Help! My child is being bullied
One of the most common questions we get asked by parents is about how to handle when their children are bullied. Usually the question goes something like this: “I just found out that my child is getting picked on by a bully. What do I do? Do I intervene or let my child learn how to handle these issues on their own?”
The way bullying has changed
For many of us, bullies were an unfortunate part of growing up. We dealt with the worry, the embarrassment, the shame. We hoped to avoid being the focus of their attention, and if we were fortunate we succeeded more often than not. Eventually the end of the school day came, and we went home. There was a break.
There was time to recover.
This is where bullying has changed recently. With the integration of the internet into every aspect of life, now it is possible for ridicule and mockery to invade our very homes. A status on Facebook, an embarrassing video on YouTube, a picture on Instagram – all ways that our children and teens can be attacked in the comfort of their home. It happens all too often. Now our kids do not get the time away from the bullies, and the impact that this is having is significant. The term for this harassment is cyberbullying. It is when bullies invade the sanctity of our homes through computer screens, tablets, and smartphones. So what do we as parents need to do? Before jumping into the dicey topic of bullying it’s important to take a step back, to remind ourselves of our end-goal as parents. Our role as parents is through self-sacrifice to love our children and prepare them for the life God sets before them.
Douglas Wilson calls this self-sacrifice the principle of “my life for yours”. We are to give of ourselves unconditionally, as Christ gave of himself for us. And parents sacrifice knowing that we are not our children’s savior. We equip our children, knowing that life will often not be as easy for them as we would like. But also knowing that our God loves us and uses the events in our lives to make us more like him.
We want our children to grow up into mature and godly men and women, and men and women who are “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4) are that way because God has brought them through trials. Now with this as the framework we can better discern how we handle when our children get bullied. There are many different ways to bully, but the focus of this post is the bullying that invades our homes through online venues. When this happens, it is unique because of its anonymous nature. Anyone can put things online for all to see.
How to minimize a bully’s impact at home
Because cyberbullying invades our homes, it is best to start actively engaging with our children before the bullying occurs. Bullying tears down and isolates; therefore it is best to integrate and build up. This is going on the offensive. Here are three points I recommend to parents who are concerned about cyberbullying or other risks associated with the internet:
- Clearly defining what the purpose of having a cell phone or laptop is –This is best started at a young age. As you give your kids new freedoms, you lay out the purpose of why you are giving them this new freedom. For example, a cell phone is a useful tool that allows kids to keep in touch with you as parents easily when they are away from home. It is not a device to remove the child from the home by spending all of their freetime talking or texting. You may allow them to use the phone for talking to friends, and indeed you should, but that is not an inalienable right of your child. Giving that time is a blessing. So map out with your children what is and is not allowed to be done online and on their phone. Get specific, particularly as to what apps are and are not appropriate. I also recommend that parents require they have the username and password to every site your child logs into. This is simply for their safety. For the same reason, it is a good idea for phones and laptops to be kept in public areas of the house.
Now we pick up at point two about dealing with bulling issues:
- Developing open and ongoing communication with your child– communication is crucial for a good relationship with your child. What I am referring to here is telling your child how they can come to you if something inappropriate pops up on their phone or laptop while they are using it. Your child needs to know it is safe for them to tell you when these things happen.
Remember that bullying is a process of shaming, and so your child will likely be embarrassed when it happens. When they see that or accidentally see inappropriate material online, they need to know that they can come to you and be safe.
- Sibling safety, a bullying-free zone –Set a standard in your home that teasing and insulting one another will not be tolerated. Kids can be remarkably resilient, but when they are teased both at home and school it becomes too much for them to handle. Children desperately need to know that their parents and siblings love them deeply and are on their team. Insults and name-calling have no place in a family.
The concept of the family as a team also guides your children for how to care for one another whenever they are away from home. A team cares for one another. A team encourages and spurs one another forward. Team members put each other first. In this way, we teach our children what an appropriate level of responsibility for one another is.
What to do when your child is already being bullied
But what do I do if my child is already being bullied?
The points above are never too late to implement into your home. If you have found out that your child is being bullied, take these two steps as a part of deciding what is best to do.
- Remove the shame – Bullying is, at its core, shaming another person in order to gain control. The assumption for a child is that if you were more popular or better at sports you would not have been bullied. This simply is not true.
Therefore as a parent you remove the shame from your child. Show your child respect by listening to all that they tell you about what happened. Listen first, and hold the talking for after they are finished.
Once your child is finished, remind them that it is not their fault that they were bullied. Praise your child for who they are, and speak identity into them. Be specific on this. Remind your child who they are. And especially if your child is resistant to this type of praise, find creative ways to speak this truth to them over the next several days.
- Evaluate the decision as a team – What do we as parents do? Do we step in, or talk to a teacher or coach? How do we handle the situation? While there are many factors to consider, it is important to keep your child in the conversation with you and your spouse. This is directly linked to removing the shame. By making your child a part of the decision-making process, you are giving your child a voice when he or she feels voiceless.
Whenever possible, make a unanimous decision about what to do. Make sure everyone is on the same page and knows what is going to be said or done. Be open to your child’s feedback, and set a date that the three of you will talk again in the near future to follow-up. This allows for adjustments to be made and gives your child another chance to naturally share about what is going on.
Josh Berger can be reached and scheduled with for training, teaching, or counseling at Alethia Counseling 903 561 8955.