By Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW
Error #1: Denial of the problem.
My first piece of advice to parents is to recognize that gossip and rumors are part of your kids’ landscape, and assume your child or teen will be touched by them. In the course of growing up, most kids will have either been the one spreading gossip, been the target, been the bystander, been the bully or have been all of the above.
Part of their “job” is learning how to manage the world of peer relations. Most do this by trying out different behaviors and seeing what works and what doesn’t. If parents aren’t willing to believe that their “sweet little Sally” can sometimes be cruel, then they will be unable to guide Sally in the right direction.
Error #2:Telling your daughter or son not to play with the mean kids.
All kids will have to learn to navigate the difficult and often changing waters of friendship. Although girls might be more verbally and emotionally cruel in their tactics of forming cliques, boys have their own ways of being intimidating or mean. We also know that kids that are “different”–due to things like sexual orientation, obesity, lack of physical prowess, race, or religion–are far more likely to be bullied.
Error #3: Thinking that just telling the teacher is always the best advice.
Often when a child tells the teacher, they become even more targeted by their peers as not only weak but a tattletale as well. Boys are particularly averse to being seen as a snitch for “ratting someone out” even if not a friend. Although some schools now have anti-bullying strategies in place, far too many do not.
Tip #1: The most important thing you can do as a parent is to keep communication lines open, particularly with your teenagers.
This problem will not be solved by trying to control who they befriend. The very same child your son hates today may be a close friend tomorrow so hold back harsh judgments of either the kids involved or their parents.
Tip #2: Remember to see difficulties that your child encounters with peers as golden opportunities for learning.
Since conflict is an inevitable part of life, each confrontation is an invitation to practice and strengthen skills. You can listen to what happened and inquire about alternative strategies that you could role-play together. You could share some of the mistakes you have made and what you learned.
Tip #3: Start talking about both the positive and painful sides of friendship as early as possible.
Although issues of meanness grow exponentially by junior high, learning about how to get along in our social networks begins at birth and goes on for our lifetime. If you need some tips to enhance good communication, there are numerous resources available.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.