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Dealing with School Drama at Home, Part II

Encourage honesty with themselves and their peers. Teach your teen the importance of giving and accepting genuine apologies. Remind them what an apology should look like and that it should never happen just for the sake of apologizing or out of obligation. If a friendship is truly over, encourage teens to have an honest conversation with the peer about their feelings, as opposed to just dropping or ignoring the other person. Mutual respect when ending a friendship means providing the other person with an explanation, no matter how uncomfortable that might be at first.

 

Provide an alternate perspective to encourage empathy. The teenage brain does not always allow for seeing the other side of the story. However, parents can help children mediate issues and deal with drama by respectfully playing devil’s advocate. Of course, you want your children to know that you hear their concern and that you support them. However, at the same time, it is imperative that teens begin to see how others may be affected by their words or actions. Parents can provide helpful insight by encouraging teens to think beyond themselves for a second. Consider what that other person might be going through at home. What issues could they be dealing with that your child knows nothing about? Is it possible that this drama began as a misunderstanding or came from some deeper level of hurt at home?

 

Teach them to exhibit maturity by walking away. This means that, when drama arises, teens should feel empowered to simply say, “I do not want to be part of this.” Remind children that, just because one of their friends is having an issue with someone, does not mean that they must automatically join in the drama or choose sides. The “mean girl” ages certainly see this pack mentality more often than male peer groups, but choosing sides can happen in any peer group. On that same topic, remind your child that she should avoid pitting friends against one another as well. Do not try to gain sympathy by spreading the drama or expecting friends to fight your battles.

 

Seek help from school. If your child or teen seems to be experiencing an unusual heaviness, but is hesitant to open up about the issue, parents have a responsibility to seek answers. This might mean phoning or emailing a teacher or counsellor about what he or she is seeing at school, both behaviorally and academically. It is helpful to know in advance which teachers, coaches, or mentors your child prefers, as these are the adults that they are most likely to open up to. Ask about noticeable moodiness, loss of appetite or avoidance of the cafeteria or recess, and any perceived changes in peer groups or social circles.

 

As a last resort, do your due diligence. If children simply are not opening up about the issue, parents should consider checking their child’s search histories, social media profiles, and any other digital platform that could provide insight. Of course, the issue of reasonable privacy and trust will arise, as no teen likes to be “spied on” or “checked up on”; however, parents must always err on the side of caution when something seems off. If your teen becomes upset by your actions, explain to him that your number one priority is always his safety and happiness—therefore, since you had reason to believe that a situation was causing him distress, you did what was necessary to help.

Do not, however, take matters into your own hands. If you find information about drama occurring on social media, do not react, respond, or step in online. Instead, speak with your child about the posts. A parent’s interference online can end up making issues worse. It can also cause a teen to be ostracized and/or further targeted. Instead, if you do find out that your child is dealing with peer drama online, use the information to initiate an honest conversation about what might be happening and how the situation can be handled appropriately.

Dealing with School Drama at Home, Part I

While the middle and high school years are most notably fraught with drama, elementary-aged children are also seeing their fair share of peer disputes and social squabbles. More often than not, drama that occurs during the school day makes its way home with students. Like gum on the bottom of a sneaker, a social issue with a peer tends to latch on and attract more dirt and grime throughout the day, only to become an even bigger issue later on. Since the prevalence of peer issues truly reaches all age groups, it is important that parents have plenty of strategies and tools to utilize when drama rears its ugly head.

 

Avoid fueling the fire or taking on the emotional burden. This is easier said than done because, of course, as a parent, your instinct is to defend and protect by immediately taking your child’s side. However, this instinctual defense mode could simply cause your child’s emotions to become even more dramatic. Instead, use these conversations as an opportunity to diffuse the situation simply by listening. Merely talking about the issue can bring about a level of comfort, so act as the sounding board, not the hype girl.

 

Try not to downplay your child’s feelings with phrases like, “Everyone deals with drama,” or “It’s not that serious.” Your perspective is helpful, but not when it serves to discredit or minimize your child’s feelings. As adults, we can easily forget how these moments in school felt like the end of the world.  Compared to our real world drama we get to experience in adulthood, these quarrels may seem like nothing, but to your child, they are a big deal. Therefore, it is important that they feel heard.

