Bullying is a significant issue in America these days. It is estimated that anywhere from 11 to 25 percent of teens are the target of bullying in the United States. It’s been reported that 160,000 students miss school every day to avoid being bullied.
While legislators are moving forward rapidly to enact laws against bullying, this problem likely will remain a reality of teenage life. Therefore, it’s important that parents know what to do to avoid a tragic outcome in their family if one of their children is the victim of bullying.
One of the major problems among students who are bullied is that they are humiliated and embarrassed to the point where they keep it to themselves. Many victims incorrectly assume that because someone or a small group is picking on them, they think 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 enough in their relationship with their parents to 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 parents do to grow a closer connection to their 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 a long-term process; it’s not a quick fix. The trust and the connection must grow over time. Here are four key steps in how to do it.
1. Listen More/Talk Less
If there is a lack of communication in your home, the situation won’t improve by trying to force it. 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 your teen is when you’re driving in the car together. When you are sitting beside each other in the front seat 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, it helps to encourage more dialogue 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 way 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 a 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 more likely will 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.
So 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 like 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.
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Reprinted with the permission of Learning Forum International.