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The Times
  • Bullying Bulletin Board: When your child is the cruel one

  • The first step’s the hardest. How many times have we seen parents who, even faced with evidence, insist that their children are blameless or just foolish? It’s hard, but be the grownup. YES, kids try out bad things. What’s really important is how we adults respond.

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  • The first step’s the hardest. How many times have we seen parents who, even faced with evidence, insist that their children are blameless or just foolish? It’s hard, but be the grownup. YES, kids try out bad things. What’s really important is how we adults respond.
    Are you shocked that your child could be so cruel? Never be 100 percent sure that they would never do such things. Kids don’t understand how groups or digital environments can promote “mob” effects - or the “online doesn’t count” thinking. People do unusual things in those settings.
    Your response needs two steps: consequences and learning. Consequences need to be different enough that your child understands that the offense was particularly serious. Privileges are linked to responsibility, and being cruel is definitely not responsible – so privileges need to go. This can mean playing sports, having a cellphone, going out with friends, etc., but always remind your child that they can earn it back. Also consider reparations: e.g., they could mow the victim’s lawn for a month. Should you or your child apologize? I’m no lawyer, but from a psychological point of view, an apology from you as the child’s parent can be powerful; but remember that the wronged parties don’t have to be gracious, and don’t expect instant forgiveness. I would hesitate, however, to say your child should apologize to another child. Even if it’s well-meant, a victim of bullying can experience an apology as a veiled threat. Keep that apology ready for a future time.
    But remember: Punishment alone is not enough. It’s just step one. To underscore why this is so important, you and your child need to work on understanding why bullying is so wrong and hurtful. Read about and discuss different cases, newspaper stories and commentary online, and talk about the power of words. Don’t be totally severe – it’s fine to say that it can be tricky to know how your writing or talking is taken, and being funny or cool may have been the goal. Ask him to consider why he did this, feelings at the time and the motive. Ask her to reflect on the impact on the victim, and if this has ever happened to her. Ask him who matters to him, and how he would feel if someone was cruel to that person. 
    Emphasize that a willingness to talk about this problem in a meaningful way is part of demonstrating responsibility. Don’t worry if cooperation is only faked at first — it’s not likely that after doing all this research, anyone would be truly unaffected by all the damage and trauma. If, after time, your child still seems unable to genuinely learn about this, it’s time to seek professional help. 
    Page 2 of 2 - It’s hard for parents to acknowledge these mistakes, but you are not alone. In my research, many kids “try out” bullying once or twice. By owning up to the problem instead of denying it, you are well on your way.
    Visit www.elizabethenglander.com for free downloads and help. 
    Dr. Elizabeth Englander is the director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University. Do you have situations or questions you’d like addressed? Email them to bullyingbb@gmail.com.

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