 

You want to be sure that you are not pressuring your child about maintaining or discontinuing a friendship one way or another. It is perfectly helpful for parents to give advice when it comes to friendships, but often times, you may find yourself saying things like, “You two have been friends for years, why let something like this ruin that?” Or, “Our families have known each other since before you were born, you should really try to work this out.” You must allow children to make their own judgement call when it comes to friendship drama; you also want to avoid minimizing their feelings by simply telling them to work it out for your own sake. Furthermore, just because the “close family friends” scenario is convenient, it does not mean that your children are naturally going to get along with your friends’ children.

 

Help them take their mind off of the drama by expanding their circle to include new peers and activities. Ask about neighborhood friends, after-school activities, weekend extracurricular opportunities, and clubs they may want to join. Sometimes a little “friendship break” is all it takes to breathe, regroup, and reset the relationship. In the interim, it is helpful for children and teens to have different options for socializing—casting a wider net ensures that drama can be avoided simply by socializing with other peer groups from time to time.

Lesser Known Facts about Bullying

Bullying and its effects on students are of major concern to parents, educators, counselors, administrators, and even lawmakers. Because of both the prevalence and dire consequences of bullying, communities are taking much-needed strides to overcome this growing problem. While much is known about bullying behaviors, effects, and overall statistics, there are some lesser known details about bullying that are helpful to parents and educators as we work to combat this serious issue.

 

While bullying can and does happen at any grade level, middle schools statistically see the most instances of bullying. There are several theories surrounding this research, including the increased need to fit in and/or follow the crowd, greater likelihood of peer pressure, the onset of puberty and hormones and lack of impulse control. What many middle school teachers are seeing is a combination of these factors, all of which create a pseudo-breeding ground for bullying behaviors.

“Social bullying” is one of the most common types of bullying. This is also sometimes referred to as “relational” or “relationship” bullying. Social bullying involves a group of peers, which can range from a large group, such as an entire classroom of peers, to a small gathering of only a few peers. The key distinction is this type of bullying involves a deliberate “pack mentality.” The bully or bullies will torment their target by means of intentional exclusion, spreading rumors that they know are false or hurtful, plotting to publicly embarrass the target, and manipulating others to turn against and/or join in the harmful behavior. This subcategory of bullying is especially hazardous because it aims to isolate the child, making him or her feel as though they have no one to turn to within their peer group.

 

Some effects of bullying, especially in severe cases, may last into adulthood. These include depression and anxiety, decreased achievement or motivation, and social avoidance or agoraphobia. Research also indicates that children and teens who do the bullying are more likely to suffer consequences of risky behavior later in life, such as alcohol and drug use, vandalism, sexual promiscuity and physical violence.

 

Adults who are not familiar with bullying prevention programs, adolescent behaviors, and school protocols may have a “blind spot” when it comes to instances of bullying. Children and teens often report that bullying has taken place when and where adults are present, but that the adult either did not recognize the behaviors or did not intervene.  Bystanders, especially adults and authority figures, are often looked upon by victims to de-escalate the problem. When adults fail to do this, the victim is often more intimidated and discouraged.

 

While legislation varies from state to state, bullying itself is not illegal. However, in Maryland, cases where bullying includes or results in further harassment, intimidation, hazing, misuse of electronic devices (cyberbullying), or civil rights violations could be in violation of the law. Cyberbullying, although it’s not face-to-face, is not any less harmful to the victim. In actuality, since most cyberbullying occurs via social media platforms, where adult presence is limited, the harm can be even more extensive or relentless.

Teaching Tolerance in Secondary Classrooms

Much of what goes on in our world makes its way into our classrooms in some form or another. In this sense, many view classrooms or schools in general as microcosms—mini representations of society. Ask any teacher, and tolerance is likely not part of their curriculum. However, much like with a productive and stable society, tolerance plays an essential role in creating a welcoming and productive classroom environment. Fostering a positive environment is no easy task, especially when our world is in the midst of such grave negativity. Tolerance in the classroom takes time, patience, practice, and reflection.

 

Remind students that everyone they meet knows something they don’t. Whether rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, foreign, or not—every single person has lived a different life, experiencing their own realities and garnering life lessons along the way. Instead of viewing someone’s vastly different experiences as weird or wrong, students should be reminded of the value that varying experiences, perspectives, and lifestyles offer.

