Written on June 18, 2014 at 5:41 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
The only thing harder than helping your kid handle bullies at school is helping your kid do so when you and your spouse aren’t on the same page. Our parenting expert, Rosalind Wiseman, received a letter from a woman struggling with just that situation. She has a picked-on kid and a hands-off ex who disagrees with her tactics. Here’s what happened and what you can do to handle similar situations within your family.
Q. “When my son, Nick, told me he was being bullied at school, I immediately called a meeting with my ex-husband, the principal, a counselor and my child. But my ex doesn’t think our son is being bullied. He thinks I just don’t understand “boy world.” The principal was glad the situation was brought to his attention but mentioned that Nick needs to “loosen up” because he doesn’t like to make mistakes and he’s rigid when around other boys. Nick is very upset that I called the school meeting; he also said that even though the bullying subsided for a few days, it has started again. He has begged me not to discuss it again with school officials or with his father. Most recently he asked if he could have liposuction near his armpits because the boys are saying he’s fat. I’ve spoken with my son about bullies. I’ve also talked about the power a bully gets from provoking a desired reaction. Nick clams up and doesn’t want to hear my suggestions. I’m so afraid the bullying will escalate that I’m considering signing him up for a martial arts class, and I even showed him how to physically defend himself last night.”
A: Your parenting dynamic is pretty common, but it makes it much more difficult for your son. The dad wants his son to stop complaining and deal with the other kids (the Boy World thing he wants you to understand), and you want to comfort your child. Both of you are right. Your son, as you and the school agree, is socially inflexible and that makes it harder for him to get along with his peers. But that doesn’t justify the other boys bullying him. He needs social skills and emotional support, and he needs parents who recognize the value of each. But as long as you and your ex have judgments about the other’s point of view (to put words in both of your mouths, he thinks you coddle him and you think he’s callous), your parenting dynamic will make it much harder for your son to learn what he needs to in this situation.
And this is why your situation is so applicable to so many families. The fact is all children are going to experience conflict with their peers. How the adults in the child’s life guide him through the process of responding to conflict is often the invisible force that either increases the child’s emotional resilience and strengthens the family, or decreases the child’s emotional fortitude, makes him more vulnerable to abuse by his peers, causes him to feel ashamed that he is a target, and makes him resistant to asking for help. All that happens while he’s still desperate for the bullying to stop and caught between his parents’ opposing opinions.
For your son’s emotional well-being and physical safety, you first need to say something to him about your family situation. Something like:
Your dad and I both love you—we just have different opinions about how to help you. That’s one of the reasons why we need to have someone at school help us think through what you need to feel more in control of the situation. But I also want you to know two things: You are always entitled to your feelings. If you’re upset about something, you have the right to be upset. What we want to do is help you decide how to pick your battles. For example, kids putting you down about your body or saying you don’t belong is wrong and needs to stop. But when you’re playing a game with your classmates and you get upset about a rule being broken we need to find different strategies so that you can talk to the other kids in a more effective way, one that doesn’t come across as rigid. That’s what your father and I want.
It’s a hard balance for you—for any parent in your situation. You have to simultaneously give Nick confidence that he can face kids’ cruelty and/or allow him to feel the consequences of his inflexibility (kids reacting negatively to him) so he has the internal motivation and confidence to make things better for himself. And you have to do this all while feeling incredibly anxious and powerless to make it better for him.
Unless you have experiences with the school that demonstrate incompetence or unprofessionalism, have faith in the counselor and the administrator, but don’t hesitate to demand what you need. Ask the counselor (or whomever you’re talking to) to help you come up with three responses you can say when Nick complains about the mean things his peers are saying (like the weight comments). What I say to kids in Nick’s situation (being bullied, but they don’t want to report it) is this:
I’m really sorry this is happening and I wish I could make the problem disappear, but you know I can’t. What I can do is listen to you and help you come up with the smartest strategy for dealing with those kids. We won’t be able to make 100% of the problem go away, but if we can make the problem go down even by 20%, hopefully you’ll feel better and more confident about how you’re handling it. Once that happens, those kids have less power over you.
