No parent ever wants to consider the possibility that their son or daughter could be one of the mean popular kids at school, those who shun and dismiss anyone who’s different. I call them Elite Tormentors, and the caring, compassionate popular students who stand up for the underdog, Elite Leaders.
What are some of the warning signs your son or daughter may be in danger of turning into an Elite Tormentor? Pay attention to your child’s demeanor on the phone. Does it sound like he/she is making a joke at someone else’s expense or gossiping about another student? When he and his friends text one another, are they putting down other classmates? Has your child recently started excluding any of their old friends from social activities and when you ask why, they don’t have a plausible answer?
If your child is posting regularly on Instagram, have they posted any photos that humiliate another child? Be curious. While you may not wish to invade your child’s privacy, if he/she is taking advantage of that privacy to hurt themselves or someone else, as a parent you need to pull rank, lovingly demand access to their social networking and texting activity, and retain that access until you’re comfortable they are not the cause or on the receiving end of anything harmful emotionally.
Another effective technique for outing an Elite Tormentor is to casually have a conversation with your child about who’s popular at school and who’s not, coaxing her into revealing the names of those students who struggle to fit in or who strike her as lonely.
A week later, ask her if she’d like to host a party, suggesting it might be nice if, along with her friends, she invited a couple of the forgotten ones, too. If she agrees despite what her friends may think, she’s not an Elite Tormentor. In fact, she’s probably an Elite Leader. If she won’t because she’s fearful her friends would freak but feels badly about it, she’s most likely a bystander. But if she recoils at the thought or acts indignant, perhaps even laughs, chances are you’re living with an Elite Tormentor.
If your suspicions are confirmed, here are a couple suggestions:
1. Boost Their Awareness: Most Elite Tormentors don’t even realize they’re being hurtful. In their minds, it’s all just joking around. You need to teach your child that bullying isn’t only the mean things you do, it’s all the nice things you never do, like letting someone sit alone at lunch every day or always choosing the same person last when dividing into teams. Perhaps watch a movie together as a family that reinforce this message. One of my favorites that illustrates what bullying and exclusion can do to someone is: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the Jim Carrey version),
2. Discipline: Try a compassionate form of discipline that will help your child meaningfully reconnect with the kind person inside rather than the insensitive teen they’re behaving like. For example, in lieu of grounding your son, require him to perform one act of kindness for a different person every day for one week.
Each night before he goes to bed, he must record in a notebook his kind act for that day, the recipients’ response, and how the response made him feel. At the end of the week, he must turn in the notebook to you complete with each recipient’s name and phone number so you can verify his compliance (recipients under eighteen, parent cell phone number required).
If he’s remiss, then enact a consequence that will resonate. For example, cancelling something your child was looking forward to. The consequence must be fair but definitive.
Remember that there’s no such thing as a bad child, only bad situations that need correcting. With love and patience, your family will get through this.
Survivor turned activist Jodee Blanco is one the country’s most respected and sought after voices on school bullying. The author of four books on bullying, including the seminal New York Times bestseller Please Stop Laughing at Me… she travels to schools, sharing her story to save lives, and has spoken to over a half-million students, teachers and parents in gyms, auditoriums and at conferences and conventions worldwide. For more information on Jodee, please visit www.jodeeblanco.com.