I'm so pleased to welcome Carrie Goldman, the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear, as today's guest blogger. Check out her work at www.carriegoldmanauthor.com. She's written a piece addressing bullying and what tweens can do about it, and written it for a tween audience. You can read this with your child, or have it handy when they ask you what they should do. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, making this a great time to talk through this situation with your tween and help them learn how to prevent it.
Everyone knows how uncomfortable it is when you are hanging out in a group, and your friends start making fun of another friend. Your stomach feels anxious. You are afraid to meet the eyes of the kid who is being picked on, because you know that you should say something. And you really really WANT to say something, but if you do, you are afraid the ringleader will pick on you next. It sucks; it really does. Let’s break down what is happening and what your choices are.
What Is Happening in Your Brain:
Did you know that your brain starts sending off alarms as soon as you witness someone else being bullied? You might think the safest move is to stay silent, but actually, your brain is already feeling unsafe. The best way to get rid of that awful anxious feeling is to identify what is happening and to make a plan. You can say to yourself, “I feel stressed because I know that my friend is in trouble, and I feel scared that the group will turn on me if I say something.” Labeling feelings and understanding situations makes them less frightening.
Why Are Your Friends Behaving Cruelly?
Kids can switch from being nice to mean with surprising frequency. It doesn’t mean that the kids who are being mean are bad people. They may be feeling uncertain of their own social standing, which leads them to make fun of someone else. Or maybe they are jealous of the kid they are picking on because that kid is very attractive or intelligent. Sometimes, kids pick on someone else because that person looks and acts different, and the group doesn’t like for anyone to stand out. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that the person who is being targeted is a human being, not just an object to taunt.
What Are Your Choices?
There is always safety in numbers. Maybe you can catch the eye of a couple other friends who you know are also kind, caring people, and through silent communication, you can quickly form a group of allies. You can say, “that’s not cool. Don’t do that,” knowing that your sympathetic friends will quickly concur. Did you know that more than half of bullying actions will stop in less than 10 seconds if a bystander steps in?
Another tactic you can take is to use distraction. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable confronting the cruelty directly, but you could switch the focus. Ask someone about a new song that you heard, and see if they have it on their phone. Mention a movie you want to see, or start telling a story. Ask someone where he or she got their shoes, commenting that you really like them.
If you are too frightened to speak up in any way, shape, or form, you can STILL act as a witness or an ally. Make a note of what happened, and write it down, including the date, time, action, and who was involved. That way, if the friend being targeted wants to make a report of the bullying, you can corroborate it and provide evidence. You could turn this in anonymously.
Furthermore, you can provide support to your friend after the fact. You could send a text that says, “I saw what was happening, and I was honestly too nervous to say anything, but I wanted to let you know I care about you and I am here if you need to talk." Reach out and let your friend know that he or she is not alone.
Reviewing the Whole Event and Talking About it With Friends or an Adult
After the episode happens, take a moment to talk about it with someone you trust. This could be a parent, a sibling, a cousin, a teacher – anyone that makes you feel connected is a fine choice. Take a minute to problem solve and see if there is anything you might do differently next time. Find another friend who knows about the situation and see if you can come up with a plan together for supporting the kid who is being targeted.
This is also a good time to think about your relationship with the person or the people who were being mean. Are they good friends of yours? What qualities do you value in a friend? A good friend accepts that you can be friends with anyone, whereas a bad friend tells you who you can be friends with. A good friend talks nicely about you to others, whereas a bad friend gossips about you behind your back. A good friend supports your interests, whereas a bad friend tells you what activities to pursue. If your friends are not accepting and supportive, it might be time to look for some better friends!
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