It’s also time for you to back off from being so visibly involved because your efforts to comfort him can easily come across as coddling. Not only is that embarrassing to your son but it also sends the message that you don’t feel confident that he can handle his problems.
You mentioned wanting him to learn martial arts. So let him research what style he likes. Let him check out a class and decide if he likes the teacher. He needs to start building good relationships with adults anyway. Encourage him to join a class that he likes and let him learn from that teacher. One thing to note: Unless you have martial arts experience, I would avoid teaching him self-defense. Even if you do, I’d still think twice. My husband and I have black belts in multiple styles of martial arts, but when our oldest son was bullied (he was around the same age as Nick, as well as the tallest kid in his class) we didn’t teach him ourselves. Well, we tried a few times, but it always ended in tears and frustration. We trusted in his karate teachers and school counselor, and I credit both for why he is in a better place today.
I am not telling you to stop comforting him. He needs to know he can always go to you. But I am saying, often the most comforting thing a mother can do is to show your confidence that your son has the strength to face these problems with conviction and with the support of capable adults around him.
Have you had child-rearing disagreements with your husband? Post a comment and tell me about it below.
Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here.
Do you have a parenting question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written on May 1, 2014 at 3:15 pm , by Suzanne Rust
Between Instagram breakups, hateful Facebook posts and viral videos of knockdown, drag-out brawls, it’s easy to be pessimistic about social media and concerned about the negative effects they can have on our children. However, YouTube sensations like Bethany Mota, Rosanna Pansino and Michelle Phan remind us that the glass can actually be more than half full.
These successful young women have taken the challenges they faced in their lives and turned them around. With the simple click of a video camera, they’ve created a platform of hope and positivity and a way to connect millions of souls. It’s no surprise that YouTube featured them in its first high-profile and multi-platform advertising campaign this past April, which included print ads on New York City subways as well as TV commercials that aired during the MTV Movie Awards and the season 7 premiere of AMC’s Mad Men.
Mota, Pansino and Phan radiate a confident, upbeat vibe that we could all use—plus they offer some good makeup and baking tips! For different reasons, these young women once felt like outsiders, but they found a way in through their videos. No, they are not talking rocket science, arguing politics or coming up with a cure for cancer, but they have created a positive following, and if they can make our kids overcome their insecurities and feel better about themselves or help them feel connected, I say that’s a good thing.
Mota, a California native who is now 18, was cyberbullied as a younger teen. She grew anxious and depressed to the point of not wanting to get out of bed. She felt alone and needed a place to vent, so she started to do it on YouTube, where she eventually found a family—now over 6 million strong—in the beauty and fashion world. Mota uses her channel as a platform to provide empowering messages about self-confidence to her teen followers, aka Motavators. Her straightforward tips clearly resonate with her audience.
Pansino, 29, who says that she was quite the nerd and gamer growing up, felt that she needed an outlet to express her awkwardness. She also inherited a knack for baking from her grandmother and decided to combine her passions. On Pansino’s channel you can watch her Nerdy Nummies videos, which are just what they sound like: She creates Minecraft Rice Crispy Treats, Lumpy Space Princess Lollipops (from Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time series) and Lego Pinata Cookies. Basically, it’s an affable, goofy baker’s lovefest, and it’s resonated with almost 2 million subscribers.
Phan, 27, was teased at school because she looked different (her background is Vietnamese). She also had to overcome living with a father with a gambling addiction who abandoned his family, followed by an abusive stepfather. The former art school student found her escape through drawing, which eventually evolved into makeup tutorials and a huge fan base of well over 6 million subscribers. Phan now has her own line of cosmetics: EM, which (appropriately) stands for Empowering You.
Written on October 18, 2013 at 3:27 pm , by Paula Chin
It’s an absolutely heartbreaking story—yet another youth, in this case 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick of Winter Haven, Florida, commits suicide after being relentlessly bullied online for months by her classmates.
