I have a really tricky situation on my hands!
My daughter, Rebecca, is 14 years old – and over the last couple of years has changed from a sweet angel to a sarcastic, argumentative and angry teenager.
Last week I went to pick her up from school and was shocked to see her and a group of her friends picking on another girl and shoving her around.
When I asked her about it Rebecca didn’t even try to deny it. She said the girl was a ‘bitch’ and deserved what she got.
I don’t like this new Rebecca and I have a horrible feeling that this wasn’t an isolated incident.
How can I find out if my daughter really is a bully? And more importantly – how can I stop this behavior?
Frustrated and very sad
As I read your letter I have two feelings. I, too, am saddened to hear this. Bullying is not something to be taken lightly and studies have shown it tends to be underreported. But I am also impressed that you are able to be honest about your daughter and her actions. Continuing on there, you are going to need to develop a plan and quick.
COMMUNICATE: You have to talk to Rebecca as well as school officials because you need to make sure you are getting an accurate picture of the situation. The conversation with Rebecca needs to happen in a quiet place where she can drop the false bravado and you have a real shot of getting through to her. I am a big believer in the fact that kids will perform to the level of expectation so you will lay out for her what is expected as a member of your family. With officials, I would talk to the principal as well as some of her teachers. Ask them to keep an eye out and let you know what they are seeing. Teachers have a lot to do during the school day but they might be able to give you a sense of what is going on.
PUT TOGETHER A PLAN: When you get all the information, you will then have to make some crucial decisions. Does Rebecca have good friends and by that I mean are they like-minded and do they bring out the best in her? Do you like her current crop of friends? As parents we get a feeling about the kids that are “bad seeds.” The problem comes when we don’t act on that. At 14, you can still control much of what Rebecca does in her afterschool hours, including who she hangs out with. Again, communicate. Tell her what you are doing and why.
CONSEQUENCES: Use your backbone and put teeth in your plan. This is why the first step is so important. You are going to tell Rebecca what is expected of her (i.e. you will not put your hands on another child, you will not call names, you will not use cuss words) and use it in your plan. Put it in writing as a contract if need be. Then, if you hear from teachers that she has been involved in an incident, or you see it yourself, deliver the punishment firm and fast. It’s up to you to decide what that is. With my own kids, I usually take away stuff that’s important to them like video games and free time. Rebecca needs to know the consequences of her actions so that none of this comes as a surprise. And if you say she’s grounded for three weeks, that has to be 21 days, not a day less or it will undercut your word.
You are going to have to work hard to keep the lines of communication open. There is nothing more uncool than a teen having to hang with a parent (in their mind) but staying close to her during these years, even if she pushes you away, will pay off in the long run. In your chats I would try to instill empathy in Rebecca. How would she feel if three or four girls shoved her around or harassed her in the hallway? (You can read more about the other side of the issue in this Ask Rene). You can also demonstrate empathy by pointing out to Rebecca when you used it with her.
Claire, you have done a good job being honest with yourself but the window of opportunity is closing rapidly. There are behaviors you need to jump in and extinguish right away, like Rebecca using cuss words to her mother! But with your firm hand guiding her and a clear plan of attack, Rebecca may mature enough to see that her behavior is cruel and unacceptable.
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