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If I have a child who is consistently made fun of at school, what should I do to help my child learn to cope, ignore, or respond to the situation. What should I do to help prevent the situation from continuing?

Update: To be more specific, I want to know how to react if a teenage child (ages 13-18) is made fun of because of some non-modifiable (surgery excluded) aspect of their physical appearance. Examples might include a large nose, pronounced ears, or a physical deformity.

  • How old is the child? – HedgeMage Apr 11 '11 at 0:33
  • I was just asking in general, so the answer may suggest different strategies for different age ranges. – Javid Jamae Apr 11 '11 at 2:06
  • After a lot of thought, I've voted to close this as not a real question (too vague). Without knowing details like the age of the child, the type of teasing, etc. it is impossible to give a good recommendation. This is along the lines of what is warned about in the beta notice -- asking "fake" questions -- in that because there is no specific case that this question is directed toward, it is by nature too vague to be useful. – HedgeMage Apr 12 '11 at 4:01
  • @HedgeMage - That's fair... I updated the question to be more specific. – Javid Jamae Apr 16 '11 at 0:35
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By the time one is a teenager, one should be able to comprehend that some people are just jerks. That realization is a good thing. Too many people go through life doing stupid or downright self-destructive things in the name of being liked.

What is most important for your teen is to have a great social group of his/her own. It's the difference between "the world hates me" and sitting with your friends grumbling about the jerks over there who are so much less cool/intelligent/whatever than you are. If that hasn't happened at school, let him/her pick out activities that he/she really likes and take a class or join a club/team. It may take a few for your teen to find his/her niche, but in the end it will be worth it.

If the teasing at school gets to the point where it's interfering with learning or safety (physical confrontations, threats, vandalism, etc.) then talk to the school about it (or better yet -- give your teen the chance to be his/her own advocate, and step in if the school is not responsive). If it's just annoying, there's the old saying about sticks and stones.

You can't make everyone your kid meets be a decent human being. You can teach your child the difference between things that matter (safety, education, etc.) and things that don't (loud-mouth jerks), and make sure he/she has the coping skills to deal with whatever comes around.

Part of being an adult is choosing who you will, and who you won't, have as part of your life.

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    I don't really feel like you're answering the question. You're saying things that my child should feel, then you're saying that I can tell them to ignore the loud-mouth jerks. But, you never answer the question of how to approach my child and actually have the conversation. When your child is constantly teased in school for their appearance throughout their teenage years (like I was), it's not as simple as repeatedly reminding your child about "sticks and stones". I'm really looking for better ways to talk to my children if they encounter these situations as teenagers. – Javid Jamae Apr 17 '11 at 2:49
  • @Javid: You asked "What should I do to help prevent the situation from continuing?" -- but you can't prevent it, period. The best thing to do is to give your child what they need to cope, which is what I outlined. It's high school, and high schoolers are jerks. Avoiding teasing means valuing and embodying only what the mainstream does, which is a pretty pathetic set of criteria. Yes, getting teased sucks, and there isn't anything you can do to make it less painful -- you can only make sure your child has real friends, and doesn't let others' words define him/her. – HedgeMage Apr 17 '11 at 17:27
  • The first part of my quesiton was "what should I do to help my child learn to cope, ignore, or respond to the situation". Your answer was "make sure he/she has the coping skills to deal with whatever comes around." Sorry, but that just restates the question. I'm looking for answer that explains how to help them gain the coping skills and specific things you can say and do to help them. Yes, having a social group of his/her own is helpful, but that doesn't necessarily help them cope with the teasing. Sometimes teasing can also come from within their social group, which hurts more. – Javid Jamae Apr 18 '11 at 0:27
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You should teach them to not react to the teasing directly, but rather to react to the presumed reason for the teasing. It is only by responding in the meta-layer that your child can overcome these issues and dominate his tormentors.

For instance, let's say TB is being berated for having a big nose. A knee-jerk reaction is to respond with something like: "My nose isn't all that big!" This is a losing proposition and will do nothing but egg-on the attack. Instead, if TB says something like: "Hey, man... it's cool, I used to be insecure too, and thought I had to make fun of other people in order to feel good about myself," he will dominate in HS. It is all about changing the frame of reality. Instead of buying into the tormentor's frame, he needs to re-frame the situation to suit him.

