Written on February 28, 2012 at 1:49 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Imagine you’re driving carpool. Your child is sitting shotgun, constantly scanning the radio for everyone’s perfect song. The other three kids are rehashing their day. Everything is good until you hear one of the boys say to another, “Dude, you better improve your basketball skills! Do you have any idea how gay you were in PE class today! If it gets any worse you’re going to have go play on the girls team!” You immediately tense, look in the rearview mirror to gauge the kids’ reaction, and wonder if you should say something. In that instant several thoughts go through your head. You know it was bad but kids say words like that all the time. All the other kids seem to be laughing. If you say something you’re going to embarrass your child. It’s inappropriate to set rules for other people’s kids. And then the moment passes and you feel like you’ve lost your opportunity.
You don’t say anything. Many well-meaning parents can relate to this scenario. But the hard truth is that this is the adult behavior that supports bullying. These are the actions that come across as not wanting to be “the parent” in difficult situations because you’re afraid your child will get angry with you.
If you want to do your part to stop bullying, you have to understand the dynamics at play in that car and you have to say something. You have to clearly communicate what you stand for. So here are some suggestions for how to manage the situation.
When you hear the rude comment, take a deep breath, focus on what you’re about to say as you pull the car over, and put it in park. Take your seat belt off, and turn to face the kids in the back seat, while ignoring your son’s silent begging or death stares. As you make eye contact with all of them say,
You: Josh, I just overheard you tell Mike that he was gay to insult the way he’s playing basketball.
Josh: It’s just what we say! It doesn’t mean the same thing now! Mike doesn’t mind do you?”
Mike: “No, they’re just messing with me. I know they don’t mean it.”
You: Here’s the deal. Using words like gay, or like a girl to put someone down is just unacceptable.
Josh: But it’s not our fault if the girls are terrible at basketball that’s just a fact! And gay just means stupid.
You: That’s not the issue. The issue is using those words to make someone feel worthless and not as good as you are.
Josh gives you the stare that you are crazy and annoying. Your son stares out the window pretending he was born into a different family.
It’s also important to end by encouraging the kids to talk to their parents about what you said. Not only because it’s smart to be transparent when you have these teachable moments with other people’s children but it also protects you from any of the kids coming home and accusing you of “screaming and totally freaking out” to their parents.
By the way, this strategy works any time kids say inappropriate and/or mean things around you. I had one mother use this strategy in the car after years of silently putting up with her daughter and her friends trashing other girls. It was important for her to realize how her silence had contributed to the girls’ feeling that they could be so mean and cruel to others. Once she stood her ground, the girls’ behavior improved at home and school.
And one last point. Yes, in the moment when we speak out, we will absolutely embarrass children. In the short term, they won’t like us one bit for getting involved. But it’s only in these moments that our kids see evidence of what our values look like in action, that they really get what’s important to us. They understand that they have a mom or dad who is willing and able to take a public stand when you see people being cruel. That’s a lesson they can take with them for a lifetime.
Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.
Written on February 15, 2012 at 12:21 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
When bullying happens between kids we often forget that parents face their own challenges about how to handle the problem. Things get even more tricky if you’re the parent of the target and you are friends with the parent of the bully. There’s lot of reasons why but here are a few. You may have known the bully since they were little and know the good sides of them. It can be easy to dismiss what your kid says because the bully may act nicely when you’re around. Or it could just come down to the last thing you’d like to do is tell a good friend that their kid is mean. Ironically people think that if you’re good friends, facing situations like these should be easier. But often the opposite is the case. We are usually more reluctant to bring it up, more disappointed, and we worry more about the outcome. The challenge is that these problems usually don’t just disappear; even if they did, feelings can be hurt on both sides. So, to give you an idea of how I advise people in this situation, I want to share an email I recently received from a mom and my response.
Reaching out to get some advice regarding my daughter Rachel and a bully, Sophie, in her school. Sophie has been mean to her on and off the last few years. Sophie is also on Rachel’s soccer team, so she sees her mostly at recess and then after school at soccer practice. My husband and I are also friends with Sophie’s parents, which doesn’t help the situation much. Sophie is now bullying Rachel daily, at recess and on occasion at soccer. We are not sure if we should talk to her parents first about the issue or go directly to her teacher and principal and bypass her parents? We are concerned that if we tell her parents then Rachel will be blamed for telling on her and the parents may only ground Sophie for a few weeks and then leave it alone.
I would greatly appreciate your advice.
