When boys enter middle school, they face many struggles. Their bodies are changing due to puberty. They face pressure from friends and peers to look, act, and behave in certain ways. As all of this is going on, they are also trying to forge an identity for themselves. In many cases, middle school boys feel especially pressured to project an image of ‘toughness’ and masculinity. Unfortunately, this can lead to bullying behavior. The questions most parents have are, “How can I make sure my son isn’t the victim of bullying,” and “What steps should I take to ensure that my son doesn’t become a bully?” Hopefully the following strategies will provide parents some answers to both questions.
|Also Read: How to Overcome Bullying: A Safe Space for Bullying Victims|
Understand What Bullying is, and What it is Not
Bullying is unkind, aggressive, hurtful behavior aimed at an individual or group with the intention of intimidating, frightening, or harming (emotionally or physically). When bullying occurs, there is an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim. This imbalance can be caused by physical differences between the bully and the victim, an age difference, the social standings of the bully and the victim, or even a discrepancy between the social skills of the bully and the victim. Behavior does not have to be ongoing to be considered bullying, but the potential for repeated behavior should be there.
It’s also very important to understand what bullying is not. Students in middle school are frequently in conflict with each other. It is important that parents realize that an involvement in a conflict does not mean that a child is a bully, or that the child has been bullied. It is also not bullying when two boys simply dislike each other, or when one boy behaves unkindly in an isolated incident. When behavior is mislabeled as bullying, boys miss out on the opportunity to learn to deal with conflict in a healthy manner.
Send the Right Messages to Boys When it Comes to Gender Roles and Expectations
Sadly, middle school boys aren’t just receiving unhealthy messages relating to gender from their peers. They are also receiving those messages from teachers, coaches, parents, the internet, television, and movies. From early childhood, boys are told what they can and cannot do in order to be perceived as a “man.” If they stray from these directives, they are accused of being weak, gay, girlish, cry baby, etc. Parents steer their sons away from toys that are “for girls;” coaches admonish boys not to run or throw like girls; boys are instructed not to cry, but to instead act like a man. It’s no wonder that many middle school boys engage in physical acts of bullying to demonstrate their masculinity.
Parents can counter this by assuring their sons that their identities as young men are not connected to their physical strength or by the way they express their emotions. Parents can also develop a zero tolerance policy when it comes to gender biased messages being sent by teachers, coaches, and other influential adults.
Encourage Sons to Talk About School…
And then listen without judgment. There is nothing that will make a middle school aged boy clam up faster than being lectured on what he should or shouldn’t have done in a particular situation. When parents simply listen and empathize, boys are much more willing to share what they are experiencing during the school day. This allows parents to pick up on signs that their child is being bullied, or that their child may be engaging in behavior that is less than kind or inappropriate.
Remember that Victims of Bullying Need to be Supported and Believed
When parents find out that their son is the victim of bullying, they often react by suggesting steps the child should take to avoid being a victim. These include:
• Suggesting changes in dress or appearance
• Offering to sign the child up for Karate or self-defense classes
• Attempting to teach the child ways to respond to bullying physically
• Suggesting snappy comebacks or insults that the child can use when facing their bully
The problem with all of these “solutions” is that it places the onus on the victim to end the bullying, and it sends the message that they are deserving of the bullying they receive until they cause it to stop. When boys are the victims of bullying, they need to receive the message that it is not their fault, that the adults around them believe them, that they are going to receive help and support, and that the only person responsible for bullying behavior is the bully.
Finally, Never Minimize Reports of Bullying
Bullies are very adept at recognizing emotional soft spots in their victims, and exploiting those. For a boy in middle school, this could be a physical attribute, their sexuality, who their friends are, their family’s social or economic status, or something else. When boys report that they are being bullied, and they disclose the method of bullying, parents must avoid telling their sons that what they have experienced is no big deal. They must also avoid sending their sons the message that they are getting upset over something trivial. Remember that even though the emotional triggers for a middle schooler are going to be much different than those of his parents, the emotional impact can still be devastating.
About the author: Julie Ellis – popular blogger and the Chief Editor of premieressay.net holds a master’s degree in journalism. Julie devotes her life to the study of Internet marketing, social media and psychology.