As any parent of a teenager is aware of, teenage bullying has been a very important topic over the last several years and one that has been in the forefront of the news, political conversations and school administration agendas. Is the concept of kids making fun of one another a new one? Of course not – teasing, school yard bullies and kids making fun of one another has always been present. However, what has changed, I believe is twofold.
First is society’s improved understanding of the serious and potentially long-term consequences of bullying. From front page media headlines to talk shows, we have been able to hear first hand how damaging bullying can be to a child’s self-esteem. We have heard grown women talk about how they still feel shame and cry when thinking about the mean things that were said and done to them. We have heard stories of teenagers trying to avoid attending school, going into deep depressions or in extreme cases becoming suicidal as a means of avoiding being further bullied. As a society, we are much more in tune with how problematic bullying behavior is and so there are many more people talking about it (which is a good thing because with awareness comes solutions).
Second is Social Networking. Prior to cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and text messaging, when teens were being bullied at school, they were able to at least go home and get some relief. Unless the school bully was willing to call their victim’s home, the bullying stopped after school was out. Now…teens do not get any relief..the bullying follows them into their home, which is supposed to be their safe space. I spoke with a parent just this week who talked about how she and her daughter were out running errands and ran into the girls who were bullying her daughter at school, but the girls did not say anything at that time. What happened instead was that these girls began tweeting negative things about this woman’s daughter for hours after this encounter causing so much sadness and pain for this woman’s daughter. It is easier to say hurtful and hateful things through social media than having to look someone in the eye and say them. And while it is easy to say to a teenager that if this is happening to them, they should just stay off Facebook, Twitter, etc., the reality is that this also means cutting off something that is really important these days in the life of a teenager.
So – we know the problem is out there, we know it has serious potential consequences – as a parent what do you do? Stay tuned for my next blog post which will have both warning signs of bullying and tips for you, as the parent, about what to do if you believe your teenager is being bullied.
For additional parenting support and resources, check out How To Parent A Teen.