WisCONTEXT - Series: Bullying and Cyberbullying

The Best Bullying Prevention Is For Parents To Lead By Example

Anne Clarkson, UW-Extension| Becky Mather,Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board

Awareness of childhood bullying has increased dramatically in the 40 years since Dan Olweus, a Swedish psychologist, became the first researcher to systematically investigate the problem. Largely because of worldwide impact of his work, parents today are much more sensitive to the signs and effects of bullying on their children. However, they may not be as conscious of how their own behavior can affect bullying by children.
Bullying is defined as repeated or aggressive behavior against which a child has difficulty defending herself or himself. However, not all unkind behavior is bullying. In fact, teasing and jockeying for status are actually a normal part of childhood and adolescence, and teach young people, through trial and error, important relationship skills for later life. Parents can have an important role in minimizing both unkind behavior and the likelihood of bullying by teaching and modeling positive relationship skills for their children.
Conversation is the first step in the prevention of bullying. A parent who talks about bullying with her or his child for as little as 15 minutes a day increases the probability that their young person will come to them for help and advice. Parents who talk directly about bullying with their teens help them feel supported, learn strategies for responding and increase their ability to stand up for others. Parents can get ideas for starting such conversations from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's free app KnowBullying.
Parents also help prevent bullying when they model tolerance and inclusion of a variety of people and personalities. A parent who actively shows his or her teen how to get along with others and how to deal with disagreements in a respectful, assertive way demonstrates important relationship skills.
To help young people be more inclusive and understanding, parents can encourage them to think of others' perspectives, particularly when a peer is being inappropriate or annoying.
Parents should avoid slurs themselves and instruct their children never to use derogatory terms such as "gay," "retard" or "slut." Even if the person who is being called a derogatory term says "it's no big deal," using these terms is never OK. Cruel words are always a "big deal."
Finally, parents can structure environments to avert bullying before it takes place. One common source of bullying is technology. No young person should have 24-hour unlimited access to smart phones, texting, computers or other digital media. Parents can establish household rules that require teens and children to use computers and tablets in common areas of the house where parents can monitor screens to know what they are seeing and sending.
Parents should also monitor children's texts, apps and computer history for evidence of bullying. Youth who experience cyberbullying are frequently embarrassed and do not tell their parents about their experiences. Teens often continue to use media even when they experience cyberbullying and would be better off disengaging. By the same token, a parent whose teen is the perpetrator of online harassment is equally likely to be in the dark about the child's bad behavior.
A parent concerned that her or his child is the victim of bullying should contact the child's school or officials at other sites where harassment takes place, or, if necessary, contact the police. Parents of victims should not contact parents of bullies directly. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes resources about bullying at StopBullying.gov.
Adults can help children increase their awareness of bullying so they can avoid contributing to it and recognize bullying when they see it. Young people also benefit when they understand how to address bullying behavior assertively and safely.
Children look to their parents and caregivers for advice on tough choices and peer pressure. Parents who talk about and model how to advocate appropriately and safely for vulnerable individuals will help prevent bullying.

Ann Clarkson is a digital parenting education specialist with University of Wisconsin-Extension Family Living Programs. She writes for several online parenting resources including two UW-Extension publications for parents of teens: eParenting High Tech Kids and Parenthetical. Becky Mather is education coordinator for the Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board.

The Best Bullying Prevention Is For Parents To Lead By Example was originally published on WisContext which produced the article in a partnership between Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and Cooperative Extension.

How Parents Can Mitigate The Harm Of Bullying

A Successful Intervention Must Address Children's Social Dynamics
Anne Clarkson, UW-Extension| Becky Mather,Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board
Doctors no longer consider bullying a normal part of childhood. Instead, they recognize bullies and their victims face increased risk of suicide. Teens' use of technology can escalate bullying quickly and often without parents of either the bullies or victims being aware of the harassment. Twenty-two percent of children ages 12 to 18 said they were bullied during the 2012-13 school year.
A teen who experiences headaches or stomach aches, has unexplained bruises or injuries or avoids school may be the victim of bullying and needs a parent or caretaker to intervene. A rapid decline in grades is another indication of bullying, as is a teen abruptly dropping activities he or she enjoyed, or demonstrating a markedly increased desire for isolation.
When a parent becomes concerned that a child is being bullied, the parent should listen to the child and calmly determine whether the situation is actual bullying or "drama," which describes normal and often unkind jockeying for status among teens as they mature and develop their understanding of social relationships. Although less threatening than bullying, drama is still one of the most unpleasant aspects of growing up.
Teens can usually handle drama on their own, though perhaps with some advice. Parents can strategize and role play with their children on how to deal with challenging situations. However, in the case of bullying, a parent or someone else with power must intercede and make a significant change in the dynamics. Teens cannot handle bullying themselves without great risk of immediate and perhaps lasting physical and/or emotional damage.
Bullies themselves also are suffering. Signs a child may be bullying others include having friends who are bullies, fighting, getting into trouble at school, suddenly having new things or more money, or always blaming others for problems.
Neither bullies nor their victims are likely to ask for help, so adults must be alert for signs. If a parent becomes aware her or his child is being harassed, he or she should not contact a bully's parent. Parents often get offended and defensive when their children are accused. Bullies may have learned about physical violence from their parents and so adults do not want to put themselves in unsafe situations — or jeopardize the bully's safety. Also, stepping onto someone else's property could lead to an arrest for trespassing.
What can parents do?
When bullying occurs, parents and teens should keep detailed records of incidents, including participants, dates and locations, copies of online interactions and notes on contacts with authorities. When the bullying occurs at a school, parents should learn about its anti-bullying policy and arrange to meet face to face with a principal, teachers and possibly a guidance counselor. During the meeting, a parent should remain calm and matter of fact while relaying a child's story. Parents should never encourage or allow authorities to conduct a meeting between their child and the bully as the power differential makes this an unproductive opportunity that can reinforce the intimidation.
Following a meeting, the parent should write down everything that was discussed and follow up with a thank-you note to everyone who attended. The note should summarize what was said and agreed on at the meeting. If the harassment at school does not stop, parents should be prepared to go to the next level of authority —the district superintendent and, eventually, the school board.
If the bullying takes place at an organized activity, parents should consult the adults in charge. If harassment occurs in public, outside of school or a supervised activity, parents should contact police to intercede. If necessary, parents should obtain restraining orders.
Help is available for parents and their teens to mitigate the harmful impact of bullying. Mental health professionals can help both bullied teens and those who bully to cope and rebuild their self-esteem and sense of safety. Teens can benefit from friends who have also experienced bullying. Parents can find resources from other parents of bullied teens and through organizations such as gay-straight alliances.
Bullying is a serious threat to the well-being of youth. Parents can find watching their children be hurt to be incredibly difficult. One of the best ways they can prevent drama and bullying is by modeling positive relationship skills. When parents raise their children to get along with others and deal with disagreements in a respectful, assertive way, they are giving them important skills to deal with future conflict.

Anne Clarkson is a digital parenting education specialist with University of Wisconsin-Extension Family Living Programs. She writes for several online parenting resources including two UW-Extension publications for parents of teens: eParenting High Tech Kids and Parenthetical. Becky Mather is education coordinator for the Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board.

How Parents Can Mitigate The Harm Of Bullying was originally published on WisContext which produced the article in a partnership between Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and Cooperative Extension.