Loading articles...

Open communication, curiosity key to talking about bullying: expert

Last Updated Sep 3, 2019 at 10:29 am PDT

(iStock Photo)

Talking to your kids about bullying, peer pressure can often be a daunting task, but expert says conversations are key

Expert encourages parents to start having an open, honest conversation with their child at an early age

Psychology professor suggests parents have genuine curiosity about their child's life

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Bullying will be top of mind for many Lower Mainland parents, children and teachers as kids head back to the classroom this week, after a Langley teen died of a suspected overdose while with friends last month.

Carson Crimeni, 14, was filmed in distress and the video was shared on the social media platform Snapchat. It’s still unclear why the teen died or if he was pressured into anything, but his family believes he was given drugs by friends who stood by as he died.

However, it’s not always easy for kids or their parents to recognize the signs of bullying or peer pressure, according to UBC psychology professor Amori Mikami, because they aren’t always as obvious as taunting, shunning or physical assault.

“Haven’t we all been in a situation where we ask ourselves ‘are these people being mean or treating me badly, or is it just me who is being too sensitive or making up the problem?’ There’s no clear cut rules,” Mikami said. “It’s normal to want to be part of the group. We all want that.”

Which is why she suggests parents have genuine curiosity about their child’s life; talk to their children about their social experiences and how those interactions made them feel. Those conversations can include their face-to-face interactions and their digital or social media ones.

“I use that word curiosity for a specific reason,” she said. “I think when parents approach it as ‘I’m interested in you and would like to know more about your social world, your friends, the things you care about and how you see the world,’ then that makes it a lot easier for kids to open up, as opposed to if it sounds like ‘I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions to find out exactly what you’re doing and if you’re doing things right or wrong and if I need to correct them,’ because that is obviously a stance that can make kids feel a lot more defensive.”

As kids themselves may not know whether they are being bullies, Mikami says sometimes the perspective of an experienced older parent could help them figure it out and handle it on their own.

“Kids aren’t always honest about their answers and sometimes they don’t know what the answer is,” she said. “But sometimes kids will be able to self reflect and say they actually don’t like what they’re doing when they’re with this person or they don’t like how this person makes them feel about themselves.”

If a parent or child does recognize a problem, Mikami suggests the parent be empathetic with their kid before jumping into solutions, and then ask if they want help.

She suggests starting these conversations as early in a child’s life as possible, but it is never too late for a parent to show interest in what their kid is doing.

If the child is older, Mikami suggests doing something together that both parent and kid enjoy, and making shared activities a part of the weekly schedule.

“With teens, it can be harder to open the door to those conversations, especially if it’s something you and your teenager aren’t used to doing,” Mikami said, adding parents shouldn’t expect kids to immediately open up about everything.

“Our kids are fully capable of hiding things from us,” she said. “It’s normal for kids to hide certain things and most of the time it turns out alright. Just try to have as much open and honest communication as possible.”