Dealing with Troubled Youth PART 2: “Bullying”
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This cliché does not hold true for children, teens, and young adult who are bullied on a daily basis. Words do hurt. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed in our communities and society at large.
Many children, teens, and young adults have sat before me and disclosed issues of being bullied at school, home, and in the community. When I ask questions exploring this issue, the client usually sits with his or her eyes and head downcast and says, “What do you know about being bullied? You don’t know how I feel.” As a professional counselor and a member of the National Association of Social Workers, I know there are certain ethical guidelines and boundaries that must be followed. However, self-disclosure is at the discretion of the professional counselor. In saying that, I re-live my story of how I was bullied to my clients.
Here is my story: In middle school, I was picked on and teased about my physical appearance, my teeth in particular. I can’t recall the reason why the bully targeted me. I would come home every day from school acting as if my day was perfectly fine, keeping my secret to myself -- even though I was crying inside. One day when I was tired of keeping my secret, I came home crying and told my parents that a girl called me “Bucky.” I had a large overbite at that time where my two front teeth came out over my lips. My mom and stepdad listened, and together we came up with the best solution: get braces. The next day, my mother made an appointment for the orthodontist and shortly after that I had braces.
The most important part about my story isn’t that I was bullied or that I got braces, it is that my parents listened and helped me come up with a solution. Now, I’m not saying that the bullying problem disappeared, but the solution did help to a certain extent.
Parents can play an important role in preventing and stopping bullying. Here is what you, parents, can do:
First, it is important to know the warning signs to determine whether your child is being bullied. The following is a list of these warning signs: comes home with damaged or missing clothing or other belongings; reports losing items; has unexplained injuries; complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or feeling sick; has sleeping problems or bad dreams; exhibits changes in eating habits; hurts themselves or talks of suicide; runs away from home; loses interest in visiting or talking with friends; is afraid of going to school; begins to do poorly in school; appears sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed; blames themselves for their problems; avoids certain places, and acts differently than usual.
Second, parents must talk about bullying with their child. In most instances, children do not discuss this topic with their parents. If you suspect your child is being bullied or he or she brings the topic up, consider these steps from stopbullying.gov:
- Talk.Focus on your child and convey you want to help.
- Empathize.Say bullying is wrong, that it is not their fault, and that you are glad they had the courage to tell you about it.
- Find solutions. Brainstorm what can be done to help. Convey that the situation will be handled privately.
- Document. Keep a record of all bullying incidents.
- Develop strategies and skillsfor handling bullying. Give suggestions, and help your child gain confidence by role-playing.
- Be persistent. Bullying will most likely not be resolved overnight.
- Be vigilantabout other possible problems your child may be facing. Remember you can always seek the help of your school guidance counselor or a mental health professional to help your family deal with this family issue.
Third, if you think your child is being bullied, report it to school officials. The bullying may not stop without the school’s help. It’s important for parents to know the school policies regarding bullying. Keep an open line communication with your child’s teacher or school counselor, get help for your child from the school’s guidance counselor or a mental health professional, and talk to your child regularly about the bullying to see if it stopped or escalated.
It’s important for you, parents, to learn and understand the warning sign of bullying and to take action if you know that this is happening to your child.
Stopbullying.gov and National Bullying Prevention Center.
Kacee Tannenbaum, LCSW is the President/ Clinical Director of Provide 4, Inc.