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A Perfect Target for Bullies: The Nick Vujicic Story

WEEKEND RADIO PODCAST:

On this weekend’s Parenting Today’s Teens Radio program, Nick Vujicic joins Mark to discuss bullying on a program titled “A Perfect Target for Bullies:  The Nick Vujicic Story”.  Nick was born without arms and legs, and shares great wisdom for parents who have teens who are bullying or the recipient of a bully’s focus.  Himself a target for bullying, Nick shares his heart about ways to combat bullying.

Special guest:  Nick Vujicic


A perfect Father’s Day Gift!  Mark wrote a devotional book for Dads called “Parenting Today’s Teens”…it’s perfect for Father’s Day.  It’s is filled with short devotions that are specifically designed for that Dad who longs to keep his family and kids on his heart throughout his busy schedule.  Order yours today by clicking here or call the Heartlight office at 1.866.700.FAMILY.


Recognizing and Preventing “Mean Girls”

These dangerous creatures tend to run in tight packs.  Using finely tuned senses, they are able to spot vulnerable prey, and once they have their sights set on a target, it is tough to refocus their attention.  With swift ferociousness, they can easily rip their prey apart, leaving a trail of destruction behind them.

I’m not talking about animals on the African plain.  I’m talking about “mean girls.”  These are the young ladies that are more than just “not nice.”  They can be downright cruel and vindictive towards others they deem weaker or those they see as a threat.  Their weapons of choice are emotional pain, put downs, degradation, and intentional humiliation.

Before you write off mean girls as myth, there’s a significant amount of evidence for their existence.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that one in four adolescent girls has been the perpetrator of or has participated in a violent act in the past year.  Another recent national survey revealed that 33 percent of female students reported being bullied at school.  And simply catch the national news, or read about teen suicides brought about by relentless teasing and emotional violence by other kids.  Mean girls do exist, and the pain they cause can be devastating.

So how do you know if your teenage daughter is one of these mean girls?  And what can you do to change her ways?

Stay Watchful

Today’s culture is tough on girls.  We live in a performance-driven society where worth is determined by how you look, what you do, or what you have.  Add to that the violence and sexuality portrayed in the media and the lack of solid female role models, and we have an environment ripe for mean girls.  The drive to compete for attention, popularity, or individuality, pushes these girls to be more sexual, more violent, or to devalue themselves based on the performance treadmill.

Though I don’t excuse their behavior, every mean girl I’ve met is really an insecure child, trying to live up to unreal expectations.  Generally, the meanness is a coping mechanism to survive in a performance-driven environment.  So these girls try to bring up their own self-esteem by insulting or putting other girls down.  If they can make another person look bad, perhaps they’ll look better.  This can also happen when a new girl arrives at school, or another girl gets more attention from guys, teachers and parents, making the other girls feel threatened.  Desperate for attention, the “mean girls” go out of their way to tear that person down.

As parents, we cannot shy away from the issue.  It does no good to stick our heads in the sand and say, “Well, that’s girls for you,” and leave it at that.  We need to look for the warning signs of a mean girl attitude, and nip them in the bud.  If you see your daughter developing habits of mocking other people, dressing more provocatively, picking fights with siblings or parents or growing an angry or spiteful demeanor, it’s time to dig a little deeper.

Stay Involved

Through my years counseling with parents and teens, I have seen how loving parents can be blindsided by a child who becomes a “mean girl.”  Mom and dad sit in my office, shocked to hear how their little girl is terrorizing someone else.  “We had no idea!” they tell me.  It can be difficult to see our children as capable of abusing or hurting other people.  But to prevent your daughter from becoming a mean girl, or to stop your daughter from a habit of bullying, it is critical that parents stay active and involved.

This may result in having all the passwords to your teen’s online accounts.  With the anonymity of the Internet, kids are finding what I call “digital courage,” and using Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to say things that they wouldn’t say in person.  Cyber bullying is a growing problem as teens and adults lob emotional bombs while hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet.  So keep tabs on your child’s online activity.  If you discover any cyber bullying, deal with it as soon as possible.  Be sure to stress the damage that such abuse can cause, then enact stiff consequences for such behavior.

Stay involved with friends as well.  Ask questions about the people your daughter hangs out with, and what they do together.  If your child is hanging out with girls who are sarcastic or hurtful to others, talk honestly about the concerns you have.  Let her know that you don’t want her to be a mean girl, and character is more important than fitting in.

Staying involved with your child may also mean enlisting the help of pastors, teachers, mentors, or professionals to help your daughter work through some tough issues.  Many times the mean girls are the ones who were bullied before, and they are simply repeating what they have experienced.  Stay engaged with your child, and dig into the cause for their behavior.  Maintaining a relationship with your daughter goes a long way in overcoming a mean girl attitude.

Stay Proactive

I don’t think it’s enough to simply stop girls from bullying other girls.  To really make a change in the heart of a mean girl we have to be proactive!  And that can start in the home. Make a point to stop mocking others in your family.  If you find yourself participating in insulting others, or tearing people down, swallow your pride and admit your mistake in front of your daughter.  Let her know you are willing to change and become more positive with your family and others.

Another way to be proactive is to challenge your daughter to place herself in someone else’s shoes.  One of my favorite quotes is from the book To Kill a Mockingbird, in which a courageous lawyer tells his young daughter, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”  This is the best advice for dealing with a mean girl.  Show them how their actions are affecting others.  Tell them how destructive bullying can be.  Ask them to see things from another person’s view.

