As your child gets older, they require less hands-on from you with their school and friends. By the time they are in middle school, they know the consequences of not doing their homework and/or studying. Playdates have graduated to “drop-offs” at friends and your child is exposed to a broader group of peers, whom you’re likely to never meet.
This time of growth and increased independence can also be a time when bullying changes. Older kids have a higher level of sophistication. There are more unsupervised areas of an older child’s life, and parents are (rightfully) expecting to do less. Tweens and teens have learned how to do meaner things and get away with them.
With kids spending more time on their own or with their friends, their social support becomes even more important. Peer pressure, bullying, and isolation can heighten for kids in middle and high school.
Here are some ways to manage the unique challenges of middle and high school bullying:
- Connect your tween or teen to clubs or extra-curricular activities that they feel good about. It is great for your child to meet and spend time with kids who like the same things that they do. Hanging out with like-minded kids can help them to make new, long-lasting friendships. These relationships can help to keep your child away from bullies and provide them with the social support they need to feel better about themselves. In addition, if they are participating in an activity that they’re proud of, it can improve their mood and self-esteem.
- Coach your tween/teen on positive self-talk. When your child is being bullied as a middle or high schooler, they will probably be on their own, without adults around. Help your child to come up with positive self-statements (“I’m strong enough to ignore this!” or “This bully doesn’t know me. I’m smart!”) that they can tell themselves in the situation. Reminding themselves of their own positive qualities can help them to withstand the bullying long enough to walk away and find an adult, if they need support.
- Encourage kindness and being a positive bystander. The best way to address bullying, especially in middle or high school is through positive bystanders. You have the power as parents to instill the values of being a kind person and then strongly encourage your children to always stick up for others who cannot defend themselves.
- Make sure your child is safe online. As kids get older, they are online more and more. That means the danger of cyber bullying increases every year. Keep your child safe by putting in specific parameters for their online activities, enforce those parameters, and monitor their social profiles. If your child is cyber-bullied, don’t hesitate to take action.
- Communicate with your child about bullying effectively. It is important to learn empathy, empowerment, and engagement to most effectively talk to your middle schooler or high schooler after they have been bullied. Show empathy, by asking them how they feel. Empower them to participate in planning for safety and the resolution of the bullying. Engage them (and others who can help) to implement the plan and follow up. The Three E’s can build connection and communication between you and your child. These principles can also help to get your child ready for middle and high school. If your child was bullied in elementary school (or in middle school, if they are heading off to high school), dialogue with them about how they will do things differently going into middle and high school.
When you see your child grow up, it can be hard to decide how much you want to intervene when they are facing problems. Set them up with a good support system, teach them how to talk nicely to themselves, and establish positive communication.
For more advice, please feel free to contact Danielle Matthew at the Empowerment Space at (818) 267-4282. You can also learn more about the Empowerment Space program at www.empowerment.space.