There is a great... no wait, a fantastic series all about this called 'On Being A Man' by David DeAngelo. The video set is ostensibly about fixing your dating life, but is actually a bible for people to take control of their lives and become self-actualized and possess an internal locus of control. There is so much great content in there it is scary. Unfortunately for me, I didn't get ahold of it until I was in my 40s, but I've given it to my kids and it has proven incredibly useful.

  • Please don't plug self-help videos. – user2497 Jul 30 '17 at 1:49
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    This is the only answer I've read so far that actually addresses the question and deals with face to face communication. – user24631 Jul 30 '17 at 15:39
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    @user2497 how would that be different than mentioning a great book? I included the main point from that source (reframing) and one could probably find other sources for explaining that concept as well. – MrWonderful Jul 30 '17 at 15:45
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I'm very unsure about this, so this is a tentative answer, and I don't have any research to back it up or anything. Based on nothing but my observations during childhood, I think the first step is to figure out why the child is being teased. And I'm not talking about what he/she is being teased about, like glasses or pants or hair color, which rarely is the same thing.

To a large degree it seems to me that the teasing comes from the child being bad at social interactions and socializing. Some kids do not understand what the other kids wants from them. Usually what they want is that the child joins in and conform. They want other kids to play football, cheer for a team, listen to a select group of approved "artists de jour" and generally just be just like them. Kids who are uninterested in sport, read science fiction, and listen to some other music doesn't fit into the box.

And unless you can make all the kids in school understand that people are different and shouldn't be put into boxes, every kid will be put into a box that the other kids can understand. In big schools you may have several boxes. US high schools you apparently often have different groups, like jocks and nerds, etc, and people will mostly fit into one of these boxes and socialize there. Although different groups then can clash, that's an altogether different problem from the problem of when one kid doesn't fit into any of the boxes, which is the real problem. They will then end up in an outcast/teased/bullied box, and that is not a good place to be.

In that case the kid will have to be taught how to socialize and how to fit into a positive box. Perhaps by pretending to be interested in sports, etc (In fact, most major sports become interesting once you know enough about them, which is good to know).

If this doesn't help, you may need to find another school, because it can be hard to get out of a box, if you are in one. Changing schools to a place nobody knows you can help you get out of the box, but only if you understand socializing or you'll just en up in the "weirdo"-box again. And this goes not just for bullied, but also bullies. In my 3rd year, one of the bullies of my class was moved to another school, because he had gone to special ed classes there, and there he hadn't bullied anyone, he somehow found a non-bullying box to be in, and like it much better.

  • I think bullying has more to do with social hierarchy. People generally get bullied by others who see themselves as higher on the hierarchy, as the higher ups are reinforcing their higher position. Having good social skills can help, but that's not the only reason kids will find themselves lower down on the totem pole. I don't like the solution of "pretend to be interested in sports" because basically that's telling the child to be closeted, which can succeed in mitigating bullying, but it also often makes kids extremely unhappy. – user14172 Sep 30 '15 at 22:26
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Check out this link: https://www.facebook.com/Coliniseleven/

A few years ago, Colin was having exactly this situation, and there was nothing that could be done about it. When it got to the point that Colin would rather not have a birthday party, his mother started this facebook group and has shared their journey.

Colin's mother withdrew him from public school and began homeschooling him. She set up this facebook group to tell his story. By his birthday he had thousands of online friends, which developed into a small network of real "in-person" friends and a much larger network of blog followers. Colin and his family do 1 to 2 minute video shorts such as weekly "Colin asks" and "Dr. Who" discussions, plus random videos.

Three years later, Colin has developed from an unhappy and frightened boy into a confident and outgoing teenager. Sharing their journey online has been for them, a way to deal with the situation at the same time as they help others.