Even if you don’t have a mean girl, you can still be proactive in preventing bullying, and that’s by encouraging the bystanders.  Too many times, others watch as kids are picked on, abused, or treated poorly.  The passivity of bystanders allows bullying to continue without consequences.  But if we model and teach our teens the importance of standing up for the little guy and protecting those who are being victimized, we can make a serious dent in the bullying problem.

A recent news story illustrates this idea.  A teenage girl, who had been the target of abuse from other girls, was nominated for the homecoming dance queen as a cruel joke.  Humiliated and distraught, the young lady had thoughts of suicide.  But once word got around about the mistreatment, the entire town rallied behind this young girl, offering her free haircuts, prom dresses, dinners, and limos.  They started a Facebook page, where caring individuals from all over showed their support and scolded the bullies.  And many of the kids from the school stood behind her and supported the joke nomination as a reality.  The day of the dance, this teenage girl went to homecoming with her head held high, and was crowned the dance queen.  The positive actions of the people in the town stopped the bullies dead in their tracks.  We need more people like that.  Let’s teach our kids to be brave and bold, and stand up for those who need assistance and help.

Mean girls don’t have to be a fact of life.  There are positive steps you can take to prevent it.  With a little proactive effort, we can transform that carnivorous lioness into a gentle kitten.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.


Modeling Kindness in an Unkind World

Our world is confusing place for kids.  Nearly every day, our sons and daughters are confronted by some form of bullying, disrespect and a complete disregard for authority.  These conflicting elements create an environment that makes it tough for teens to be kind.  It’s hard to be gentle and meek when you’re constantly fighting against cultural trends and peer pressure.

If you’re like me, you can still remember bad stuff that happened from your teen years.  I was bullied by a group of guys, and whenever the projector of my memory rolls the film on those ugly encounters, I still get emotionally wrapped up with anger.

As a parent, you might be the only authority in your child’s life to model how to engage in kindness.

Good parenting requires weaning our kids away from their childish dependence on us.  It’s a long process of gradually taking away the creature comforts we once provided in order to force our teen to begin operating independently from us.  Whether it’s drawing boundaries for them or coming to their rescue when something goes wrong, as they grow older, we need to employ an intentional plan for creating autonomy.

But when it comes to bullying, we need to take an active role of both protecting our teens and helping them understand the power of kindness and respect.

People in today’s society respond differently to failure than people have in previous generations.  One reason is because we have greater access to information now than ever before.  Technological advancement can be a good thing, but in this regard, it tends to be used for bad things.  When someone fails, whether that’s a friend, a politician, an actor, or someone else, failure is instantaneously broadcasted over the World Wide Web.  Any misstep, miscue, or hiccup can go viral in just a matter of seconds.  Facebook alone allows for one negative comment to be shared with pretty much everyone in your social circle.  This can be devastating for teens, and can cause them to lash out in a similar manner.

The benefit of these methods of communication, though, is that the same can happen with positive comments.  As parents, we have the power to teach our teens how to show kindness in all of their interactions – both online and in person.  The best place to start with this is in our home.  Mom, dad, are you treating one another with love and respect?  How are you showing kindness to the neighbors and others in your community?  How are you treating your kids when they come home from school?

When your teen comes home from school and lashes out at you, it’s generally not disrespect.  It’s spillover from their awful day because our kids don’t have a coping mechanism for what they experience on campus.  When they show frustration, the best way to respond is with respect.  Instead of shooting them down and correcting their actions, ask them to put words to their feelings.  The biggest mistake we can make as a parent is to somehow telegraph to our teen some form of shame for the way they feel.  We cannot change their feelings.  Feelings are feelings.

If your teen rolls his eyes at you, ask him if you did something that caused frustration.  Start a dialogue.  Find out what motivated your child to do something disrespectful, and in doing so, you will accomplish two things.  First, you will identify the root of the frustration, and second, you will model how to deal with conflict and frustration.

This doesn’t mean you are okay with your child showing you disrespect.  I’m not saying you need to become a doormat for your child’s vitriol.  I’m suggesting that you take a deep breath and try to drill down to the root of the problem without letting your own emotions escalate to a point where you cannot have a meaningful exchange with your child.

By showing genuine interest in the cause of their angst, you are surprising your teen with kindness and modeling how to have an adult conversation.  Teens won’t expect you to move closer to them when they act disrespectful to you.  They will expect your relationship to weaken.  But when you engage them in relationship by talking calmly with them, you continue the opportunities to teach them kindness by showing them kindness.

Be prepared.  When your teen finally opens up to you in a safe place, it won’t be easy to hear.  Parenting teens is rarely a tidy process and usually a messy one.

If they blew up and showed disrespect to you, all that pent up emotion came from somewhere.  When you successfully open up the lines of communication, your teen will take advantage of that open door in the future and they will begin to put words to their frustration.  Once they get these emotions off their chest, you can objectively talk about the root cause of their disrespect, and this gives you an occasion to describe appropriate ways to show their feelings to you.

On this weekend’s Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast, we’ll talk with Sam and Melody.  Sam’s experience with bullying throughout high school and middle school followed him as he moved from school to school many times.  Melody works at Heartlight, a residential treatment program, and she’s helped numerous teens work through their experience with bullying.  Melody will help us understand how to engage with our teens when they are angry and inconsolable, in order to model kindness and respect with our kids.

Remember, raising a child who is gentle and kind doesn’t mean we are creating a generation of wimps.  Real men show respect.  Real women are kind.  And a mature teen should never be the recipient, nor the perpetrator, of bullying.

Our teens are heavily influenced by the culture that surrounds them every day.  As parents, we have the golden opportunity to build a culture of kindness and respect in our home that will serve our teens for years to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.