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Violence and bullies: How to help your teen

Author: Canadian Living

Family

Violence and bullies: How to help your teen

While youth crime in general has steadily decreased, the number of youth crimes involving violence has increased. In 1986 about 8.5 per cent of all youth crimes were classified as violent. By 1996 it was up to 18.5 per cent. The numbers highlight what a few teens know firsthand-that their world can sometimes be a hostile and dangerous place.

It's during the younger teen years that kids are more likely to be full of uncertainty and be singled out for intimidation. One of the most common forms of violence is extortion. Victims are intimidated into giving up money on a regular basis (sometimes called "taxing") or handing over mp3 players, clothing or shoes. There's often a rash of extortion for clothing whenever a new fad comes along. Violence also frequently erupts because of rumours or gossip, particularly about boyfriends or girlfriends.

Be sure your teens know that if they get into an uncomfortable situation of any kind, especially one that has the potential for violence, they can telephone and you'll go get them, no questions asked. Many families find it handy to have a code word their kids can use that tells parents there's trouble. That way, their kids can ask to be rescued even though someone is listening nearby. Good communication within the family means, too, that your kids let you know where they're going and what they're doing. If you're tuned in to your teen's life, you'll be able to react sooner if there's trouble.

Some police departments and schools, particularly in larger cities, are taking youth violence and teenage gangs more seriously, but many victims are still reluctant to tell, or to ask for help from, adults. Partly, they fear retaliation from the bullies; partly, they don't believe adults will take the problem seriously. But adult intervention is vital, and it's important for you to recognize some of the signs that your teen may be the victim of intimidation or violence from his or her peers.


Page 1 of 2 – Find out how you can protect your kids from violence and harassment on page 2.

In his book Youth Violence: How to Protect Your Kids (Communities Against Youth Violence, Toronto, 1997), Toronto police officer Kevin Guest identifies some warning signs.

• Some of your teen's belongings, such as a iPods or a bicycle, are suddenly missing.
• You notice minor injuries such as a bruise on the arm but are offered no explanation.
Your child starts skipping school or getting lower marks.
Your child doesn't eat, isn't talking and generally withdraws.
• Your child lacks friends or appears to have friends you've never met.

If you spot any of these warning signs, ask your teen if there's a problem. Don't be surprised if you get denials at first. Tell her that saying nothing is the worst approach, because intimidation and violence typically escalate, beginning as verbal threats and building to physical abuse. If a teen doesn't ask for help, the situation will only get worse. Assure your daughter that you won't get angry if she tells you what's happening to her and tell her you're concerned for her safety. Here are some steps in handling the problem.

• Ask your daughter who she would be most comfortable seeking help from at school. It's usually best to start with a teacher she knows; that teacher will probably involve a vice-principal or the principal.

• Make sure the school staff support the victim and keep the discussions confidential.

• Find out from other parents if their kids have been victims. If so, you can go as a group to the school administration. Your son will also feel better knowing that he's not alone.

• Ask the principal what steps he will take and check back later to make sure he has followed through.

• In extreme cases, you may want to work with the school to bring in the police and lay charges.

• Kids are particularly in danger of becoming the targets of bullies if they're unhappy and have low self-esteem. Spending time with your teens and encouraging them to get involved in activities they're good at are ways to boost their self-confidence.


Excerpted from Understanding Your Teen: Parenting Strategies That Work edited by Christine Langlois (Ballantine Books, 1999).


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Violence and bullies: How to help your teen

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