 

Change the language of the classroom when it comes to discussing differences. To avoid “othering” certain groups, encourage neutral or positive ways to address differences. Instead of allowing students to use weird, odd, strange, unusual, etc. to describe people, groups, or customs, a positive classroom environment should be one where words like unique, unfamiliar, uncommon, fascinating, diverse, various, or distinctive are used.

 

Approach confrontation with logical questions. Since students bring differing experiences and opinions into the classroom, occasional clashes are to be expected. When this occurs, teachers can use these opportunities as teachable moments by addressing the issue with open, honest, logical conversations. Guided or rhetorical questions also allow students to reflect on their own perspectives and how they react to others. For instance, a teacher might ask, “In what way does his/her different opinion or belief threaten yours?” “Is there a reason that their differences affect you?” “How can we focus more specifically on ourselves and less on how others behave, speak, learn, etc.?” “What do you think you know about certain people? What if you took a moment to consider where these beliefs/opinions come from?” “Saying that someone’s choices are wrong do not necessarily make yours right.” “This argument could simply be de-escalated by considering it a difference of opinions.” All of these talking points prompt students to reflect on their own belief systems while maintaining an open mind towards others.

 

Learn how to recognize your own implicit bias. This is often a difficult practice for teachers—we aim to be impartial, objective, open-minded educators that provide equal opportunities to all of our students. Therefore, recognizing, questioning, and shedding light on our own innate judgments goes against what we are working towards in the classroom. It also summons feelings of discomfort by forcing us to identify our own stereotypes and belief systems. As difficult and uncomfortable as this may be, we must address our own biases before we can ask students to do the same. To foster tolerance, there must first be a foundation of understanding—what better way than to begin with our own reflections?

Create opportunities for students to learn about one another on deeper, more meaningful levels. Free writes, warm up topics, discussion starters, and icebreakers are all optimal opportunities to help build a solid, positive rapport in the classroom. Ask students to respond to questions such as:

 

  • What is one way that your family likes to celebrate an important accomplishment?
  • What types of traditions are unique to your family/community?
  • Do you have any rituals, superstitions, good luck charms, etc.?
  • Where do most family gatherings happen?
  • What important memory from your childhood makes you smile?
  • What does your typical Saturday look like?
  • What do you like to do on a snow day?

Problems at School: For Parents of Middle Schoolers

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Middle school is arguably one of the biggest leaps for students in terms of educational transitions. Gone are the days of your child having one classroom for all subjects. Gone is the ease of contacting one teacher for any issue at school. And, gone are the training wheels of support and constant micromanagement. This is not to say that success in middle school is completely left up to the child, but it is much different from the hand holding that you have been accustomed to seeing at the elementary level. Up until now, as a parent you have been there for your learner every step of the way, and elementary school has made it easy to monitor, assist, and motivate your child. However, now that your child has reached middle school, the responsibilities begin to shift from the teachers and parents to the students. This is not always an easy transition for parents or children—however, middle school is the place to learn and develop these self-advocacy skills. So, how can you best assist your middle schooler as she navigates through this transitional time in her education? The truth is, there is no quick fix or recipe for success when it comes to parental involvement at school. There are, however, a few suggestions to answer parents’ frequently asked questions.

FAQ: How can I help my middle schooler if his or her grades are slipping?
Since middle school can be an abrupt change, your child may find that academics are suddenly more difficult. If you notice a slip in motivation, it is essential to nip it in the bud early. Talk with your middle schooler at home before contacting teachers. It is important that your child begins to feel a sense of ownership in his or her education. If parents go over their child’s head and take it directly to the teacher, the child will view this as a negative move. Not only are you disregarding your child’s place in the conversation, but you are also sending the message that he or she needs you to fix the problems or clean up the messes at school. A key component of middle school is the idea that students become their own agents of change for their education. Instead of immediately contacting the teacher, have an open and honest conversation about what is happening with recent school work. Allow your child to explain how he is struggling. Then brainstorm suggestions and methods for your child to get extra help on his own.

FAQ: What should I do if I think my child is being bullied?
Unfortunately, we have all been there. Middle school can be downright ugly and painful for many children. This is not a coincidence—this transitional time is marked by hormonal changes, insecurities, and the typical desire to be accepted by peers. With these commonalities comes an unfortunate tendency to be self-absorbed, self-conscious, and openly cruel if it means fitting in. If you notice that your middle schooler is exhibiting signs of bullying, be sure to first validate your child’s concerns and feelings about the social issue at school by listening. When children are systematically bullied, they are made to feel isolated and insecure. The first thing that they need is to know that you are in their corner. Do not downplay the bullying; do not minimize the impact or imply that your child should toughen up.

