6 Terrible Pieces of Bullying Advice

Here's What Not to do When You are Bullied

two women discussing bullying
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Most people mean well when they offer up advice in dealing with a bullying situation. But unless they are trained in bullying prevention or have experienced bullying firsthand, their advice may sound trite or out-of-touch.

For instance, a lot of people offer a lot of cliché-type advice like: “Keep your chin up,” “Don’t let it get you down,” or “This too shall pass.”

Some people offer advice about bullying that is not only dangerous but also downright wrong.

And following their advice could get you or your child hurt or in trouble.

Coping with bullying is complicated as it is without throwing bad advice into the mix. Here are five things that people often say when they find out your child is being bullied. Be sure not to follow this advice. Doing so may make your situation worse.

“Hit Him Back”

Parents of elementary school children often use this advice. But to respond to a child with the comment “hit him back” is not only dangerous and ineffective, but it is the epitome of parenting laziness. Telling a child to hit him back without talking about what is going on is worst type of brush off a parent can give a child. Instead, talk to your child about what is going on. Find out what the bully is doing and brainstorm ideas on how best to address the situation. Then, talk to the principal or teacher about what your child is experiencing. Find out what the school intends to do to make the school safer for your child.

While hitting another child is not recommended, it does not mean that your child should not defend himself against a bully. A good self-defense class can show kids how to deflect or block punches, how to remove someone’s grip from their wrist and how to get out of various other situations. But is not good advice to encourage a child to fight someone who is likely bigger and stronger. Keep in mind that the bully may want a fight and will be prepared for something like that. Instead, teach your child how to stand up to a bully in a productive and meaningful way.

Lastly, telling a kid to hit another child comes with consequences. You have no idea how far your child will take it. For instance, he could get suspended or expelled from school or he could have assault charges filed against him if he goes too far. And, in extreme cases, some kids have retaliated by confronting kids that bullied them with weapons or guns. Make sure you are teaching your child healthy alternatives for confronting bullying.

“Ignore it”

While it is good advice to refuse to react when a bully says or does something, your child should not pretend like the bullying is not happening. Instead, he needs to tell an adult, a teacher or a coach what is happening. Remember, bullying is about power and control.

If a bully is able to silence your child, then the bully has a lot of power over your child's life.

Instead of telling your child to ignore the bullying, teach them how to respond to the bully in healthy ways. One way they can do that is to control their response. For instance, they do not have to believe the lies the bully says about them. He is not a loser, a nerd or any other negative label a bully uses. Additionally, he does not have to embrace victim thinking. Encourage your child to reframe his thinking about the bullying but not to pretend it does not exist. He needs to face it head on in order to effectively cope with bullying.

"Don’t Be a Tattletale."

When someone responds to a victim of bullying with this response, they are sending several messages. First, they are telling the child that reporting bullying is a bad thing. Second, they are communicating a lack of interest in helping solve the issue by giving the child a brush off. Instead, kids need to be taught the difference between tattling and reporting. It takes courage to report bullying and kids need to know that it is acceptable to talk about it with adults.

What’s more, teachers especially need to be aware of the negative messages they send when they do not respond to bullying complaints. In order to foster a productive learning environment at school, bullying must be addressed immediately and efficiently. Expecting kids to deal with bullying issues on their own impacts the entire school environment.

Lastly, as a parent you should avoid calling your child a tattletale when he brings issues to your attention, especially when it involves sibling bullying. If you regularly tell your child that he is being a tattletale, he will eventually stop communicating with you about the big issues in his life. You never want to stifle the line of communication you have with your child. Even if you feel he could work out issues on his own, take the time to listen to his complaints.  

“Get Even.”

Contrary to what people may tell you, getting even or seeking revenge will never make you or your child feel better. Instead, revenge will leave you both feeling empty and depressed. The better route is to focus on what your child can control such as his response to the bullying and how you are going to address the situation.

Too many times parents turn to social media to share their child’s experiences with bullying. But this is the worst thing you can do. Not only is engaging in public shaming on par with bullying itself, but it also victimizes your child again by making a very embarrassing situation public. It also sets him up for more bullying. Other kids may join in on the bullying once they see that it gets such an intense reaction.

Instead, keep the bullying in perspective. Spending too much time obsessing about what the bully did to your child puts your focus on the bully instead of your child. Try to have regular conversations with your child and determine how he is feeling. Then, take steps to help him move beyond the bullying.

Eventually, you can even talk to him about forgiving the bully. Not only does forgiveness build resilience, but it also allows your child to take back his power in the situation. Remember, forgiveness is a choice and allows your child to let go of the negatives in the situation and move on.

“Fight Fire With Fire.”

In other words, what people are suggesting is that your child bully the bully. This suggestion might include anything from publicly shaming the bully on the Internet to spreading rumors. Some may even suggest subtweeting, posting on social media or having a friend threaten or intimidate the bully. While these suggestions might get a bully to stop targeting your child, they also make him a bully too. Ask yourself if you really want your child to lower his standards to the level of bully.

Instead of encouraging your child to become a bully-victim, help him learn how to combat bullying in healthier ways. Many times kids take their bullying experience and turn it into something positive. For instance, some kids will start a support group for other bullied kids. Or, they might spearhead a bullying prevention campaign at school.

One example of a student that did just that is Caitlin Haacke, who developed Positive Post-It Day at her school. After being bullied, instead of wallowing in the pain that she felt, she went to school and put Post-It notes with positive and encouraging comments on everyone’s locker. From this single act, an entire movement was born. And, more importantly, it allowed her to find a purpose in the bullying she experienced. No longer was she a victim, but she was using what she experienced to help other people.

“Talk It Out.”

Some schools and businesses still think that putting the bully and the victim in the same room is a good idea. But mediation never works because of the power imbalance that exists between the two.

One of the three primary components of bullying is that the perpetrator has more power than the target. Attempting to mediate or talk it out will only leave a victim more victimized. Many times, victims of bullying are too afraid to speak up and talk about what is really happening. What's more, bullies use intimidation during mediation to silence the victim. Getting to the truth of what happened will never come out in these scenarios.

If your child’s school suggests mediation, do not allow your child to participate. This step will not help your child and could lead to more victimization. Instead, suggest that the school administrators talk with the victim, the bully and the bystanders separately. This way, your child will be free to share his account of what happened without fear. Also, be sure that steps are taken to protect your child’s privacy and safety. The fear of retaliation is a real one.

School administrators have an ethical, and sometimes legal, responsibility to keep your child safe at school. Be sure they are doing everything they can to not only end the bullying but to keep your child safe from future incidents. 

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.