Children in middle childhood and adolescence begin to spend more time with their friends and rely on them for a sense of belonging and acceptance. Peers can have both a positive and a negative influence on your child, and it’s a good idea to help her find friends who will reinforce the values you’re trying to teach. As your child reaches adolescence, becomes more independent and looks to find her own identity separate from the family, she’ll become more vulnerable to risky behaviors.
Cliques, Bullying & Cyber Bullying
Children and adolescents often look for status, support and approval in social groups called cliques. Cliques, now common as early as elementary school, can put pressure on youth to take on dangerous values and behaviors. Cliques can influence a young person’s choices about classes, activities, clothing, beliefs and values and sense of self. Sometimes these groups begin to compete with others in hostile ways through bullying.
If your child’s behavior or school performance changes, or if he has signs of injuries or avoids certain situations, people or places, he may be a victim of bullying. Talk to him about the situation, listen and let him know you don’t in any way blame him. Discuss positive ways for him to respond – saying nothing, walking away, making a joke or telling the bully to stop. Make sure he knows to go to a teacher, principal or other adult if he feels seriously threatened.
Cyber bullying is bullying or harassing that happens online. Much of it is similar to what youth experience offline in schools, homes or the community, but has the additional aspect of the Internet. Cyber bullying can be as simple as continuing to send e-mails to someone who has indicated that they want no further contact with the sender. It may also include threats, sexual remarks, pejorative labels (i.e. hate speech). Cyber bullies may publish personal contact information, assume other identities and other actions in an attempt to defame or ridicule their victim(s).
If your child is the one doing the bullying, it’s important to address it immediately.
- Talk with him/her about his behavior, and give him/her a chance to explain.
- Ask him/her to try to understand how the bullying makes others feel.
- Give examples of times you or someone you know has been bullied.
- Be clear that bullying will not be tolerated, and explain the consequences if it does.
- Observe his/her interactions with other youth, and stop any aggression right away.
- If the bullying continues, talk to your child's pediatrician, teacher, principal or school counselor about help for your child.
Most children are curious about people who are different from them, and they’ll ask questions about gender, race, age and ability. The best way to teach your child not to discriminate against others is to discuss openly the differences among people. Allow your child to ask questions, even of the person she is curious about, and give honest answers. Help her understand that all people are different, and that diversity is what makes the world an interesting place to live.