If Your Child Was Bullied, When Did You Intervene and When Did You Stay Out?

The New York Times

Don’t forget our CSH mantra of “never worry alone.”

Rick Runion/The Ledger, via Associated Press A fund-raiser in Lakeland, Fla., for the family of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after being bullied for over a year.

By MICHAEL WINERIP Published: October 31, 2013

It is a very painful and scary thing for parents to learn that their child is being bullied. Though my four — now young adults — were relatively popular and athletic kids, I watched them go through bullying several times. It was one of the the harder problems I faced as a dad, and it’s the topic we are asking our readers to discuss this week: Do I intervene on behalf of my children or hold back and let them work out the problem themselves?

At times, it wasn’t until after the fact that I learned they were being bullied. And I think that’s probably true more often than not — our kids go through these things and never tell us. I know that was the case for me when I was a kid, as I wrote in a parenting column several years back. For me, the most painful bullying I suffered was emotional, not physical. When I was in junior high I was frozen out by my three closest friends, who, one day, for no apparent reason, stopped talking to me and never did again. When that happened, the last thing I wanted was for my parents to get involved. I feared if they did, I would be ostracized even more, as a little baby who needed Mommy and Daddy to fight my battles.

It would be nice if things worked out the way they do in those Hollywood blockbusters starring Bruce Willis. When one of my sons was being pushed around by a bigger kid in middle school, he popped the kid back, and that was the end of it. While I wasn’t aware of that situation until afterward, there have been times I have counseled them to do just that: hit the jerk back and shut him up. I know that a lot of readers will be horrified by that advice, and I also know that it is a lot easier to do in elementary school. By high school, teenagers can inflict terrible physical injury on one another.

In the case of my four, as was true for me, the most painful bullying was being frozen out or taunted. When I tried to discuss it with them, they didn’t want to, and the more I tried, the angrier they grew. Holding back caused me considerable anguish as a parent, but I did, and the problem was apparently worked out over time — all four are well-adjusted young adults. They have replaced the friends who turned on them with true friends. Which raises the question, when we get involved are we trying to save our kids or is it more about making ourselves feel better?

There are, of course, a million forms of bullying, and sometimes the worst thing adults can do is look the other way. In the most awful cases, we’ve seen teenagers use social media in such cruel ways that it has led to a classmate committing suicide.

The hopeful news is that in my lifetime, schools and law enforcement have become much more aware of the dangers of bullying and the need to be proactive. The bad news is it is still not enough.

I know from my own reporting that some of the cruelest bullying targets teenagers simply because they are gay, particularly boys who are effeminate.

Our question this week for our readers of Motherlode and Booming is not so much, “Should parents intervene or not intervene?” It’s, “If you think your child is being bullied, when and how should you intervene and when should you stay out of it?”

We’d like to hear your stories of how you handled your children’s bullying situations and how things worked out. We’d also welcome questions readers might have on problems they’re struggling with. Please share your thoughts in the comments section, and I’ll round up some of the most interesting answers and post them on Motherlode and Booming next Friday. Then it will be the New Parent’s turn to choose a topic.

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