There has been much in the media lately regarding tweens and teens who have been pushed to suicide because of bullying. With technology such as social networking used as a weapon for bullies, bullying has become more severe than it was pre-Internet. As adults we can help to put an end to bullying. Here is how.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14. This is disturbing news. Suicide is often a result of undiagnosed depression which can occur from feelings of desperation due to bullying.
The media has reported on several cases of teen suicide, many who were either struggling with their sexuality or were just trying to fit in but their “differences” made them a target to bullies. Although gay teens often commit suicide more often than straight teens, the issue of being bullied into attempting suicide isn’t just a homophobia issue. It is a tolerance issue.
Adults can help by paying attention to tweens and teens in their lives. You may know a bully or you may know a victim of bullying. Many times victims are too ashamed to speak up about what is really going on in their daily lives. Just like many victims of abuse, they can feel guilt and shame even though it is not their fault that they are a target. A bully looks for someone who appears vulnerable in order to boost their own ego and feelings of unworthiness.
How do you recognize a bully? A bully is often someone who is angry, does not get enough positive reinforcement and feels pressure to succeed. In order to build themselves up, they taunt weaker individuals with no regards to their victim’s feelings. The bully may be a victim of abuse themselves. Perhaps they have an overbearing parent who is demanding and unreasonable. Maybe they are a victim of physical or emotional abuse and they lash out at others because this is all they know.
The victims of bullying are usually sensitive individuals who for whatever reasons, may have low self-esteem. They may be struggling internally with who they are or even lack the courage to be who they want to be. They may be victims of abuse in their home or “forgotten” children whose parent or parents are too busy to recognize that they need emotional support and guidance.
Some parents often leave their tweens or teens to fend for themselves because they feel they are “old enough” to handle their own responsibilities. Going through the tween and teen years is a time of major changes. Many tweens and teens need an adult that they can talk to. Although they can do many things for themselves, emotionally they need to have an adult in their life who cares and shows it.
Talk to the tween or teen in your life. Don’t lecture but let them know that you care and you are there to listen. Learn how to listen to a tween or teen. Observing their behaviors and knowing what is normal and not normal for an individual can help you see the red flags that indicate a problem. Teens are moody and often it is hard to determine whether their moods are normal teen behavior or a sign of depression. As a parent, knowing your teen and keeping an open line of communication open can help you to avoid a potential tragedy.
Ask your tween or teen about bullying in their school. Your child may not be the victim or the bully but may be aware of bullying that does go on. Talk to your tween or teen about these situations. Let them know that it is not acceptable behavior.
Know what your tween or teen is doing on social networks. It is not spying to check out what they are doing on these sites like Facebook, My Space and Twitter. Talk to them about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior.
Teach your tween or teen tolerance. You do not need to agree with others personal choices in their beliefs but you can respect their right to co-exist. If you have raised your child to believe in a certain religion, you also should teach them that not everyone is a believer in the same faith. They need to respect that we live in a society where people of many religions and beliefs live side by side.
Raising your child to condemn those whose beliefs and lifestyles are different from yours is encouraging bullying. Be a part of the “cure” for bullying by teaching respect, tolerance and acceptance. Most of all, listen and act.