He’s roused millions to “Get Real!” and has tackled the topic on his hit TV talk show — Dr. Phil took time to chat with me about bullying and answer some questions:
Jill Zarin once suggested that parents break into their kids’ Twitter and Facebook accounts regularly to monitor and be on the lookout for signs of bullying. In your expert opinion, how invasive should a parent be and what should they do to keep an eye out for bullying?
There are different ways for a parent to be actively involved. Parents have to educate themselves about the warning signs (check out Dr. Phil’s warning signs of bullying).
They need to know for both sides what the signs are that their child is being bullied or if their child is a bully.
Kids don’t often come home and tell their parents they’re being bullied because they’re ashamed. They may show signs of withdrawal. They may want to avoid going to school beyond the normal “I don’t want to go to school” and exhibit a chronic pattern.
If you see bruises, scratches or that some of their possessions have been damaged or missing, those are all warning signs. They may also start to show signs of depression, crying, aggression, mood changes and lifestyle changes if they’re being bullied.
In terms of whether your child is a bully, watch to see if there’s a really strong clique. Are they gossiping about someone or making fun of them? Are they excluding some child in some way? Telling jokes about or laughing at a particular child? Exploiting some other child in some way?
Before invading their privacy, determine whether or not the warning signs are there. Then you need to follow your instincts
— A child’s trust is earned.
As far as social networking sites (like Twitter and Facebook), those are fertile ground for bullying. Your kid is going to have more knowledge than you do about the Internet, but not the insight on how to deal with it.
When a child/teen first complains of being bullied in school, what are the key first steps a parent/adult should take?
The first thing a parent needs to do is make sure they don’t fall victim to “Hey, kids are kids, let them be kids.” That’s not true.
When a child is bullied it’s one of the loneliest times in his or her life. The most important thing for parent to do is sit with the child and talk with them and find out what’s going on.
If the child says “Oh Mom, don’t say anything. That will just make it worse,” know it’s not true. The child should know that telling is not tattling — Let your child know that telling someone in a position to help the facts that they need to know to help is the right thing to do. In terms of how the child handles bullies on his or her own, it’s a case by case scenario.
The biggest mistake parents make is telling kids “You just need to confront the bully.” Bullies specifically choose kids that can’t do that. You can advise them to stay with a friend, not be alone, to not place themselves in situations where they’re sure to get bullied (like hanging out in a spot where the bully typically hangs out).
The next thing is to get the school involved. Teachers and administrators don’t get into education for the money. They get into it because they care what they’re doing. They don’t want your child to be victimized. They’re on your side. Ask for their help and alert the teachers involved. Ask for the adults in the school to watch and intervene and become your eyes and ears.
What can schools across the country do to prevent and tackle the bullying problem?
I am very passionate about this issue and I need to emphasize this: We need to amend the secondary and elementary education act to include funding and language that specifically refers to bullying and online bullying. Until we put our money where our mouth is, this problem isn’t going to get better. We have to do this across the board and it is absolutely doable. This is something that needs to be funded and we need to make sure all the schools are not only required, but actively engaged in anti-bullying efforts.
Lady Gaga has discussed being bullied as has Anne Hathaway, Eva Mendes, Tim Gunn and other celebrities. How important are famous voices with regard to anti-bullying awareness?
They are necessary but not sufficient. When folks that young people look up to take a strong position that it’s not cool to bully it has a positive affect. I think it’s terrific but it’s got to go further than that and that’s what I mean about having it as part of the curriculum in schools.
This interview of mine with Dr. Phil originally ran a few years ago on Huffington Post. The message, however, is a timeless one.
(Photo source: DrPhil.com)