FAQ: At what point should I involve the school if there are bullying or social issues?
Because the consequences of bullying can be severe, especially in middle school during those formative years, it is essential to have conversations with the school immediately. Do not insert yourself in conversations with the other child or their parents—the school should be the liaison when it comes to bullying incidents. As thoroughly as possible, gather details about each incident, such as who, what, when, and where the bullying occurred. Remember, bullying is often defined as repeated instances of aggression, intimidation, or humiliation revolving around an imbalance of power or strength. One rude comment or act is not classified as bullying. If the bullying is happening in a cyber realm, document and print the evidence of cyberbullying. When meeting with the school, ask to meet before or after school hours. This will alleviate your child’s anxiety about the bullying increasing by “tattling.”

Problems at School: For Parents of High Schoolers

 

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Challenges at school are sure to emerge at one point or another. Of course, these challenges will vary in frequency and type, just as all learners are met with different trials as they make their way through their education. As a parent, you have been there for your learner every step of the way. Advocating, motivating, and assisting in every manner that you can, you have managed to see your child through to high school. However, now that the stakes are higher, the challenges or problems are likely more substantial, as well. So, how can you best manage to help your high schooler as he or she navigates some of the more crucial years of his or her education? The truth is, there is no quick fix or recipe for success when it comes to parental involvement at school. There are, however, a few suggestions to answer parents’ frequently asked questions.

FAQ: How can I help my high schooler if his or her grades are slipping?

Be sure to begin with a conversation at home. Often times, if parents go over their child’s head and take it directly to the teacher, the child will view this as a negative move. Not only are you disregarding your child’s place in the conversation, but you are also sending the message that he or she needs you to fix the problems or clean up the messes at school. Instead of immediately contacting the teacher, have an open and honest conversation about what is happening with recent school work. Allow your child to explain how he is struggling. Then brainstorm suggestions and methods for your child to get extra help on his or her own.

FAQ: What should I do if I think my child is being bullied?

First, be sure to validate your child’s concerns and feelings about the social issue at school. When children are systematically bullied, they are made to feel isolated and insecure. The first thing that they need is to know that you are in their corner. Do not downplay the bullying; do not minimize the impact or imply that your child should toughen up. Consider your emotions before involving the school. Bullying is an extremely sensitive issue for children, and therefore, their parents. Your first instinct may be to demand action on part of the school. Before contacting administrators and school counselors, be sure to have your ducks in a row with regard to the instances of bullying. As thoroughly as possible, gather details about each incident, such as who, what, when, and where the bullying occurred. Remember, bullying is often defined as repeated instances of aggression, intimidation, or humiliation revolving around an imbalance of power or strength. One rude comment or act is not classified as bullying. If the bullying is happening in a cyber realm, document and print the evidence of cyberbullying. When meeting with the school, ask to meet before or after school hours. This will alleviate your child’s anxiety about the bullying increasing by “tattling.”

FAQ: What do I do if my child is lacking academic motivation?

High schoolers may experience a drop in motivation or drive. While this is somewhat typical, it is equally disheartening for parents, especially considering that high school years are pivotal for determining college and career readiness. Your high school aged child is at a point where a lack of motivation can dramatically affect his or her options for the future. This is the time for an honest conversation, a reality check if you will, that is crucial to have with your child. Ask her what her plans are for the future. Ask what the ultimate career goal would be if success were guaranteed. Then, follow that up with a discussion on realistic steps to take in order to reach these goals. Goals aren’t achieved by hoping for the best—proactive steps toward achievement are essential. Set a game plan for getting your child back on track in terms of motivation.

No Name-Calling Week: A Teacher’s Approach

 

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Many people are unaware of No Name-Calling Week. To be honest, I did not know about this week-long movement until recently. We educators, however, are all too aware of the name-calling that occurs regularly in our schools.

