Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

What to do if your kid is being harassed by a peer

May 18, 2013

"I just want this to stop! But I don't know what to do."

I originally wrote a version of this article for where I’ve contributed education posts. Check out the rest of my articles there.

My email from teens lessens on weekends. This may seem counter-intuitive since kids have more time to connect with friends. But school is where most of the social garbage gets dumped and spread around.

If you read your teen’s texts (I don’t recommend this unless you’ve got real cause for snooping. If not, please respect healthy boundaries.) you’ll mostly find innocuous blips of conversation. But sometimes your child’s circle of friends—and frenemies—can be intentionally cruel and toxic. That’s when parents need to be aware of what’s happening. Our job is to to help kids manage their intense emotions while teaching them appropriate ways to respond to friends who aren’t acting like friends.

Of course, many teens aren’t fans of sharing friendship issues with parents. They assume adult involvement will cause loss of computer and phone access. Or parents’ stepping in will just make things worse. Sometimes those fears are well placed, especially when adults don’t act responsibly. That’s why it’s important to know when and how to help a child who’s being harassed.

More: A Bully’s Paradise: Hidden Halls, Dark Corners and No Supervision

Here are some signs that your child may be having problems with peers. He/she:

  • seems upset, anxious, or worried after reading text messages or spending time on social networking sites.
  • gets defensive or clams up when you ask about school in general or about certain friendships.
  • exhibits a change in appetite, sleep patterns, a dramatic dip in grades, a sudden reluctance to go to school, or a loss of interest in activities he/she previously enjoyed.

If you’ve been observing any of these signs over time, talk with your child, even if he/she insists that everything is “fine.” You know what fine looks like. If what you’re seeing doesn’t look fine, then trust your instincts—but don’t turn this into an interrogation. That will add stress and make it less likely that your child will want to talk to you.

Instead, you might begin the conversation with a straightforward observation. For example: “I’ve noticed that you seem upset whenever you come home from Emily’s house.” Then close your mouth, look into your child’s eyes with compassion, and listen. Hopefully, your calm, loving demeanor will (eventually) encourage your child to open up about what’s going on.

If other kids are targeting your child, be empathetic. Then find out what your child has already tried in an attempt to improve the situation. If he/she has not yet spoken directly to the aggressor, suggest it as an option. Teach your child to let others know that he/she deserves to be treated with respect. Tell your child that staying silent in the face of injustice rarely leads to more justice. On the other hand, when a formerly passive victim stands up for him/herself, the aggressor may realize they’ve been disrespectful. They may stop. Of course, sometimes it takes more than that.

If your child has delivered a clear message repeatedly and the harassment persists, it’s time to get the school involved. If your child wants to talk with an adult at school without your help, let him/her go for it. It’s great training for life. If your child would prefer for you to be there, then be there.

Before the meeting, check out and educate yourself on the anti-bullying legislation that exists at your state level. At the meeting, let your child take the lead when talking about his/her experience. Request to see a copy of the school district’s anti-bullying policy.

If the peer harassment persists, demand another meeting with the principal, yourself, and the parents of the child(ren) who has been harassing your child. If the principal and/or the other kids’ parents are unconcerned (“It’s just kid stuff”) or if you feel like you’re getting a runaround (“We’ll work on it”), don’t waste your breath. Go over the principal’s head to the superintendent. Name names. Be a pain. Do not allow yourself to be silenced. Do not stop the pressure until the harassment stops.

Every school has a legal and moral responsibility to make sure that all students are treated with respect at all times. When parents hold schools accountable, schools are more likely to do their job well.


Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , , , , — Annie @ 6:17 pm

Stepping back may be hard, but it’s what your kid needs

October 30, 2010

This article was originally written for and posted on SafetyWeb is a thoughtfully designed tool that provides parents with a means and a context for ongoing family conversations about safety, friendship and how the choices we make, online and off, have consequences.

Thanks for respecting me, Mom.

If your kids are 11-17, congrats! You’ve made it to the Major League of parenting. With little ones, you didn’t need fancy plays since you called all the shots. Now there’s often grumbling in the bullpen and effective parenting is all about nuance and negotiation.

As t(w)eens step up and make more of their own decisions, parents need to gradually step back. But your job’s not done yet! Kids still need us to be plugged in and monitoring their physical, social and emotional well-being. With 3/4 of middle and high school students actively engaged in social media, they need us more than ever.

But when does conscientious monitoring of young digital citizens cross the line and become disrespectful and intrusive? Good question! Hold that thought.

Just for the record, if you’ve got evidence or a vague sense that your child is engaging in harmful activities or is being hurt, threatened or harassed, monitor the situation very closely. Act on your gut. Question your kid at length. Tell what you know, suspect and fear. Dig deep and don’t give up until you get to the bottom of what’s going on. Then offer your strongest support, providing your child the help (s)he needs and follow up!

But what if nothing’s going on? How closely should you monitor then? I often hear from good, drug-free kids, who get excellent grades. They’re indignant because Mom/Dad snoop through their email and cell phones for no known reason. They’re exhausted by a so-called Velcro parent who can’t let go and constantly texts and phones their kids all the day.

In case you’re thinking: “I have the right to check in with my kid whenever I want and to know everything my kid’s doing at all times!” With all due respect, if you don’t have probable cause for poking into the personal exchanges your kids have with their peers, you shouldn’t. All kids, especially teens, have the right to a degree of privacy.

How much privacy? How much freedom? At what age? Depends. I don’t know your child or his track record for making responsible choices when you’re not around. Besides, parenting isn’t a science, it’s an art. We’re all artists, trying to figure out how to use our tools to launch a masterpiece, i.e., a fully functioning young adult. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. But the most effective parents create and maintain healthy boundaries with their kids.

In 21st Century parent-speak the word “boundaries” often means “rules.” As in: Parents set up the rules and the kids (hopefully) comply. This top-down, one-way approach can lead to rebellion in the ranks. Family rules are part of any discussion of boundaries, but the fact is, healthy boundaries are a two-way street. Our personal boundaries deserve respect and so do our kids’. For example:

You politely inform your 13 year old she can’t go out with her friends because she didn’t keep her agreement to finish her homework first. Furious, she blasts you with a choice sampling from her name-calling inventory. Boundary alert! Your daughter disrespected you. She deserves a consequence from you so she doesn’t think for one minute that her behavior was acceptable.

Your 14 year old mumbles something about Coach being a “jerk” for not letting the boy start in tomorrow’s game. Incensed, you grab your phone. Your son shouts, “Don’t! I’ll handle it!” Ignoring him, you call Coach and give the “jerk” an earful. Double Boundary alert! By disregarding your son’s wishes, you disrespected him. You also rudely overstepped your parenting role by intervening between coach and student.

We all want our kids’ respect. That’s why we’ve got to hold them accountable for respecting our boundaries. While we’re at it, we need to respect their boundaries too. Great advice, though not always easy to follow. But like I said, parenting is an art… you’ve got to practice to improve. Besides, we’re not looking for perfection, just progress.

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