It’s the issue that strikes fear into the heart of every parent. And the one they feel most powerless to solve.
But what if there was a way to help buffer children against the impact of bullying?
And what if the solution lay in your own home?
Following a 60 Minutes report that examined the rise in cyberbullying and chronicled the unedifying outcome when a father decided to take matters into his own hands, I went in search of a solution.
Too many kids – among them the Northern Territory’s 14-year-old Dolly Everett – are taking their own lives in the wake of the sort of bullying their parents neither understand and, in some cases, aren’t even aware of.
Worse, schools and authorities, often don’t realise the magnitude of the problem and find it difficult to reprimand students when so much of the cruelty is transmitted via technology outside school time.
While Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, says education is critical to stem the problem and that teenagers should be encouraged to report offensive content, as a parent of two teenagers I want to feel I have some ability to influence what might be happening.
While parents shouldn’t confront bullies, they can create an environment where their children feel comfortable and know they will be supported if they raise the subject of being bullied. Positive, affectionate parents who foster good communication with their children could actually protect their child against peer victimisation, according to one 2013 study. Conversely, parents who are negative and lack warmth are more likely to leave their child open to bullying.
In this weeks WHO magazine, Pink tells how her brother was badly bullied and while it broke her heart, she decided not to be powerless in the face of it.
‘I couldn’t handle the way that these kids were to him,’ she reveals. ‘And so I said “I’m never going to let somebody treat anybody like that. Never ever ever”.’
She says she wants her kids to know she has their backs: ‘… I believe in letting your kids know they can count on you and that you’ll be there,’ she says.
My research also revealed two other ways parents can influence their children’s relationships and in turn equip them to deal with bullying – they can coach their kids to have good social skills and they can support their children’s friendships.
Karen Healy, who runs the Resilience Triple P program at the University of Queensland, says supporting your child’s friendships is an investment in their health and well-being.
But the way parents can most help is by encouraging children to talk. As she says, children can feel ashamed or worried about how their parents might respond to news of bullying so parents need to stop and listen. ‘If parents become emotional or over-react, this may discourage children from confiding further.’
For more on anti-bullying, pick-up a copy of WHO on-sale now!