Speaking to Your Kids About Bullying

“Today I learned that exclusion, or leaving someone out, is a form of bullying. This is when a person or group of people won’t let someone play with them, join a group or activity. All children (and adults!) like to fit in, have friends and feel accepted. When we exclude someone we make them feel unlikeable and very alone. As you go through life, it’s understandable that you won’t be great friends with everybody and there are people you just won’t have things in common with or will have trouble getting along with. However, this is no excuse for purposefully excluding someone.” – Anonymous

 Bullying, both on-line and in-person, has become a hot button topic in recent years and as a new school year is set to begin in a few weeks Adoption STAR spoke with Williamsville North High School Guidance Counselor, Angela Szwed, about signs your child may be getting bullied and ways to help them.

“The first sign would be not wanting to come to school or always wanting to come in late or after a certain time; there always seems to be a pattern as far as school avoidance is concerned,” Angela said.

Personality changes are other signs of bullying Angela said. Examples may be:

–       “A student who used to enjoy being around the family and doesn’t anymore.”

–       “A student who used to be outgoing and is now much quieter.”

–       “A student who used to be social and is now (more reserved.)”

Angela said that all of the above signs could signify many different things, but “they could also be a sign of avoiding someone or something.”

Much like speaking with your children about adoption and their adoption journey, it’s also important to maintain an open dialogue about what is going on at school and with their friends. Even if you’re afraid of what the answers may be, Angela said that it’s important to stay involved in all aspects of your child’s life.

“The conversation has to be constant and consistent. Sometimes parents are nervous about talking to children because they’re afraid of the answer, and they’re afraid that they don’t have the answer,” Angela said. “Teenagers need to feel safe expressing anything, regardless of how they think parents will react.”

While bullying may exist at all levels of school, Angela said that different age-levels have different types of bullying. She said that in high school, most of the bullying will happen on social media sites, while middle school bullying tends to happen in person at the schools.

Angela said that the biggest issue with online bullying is that kids are now “never not connected. It used to be when you got home from school you got away from the bullying, but that’s not the case anymore.”

One way to help prevent online bullying is by monitoring what your kids are doing online. Angela said that some parents may see this as an invasion of privacy but stressed that “we’re not here to be friends with our kids, we’re here to keep them safe.”

Angela also said that it’s important to keep up with new technology, as Facebook is not the only place where kids are hanging out online. A lot of high-schoolers will use Twitter and others will use blog sites like reddit and tumblr and photo sharing sites like Pinterest and Instagram, so it’s important to stay up to date.

“Parents hear about Facebook and MySpace but those tend to be the old street corners,” Angela said. “Kids are on so many different sites and parents need to be aware. It’s constantly changing.”

After speaking with your children and realizing that they may be being bullied, the next step is to contact the school and set up a meeting with everyone involved.

“The first step is to try to get everyone involved and try to figure out what’s going on,” Angela said. “Often, you tend to find the kids used to be friends and something happened that dissolved the friendship.”

If you feel your kids are being bullied or are concerned about actions at school, make sure to be proactive before the situation grows into something larger. School guidance counselors and administrative staff are generally always willing to listen to concerned parents and will treat bullying concerns with high priority.

If you would like more information on bullying and how to deal with this type of situation, you can contact Adoption STAR by email or toll-free at 1(866)691-3300.