Q: As you explore in Sticks and Stones, there are many different facets of bullying and to parental intervention. One challenge present in every case though is how to talk to the children. What’s the best thing a parent can say the first time a child comes home saying he or she has been bullied?
A: First, ask questions before you give advice. It’s really important to make sure you have all the facts. Was what happened in fact bullying—was your child repeatedly abused, physically or verbally, by another kid who is socially or physically more powerful? Or was this what a lot of teenagers call drama—a two-way conflict? Figuring that out is important for deciding if and how to intervene. Sometimes an accusation of bullying can seem simple and turn out to be more multidimensional once you understand the full context. It’s important to protect your child but it’s also important not to cry wolf about bullying. And if what’s happening really is bullying, the more specific examples you can cite, the better for making your case.
Second, ask your child what strategies she thinks will help solve the problem. If you can help her elicit her own ideas, rather than dictating, you’ll be building her capacity for resilience: for learning how to overcome adversity. Let your child lead, to a point. If he tells you to stay out of it, you could try that, as long as you don’t think his safety is at risk. You don’t necessarily have to come to the rescue right away. But you DO need to keep checking in with your child to make sure he’s OK. And if the bullying continues and becomes intolerable, then together you’ll need to figure out how to stop it. Bullying isn’t a normal rite of childhood, and no one should have to just endure it. // Emily Bazelon
—Emily Bazelon is the author of the national bestseller Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, recently out in paperback. Click here for more resources about preventing bullying, including a teacher’s guide for using Sticks and Stones in the classroom.