BY Danielle Matthew, LMFT
“Mean girls” is seen as a rite of passage for teens. However, bullying can cause damage to the self-esteem of each generation of girls who face it. Girls gossip, talking behind each other’s back. Supposed friends shun them and leave them out. With the advances in technology, bullying can also move into social media and texting. People can now shun you electronically – blocking you from their Instagram or Snap Chat – and then say mean things about you to a very public audience that you can’t access. Cyber-bullying is a whole new world of hurt for today’s victims.
When a teen girl becomes a target of bullying, she can be harassed in person and online at the same time. When faced by negative comments online, teens have to decide how best to handle them and often don’t make informed choices. Responding can escalate the situation. Victims can be further hurt by well-intentioned friends who tell them all the mean comments (without a thought about how that would feel). Bullying is much harder to address with the unique challenges that teens are facing today.
How do you help your teen daughter? My suggestion is to remember the 3 E’s:
1. Empathy. Ask how your daughter feels and don’t tell her what she’s feeling. Listen to her and focus on understanding how she feels through showing empathy. You can help her to label her feelings, by gently suggesting, “I wonder if you are feeling embarrassed by what was on social media” for example. Give her the space to tell you what she feels.
2. Empowerment. Empower your daughter by asking her what she would like to do about the bullying. She may ask to do this herself and not want help from her parents. Check to see how she wants to interact with her friends or manage social media posts. You can give suggestions, but let her take the lead. You can also talk about coping skills (like talking to a friend, journaling, listening to music) to help her feel better when the bullying is happening.
3. Engagement. Once your daughter has been empowered and is participating in the conversation, you can create a plan that includes all the people who need to be involved (potentially including school personnel). Even if she wants to handle the whole thing, you must make sure that you are committed to stepping in, if her safety or well-being is at risk. You also want to make sure to follow up to make sure the plan is working (for example, she is actually ignoring mean social media posts, rather than responding).
Communicate effectively with your teen. Show empathy for what your daughter is feeling. Empower her to make a plan to respond. Make sure she is safe and engage her (as well as the adults in her life) in keeping her safe. When your daughter has been victimized, make sure she feels heard and that she has a say in what happens next. It’s the best way to help her heal.
Danielle Matthew, LMFT, is the author of “The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying” http://empowerment.space/