Monday, November 29, 2010

The Bully Pulpit

I hope everyones break from real life over the last 4 days was a good one. And if not, its over, its Monday and time for a new week. Its only the same old, same old if you let it be that way. Why not see every Monday as a way to start over, a virtual new beginning. Also, check out my new youtube video below just after this posting. My daughter, home for thanksgiving, sat with me and mused about her teenage years (she is now 27), and lessons she can share with you and your teen. Watch it together, I think it contains some good conversation starters!

This weekend the newspapers were full of stories about the trauma of bullying. I thought a little depressing for the Thanksgiving weekend, but never the less important information. The articles talked about the research that suggests that a child's brain actually changes as a result of this type of emotional trauma, and that it has lasting emotional effects well into adulthood. Clearly this debunks the myth, that kids will be kids, what's the big deal? As usual the articles call for school policies, anti-bullying measures and severe consequences for kids who bully. Of course these are all extremely important, but what is also important is preparing kids for situations like being bullied for which they have no experience. Policies are always important because they provide a framework for behavior and consequences, and hopefully the building of a respectful and safe school community.  But in the moment when a kid is being mercilessly teased and taunted, throwing out a "this isn't allowed" is not going to be helpful to that victim.

Bullying is all about power. It is only fun to bully someone as long as the victim stays in that one down position.  In the moment, and in the middle of a bully's taunt that puts a kid in that one down position, most kids are unprepared and their reaction is often fuel for the bully, like showing fear, embarrassment, or attempts to avoid the bully. Like all new experiences in life, most kids are not prepared for the possibility that someone might deliberately want to humiliate them. As adults we hope that that type of situation won't happen to our kids, or that our kids won't be the perpetrators of bullying, and so most often we don't get around to dealing with it until after it happens.

Giving our kids strategies for those moments in life when they are unprepared is paramount. Humor,and sarcasm are very effective tools to help counter some of the the bully's attempts at humiliation. If you have a teen who is overweight and has been teased about it, helping them to come up with some quick retorts like, "big is beautiful, thanks for the compliment", or a sarcastic retort after a fat comment: "Ya think" or "ooh you're so observant" or, " I'm looking for a trainer, want to help me get in shape?"said with strength and power.

Often teens are afraid to come to you with complaints about bullying because they worry that your first response will be to call the school and demand their attention to the matter. Which of course you will need to do. But helping your teen to feel strong and competent is equally important. Swift and appropriate  consequences for the bully is only half the intervention. When your teen has been made to feel powerless the task is to help them feel powerful. Giving them strategies, scripts, tools to feed their confidence in handling situations that make them feel out of control is essential to developing coping strategies for all the challenges that are ahead of them. Anticipating that at some point your teen may be the target of jealous girls, insecure boys, control freaks, and people who bully for the shear joy of it, is a realistic one. Giving them your confidence that they can handle what comes their way is a necessary one.

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