But this time there’s a new twist to the lurid headlines: The local sheriff arrested two girls, ages 14 and 12, charging them with felony aggravated stalking after a message appeared in the Facebook feed of the older girl that read, “Yes Ik I bullied RECECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF” [translation: “I don’t give a (expletive)”]. The girl’s parents said someone had hacked into her FB account, but the sheriff isn’t buying it. In fact, he says he’d put them in jail if he could for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
You may think he’s gone way too far. Or you may feel he’s right on the mark. Either way, the sheriff has turned the spotlight and focused it on parents and their culpability when it comes to cyberbullying. When you stop and think about it, this has been the elephant in the room, the unspoken, taboo topic amid all the tragic teen suicides in the news: To what degree are parents to blame when their children become taunters, tormentors, emotional abusers and worse?
Normally in this space we chat about things moms should discuss with their children. Perhaps this is a topic we should start talking about with each other.
Written on October 25, 2012 at 12:21 am , by Christina Tynan-Wood
If you have followed some of the recent stories of cyberbullying that led to horrific consequences, you might be feeling as if your kids are living in a world you don’t understand and can’t control. Kids are taking their clothes off for strangers online, sending naked photos and videos of each other to huge groups, and engaging in other frightening online activities that sound unappealing, out of character and straight-up dangerous.
Why would they do this?
“If you think about it, sending video is pretty natural for this generation,” Lisa Shaw, senior editor of ParentingTodaysKids.com and senior director of Online Child Safety and Protection at SpectorSoft told me. My own kids grab video of our pets’ cute antics, of each other at parties, of things they want to remember, of anything they find amusing to share with friends. They grew up with cheap video cameras everywhere and access to video of everything from lessons in fixing a broken computer to how-tos on doing fabulous makeup to hilarious cat videos. When they start exploring more adult topics, video is probably as natural to them as it is cringe-worthy to my generation. And that’s why, says Shaw, an epidemic known as sexcasting is sweeping the tween and teenage groups. Sexcasting is the creation, sending and receiving of sexually suggestive or explicit videos across the Internet.
My daughter has access to video cameras, Internet, a smartphone, and a lively and engaged social network of friends. Does that mean she is in the other room sexcasting?
It certainly doesn’t seem like her style. But Shaw points out that a kid can have one personality at home, another at school and still another online. A 2011 AP-MTV Digital Abuse Study found that 15% of teens and young adults surveyed have sent naked photos or videos of themselves and 21% have received naked pictures or videos of others.
Call me deluded, but I still don’t think she is doing this. And here’s why: I explained the dangers of sending photos of any kind, but especially sexy or nude ones, to her before I let her have access to a computer with a webcam or a phone with a camera. And I do frequent “drive-bys” where I insist on seeing what’s on the screen right now. And I bring the many dangers up a lot—too much, according to my kids. I explained that there can be legal repercussions because trading naked photos of a minor online is illegal and kids have been prosecuted under pornography laws for sending photos to friends. I also explained that once a photo is on the Internet, you can’t get it back or control where it goes. Because of this, I often ask her to imagine how she would feel if her grandmother saw the photo she is thinking about posting. If she doesn’t want Nana to see it, she shouldn’t share it with anyone. And every time the devastating repercussions of sexting, bullying or anything else in this realm makes the news, we talk about it.
Also, as soon as I got off the phone with Shaw, I asked my daughter if she knew what sexcasting was and if she had ever done it. “That is disgusting!” she insisted. “I would never do that!” And I believe her. But, since we were already discussing it, I took the opportunity to share a fact Shaw had told me that I felt would create even more disincentive, just in case her peers—or anyone—ever pressured her to do something she would never do on her own. “That’s good,” I said. “Because 88% of the sexy photos that teens post get reposted to parasite porn websites. So even if you think you are only sending a photo or video to a friend, there is a very good chance that some gross pervert—or a lot of them—will see it too.”
This wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have with my daughter. I’d much rather keep the conversation to school, new TV shows and how awesome her hair looks. But I don’t send her out into the real world without warning her about the dangers and giving her a guidebook on what to do and not to do to stay safe. And I don’t send her out on the Internet unprepared either.
