How to Prevent Your Kids From Getting Bullied

October 21, 2013

By Lea Z. Singh |

Last week I ran across a news story about Rebecca Sedgewick, the 12-year-old from Florida who ended her own life on September 10th of this year, after enduring over a year of brutal bullying - some in person, a lot online - by a group of at least 15 girls. She is one of the youngest, but the list of these terrible tragedies is only getting longer.

This brings back memories of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old girl from British Columbia who ended her own life last year, having been bullied online since Grade 8. 

Tragic deaths. These were still children! The suffering they endured can be likened to being locked up in a Nazi concentration camp, forever at the mercy of the ruthless guards, with everyone else too afraid to help you. It is indeed despair-evoking, especially since children (including teens) do not yet have the maturity to see beyond their situation and have limited capacity to deal with this kind of irrational hatred and rejection aimed at themselves. 

As a parent now, I wonder how to stop this from happening to my kids. As a former victim of bullying myself, I do think I've learned a few lessons. Perhaps the most important thing that parents can do to minimize their children's chances of this happening to them is the following:

Hold On To Your Kids

This talk by Dr. Gordon Neufeld might be almost 2 hours long, but it should be required viewing for all parents. The talk is entitled "Kids Need Us More Than Friends" and it elaborates on his book, entitled Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.

He talks about the peer-orientation of today's children, which is different from how things used to be back when children used to spend their day in mixed-age groups and have more interaction with their extended families and close community networks of friends and acquaintances.

Today, children are herded into classrooms with their own age-group all day, and then keep in contact with this peer group through social media at all other times of day. They are attached to their peer group rather than to adults. They are so consumed with what their own peer-group thinks, and thinks of them, that they no longer give a hoot about what their own parents are telling them. It's hard to reach your kids when they get to that point. 
Peer-orientation has lots of negative effects that can easily lead to bullying, which Dr. Neufeld and Dr. Mate very persuasively elaborate.

Holding on to your kids means staying close to them emotionally and psychologically - it means, having a close relationship that outweighs their relationship to their peer group.

This is very hard to do for parents who are already swamped with so many things to do in their free time outside of work, at a time when everyone is so over-scheduled and over-burdened, at a time when children disappear into their rooms every night to do mountains of homework, when families hardly eat together, play together, or even talk.

Holding on to your kids is the key. Not just because you will be more likely to find out if they are being bullied, but most of all, because you will reduce their likelihood of succumbing to bullies in the first place.

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