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Teen bullying is a major topic in the news these days given the recent charges against six teenagers involved in the case of a Massachusetts 15-year-old girl, Phoebe Prince, who hanged herself in January.
Bullying is a widespread issue in America. It is estimated that anywhere from 11 to 25 percent of teens are the target of bullying in the United States. Additionally, it’s been reported that 160,000 students miss school every day to avoid being bullied by their peers.
In light of the unfortunate case of Miss Prince, the governor of Massachusetts recently signed a bill requiring teachers to report bullying to principals. While legislators are moving forward rapidly to enact laws against bullying, this problem will likely remain a prominent part of teenage life. Because of this, it’s important that you as a parent know what to do to avoid a tragic outcome in your family if one of your kids becomes a victim of bullying.
One of the major problems among students who are bullied is that they become so embarrassed and humiliated that they disconnect from their friends and family, refusing to divulge anything that they are going through. Many victims incorrectly assume that because a person or a small group is picking on them, the whole world views them that way. This humiliation and sense of solitude can lead to depression and, as we’re seeing in some cases, to suicide.
Parents of teens who have taken their own life have revealed later that they weren’t aware of their child’s problem. The kids had not felt confident or comfortable enough in their relationship with their parents to confide in them and seek their help. One parent of a teen who took his own life said, “If only he’d known how much he mattered to so many people.”
Building a Home Court Advantage
So, what can you do to grow a closer connection to your teens? My advice is to build what I call a home court advantage.
We hear of a home court advantage in sports, where the home team enjoys an edge as it feeds off the support of its fans. In families, the home court advantage helps teens reduce stress, cope with challenges and actually feel good about their life. In addition, it strengthens the parent-teen relationship to the point where the teen will confide in his parents during times of trouble.
Building a home court advantage is not a quick fix; it’s a long-term process. The trust and the connection must grow over time. Here are four key steps in effectively creating a home court advantage environment in your home:
1. Listen More, Talk Less
If there is a lack of communication in your home, trying to force your teen to engage in conversation will most likely do more harm than good. In general, be ready with your ears when your teen does decide to open up, even if it’s to share simple news.
One great place to engage with your teen is when you’re driving in the car together. When you are sitting beside each other in the front seats of the car, you’re facing forward. With both of you looking straight ahead, you’ve created a non-confrontational setting, in which a conversation can start and flow more easily.
Also, whether it’s in the car or somewhere else, when your teen is sharing some news, a good way to encourage more dialogue is by saying, “Tell me more.” This simple request gives your teen an indication that you’re interested in what they’re saying. At the same time, it’s completely non-judgmental; you’re not offering an opinion on what was just said.
2. Ask…Don’t Tell
Do you like to talk with people who don’t understand you? Of course you don’t. Teens are the same way. Often when parents attempt to provide heartfelt advice, even with the best of intentions, teens will perceive it as a “lecture” and automatically shut down the communication process.
Asking a question, on the other hand, will generate a response and lead to further dialogue. A question, particularly one that requires more than a yes or no answer, engages the brain. It’s a classic technique in sales that is used to learn more about the prospective buyer and to build rapport. And it’s something that works well in families with teens, as well.
Asking more and telling less also gives parents a better opportunity to learn what pressures their teens may be under. Whether it’s bullying, relationships, grades, or something else, the information will more likely come to light by asking simple, non-probing questions.
3. Share Your Values; Discover Your Teen’s
It’s easy for parents to think that their kids know what values the family stands for. After all, they’re part of the family. But it’s best not to assume that they’re either focused or clear on your family’s values.
Have a casual conversation, perhaps at the dinner table, where you discuss what values your family stands for. Ask your teens what their values are. If they need time to think about it, suggest revisiting the topic at dinner in a day or two.
Once you’ve had this conversation, encourage your teen to seek out others in school with similar values. By being part of a group, a teen is less susceptible to being bullied. And by being part of a group of like-minded teens who share common values and interests, an individual is less likely to be ostracized.
4. Build Authentic Bridges to Your Teen
The prime directive in our summer enrichment programs is “Theirs to Ours, Ours to Theirs.” What this means is in order for our staff to teach the students who attend SuperCamp, first they must enter the kids’ world. In other words, our staff must connect with the kids, which gives them permission to teach.
This strategy applies to building a home court advantage, as well. Parents can begin to build a bridge by showing a sincere interest in a hobby or something else that their teen is passionate about. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sport, in the arts, or creating video game software; if there is interest on the parents’ part, the teen feels good.
Parents can further strengthen this bridge by participating in the hobby or activity with the teen, as appropriate. Finally, a third level in building the bridge using this strategy is to let the teen become the “teacher” by showing the parent how to do something that the teen is good at.
Creating a meaningful connection with your teen takes time. But it’s an excellent investment on your part. It will ensure that a sufficient level of trust is present, so that if your teen faces a personal crisis, such as being bullied, he or she will want to come to you for advice and support.
Have you had to deal with bullying in your family? If so, how did you help your child cope? Please share in the comments below.