Part three of a mini series exploring how to invite Christian youth into an examination of the disturbing trend of teen bullying and its consequences. See also parts one and two.
This is the first of several guest posts in this series authored by Dr. Michael E. Kirk, a California-based licensed clinical psychologist, specializing for over twenty-five years in child and adolescent issues. He is a father of three and a grandfather. In this essay, Dr. Kirk offers suggestions for how adults might begin the conversation about bullying with teens:
Suicides by teens who have been harassed by bullying and cyberbullying, which is bullying by electronic means such as email, Facebook, on websites or via text message, are in the current news and on the minds of parents everywhere. But rather than simply worrying and hovering over your child or teen, it's important to address the topic now, before any situation in your child’s or your teen's life escalates.
Here are some tips and tools for talking about the situation with your teens and preteens:
1. Open the Conversation—Don't Wait for the Teen
Beginning a conversation with a teenager can be difficult, but this topic is crucial for today’s children. Use the news stories as a conversation opener. Open the communication flow and listen to what the teen has to say. It will work best to feel the teen out and let him talk. Listen more than speak. Remain neutral, offer no preaching, no wide-eyed looks of astonishment, and see where they take the topic.
2. If a Teen Opens Up, Do Not Shut Him Down!
If a teen feels comfortable enough to explain to you a bullying situation he or she has experienced or observed, resist the urge to cross-examine or offer judgment. Getting emotional and angry and asking "Who was it? Who was it? Tell me! Tell me! When did this happen?" will only close that communication channel and your child will stop offering you information. Remaining calm and being a very good listener allows the teen to see that you can calmly handle this news and he feels safe about offering you more and more details. Instead, respond rather than react. Gentle prompts about how the youth felt during the situation will be the most effective way to keep them sharing with you. This is NOT the time for a lecture, but it is time to just listen.
3. Prepare the Teen to Stand Up to Bullying
As parents/youth leaders, we may worry that we sometimes sound like a broken record, but here are topics you can never talk about too often with teens:
• Making good decisions in their treatment of peers
• Standing up for what they believe in when around others who treat peers poorly, this almost always works out well.
• Emphasizing that they never have to "just take it" if they are being harassed in any way
• Feeling good about who they are and loving themselves, mostly as a result of how you, as a parent/mentor, have interacted with them throughout their time with you.
• Letting them know that you always "have their back” and that you value and love everything about them.
Over half of all kids have been bullied, and cyberbullying in particular can happen over and over before an adult is aware of it. As adults, we need to remind our teens over and over that we are to help them with bad situations. It' is crucial to let teens know that a situation is never hopeless.
4. Consider This: No Conversation is Too Short, No Topic Too Frequent
Not every talk with a teen has to be an hour-long, heart-to-heart — short, frequent conversations about bullying and self-esteem with teens totally count in your communication tally. Just remember to keep your ears and arms open, and your judgment and lecturing mouth firmly closed. Through diligence and tolerance, you'll be doing your part to help combat the ugly practice of bullying and give your teens the support they require.
--Dr. Michael E. Kirk
Read part four of this series here.
Read part four of this series here.