  • Very interesting! – anongoodnurse Jul 28 '17 at 15:33
  • While an interesting story, this does not help answer the question of how to deal with the situation face to face, but rather teaches to not deal with the situation and avoid confrontation altogether. – user24631 Jul 30 '17 at 15:26
  • Sometimes that is the only option. Sadly, schools in general have proven to be not capable of dealing with a situation like this. They form an artificially closed environment where people are crammed together without regard for their personal circumstances, with arbitrary rules, and minimal supervision. A public school is much like a prison from a sociological perspective. They leave the child with few options, and the parent without any options so long as the child is in the system. – pojo-guy Jul 30 '17 at 21:38
  • @pojo-guy yes, you're correct - my mistake. You answered one part of the question upon rereading it. I still think you can improve this by including an answer to the first part of the question as well. – user24631 Aug 1 '17 at 6:17
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    @Physics-Compute sometimes the best option is to walk away, but kids in school have had that option taken away. I have no answer to the first part of the question. I was one who cared little for what my age peers thought, yet I could still be taunted or harassed into lashing out. – pojo-guy Aug 1 '17 at 7:35
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First, you need to get this in perspective:

  • Bullying is child abuse. Teasing is psychological abuse. An adult who behaved in this way would be arrested. Just because its coming from other children doesn't make it any less painful for the victim.

  • Long term abuse has a long term impact on mental health. In extreme cases it has driven children to suicide.

  • Bullying grows on itself. If a few people abuse your child and nothing is done, this will normalize the practice for everyone else. It sounds like this is already happening. Once the cycle starts, self-help strategies are no use, because the bullies will just keep going until they break through them.

This is not a trivial matter. Do not allow anyone to tell you that it is.

You need to speak to your child's form teacher. Write a letter outlining the story so far with as much detail as you can provide. Names and dates, and also an estimate of how frequent these incidents are. Ask for the school anti-bullying policy and work through it.

Starting now, keep a written diary of the abuse. If necessary, ask your child to describe any incidents when they get home from school each day, and write them down. Any incident can be trivialised on its own: you need to demonstrate the volume as much as anything else.

When meeting teachers, assume that they are concerned about the problem and want to help. Work with them, and accept any constructive actions they are willing to take. Remember that they have a lot more experience in dealing with this than you do. But be firm in insisting that this is their responsibility and they need to do something. Schedule follow-up meetings to evaluate progress and determine the next steps.

Your child may "snap" and suddenly attack a tormentor. At this point you may be called into the school and be told that your child is violent and needs discipline. This is where your diary will be especially important.

If at first you don't succeed, keep going. Your child has a right to be safe from abuse at school. As a last resort you can complain to the police, especially if the bullying has included violence, or is carrying on outside the school.

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    I do not condone any kind of abuse, but you are just criminalizing biological functions. The object is power, not the abuse itself. Psychological explanations do not help, the child in question is not in some psychologist's office. Complaints will just make it appear weaker. – user2497 Jul 30 '17 at 2:13
  • Depending on the country, if one lives in the United States, one would never be thrown in jail for teasing. Repeated harassment is a different story, but teasing is not abuse. – user24631 Jul 30 '17 at 15:43
  • -1 Does not answer the question of how to teach the child to cope. – user24631 Jul 30 '17 at 15:44
  • @Physics-Compute The second part of the question is how the OP should react. – pojo-guy Jul 31 '17 at 0:21
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Prison rules apply. Take your child to a boxing gym, and let it learn how to fight. When the skill level is adequate, give it your explicit blessing to pick out the strongest bully in the schoolyard at recess, and make an example of him. Boxing is quite harmless compared to more exotic martial arts, like karate and krav maga. Instruct the child to stop when its opponent yields.

All pedagogues seem to neglect this aspect of educating children in social behaviour. Instead they insist that conflict resolution involve an adult. In a perfect world, sure, but the world is not perfect. Aggression is not pleasant, but it is a constant.

My grandmother did this with my uncle. He was never bothered by bullies again. Nor did he enjoy it, or become violent later in life.

