I think the real teasing started for me in third grade. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the blue cat’s eye glasses I got that year. OK, so I loved blue. (Still do.) But my parents definitely should have steered me away from that particular fashion choice.
The painfully shy awkward girl who got straight A’s and could always be found in a corner reading a book? That was me. Years later, I discovered with our daughter’s diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome that I likely exhibited some of those characteristics as well. It made me a target for cruelty I didn’t know how to manage until much, much later.
So many kids know the feeling—the whispered rumors in the hallway, the subtle exclusion from certain groups of girls, the guys who laugh when you walk by. The targeted don’t really know why, but they know it’s not good. Unfortunately, the “why” could be anything. Something different about a girl’s looks. A boy’s Mexican-American heritage. One kid’s super smartness or another’s not-so-smartness. It doesn’t matter. Any difference is enough for some kids to pick out other kids and bully them for “fun.” Only it’s so not fun.
There are a few things kids can do decelerate the teasing and taunting. They aren’t foolproof—but they do help get the target off a child’s back. Parents, here are four ideas to talk through with your kids.
Minimize the difference. Is there something specific you’re being teased about that you can change? Teasing is never your fault—don’t get me wrong. And please don’t think I’m saying you should change who you are. But maybe there are small things you can do to stand out less. Teenage acne? (Ugh. I had it bad.) Can you see a dermatologist and get help? Make sure you go to school with clean clothes and body? Or, OK, you’re really smart—but maybe you come across as a know-it-all or a show off when you answer all the questions in class or give unasked for advice. (Yep, I did that, too.)
Don’t ever think you have to act stupid or change your personality to make someone else happy. You are you—and that’s OK with people who matter. But if there are little things you can change to fit in better? Go for it—you’re in charge.
Ask for help. Don’t bottle up what you’re feeling. Too many young people get depressed and even suicidal because they keep it all to themselves, thinking it will be worse if they tell. Find someone you trust—a parent, best friend, youth pastor—and talk about what’s happening. You’re not the only one feeling that way.
Unless the situation is dangerous, you can ask them not to interfere but just to listen and care. If it is dangerous, get up and walk away to someplace safe with adults. Don’t wait to be sure. If you feel in your gut that it might be a bad situation, just get out. God gave you those gut feelings for a reason.
Learn not to react. This one is so important. And so hard. Teasers tease because they get a reaction. If they don’t, they stop. They kept at it with me because I blew up and sputtered angry insults back, and let’s just say it didn’t go well.
It’s hard because you do care, but you have to act like you don’t. Shrug, smile, tell that girl to have a great day. Whatever. Anything to send the message—You don’t control my emotions. I do. And I choose not to care what you say.
You might have to practice this. Imagine what you’d do, or have someone role play it with you. Practice calming down and looking unconcerned. It’s easier the more you try. The last thing you want to give a teaser is control over you by getting angry or sad. Ask God to give you peace in the moment and love for your “enemy.”
Practice walking and acting like you believe in your value. Don’t slink around school with your shoulders down and eyes averted. Practice standing straight and looking at people. Girls who appear assertive get picked on less. It may not be who you are naturally, but you can practice. One day, maybe it will be! Especially if you do this one last thing . . .
Remember who you are. When my daughter was being verbally abused (by an adult!), I read Psalm 139 to her.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God! (Psalm 139.13-17, NIV)
I told her she had a choice—believe what that person said about her, or believe what God said about her. She realized that nothing any person said defined who she was. Only God can do that, and He says you’re beloved and wonderfully made. Stand tall in that.
And because you’re a child of God? You can respond the way Jesus taught—by returning good for evil. You can actually return love and kindness, if you’re leaning on Jesus for help. It won’t always work, but often it can change the situation entirely.
Remember, too, that five minutes after the graduation hats fly into the air you won’t care for one moment what anyone there thinks of you. You’re going on to live your life, and you’re going to rock it with God leading you on. So next time, think about that. What God thinks of you stays with you forever. Don’t you think his opinion is the one that should matter most?
Want to learn about bully prevention? Then come to one of the Super Saturday Platdates at South Hill Mall sponsored by KidCo Productions and Auburn Volkswagen! They will be held from 11 am – 1 pm on September 24 and October 29, and will include fun free activities for the kids, giveaways, and information on bully prevention. Learn more about the event here!