Below, some tools to help you prevent and detect bullying among youth and repair its damage:
1. Talk to your kids. It's not always easy to get your kids to open up to you. But that doesn't mean you should stop trying. Ask every day about their day—who they ate lunch with or played with at recess, suggests Susan Swearer, associate professor of educational psychology who researches bullying at the University of Nebraska--Lincoln. That will lay the groundwork for your children to pipe up about little things, before a crisis emerges, she says. Remember to ask about their online activities as well. Oftentimes, kids don't understand the impact of their online behavior, and require education about privacy settings and their "digital reputation," says Sameer Hinduja, codirector of the CyberBullying Center and assistant criminology professor at Florida Atlantic University. "Broach the topic, even if it seems a little bit clumsy because you don't know the technological jargon," he says. "The Internet is not just part of their lives. It is their lives."
2. Be an example. Your kids are watching—and learning from—your behavior. "If we call someone a name," or "get upset with someone and hang up on [them]," they might follow suit, says Young.
3. Look for changes in your child's behavior or belongings."Trust your instincts," Young says. "You know your child." If an outgoing kid becomes withdrawn or a strong student's grades drop, take notice. Beware, too, of kids feigning excuses, like stomachaches, to stay home from school or taking different routes to school. And pay attention to personal items that are missing, torn, or mysteriously show up in their belongings. These signs may indicate one is being bullied or bullying someone else, Temkin says.
Finally, watch your child's behavior with other kids, such as neighbors and siblings, Swearer says. If you hear your child saying something hurtful, intervene, she says, by stating, "We don't talk that way here, or that's unacceptable."
4. Treat the problem. Your response to bullying behavior will, of course, depend on the incident. But there is plenty of help to guide you. For starters, the child must know to alert a parent or trusted adult on feeling threatened, intimidated, or excluded. What comes next? Document the incident, and reach out to your allies. Ideally, they include the school staff. "It's very important for the parents to have good relationships with their children's teachers" Swearer says. Unless the conflict involves a kid whose parent you know well, it's often best to tackle the incident with the help of a school professional. "When the day is done, most parents are going to defend their children," says Swearer. "If you don't know the other parent at all, and you call them out of the blue, it's probably the rare parent that says, 'Yeah, you're right.'"
If the case involves cyberbullying, contact the Internet service provider to have the offending posts pulled from the site, and work with your child and school to resolve the problem, Hinduja says. Do not respond by shutting off Internet access at home or banning your child's use of Facebook, he warns. "Those are all very, very bad responses, because then the kid is never going to come to you again."
Additional support and protection is available from local law enforcement, your parent-teacher association, and through your state (nearly every state now has anti-bullying laws on its books). Remember, too that the person doing the bullying requires support. "We need to make sure we're supporting those kids, and helping them learn from their behavior, and helping them change," Temkin says. A supportive adult can provide the message that "you don't have to be a bully forever," Young says. "You can start tomorrow and be somebody different."