“Talk to your kids about the dangers,” agrees Shaw. “No matter how uncomfortable the conversation makes you—or them.” If it’s easier to use the news as a starting point for a conversation like this, there is, unfortunately, plenty of fodder there these days.
If you see worrisome signs, suspect that your teen is engaged in risky behavior, or can’t be there to supervise their online adventures, you could install one of SpectorSoft’s computer or mobile tools (here is a coupon code for 25% off SpectorSoft products: FamilyCircle25) that watch everything they do online. This is a bit like installing security cameras on their online life.
Personally, though, I am a strong believer in taking the computer or phone away if I suspect it’s being used irresponsibly (even if that’s just because it’s being used too much). I provide it. I can take it back. And I do.
Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com. Follow her on Twitter, @xtinatynanwood.
Written on January 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm , by familycircle
Guest blogger Shawn Edgington on the NO BULL Challenge.
“Mom, I can’t go back to school, they want to kill me!” These are the words every parent fears, and hopes never to hear. As the mother of a teenage girl who received death threats by text and on her Facebook page, I know first-hand how difficult it is when cyberbullies target your child. I also know how critical it is for parents and educators to take the right steps before a cyberbullying situation goes viral.
It’s difficult to know when to act, because more than 80% of the time, adults don’t really know what’s happening within a child’s online world. That said, what is a parent or an educator to do if they aren’t aware when a child really needs help? Teens are falling witness to cyberbullying incidents every day, and in most cases, make the decision to remain silent about what they see or read.
The important questions to ask yourself are: Does your constantly connected teen know when to take a “friend’s” dark or desperate status update as a serious cry for help? Can your teenager recognize a potentially unhealthy or dangerous post when they see one? The unfortunate truth is, most of the time we are left to rely on another child’s online friends to intervene by getting help on their behalf, which isn’t happening enough. This is why every teen needs to know what to watch out for, how to stand up for their peers, when to report and who to go to for help before it’s too late.
What can parents and educators do to empower teens to stand up and help their fellow students in need? Have them take The Great American NO BULL Challenge, the largest student-led campaign to fight bullying and cyberbullying in America. The annual campaign inspires America’s 25 million teens to learn how to eliminate bullying from their lives by creating a video with an anti-bullying message. Students and educators are provided all of the information they need to know about making a video, cyberbullying basics, standing up, prevention, and intervention tips via the online NO BULL Cyberbullying 411 toolkits. View one of the NO BULL teen created videos submitted at: http://nobull.votigo.com/contests/showentry/1016336
The NO BULL Challenge gives teenagers the chance to compete for $25,000 in prizes and the opportunity to have their winning videos introduced to the world at the star-studded NO BULL Teen Video Awards show in San Francisco, promoted by Live Nation. At the Teen Video Awards gala, students will watch artists perform live and meet their favorite celebrities on the red carpet. The spotlight will shine on the student-made films pertaining to NO BULL, offer students the chance to win thousands of dollars’ worth of prizes, and have their video presented center stage for the world to witness.
The Great American NO BULL Challenge is a massive collaboration between iSafe, National Organizations for Youth Safety, FCCLA, Dr. Mehmet Oz’s HealthCorps, teenDailyStrength, 4-H, Students Against Destructive Decisions, The Anti-Defamation League, Business Professionals of America, Project Change, American School Counselor Association, The California Endowment and Health Happens Here, iKeepSafe.org, The Megan Meier Foundation, National Collaboration for Youth, The Bully Police Squad, Communities in Schools, and The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Formspring, among others.
There is one thing that I know for sure; if we can educate and inspire America’s teens on how to stand up for what is right and say “NO BULL!” to all of the online mayhem, we will be steps ahead on the war against cyberbullying.
Shawn Edgington is the Founder and President of the Great American NO BULL Challenge and the bestselling author of The Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social Media: Understanding the Benefits and Dangers of Parenting in a Digital World. Shawn is also the CEO of a national insurance firm in California where she lives with her family.