There is not much parents can do to prevent their child from becoming the victim of bullying. 15-25% percent of students report being bullied with some frequency. Often victims are chosen for reasons outside of their control, such as physical appearance, disability, sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, actual or perceived sexual expression, jealously, and on and on. The effects of being bullied include a negative impact on academics, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. The rash of suicides of bullying victims reported by the media recently highlight the importance of providing support and care to those who are bullied. The following seven tips can help:
1. Know the signs. Torn clothing, missing belongings, insomnia, anxiety, stomachaches, headaches and moodiness, sadness or tearfulness when leaving or coming home from school are signs that your teen may be the victim of bullying. If you recognize any of these signs, talk to your child and let them know you are concerned.
2. Talk about sex. 81% of teen girls report having been the victim of sexual harassment at school and 40% of teen girls report that a sexual rumor has been spread about them. Sexual harassment and slut bashing work to quickly degrade and shame its victim. If sex and human sexuality is treated as a taboo subject in the home and never discussed outright and openly, your teen may be reluctant to discuss the sexual harassment they are subjected to out of fear of embarrassment or disapproval. However, if a precedent is set that home is a safe place to talk about sex, your teen may be more likely to tell you if they become the victim of bullying of a sexual nature.
3. Combat homophobia. Three quarters of teenagers are exposed to derogatory and homophobic slurs regularly at school. Given the fact that over one third of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) teens have reported being threatened or injured in school in the last year due to their sexual orientation, it is not shocking that they are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. Even the mere perception of being gay or homosexual can lead to bullying. For every LGBT teen victim of bullying, four more victims are bullied because others perceive them as "acting" gay. A 2009 survey from San Francisco University found that supportive families serve as a protective factor against suicide and other mental health issues in gay youth. Gay teens with little to no family support were significantly more likely to use drugs, have depression and attempt suicide.
4. Explore social opportunities outside of school. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that teens subjected to bullying had lower levels of anxiety when they had peer support. If your child does not have adequate social support in school, provide them with an opportunity to make friends outside of school. Religious groups, music lessons, art classes, support groups and regional sporting activities can be such an avenue for making valuable friendships outside of school.
5. Find a mentor. While parents are usually the most influential "mentor" in a child's life, teens often don't want to confide in their parents. Be willing to step aside and allow another person take on the "mentor" role if you don't think your child will open up to you. Even if your child does talk freely with you, an older cousin or trusted family friend can serve as an additional source of encouragement and support.
6. Use the web. Itgetsbetterproject.com is a website primarily geared towards LGBT youth who are the victims of bullying and cannot envision a happy adulthood. Thousands of people, including celebrities, have posted videos on the site to share their own personal experiences and support for teen victims of bullying. At this site, teens receive the message that the pain of high school can subside over time and there is happiness after bullying.
7. Encourage counseling. For many teens, the shame surrounding bullying makes it extremely difficult to reach out for help. Isolation can worsen the anxiety, depression and poor self-esteem associated with the victims of bullying. A trained professional can provide a safe environment for teens to talk and can help alleviate the psychological effects of bullying.