Is your child being bullied? Let’s start by looking at the difference between teasing and bullying. To tease is “to laugh at and criticize someone in a way that is either friendly and playful or cruel and unkind” (Mirriam-Webster). To bully is to “frighten, hurt, or threaten smaller or weaker people” (learnersdictionary.com). So, what this all means is that much of what we consider bullying today, is really not bullying. It is cruel and unkind and unacceptable, but there is a big difference.
Teasing is a basically making fun of someone or being really mean to them, but does not involve fear, harm or threats. For example, Joey doesn’t want Andrew to sit by him, so he tells everyone he smells bad. Alex isn’t a very good athlete, and nobody wants him on their P.E. team, so when he is picked last, everyone laughs at him. Everyone will be teased for something during their childhood, and, while I certainly don’t condone it, to some extent it is normal. Teasing is mean, and kids should be taught that it is not okay to tease.
Bullying, on the other hand, is more serious. Bullying is scary and a way for the bully to try to make themselves feel more powerful than the victim. Kids who are bullied are afraid to go to school or leave their homes. They get physically ill with fear, are unable to perform academically, and sometimes even commit suicide. Bullying is VERY serious and should NEVER be tolerated.
Here’s the big catch…kids who start out teasing, and who get away with it and face no harsh consequences for their behavior, often end up becoming bullies. Some do it to gain popularity; others find that putting others down makes them feel better about themselves. The power and control they feel is appealing. But, parents, there is a problem here. Guess what else is rooted in power and control? Domestic violence, rape, and child abuse are all about the perpetrator feeling power and control. Do you want your kids to be criminals? I think not.
Now, ask yourself what kind of parent you want to be. Let’s first look at this as the parent of the victim. Your ten year old son comes home one day and tells you that Joey was being mean to him, and now everyone is being mean. When he went to sit with his friends and lunchtime, they all got up and walked away. He was hurt, confused, and angry. Just yesterday, the kids where being nice to him. What do you do?
You have choices here. Do you tell him that ‘boys will be boys’ and just let it pass? Do you tell him to find new friends? What about calling Joey’s parents, or even the parents of all the boys that took part in this? Maybe you want to talk to the teacher or even the principle. And then what if the school or parents don’t take any action, or don’t handle the situation as you’d like? That’s a lot to think about, isn’t it? And here we are talking about teasing and not bullying.
Now, what if the table were turned. What would you do if you got a phone call from another parent, the teacher, or the principal that your child was being mean to another child in this way? What if you were Joey’s parent, the boy who instigated the whole thing with the other kids? Would you shrug it off with the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality? Tell him not to do it again? Make him apologize? Punish him? Lecture him about why it’s wrong to tease another child? Again, there are lots of possibilities here.
The main goal here, in my opinion, is to teach our children right from wrong, to take responsibility for wrong doing, and how to apologize and make things right moving forward. Honestly, if parents don’t seize this as a major learning opportunity, they are failing as parents. And if they choose to ignore and minimize what has occurred, or their child’s role in it, they’re basically giving their child permission to treat other people badly. The child who has no consequences and a lack of parental guidance, rules, and boundaries is actually the very child who will become a bully. With no limits and boundaries, this child actually feels out of control, and will therefore do anything to feel like he’s in control. This will not end well.
When teasing escalates to true bullying, then absolutely 100% you must do anything and everything to protect your child from being bullied. Call parents, the school, the superintendent, the police, and anyone else you can think of. Bullying is very serious and can lead to physical harm and even death. Do not wait to ‘see how it pans out’. This is the time to be vocal and protective.
If your child is a bully, fix it. Be harsh, be firm, be serious. Bullying behaviors are equal to criminal acts, so if you don’t fix this, your child will become a criminal. Do not laugh about it, do not minimize it, do not make excuses for him. He will likely be expelled from school, as he should be. Take all of his electronic devices away so he cannot cyber bully. Monitor everything he does and says. Seek professional help.
So, with all of that said, here are some guideline for dealing with teasing and bullying:
IF YOUR CHILD IS BEING TEASED:
- Talk to him about standing up for himself
- Talk to the teacher and/or the principal
- Talk to the other kids’ parents and ask for help
- Watch for signs of escalation (crying, acting out…)
IF YOUR CHILD IS TEASING SOMEONE:
- Let him know it is unacceptable behavior
- Have him apologize in a meaningful way
- Make him promise it will stop
- Take away a privilege as a consequence
IF YOUR CHILD IS BEING BULLIED:
- DO NOT IGNORE IT OR WAIT TO TAKE ACTION
- Make sure he is safe and keep him safe
- Call the principal of the school, or even the superintendent
- If you feel your child is in danger, or actual threats have been made, call the police
- Demand action
IF YOUR CHILD IS BULLYING SOMEONE:
- DO ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING TO MAKE IT STOP
- Do not minimize the seriousness of this or make excuses for him
- Remove all privileges and access to electronic devices
- Let your child know this behavior is not acceptable
- Seek professional help
- Make him volunteer somewhere that helps people – Appropriate ones are disabled children or women’s domestic violence shelters
- Educate him about the impact bullying has on victims, and teach that he will end up in jail if he continues to behave this way