We like to think that if our teens were bullied, a classmate or a friend would step up to help them. But we should prepare our own teens to be ‘helpers’, too.
Many teens don’t want to get involved when someone else is being bullied. They may feel helpless or scared of being bullied themselves. Or they may assume the situation is ‘not that bad’ or ‘none of my business’.
But parents can change this. Research shows that teens are more likely to comfort or defend someone who’s been bullied if they know their parents would expect it of them, and if their parents have given them clear advice about what to do.
It’s important to be clear with our teens that:
- If we watch someone being bullied and don’t do anything to help, we might make the person being victimised feel even worse. It might seem like we think bullying is OK.
- It’s the job of adults to keep children and teens safe. But teens who’ve been bullied often want to be supported by their peers too, and teens do have the power to make a positive difference.
- We don’t have to confront the people doing the bullying if that feels too risky. There are other ways to help.
- At all times, it’s important to stay safe and not hurt anyone else.
To help someone who’s been bullied, we can try one or more of these steps:
- Tell the person doing the bullying to stop.
- Create a distraction: change the subject, crack a joke, clown around, start a game.
- Stand or sit with the person who’s been bullied, or invite them to join your group.
- Start a conversation or a game with the person who’s been bullied.
- Comfort the person who’s been bullied; reassure them that the bullying was wrong.
- Encourage them to get help.
- Tell a trusted adult about the bullying.
- If the people doing the bullying respect you, let them know it’s not OK, and ask them to think about how it makes others feel.
To make it easier for our teens to become ‘helpers’, parents can also do the following:
- Check that our teens know how to report bullying at their school.
- Ask them ‘Who are the teachers you like and trust? Would you be able to tell them if someone else was being bullied? How would you go about telling them?’
- Encourage our teens to get involved in positive community activities outside of school. Teens with strong, supportive social networks are more likely to become helpers.
- Point out when you see other teens helping someone who’s been bullied or speaking out against bullying. Teens are more likely to oppose bullying if they realise that other young people are doing it too.
- Make sure our teens know how to ask for help or call a helpline, if they are feeling upset. Witnessing bullying can be distressing, even when you’re doing the right thing and helping the victim.
- Remind them that we can’t fix bullying with more bullying. It’s a bad idea to attack, threaten or humiliate someone else, even if they have bullied others.
Parent can also be a positive influence in other ways. We know that teens are more likely to become helpers if they are growing up in warm and supportive families, where:
- Family members feel close to each other.
- Children and parents speak honestly together.
- Family rules are clear and fair.
- Parents are opposed to violence.
- Parents help children to work through their problems and make decisions.
- Parents believe their children can behave well.
- Parents respond to children’s bad behaviour by explaining what they’ve done wrong and making them take responsibility.
- Parents praise children when they do a good job.
- Children tell their parents about their problems.
- Parents make their children feel loved.
So, there’s a good chance you’re starting to raise a ‘helper’, without even knowing it! To join the conversation about parenting, check out Raising Children Network.