“Someone Please Help Me: Empowering Our Kids to Cope With Bullies”

By Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC, CSOTS

I know what it’s like to be bullied. Before I grew into my body I remember what it was like to be shamed and humiliated; to feel alone and powerless; to feel afraid to go to school every day, knowing I might be pushed down or punched or verbally berated. It’s not a good feeling. In fact, it was awful. I felt lonely, depressed and powerless to stop it.

Until I was 14.

I remember that day vividly in my mind. It was winter so I was wearing a toboggan hat, heavy blue coat and extremely thick blue gloves. I don’t know why, really, but something clicked. One of the guys who regularly pushed me around threw me into my school locker for no good reason. That’s when it happened. Something in my brain suddenly told me that it would be better to get beat up that day than to be shamed; to know that I cowered before him and was humiliated in front of everyone in the hall. I pushed him back. At first he was shocked and then he raised his fist to raise the bar of intimidation. He told me he was going to punch me. But I was a different person at that moment. I raised my fist and told him he was welcome to hit me but I was going to hit him back if he did. He walked away. Something changed in me that day. Seriously, it was as if a button in my brain was pushed and I had simply had enough. I really had reached a point where I knew it was better to take a beating than to continue to be the target of the wolf pack known as middle and high school boys. It was empowering to stand up to that guy and it changed me…forever.

But that was then…….this is now.

In spite of the increased awareness by schools and legislature, bullying is still a major issue in the lives of kids. It seems like almost every week that we hear of a teenager taking his or her own life because they just couldn’t stand the constant bullying by their peers. There are web sites entirely devoted to the memory of teens that took their own lives rather than continue to face the horrendous treatment dished out by their peers. Many of those teens reached a point of despair because they felt powerless to stop the bullying. Teens sometimes report that they believed that they couldn’t get help from their schools, their friends or anyone else. I have talked to several who felt powerless because to fight back meant being suspended, expelled, or facing even greater violence but to NOT fight back meant constant emotional pain and humiliation. When I was being bullied I only had to worry about being at school. Now, teens are stalked by bullies who follow them into Facebook, texting and even onto X-box Live. These days bullies have almost unlimited access to their targets. A teenager who is being bullied often feels they cannot escape because of this ever-present harassment.

Unfortunately, many of these kids also suffer in silence. Many refuse to tell those who might be able to help them (school administration, parents, etc). Whether it is because of fear, shame, or believing nobody can help, they stuff all those negative emotions down inside; a horrible way to cope as all that negative emotion begins to build up a volcano-like amount of pressure that eventually blows. It might explode into rage and violence towards others or anxiety attacks and nervous breakdowns…or it might lead to taking their own life.

Our kids need our help. They need parents, schools, law enforcement, attorneys, politicians, pastors, coaches and counselors who are willing to attack this issue head-on rather than burying our heads in the sand and hoping that it will pass. Someone has to protect the kids who don’t believe they can protect themselves. These kids need to be empowered to cope with bullies. They must believe that there is a way out…that there is hope.

So here are ten warning signs that may show up in a kid who is being bullied:

• A sudden drop in grades

• A noticeable change in personality: your outgoing teen suddenly becomes quiet and reserved.

• Not wanting to go to school or pretending to be sick in order to stay home; especially if this is a new behavior

• Isolation and withdrawal

• Wanting to sleep with parents or in parents room (clinging for security)

• Pervasive sadness

• Physical marks or bruises that are not accounted for

• Withdrawal from Facebook or X-box Live; staying away from online interaction

• Expressing a desire to change schools or move without adequate explanation

• A spike in anxiety: trouble with sleeping or eating/panic attacks

But what can parents do if they suspect their child is being bullied? What are steps that one can take to protect and empower their kids? Here are some tips:

A continued focus on good communication: create an environment where your kids know they can talk to you, even about sensitive issues.

Ask your child: About every 3 months check in with your child. Ask them if anyone has tried to touch them inappropriately or if they are being bullied. Give them an opportunity to tell you without shame.

Request a conference at school. Ask specifically that the principal be involved right from the beginning. This increases accountability.

If the bullying does not stop, ask the school for a “no contact contract” in which the bully is not allowed to be around your child.

If the bullying has entered the cyber world, report it to Facebook or a system administrator on X-box. If it does not help, pull your child off of those social networks until the bullying is stopped. This is not to punish your child but to protect them from the constant emotional pain of being bullied.

If the bullying continues after these steps, ask for another meeting with the school and express how serious the issue has become.

If nothing helps, find an attorney who specializes in bullying behavior. They can help you to protect your child through legal channels.

Continually ensure your child that they are not being a hassle and that you are totally behind them. Do NOT get frustrated and tell them they just need to “toughen up” or have “thicker skin.”

Find healthy places for your child to invest in. Find a club or youth group where they will be accepted and can build a social network for support; even if it means a group that has kids from other schools.

Find a professional counselor who specializes in adolescents. This is a positive step that should be included early in the process. It is a safe place for your child to share with someone who is not their parents. It also incorporates a professional to be a part of the process of protecting your child.

Our kids should not walk around in fear. They should never reach the point of believing that it would be better to die than to face another day of being bullied. But they can’t do it alone. They need parents and others who will walk the journey with them; people who remind them just how valuable and loved they are. Most of all, they need those who can show them hope for a brighter future. WE are those people.

Let us not hesitate to answer the call.

Aaron Welch is a licensed mental health counselor, nationally certified counselor and certified sex offender treatment specialist. He strives to fight for the hearts of his clients and empower them to build a legacy that impacts the world. He is part of a team of experts at “The Lifeworks Group, Inc”. For more information about Aaron or Lifeworks, please visit www.lifeworksgroup.org or call us at 407-647-7005.

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