As a former teacher, I have been privy to the impact that name-calling and other bullying can have on an adolescent. As we’ve all experienced ourselves, when students mature into adults, they become less concerned with how others view them, the names others call them, or any rumors being spread. Thankfully, with age and maturity comes a secure sense of self and disregard for teasing, bullying, etc. For middle schoolers and teens, however, arriving at this notion of self-awareness and confidence can be a rough and seemingly endless road.

As teachers and educators, it is our job to be tuned in to the goings on in our classrooms and hallways. Now more than ever before bullying, whether cyber or otherwise, can have tragic outcomes. It is no longer a case of “toughen up,” “shake it off,” or “pay no mind to what others have to say about you.” Hormones, emotions, and peer pressures have the potential to brew the perfect storm of misery for a bullied teen. With consequences as serious as depression, school violence, and suicide, we cannot simply chalk it up teenagers being teenagers. We cannot simply ask victims to “brush it off.”

Even more difficult sometimes is the fact that adolescents may not come right out and say that they are being bullied. In fact, teens tend to think that “tattling” on the bully will undoubtedly make things worse–which is often the case. A keen awareness can sometimes make all the difference for a teen that is struggling with being bullied. These are some common indicators that a student may be a victim of bullying:

  • Unexplainable injuries such as scratches, bruises, etc.
  • Frequent health complaints such as headaches or stomach aches
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations, refusal to work in groups
  • Suddenly feeling sick, faking illness, or asking to go to the nurse regularly
  • Changes in eating habits, such as suddenly skipping meals or constantly asking to complete classwork during lunch
  • Lethargy, low-energy, or falling asleep in class
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or frequent absences
  • Depressed demeanor or frequent crying
  • Self-destructive behaviors or mentions of suicide

If you notice some of these signs in a student, make a point to discuss observations of the student with colleagues, guidance counsellors, and other adults. Bullying is often an embarrassing and sensitive point of contention for students–the last thing they may want to do is discuss their personal woes with a teacher. Gather as much information about the student’s behavior trends and peer groups first. Then approach the student or parent if necessary.

Too often, victims of bullying believe that no one notices or cares about their struggles. Teachers can shatter this notion by being a listener, advocate, or disciplinarian if need be in bullying situations.

Parents Play an Important Role in the Anti-Bullying Movement

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No Name-Calling Week is a holiday that recognizes the importance of acceptance while taking anti-bullying measures in schools and having honest discussions about the severity of bullying.

As an educator, I am all too aware of the impact that name-calling and other bullying can have on an adolescent. However, as we all know, teens are not exactly forthcoming about their emotions. Parents especially may be left in the dark in terms of happenings at school and with peers. Moreover, the accessibility of technology and smartphones has made it even easier for adolescents to bully one another. Snapchat, instagram, vine, and other social media forums are often laden with unkind, sometimes downright harsh, remarks and comments.

Whether you personally experienced bullying as a teen or not, you likely know of someone who has been affected by bullying. It is important that parents understand just how serious this issue can be for a young person. Hormones, emotions, and peer pressures create a breeding ground for insecurity. Bullies often exploit these already-vulnerable teens, making life significantly harder in and out of school. While teens may be intent on guarding their private lives from their parents, it is vital that parents know the signs of a bully and a victim.

Signs that your teen may be a victim of bullying:

  • Unexplainable injuries, or an attempt to hide or make excuses for odd injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothes, phones, tablets, jewelry, etc.
  • Complaining of frequent headaches or stomach aches; attempting to miss school suddenly
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating after school (often a sign that a child is avoiding lunch in the cafeteria)
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares; oversleeping at any opportunity
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, sports, or other extracurriculars
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations; skipping plans or ignoring invitations from peers
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
  • Prolonged depressed mood or talks of suicide

Signs that your teen may be bullying others:

  • Frequently in trouble for fighting or verbally attacking others
  • Sudden change of peer group
  • Noticeable increase in aggressive behavior
  • Behavioral and/or academic trouble at school
  • Impulsive, irresponsible, or reckless behavior
  • Overly concerned with popularity and new peer groups

Of course, you know your child better than anyone–and you know their level of openness with you. It is okay to have open and honest conversations about school that focus on social topics, as opposed to simply asking only about academics. While autonomy is a major part of teen development, there are plenty of occasions when parents can and should get involved. Cases of bullying are certainly one of those instances.

For more information on how parents can discuss issues of bullying and school violence with teens, visit the link below.

http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/bullying_tips_for_parents.page