  • "Aggression is ... a constant". Really? The last time I got into a fight was at school. Since then I have had a very few unpleasant verbal encounters, but one of the things that helps me to handle them (apart from the rarity) is the knowledge that I have the whole law enforcement system to call on if necessary. You say "Prison rules apply". Schools can resemble prisons more than some educationalists like to admit, but I do not see the whole of adult society as a prison, and nor would I teach a child to do so. – Paul Johnson Jul 30 '17 at 10:20
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    @PaulJohnson The rule of law is inherently backed by violence. That's not negative. Aggression does not equal violence. This mistake on your part aside, what's your point? – user2497 Jul 30 '17 at 15:31
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    @PaulJohnson your violence is just deferred to the police, who do controlled violence on your behalf. Violence is a constant. Ignoring it does not make it go away or be any less necessary in certain situations. This answer is only the second answer to answer the actual question of teaching face to face coping skills to their child. If you have an alternate opinion on how to teach face to face coping skills, please make your own answer. – user24631 Jul 30 '17 at 15:53
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This question was asked on the Dr Jenn show on Cosmo radio on Sirius XM. Most of this response is paraphrased and expanded from the answer of Dr Jenn on that show, while the rest is personal experience and opinion. There are multiple levels to this answer depending on the type of teasing and even the gender of the child. Boys and girls tend to tease each other different as children.

Boys tend to do it as a show of aggressive dominance. One way to cope with this teasing is to show the boy how to stick up for themselves to the teasing person. Sometimes this display of power is enough to stop the teasing. However, you do not want to condone or support fighting.

For girls, it's far more subtle and manipulative, with the teasing girls tending to complete exclude the teased girl. This can be very difficult for the teased person to cope with because there is no good way to break up he group-think of a group of girls who are being coerced into excluding a girl.

So, the first level would be something like discussing the issue with your child about the types of teasing, why the teasing is occurring, and what they may be able to do to prevent it or turn it around. It's important to identify the source of the taunting: is it due to weight issues? Appearance? Socio-Economic Status? Hobbies? Sometimes, it can be due to something your child is doing that you didn't know about such as acting up in class, teasing other kids, or not playing nicely with others. This can be tricky and multifaceted, so it's important to try to probe past rationalizations and excuses that may be at the forefront to find any simple, teachable lessons that may be at the root of the bullying.

The second level may be something like talking to the parents of children who are teasing your kids or talking to all parents at some form of PTA meeting or similar grouping.

The third level is discussing the issue with the teacher of the class to see if there's anything the teacher can do to watch for and diffuse the teasing behavior.

The fourth level is discussing the issue with the principal. Usually for extreme cases of bullying, the schools have some resources available to help children. This includes stuff like adult shadows that will roughly follow the child around to diffuse bullying. The reason being that kids will generally not tease kids when there is a grownup around.

The fifth level if nothing has worked so far is to look into other schools in the area that may have better resources to combat bullying. This should be for only the most systemic, repeated, and severe cases of bullying. Of course, if you've made it this far in the process, then the bullying must be terrible at this point, and the previous school was dangerously negligent. At this tier there is also the opportunity for legal action against the school for not providing a safe learning environment for your child.

Overall, the most important thing at any level of this process is to make sure your child knows that you trust them, believe them, love them, and will protect them no matter what happens. When children know that their parents are behind them, their ability to withstand teasing is significantly greater. You want to resist overreacting, but you also want to resist just telling your child to "toughen up" or "deal with it" or "just ignore it" or things like that may show you as callous or downplay the issues the child is facing.

  • -1 for suggesting bringing it up at a PTA meeting (talk about involving a ton of people having nothing to do with the situation!) let alone before the teacher has been spoken to, not mentioning self-defense as an option, and other issues. – HedgeMage Apr 11 '11 at 0:36
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    A display of power without condoning fighting? How exactly is that supposed to work? – Lennart Regebro Apr 11 '11 at 9:02
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    Nonviolent power could also be self-assertiveness; knowing (and showing) that you can call me whatever you like and I won't care because I know that you're only trying to tease me and I know that what you say is wrong. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 11 '11 at 11:09
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    @Lennart, what torbengb said and to make the point that sticking up for one's self and standing up to bullying involves many things before it means resorting to violence. And even when violence does become inevitable, it should be measured self-defense and not an aggressive pre-emptive strike or counter-attack. There's a fine line between standing up to a bully and disproportionately responding by pile-driving a kid on the sidewalk. An example without context, but an instructive one. – user445 Apr 11 '11 at 12:55
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    @takk: My experience working in several school districts tells me that speaking at a PTA meeting is ineffective for this sort of thing, and would cause backlash from both school staff (who were just made to look ineffectual over something they were never even approached about) and the parenting community (who have no power to do anything about the situation anyway). It's an informed and reasoned opinion. – HedgeMage Apr 11 '11 at 14:21

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