“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
Once upon a time, this was the solution to bullying.
For kids today, there are few safe places left and “sticks and stones” is like old technology in need of a serious update. The face of bullying has changed in the 20 years since today’s parents were on the playground and we are fighting an old battle in a new place—the internet where words not only hurt, they can kill.
Ever-increasing scholastic demands placed on children is creating a generation of stressed out children who worry over school more than most adults do their jobs. When you add bullying to the mix, kids become downright miserable at which point depression sinks in. The “it builds character” attitude toward bullying and childhood stress no longer holds water.
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for teenagers, making Idaho one of the worst in the nation for suicide.
So what is the answer? How can today’s parents help their children with this new breed of bullies? The anonymous megaphone that social media provides has created an unprecedented rise in bullying and changed the rules. The simple answer of “delete their Facebook accounts” does not work for many reasons.
- The absence of a social media presence among teenagers today is conspicuous. Deleting your social media accounts can embolden bullies because they get the satisfaction of a victory. These bullies are likely to become more aggressive at school.
- Cyber bullying goes way beyond Facebook—71 percent of kids have more than one social media account. Outside Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Whisper, Yik Yak, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp, the average teen receives over 30 text messages per day. Even in the absence of social media, kids’ contact information is easily available among their peers.
- Kids who are bullied and forced to give up their social media are at risk of suffering even more depression. They feel denied something that 91 percent of their peers have making them feel more socially outcast and isolated.
The one great advantage of online bullying is that you can block and report the bullies. As opposed to adding to your teen’s feelings of isolation by deleting their accounts, reporting the bully to the provider (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) will push it back onto the bully and remove their accounts. Also, it is important to report the behavior to the school. This allows the schools to communicate with the bully’s parents and address the behavior. Bullies are likely struggling at home as well.
While these proactive steps are useful, the most important thing parents can do is build a solid foundation with their child. Self-esteem starts at home and with you, the parent. Put down the devices and turn off the TV every day and have a real conversation with your kids. Celebrate their accomplishments, no matter how small or remote to you. If your son breaks a high score and a video game you don’t care about, ask him to teach you how to play it and congratulate him on his accomplishment. If your daughter tries something new with her hair, comment on it. Invite yourself into their world and lend legitimacy to their feelings. Ask questions and remember that your relationship with your child is still a relationship. It takes work and must be a two-way street just as it is in a marriage, friendship, or workplace.
Another way to help insure your child trusts you is to remember that their entire social identity is defined by their status at school. You should not trivialize the struggles of testing, homework, and social pressure of school by comparing it to adult life. Your teenager has no context for that and will feel demeaned. This will damage the trust your teenager has in you.
If your teenager continues to show signs of depression such as lack of interest, falling grades in school, and continued sullenness it may be time to ask for help. The teenagers notoriously moody, but you know your child. Depression in no small thing and is especially overwhelming to teenagers who have no context for the ups and downs of adult life.
The Idaho Youth Ranch helps bullied kids by teaching skills to cope with conflict and low self-esteem. Equine therapy helps create confidence and self-worth while Functional Family Therapy can help the family learn how to communicate with each other, providing that foundation for growth. If you think your child needs help, you should call us at 208-947-0863, ext 1002. Come back soon for follow-up information on teen depression.