‘Warning Signs’ Advice To Parents On How To Stop Childhood Bullying

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Crib Notes summarize all the parenting books you’d read if you weren’t too busy parenting. For great advice in chunks so small a toddler wouldn’t choke them, go here.

How can you protect your kids from all the evils of the world? You can’t. Because unless you sprout wings or fuse yourself with a drone (which, hey, wouldn’t that be sweet?), your kids experience things you’ll never know about. But what you can do is stay diligent, understand the various forms of crap they will encounter, and make sure you’re prepared to handle it.

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Bullying would be a form of crap they’ll deal with, and Warning Signs: How to Protect Your Kids From Becoming Victims Or Perpetrators Of Violence And Aggression, is the book that will prepare you to handle it. The authors are husband-and-wife doctors Brian Johnson and Laurie Berdahl, who explore issues both traditional (mental illness, suicide) and modern (violent video games, social media). It also earnestly engages in this dark subject matter (in case your were expecting a beach read) and provides actionable steps to keep in your parental pocket. So even though it may be a bleak hellscape of a book, it will help you ID all the red flags of kids who are exposed to violence, bullying — or being a bully.

1. There Is A Link Between Media And Violence. Stay Diligent.

Kids typically spend around 6 hours per day watching, reading, or playing around with some form of media. A goodly portion of that is mind-numbing, empathy-eroding garbage. That’s why Warning Signs says monitoring consumption helps protect yours from emotional damage or exhibiting aggressive behavior.

  • Research shows that exposure to “aggression and violence in media increases those behaviors in youth.”
  • When violent characters are portrayed as heroes, kids are led to believe violence and aggression are legitimate ways to express beliefs or feelings. Or in the case of Spider-Man, sarcasm.
  • Seeing explicit representations of violence can cause lasting fear, depression, and anxiety in little kids. This puts them at a higher risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence and aggression.
  • Research shows that violent video games (like Grand Theft … anything) are “a causal risk factor for reduced empathy and prosocial behaviors.”
  • Warning signs of media-harm include identifying with violent or villainous characters (do Minions count?), hurting animals, threatening or harming people, falling grades, social isolation, and depression. 

What You Can Do With This

  • You know this, but minimize electronic media and maximize human interaction.
  • Talk to your kids about the effects of media. Ask them how they feel about seeing depictions of violence. Also, talk about how media takes away time to do other important kid stuff like playing with dirt and falling out of trees.
  • Research or prescreen media whenever possible, and watch the media with your kids if you have time (and can tolerate it). Then discuss it and push prosocial, positive stories.

2. How To Recognize If Your Kid’s Being Bullied (And Help Your Kids Through It)

Bullying behavior is so common today that it may be hard for your kid to recognize (or admit) that they’re a victim. It’s up to you to recognize the signs and help them through the episode.

  • Elements of bullying include: (1) “unwanted aggression that’s intended to create distress, fear, intimidation, humiliation, or other harm in a targeted victim; (2) perceived power imbalance — bullies are perceived as being physically or socially stronger; and (3) often repeated over time.”
  • It comes in the form of direct confrontation, indirect harm through the victim’s peers, or relational attacks on the victim’s reputation/friendships. For an example, see James Spader in Pretty In Pink.
  • Cyberbullying has created a whole new world, so either monitor your kids’ online lives closely. Try Snapchatting with them.
  • Warning signs that your child may be getting bullied include increased moodiness, secretiveness, outbursts, avoidance of school, sudden changes in friendships, unexplained decline in grades or sleep difficulties, and negative statements about themselves, their school, their friends, or their future. Unfortunately, those are the same signs of being an adolescent.

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What You Can Do With This

  • “Supportive and affectionate relationships, open communication, and parental involvement,” are the keys to helping a bullied child.
  • When your kids do tell you what’s going on, listen without judgment, believe them, and make sure they feel supported by everyone at home.
  • Do not tell your kids to ignore it (this minimizes the problem), tell them to suck it up (this is victim blaming), or encourage them to fight back (this escalates the problem).
  • Speak with the bully’s parents, but do it in the presence of school officials or other adults who are responsible for whatever’s become the bullying venue.

3. How To Identify If Your Kid Is A Bully — And What To Do If They Are

Perhaps even worse than having a child who’s being bullied is finding out that your loin-fruit is shaping up to be a pint-sized Biff Tannen. Here’s how to figure it out.

  • Your kid may be a bully if they anger quickly, have an inflated opinion of themselves, don’t feel connected to school, family, or community, have poor academic performance, have friends who encourage aggression or display a general lack of empathy.
  • Family characteristics linked to bullying include parents who dole out harsh discipline, lack parental warmth, are prejudice, or commit domestic violence, child abuse/neglect, and substance abuse.
  • A lot of bullies aren’t recognized because between episodes of tormenting their peers they’re polite to adults, get good grades, and are involved in wholesome activities. Or as they called it back in the day, Haskelling.

What You Can Do With This

  • Instead of going off on your kid, the authors recommend asking questions such as “What’s happened to you?” and “What were you thinking about when you were tormenting that other child?”
  • Remember that they may try to weasel out of being honest. Be vigilant.
  • Tell them, “Bullying isn’t okay. I won’t let you grow up not being able to get along with people because this will make you unhappy and get you into a lot of trouble. I’ll help you fix this.”
  • Use consistent, non-harsh discipline methods. You’re not fighting bullying with bullying.
  • Make your home a place that is supportive, respectful, accepting, and free of aggression — that is if you weren’t already.

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