The hard truth is that since you’re friends with Sophie’s parents, you have to talk to them. Here’s the reason, if they find out from the school that you complained about Sophie instead of reaching out to them first, they’ll feel betrayed and therefore much less likely to work with you to solve the problem. And frankly if they felt this way they’d be right. Good friends should be able to say difficult things to each other. Of course, having this conversation can be really challenging so you must be strategic. Your first step is to decide between you and your husband which of you is the calmer representative of the family. I know that mothers usually are the ones to step forward here, but I really want you to consider having your husband do it instead. But no matter who does it (or both of you can too) this conversation needs to be in person or on the phone.
Here’s what he can say, “Because we’re friends this is a little uncomfortable to bring up with you, but it’s really important. We need your help because Sophie is still being mean to Rachel. From what Rachel tells us, it happens during recess and soccer practice. Can you please talk to Sophie about this so this stops? Please know that I know these things can go both ways, so if Rachel ever does anything to Sophie that you want to bring to our attention, please don’t hesitate to tell us. Thanks so much! Hey so do you guys want to check out that movie we were talking about last week?
Of course, Sophie’s parents may get defensive or say something to push back. The important thing to remember is that once you have told them, you have done right by them and Rachel. If Sophie does continue to bully Rachel, then it makes sense to involve the school. I talk to many parents who are in similar situations and I am happy to report that more often than not, when the other parents are approached with respect, the situation improves. But even if it doesn’t, you still have to do this because Rachel needs to see that when she’s bullied you can effectively advocate for her.
Written on January 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm , by familycircle
Guest blogger Shawn Edgington on the NO BULL Challenge.
“Mom, I can’t go back to school, they want to kill me!” These are the words every parent fears, and hopes never to hear. As the mother of a teenage girl who received death threats by text and on her Facebook page, I know first-hand how difficult it is when cyberbullies target your child. I also know how critical it is for parents and educators to take the right steps before a cyberbullying situation goes viral.
It’s difficult to know when to act, because more than 80% of the time, adults don’t really know what’s happening within a child’s online world. That said, what is a parent or an educator to do if they aren’t aware when a child really needs help? Teens are falling witness to cyberbullying incidents every day, and in most cases, make the decision to remain silent about what they see or read.
The important questions to ask yourself are: Does your constantly connected teen know when to take a “friend’s” dark or desperate status update as a serious cry for help? Can your teenager recognize a potentially unhealthy or dangerous post when they see one? The unfortunate truth is, most of the time we are left to rely on another child’s online friends to intervene by getting help on their behalf, which isn’t happening enough. This is why every teen needs to know what to watch out for, how to stand up for their peers, when to report and who to go to for help before it’s too late.
What can parents and educators do to empower teens to stand up and help their fellow students in need? Have them take The Great American NO BULL Challenge, the largest student-led campaign to fight bullying and cyberbullying in America. The annual campaign inspires America’s 25 million teens to learn how to eliminate bullying from their lives by creating a video with an anti-bullying message. Students and educators are provided all of the information they need to know about making a video, cyberbullying basics, standing up, prevention, and intervention tips via the online NO BULL Cyberbullying 411 toolkits. View one of the NO BULL teen created videos submitted at: http://nobull.votigo.com/contests/showentry/1016336
The NO BULL Challenge gives teenagers the chance to compete for $25,000 in prizes and the opportunity to have their winning videos introduced to the world at the star-studded NO BULL Teen Video Awards show in San Francisco, promoted by Live Nation. At the Teen Video Awards gala, students will watch artists perform live and meet their favorite celebrities on the red carpet. The spotlight will shine on the student-made films pertaining to NO BULL, offer students the chance to win thousands of dollars’ worth of prizes, and have their video presented center stage for the world to witness.
The Great American NO BULL Challenge is a massive collaboration between iSafe, National Organizations for Youth Safety, FCCLA, Dr. Mehmet Oz’s HealthCorps, teenDailyStrength, 4-H, Students Against Destructive Decisions, The Anti-Defamation League, Business Professionals of America, Project Change, American School Counselor Association, The California Endowment and Health Happens Here, iKeepSafe.org, The Megan Meier Foundation, National Collaboration for Youth, The Bully Police Squad, Communities in Schools, and The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Formspring, among others.
There is one thing that I know for sure; if we can educate and inspire America’s teens on how to stand up for what is right and say “NO BULL!” to all of the online mayhem, we will be steps ahead on the war against cyberbullying.
Shawn Edgington is the Founder and President of the Great American NO BULL Challenge and the bestselling author of The Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social Media: Understanding the Benefits and Dangers of Parenting in a Digital World. Shawn is also the CEO of a national insurance firm in California where she lives with her family.