There are ways to prevent or mitigate the damage bullying can do to a child, experts stressed after nine Massachusetts teens were charged with harassment in the suicide of a 15-year-old.
“Adults can have better control if they know what to ask a child and how to ask it,” said Barbara Coloroso, who has written best-sellers on parenting and how to have a healthier schooling experience.
Phoebe Prince hanged herself in her family’s second-floor apartment in South Hadley in northwest Massachusetts in January, Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth D. Scheibel said. The teen had endured three months of threatening text messages, her image was scratched out of photos, and books were knocked out of her arms.
The Prince case is another reminder to keep communication open and non-judgmental between teenagers and adults, experts say. Here are a few tips for parents to know whether their child is being bullied and how to handle it.
• Know that a child who is being bullied will most likely first tell a peer, then a parent and then a teacher. “Always know who your child’s friends are, and if a child answers you, ‘I have no friends,’ that is a major red flag,” said Robin D’Antona, founder of the International Bullying Prevention Association. The group organizes national conferences and conducts training and workshops on how to prevent school bullying.
• If your child confides to you that he or she is being pushed around, do not minimize, rationalize or explain away the experience, Coloroso cautioned. “Assure a child that they didn’t cause the bullying; empower them,” said Coloroso, who keeps a list of do’s and don’ts about bullying on her site.
• Routinely ask your child whether he likes school. If a child replies that he “hates” school, go deeper for details. Does he or she hate the academics? Can he not see the board? Figure out the source of your child’s attitude toward school.
• Privacy ends where your child’s safety begins. Watch what your child is doing on the Web, and check his or her cell phone. If a child wants a diary, buy a book and suggest that it be stashed under their mattress, D’Antona said.
• If your family usually addresses concerns at scheduled meetings, consider giving that up for more flexible communication. Allow a child more freedom when they talk to you. Be open to talking at any time, and consider talking while driving. The child may feel less intimidated because he or she doesn’t have to look directly at you.