Apr 4, 2012

Guest Post -Help, My Teen is Being Harassed! - Jennie Withers - Bullying (Part 3 in a 3 part Series)

I was recently invited to read Hey, Back Off!  Written by Jennie Withers with her mother, Phyllis Hendrickson M. Ed. This is a topic I have discussed before on this blog. Jennie has been so kind and has contributed some material for my blog posts. In part three Jennie shares some hints for parents. Thank you Jennie for sharing this with us. You can find Jennie Withers online at her web pageRead part one here and part two here.

Help, My Teen is Being Harassed!
Jennie Withers (www.jenniewithers.com)
Author of, Hey, Back Off! Tips for Stopping Teen Harassment (New Horizon Press Books)

Helping your teen with harassment is all about getting your teen to think, discuss and make some decisions on what to do about his or her victimization.  Your primary role is as a mentor who listens, offers support and guides your teen toward an assertive solution.  This is the work of an assertive parent.  Aggressive parents attempt to take over situations for their teen.  Passive parents may expect a teen to deal with harassment on his or her own.  Assertive parents have balance.  Assertive parents:
·         Do something, not everything and never nothing.  As much as you may want to, you cannot stand up for your teen; he or she has to do it for him or herself.  That's how your teen will gain respect from peers as well as self-respect.  Conversely, believing that harassment is the responsibility of a third party such as a school, church or law officials, or believing that your teen should be mature enough to handle harassment completely on his or her own, will not help the problem either.  It is going to have to be a team effort.  Parents, schools, law officials and other organizations are going to need to be involved in educating, supporting and guiding teens to deal with harassment.
·         Know the types of harassment, the law and their school's harassment policy.  Knowing what constitutes harassment is a way for you to validate what your teen is going through, something that is very important to him or her.  As an assertive parent you should be aware of the types of harassment:  bullying, sexual harassment, stalking, hazing and cyberbullying.  You should also be familiar with the law and your school's policy.  Parents have the responsibility to work with schools and advocate for their children's safety and education.  You cannot be effective in this role if you do not know policies.
·         Encourage their teen to talk to them or another trusted adult.  Teens are often times reluctant to come to their parents with harassment issues.  Therefore, when you recognize there is something bothering your teen, offer to listen.  If your son or daughter refuses to confide in you, brainstorm with him or her others with whom he or she can talk.  Parents should realize that harassment issues don't have to be- nor should they be- taken care of completely within a family.  There is help out there for your teen and for you.
·         Listen to their teen.  Listen to your teen's words, but also watch body language and hear his or her tone of voice.  Many times, parents' first instinct is to offer their best advice and lecture their children.  Most teens don't respond to this and will usually stop talking.  Be a good listener, ask open-ended questions, guide decision making instead of lecturing and ensure that your teen knows you are there for him or her, because you love him or her.
·         Are visible in their teen's life.  Knowing your teen's friends, what your teen does in their spare time and showing up to their games, concerts, shows and project demonstrations is important for harassment prevention because it provides your teen with confidence that you are there to support him or her.  Teens who feel supported are less likely to become the victims of a harasser.  The key is to remember to remain an assertive parent, not one who smothers a teen as he or she hovers over every aspect of the teen's life.  Find a balance so your teen feels supported but not suffocated.
·         Have a support system.  Standing on the sidelines of your teen's life can be very lonely.  There are other parents out there who have similar struggles with raising a teen.  Get to know those parents and professionals who are riding the same raising-an-adolescent roller coaster you are. 
When dealing with harassment it is worthwhile for parents and teens to focus on what they can control.  You cannot control what the harasser tries to do, but you can control what you will do whether that is to help your teen employ a strategy to make the harassment stop, or report it to an authority.  Know that your teen can take back control of their lives and you can guide them in making assertive decisions that will make that possible.  With assertive behavior and the help that is available to you both, you will achieve harassment prevention.
A specific example of what to say and do if you suspect your teen is being cyberbullied follows:

What to say:
·         What happened?
·         Would you feel comfortable saying something to the cyberbully face to face?
·         What have you tried or what can you try to make the cyberbullying stop?
·         Who can you count on for immediate help?
·         Is the cyberbullying affecting your ability to be social and enjoy activities?
·         Do you feel like the cyberbullying is severe, persistent or pervasive?
·         Who would you go to if the cyberbullying becomes severe, persistent or pervasive?
·         How can I help you?
What to do:
·         Monitor my teen's technology use - let my teen know I trust them, but want to keep them safe.
·         Create a safety plan with my teen.
·         Lock abusive users out of my teen's social networking sites like Facebook, change my teen's email address and cell phone number.
·         Make technology public domain in my house.
·         Assure my teen cyberbullying is not his or her fault.
·         Listen to my teen and guide their decision making.
·         Encourage my teen to report if the cyberbullying is severe, persistent or pervasive.
·         Report severe, persistent or pervasive cyberbullying if my teen won't.

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