Teens can be cruel and it can be so hard watching when your own teen is the recipient of the cruelty. Here are some strategies that may help.
Help your teen cultivate positive friendships. If there are no friendly teens in the neighborhood, then make a commitment to help keep your teen get in contact with other friends one way or another. This could mean signing them up for sports, clubs, youth groups or other social networks. It could mean inviting friends from farther away over regularly or bringing your teen to their houses.
Help your teen find their voice — and practice it. Typically, once kids have started treating another teen badly it will continue unless something makes it change. It can be scary standing up to someone, especially when you perceive that person as more powerful, but it’s really the only long-term answer. Help your teen choose their words and then role play scenarios so they can practice.
Teach your teen to speak firmly and matter-of-fact (without sarcasm or a rude tone), and then move on. They don’t need zingy comebacks or long speeches. They just need to assert themself and let it be known how they expect to be treated.
Try role playing other possible scenarios too. Just make sure it’s words they are comfortable saying or they won’t use them when they need them.
Get your teen involved in activities to boost their confidence. Martial arts classes are excellent for teens who are being treated badly — not because they can respond physically but because students are taught skills to help them gain self confidence. These types of classes help teens feel strong and assertive, which carries over into other areas of their lives. Also, having your teen get plugged into volunteer service at Hope Equestrian Center, local animal shelter or humane society or working for a cause that might be important to them.
Avoid threes. It’s a sad fact that young teens often gang up against one of the group when they’re in groups of three. Many parents complain about the phenomenon, where even when all the teens get along well individually they tend to couple up with two against one when they’re together. Encourage your teen to get together with their friends one-on-one or in larger groups, especially when there’s already a history of them ganging up on your teen when they’re together.
Be the fun house. Some parents choose to make their houses especially fun for neighborhood teens so they’ll hang out there where parents can keep an eye on them. If yours is the house where the fun is going on and the pool games are in the back yard, teens are likely to gravitate to it. Be firm about rules and expectations for how all teens will treat each other when they’re at your house and see if that helps reprogram them to act in better ways.
Parents sometimes take this idea too far and buy expensive things, provide endless snacks and otherwise try to buy friendship for their teens. Note that there’s a big difference between creating a fun environment where teens will happily gather and bribing teens to be your teen’s friend, though.
Report it if it escalates. It’s best to let teens deal with things themselves if they are small scale (such as being snippy or leaving teens out). However, if the behavior gets physical, causes fear or otherwise gets out of hand then report it. In a school setting, let staff or principal know. In neighborhoods, go to the parents and tell them. Online, threats and harassment can be reported to the sender’s internet service provider. In all cases, if the behavior is physical, threatening or extreme and it does not stop after you report it then go to the police. It is a crime to assault or threaten people, including teens.
Cultivate your own relationship with your teen. Teens need good friends their own ages, of course, but it also helps to have strong connections with parents. On those times when it feels like the world is against your teen, it can be so important to feel liked and supported at home. Take some extra time to do things your teen loves, from shopping, fishing, doing art projects to going on walks or taking a Zumba or weight lifting class together????. Also talk about times when you were young and went through similar things.
Provide fun in other forms. For right now, it may be that these teens are not going to be the types of friends your teen needs. Accept that and make some plans for other ways for your teen to have fun. Keep lots of wonderful library books around, provide neat art supplies, play games and otherwise give your teen outlets for some happy times. Books, art, hobbies, pets, nature and other things can help make the difference between a lonely day and a fabulous one.
It also may be helpful to remind your teen of that mantra that gets us through so many hard times in life:
This too shall pass.
Even if it doesn’t seem like it at the moment, things do change. New friends move into neighborhoods, other friends move out, relationships change, new friends are made and better things come along.