School’s out, and summer is in full swing. But in many places, the usual distractions for kids – like summer camps and family vacations – are not an option during a pandemic. Whether your kids are filling their days with more time online or starting to venture out into the neighborhood to safely play with other kids in person, they will likely be left with more unstructured time than normal. That’s why now may be a good time to speak to your children about bullying.
When a child hears insults such as “You throw like a girl,” they receive the message that girls are inferior and inadequate and that boys need to meet confining standards of masculinity to be included. When an LGBTQ or gender non-conforming child hears the word “gay” or “queer” used negatively, it teaches them that they are unwanted and unacceptable.
And when children bully without being educated or held accountable, they may learn that their behavior is acceptable rather than that all genders, gender identities, and sexual orientations deserve respect. This in turn contributes to a culture where sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse is accepted and normalized.
When children bully without being educated or held accountable, they may learn that their behavior is acceptable.
To help break this harmful cycle, here are a few questions for parents and guardians to ask themselves this summer:
• Does my child need a reset conversation about bullying and respect? Even if you have spoken with your child about bullying in the past, now could be an opportunity to recondition your child to engage respectfully with their peers. Consider finding a quiet time this weekend to proactively discuss bullying with your child, with a focus on educating them about hurtful words and their impact.
• Does my child need to be educated and held accountable? If you learn that your child is bullying a peer, remember that education is paramount. If you haven’t had a proactive conversation with your child about bullying, take the time to discuss their actions, and explain the real meaning of what they’ve done in words they can understand. If this behavior comes after a recent conversation, accountability focused on helping the bullied child heal should follow another conversation.
• Am I modeling good behavior at home? Children are deeply influenced by parental behavior. If you or your partner consciously or unconsciously use language that demeans women, reinforces gender stereotypes, or promotes unhealthy masculinity, children will learn that it’s acceptable. Look for weak points in your behavior, discuss them with your child, and then change your own behavior for the better.
• Have I empowered my child to be a good bystander? Parents and guardians can’t be everywhere, especially as adolescents exercise more freedom. Encouraging your child to advocate for themselves and their peers is one of the best ways to ensure that they confidently navigate social situations. Discuss different strategies to interrupt bullying –such as expressing disapproval of a bully’s actions when they feel it’s safe to do so or reporting the behavior to a trusted adult. Comforting the victim of bullying and being a friend are other ways to serve as a good bystander.
Engaging children on these issues early can help provide them with the tools they need to be kinder to their peers and active bystanders. There are many resources out there dedicated to helping children navigate challenging issues like bullying, sexual health, and consent. A Call to Men, Coaches Corner, Family Health Productions, and our founding partner NSVRC have all resources that you can use to educate your children this summer.