Now, more than ever before, our youth are hurting from difficult social dynamics and the pain that comes from the backlash of social media. Here are some helpful suggestions based on expert advice and mom-approved and tested. Recently, I reached out to some of my friends who have been parenting in the trenches with me to find out new ways to help mentor our children to deal with difficult social situations in a sometimes cold and often ruthless culture that can breed toxic friendships.
Behaviors that Hurt
In an article on EmpoweringParents.com, “Girl bullying: What to do When your daughter is a Victim of ‘Mean Girls’,” author Peggy Moss, JD, states that bullying can include tactics such as “exclusion, forming cliques, gossiping, spreading rumors, making nasty comments, cyberbullying, outcasting, sharing secrets and backstabbing.” These “methods” are how girls and boys use “non-violent” means to destroy self-esteem and make a child’s life miserable. Sadly, most administrators and adults are not able to see these behaviors like they would a fist fight or yelling match. These hurtful behaviors are done behind most adults back and unless your child is willing to open up and share, you might not have a clue they are struggling. As parents, we need to keep this on our radar and look for warning signs.
Warning Signs a Child is Struggling:
Children don’t know how to deal with this type of social stress, but parents need to be aware. Here are some possible behaviors that might change because of social strain: sudden onset of anxiety, loss of sleep, depression, loss of appetite, change of social behaviors, complaining of being lonely, not having anyone to sit with at lunch, low self-esteem, mood changes such as onset of anger or coldness towards their family.
These current trend of children and teens hurting each other through non-violent means is seen not only at school and youth group: Kids are also being left out and hurt through technology. For example, children go out of their way to exclude others and post when they are not included. This can be done by making their SnapChat location public so everyone can see who is hanging out, or posting livestreams and showing the fun they are having. As one mom said, “When I was a child, I just didn’t know about parties and sleepovers you were not included until later. Now, in a click, your children can see everything and everyone who didn’t think you should make the invite list.” Yes, our children need to learn that not everyone can be invited to everything, but social media provides a porthole view of everything in which others are not included, and parents need to realize that these tools can be very hurtful. “Flexing,” a new urban term, means to show off, or to boast, in an often fake manner. Flexing is hurtful and is not rooted in humility.
By living according to basic precepts of our Catholic faith and taking deliberate action, we just might be able to educate our children and prepare them for these difficult situations that they will experience at some point in their life. I have witnessed firsthand how one “mean girl” can turn a whole squad of friends against a child for no reason. We need to be more aware when someone is being left out, and how we can mentor our children to be loving and kind, even when it isn’t popular. I have also seen kids left out because they don’t have access to technology such as phones and iPods, which can leave a child feeling sad and not included.
10 Mom-Approved Ways to Help Your Children Navigate Difficult Social Situations
- Don’t let the drama be the focus of where you place your attention. Train your children to focus less on the social drama; instead, share about the positive things going on at school or a social gathering. Encourage them to be kind to others and diversify their friend group. Help focus your children’s attention on positive influences and teach them to not allow themselves to be poisoned by the few “bad apples.”
- Teach your child to know when to turn off their phone. Teach your children to create some healthy boundaries with their friends and social media. Do you children have access to their phones and social media 24 hours a day? Do others steal their sleep with late night drama and messages? Set limits and social drama will be less likely to follow you home in the evenings.
- The bullies are hurting too. The kids doing the bullying are often times immature and struggling with their own relationships at home and in their life. Some children and adults want others to “hurt the way they hurt” and dish out painful actions and words. It doesn’t mean we don’t report their behavior to the principal or staff, but we must remember that they too are children of God and need our mercy.
- Spend One on One Time with Your Child. Typically if you spend one on one time with your child, they will open up about the dynamics with which they are struggling. Always share that you will not be disappointed if they are struggling with friends. Share how you have struggled with friends and what you did to improve the situation. For example, “I decided to run track in order to make new friends, or I talked to my mom when I was struggling like you are sharing with me.” Share your story and assure them that you will always be there for them.
- When Do You Act? It can be difficult to determine when we as parents need to act or hold back and allow situations to resolve themselves. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s good counsel on when a situation has elevated to a level that is a concern for your child’s mental health. Depending on the severity of the situation, you might try meeting with the other parent or contacting the school to make the teachers aware that your son or daughter is struggling. It helps if the child can find a sport or activity with kids that might be a better friend fit: Switch youth groups, parishes, or schools, or provide a counselor or expert to discuss the situation. Finally, if your child is being threatened, contact the police. Regardless of the situation, don’t be afraid to take action to defend your child entrusted to your care by God!
- Train your tongue: Gossip Hurts. Gossip and slander are so painful! Teach your children that “if you wouldn’t say it to another’s face, don’t say it at all.” Now with Snapping, texting, and messaging, kids don’t need to say mean things — they just need to type them. The same rule applies. We learn in James 3: 9-10: “With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers.”
- Help your child to develop an appropriate sense of humor. Help your children to understand healthy humor. Most bullying is done to stir a laugh or reaction by someone else. Remind them that laughing at someone can be very painful. Teach them warning signs about the use of misdirected humor and how not to make fun of others. I like to tell my children, “Sin often starts out funny, but the end result is destruction.”
- Find a nice group of friends. Try to avoid the drama as much as possible. Find friends in your parish, youth group, sports team, drama team or a way to focus the friendships not just around social dynamics. Get to know the other parents and maybe you will make a friend at the same time as your daughter or son. Help your child identify nice children that do not breed toxic friendships.
- Pray for your children, DAILY. We need to cover our children in prayer and help them to not only be kind but learn to forgive and help others be pulled out of toxic friendships. Consider ordering a Self-Enthronement kit to the Sacred Heart at WelcomeHisHeart.com to help your family gain new graces during this difficult time and allow the Lord to help heal your child and strengthen your faith.
Copyright 2019 Emily Jaminet