breathe can help you calm down and get ready to listen. After you’re calm:
– Thank the individual (teacher, principal, parent, teen) for letting you know what is going on. Tell them you know how difficult this subject is to broach, and how hard it must have been for them to make the call.
– Assure the principal, teacher or parent that you will talk to your daughter.
– Take down their information. This is a stressful moment. You may have missed some information or may have questions later. You may want to work with the school to address the problem. Having their information on hand is important.
– Don’t rush. Your anger and embarrassment may be telling you to deal with this situation now, but taking a few minutes to process is the best option.
Talking to Your Daughter
Listen to Her Side of the Story
After you’ve calmed down, and you’re ready to discuss the bullying behavior with your daughter, find a quiet, private space in the home where you, your spouse and your daughter can talk. Ask to hear her side of the story and weigh it against the details you were given by the parent or school. In most cases, there are three sides to every story- hers, theirs and, somewhere in the middle, the truth.
Explain to her what you were told and ask her if any of the details in their version are true. This provides her with an opportunity to acknowledge what she might have down that she previously left out of her tale.
Stay calm. Don’t yell. Listen.
Ask Her Why
You may get the typical response of “I don’t know,” but don’t become frustrated and give up. Troubled teens typically bully as a way to gain control in their life, get attention and gain popularity, as payback for previous bullying in their lives or simply out of boredom.
Certain factors increase her risk of engaging in bullying as well, like an attitude accepting of violence, externalizing issues (disruptive, rebellious and defiant behavior,) and harsh parenting practices.
Talk About the Consequences
Bullying is never a solution to any situation, and it can have dire consequences to the physical and mental health of those who are bullied.
However, it isn’t just those who are bullied that face consequences for the behavior. Those that do the bullying experience those consequences as well. Teens who frequently bully others are, according to the CDC, at an increased risk for suicide-related behavior.
Another issue that bullies may face is retaliation. Those they have bullied may become violent and take out their revenge, even if it means hurting innocent bystanders.
Once she understands the consequences that could affect her, talk to her about the peer she bullied. What does she think he/she felt? What would she have done if it had been her that was bullied?
Build Emotional and Social Skills
While most kids learn social and emotional skills in elementary school, troubled teens often need assistance finding their way back to the correct path so they can develop healthy relationships with others, be honest with themselves and others, make critical decisions, and learn to respect and love everyone around them.
At Greenbrier’s all-girls boarding school, we use a variety of therapeutic practices and a central theme and culture called Aspirations, where the girls help each other learn and live specific virtues.
If you’ve just found out that your daughter is a bully, take a breath. Take a moment to process the information, and then take steps to address the problem. She can unlearn this behavior, if you’re willing to help her.