Another school year is underway and many parents are apprehensive about potential school bullying and violence.
The recent suicide of a 15 year-old Greenwich student serves as a stark reminder of how easily the signs of bullying and victimization can go unnoticed or unchecked.
It's all too easy to point the finger at the schools and social media. It's more difficult, however, to acknowledge that we parents are accountable and responsible for how our kids interact with peers in today's complex world. None of us wants to be wrong in arenas as important as our children's character development or resilience. The good news is that there are steps we can take to help our kids become advocates for social justice rather than bullies, bystanders or victims.
Set limits for your kids early on, establish consequences for unacceptable behaviors, and consistently reinforce them. When kids understand the connection between actions and consequences they're much less likely to engage in unacceptable behaviors in the first place.
Make disrespect to you or anyone else unacceptable. Once your child has lost respect for authority they're in danger of mistreating others because they believe they can.
Don't bully your own children, as doing so will likely lead to one of two undesirable outcomes: They'll either become victims or bullies themselves.
Teach and model empathy. Insist that your kids demonstrate compassion in their interactions with family members, friends and strangers. When your child is facing his or her own pain, use this as a teaching moment. Through experiencing their own pain, they'll be better positioned to identify with that of others.
Cruelty toward anyone, especially those who are different or challenged, mustn't be tolerated. Model acceptance of differences yourself, as kids will follow what you do rather than what you say.
Teach and model a confident attitude. Insist that your kids stand up straight, speak confidently and make eye contact. Encourage them to dress and behave in a manner that brings them the kind of attention they'd like to receive.
Exhibit the difference between passive, aggressive and assertive behaviors. If you're uncertain about the difference yourself, speaking to a professional can only help.
At some point most every child is teased. Role-play effective ways for them to handle these situations themselves, unless their physical safety is truly in jeopardy. Their confidence will only grow if they discover that they are able to stand up for themselves. Further, teach your kids to stand up for others whenever possible, even at the risk of losing "friends" or social status.
Support, but don't coddle, your kids. Give them appropriate praise but don't encourage them to believe they're more gifted than reality dictates; otherwise you'll be setting them up for a fall.
Keep the lines of communication with your children open. Especially as they move into adolescence, try to avoid forcing them to talk. Instead, let them know you're available to listen without judgment.
We can't control what other people and institutions do. What we can control is what's demonstrated and taught in our homes. Although respect for your child's privacy is important, don't bury your head in the sand if you suspect problems. Instead, take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that your child is safe and making healthy choices.