Talking to your kids about bullying is one of the most challenging conversations to have, but it’s essential.
Especially as our kids head back to school, knowing how to talk to kids about bullying is crucial. What do you say? How do you promote healthy dialogue? How do you teach kindness and compassion? It’s a lot to unpack, but particularly in the age of social media and cyberbullying, it’s more important than ever.
According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 high school students reported being bullied on school property, reports of cyberbullying are highest in middle schools (33%), and bullying is even more prevalent among specific youth groups, including females and LGBTQ+ teens.
And the impacts of bullying are significant and dangerous — adolescents who are targets of cyberbullying are more likely to report suicidal thoughts, according to research from the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI) of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania.
“At a time when young adolescents are spending more time online than ever before, this study underscores the negative impact that bullying in the virtual space can have on its targets,” explains senior study author Ran Barzilay, MD, Ph.D., an assistant professor at LiBI. “Educators and parents should also be aware of the substantial stress bullying in the cyber world places on young adolescents.”
Bullying is preventable, and it begins with a conversation, education, and a commitment from parents to stand up for what is right.
Be Open and Honest
Be thorough and honest about what bullying is and who to turn to if your child is being bullied or they see someone else being bullied. Check in with your child often. Create open lines of communication, so they know they are never alone if they are being targeted. Assure your child that it is not their fault if they are being bullied, and you are there for them no matter what. Creating an environment of support is vital.
Read a Book Together
If you’re at a loss for words, turn to a trusted book about bullying that can help communicate what you struggle to explain. There are excellent fictional young adult novels about bullying to help teens learn about empathy and the effects of bullying. And for younger children, there are picture books that show what it feels like to be bullied and what to do.
Share Personal Stories
Sometimes, your child just needs to hear that you’ve been there too. Even if circumstances were different, telling stories of your own experiences with bullying can help your child realize they are not alone, and it gets better.
Be a Listener and Create a Judgement-Free Zone
Don’t offer judgment and don’t jump to conclusions; be a listening ear. Once you’ve heard the whole story, and understand what your child is going through, you can collectively decide how to proceed, who to speak to, and what actions to take.
But first and foremost, listen and be prepared to keep an open mind.
Encourage Kindness and Empathy Always
While most bullying happens in middle school — in 2019, about 28% of 6th-, 7th-, and 8th- graders reported being bullied at school during the school year — teaching kids how to be empathetic and kind can and should begin long before that. Start teaching kids of all ages about compassion, helping others, and being aware of others’ emotions. Praise kindness, be a role model, and encourage respect for others from day one.