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Q&A for Teens: Bullying Revisited
Q&A for Teens

Q&A for Teens: Bullying Revisited

A kid in my class is being mean to me. What should I do?


Dear Lauren,

A kid in my class is harassing me and bullying me. What should I do?

Lauren Roth's Answer

Your question came at a perfect time; our family also had a rash of bullying experiences this week. And I purposely use the word “rash:” bullying is angry, bothersome, inflammatory, uncomfortable, painful, and never anything anyone wants to have.

In a previous article, I elucidated one method of dealing with bullies: befriending them. Being nice to them, at an arm’s distance, because if they’re bullying, it means they’re hurting. I’ve seen that approach work many times, but in order to deal with all types of bullies effectively, it’s good to have a lot of tricks in your bag. Some rashes respond to topical steroids. Some need air, and some need water. So too with bullies. They come in all shapes and sizes, and one approach might work with one mean kid and a different approach might work with a different one.

This week, the bullies and mean kids we’ve encountered have responded well to two different techniques. One really difficult person had been held at bay by the “befriending” technique for a long time. Then he flared up this week, and my son spoke to him strongly, firmly, and calmly, looking him straight in the eye and showing no fear, and said, “Stop bothering me. It’s mean, and I don’t like it.” My son stared him down for a few moments, strongly, calmly, and firmly, and the mean kid kind of skulked away. This week, that worked with that kid.

“I do not need anyone in my life who is mean or rude or obnoxious. I can be strong, and independent, and my own best friend.”

I do wonder if that “strong but firm” approach worked because my son had been employing the “be kind to bullies because they’re hurting” approach with him until now. What I mean is this: if you were, for example, a parent, and you wanted to discipline your child and explain to him that what he did was wrong, you first would have to have good will between you and your child. If there’s good will because you’ve been nice to your child, he’ll be much more willing to hear what you have to say. I wonder if my son’s “strong but firm” approach would have worked this week if he hadn’t been doing the “befriending” technique with this kid beforehand. Like rashes, sometimes you have to vary the methods to calm the inflammation, and see what works.

The second approach that worked for three of my kids this week (I told you we’ve had a rash of bullying!) was the “absolutely ignore them” approach. What this approach necessitates is knowing completely and fully that you are strong, you are confident, you are independent, and you don’t need anyone mean in your life. This approach has to come from a deep well of self-confidence within you. This approach comes from your telling yourself: “I do not need anyone in my life who is mean or rude or obnoxious. I can be strong, and independent, and my own best friend.”

I like my kids to practice this approach, because it’s very empowering and helps build that self-confidence. You can practice it too. Practice with a friend, a sibling, or a parent. If you can get this one down, your days of being bullied just might be over. This is how it goes:

Stare him down confidently, firmly, and strongly, give a little sneer, say something like “You are so weird,” and slowly walk away.

Harry bothers you. You completely and totally ignore him. He gets in your face; you pretend you can’t see him. He says, “Hey you, loser, I’m talking to you!” You remain totally impassive and pretend you didn’t hear him. You read a book, you look through your locker, you look out the window…. He pushes you; you don’t break your stride, just keep on walking. You continue whatever you were doing before he pushed you. Make Harry feel as though he can’t touch you. Like there’s a wall of steel around you, protecting you, and making him invisible. If he keeps trying to get your attention, keep ignoring him. Then, if he doesn’t stop, after ignoring him for a long while, switch to the “strong and firm approach.” Stare him down confidently, firmly, and strongly, give a little sneer, say something like “You are so weird,” and walk away. Slowly walk away.

If the bully doesn’t get a reaction from you, eventually he or she will move on to another target.

Unfortunately, that last statement was true: bullies move from target to target. They only stop bullying if they get to therapy and get the help they need, or, in the case of Antisocial Personality Disordered people, until they get thrown into jail where they can only bully other inmates.

I gave a parenting seminar on bullying a couple of weeks ago. I had one of the fathers act like the bully, and I was demonstrating the “absolutely ignore” approach. That father didn’t give up so easily! With my own kids and teenaged clients, I’ve found that bullies are not as tenacious as you might think once you employ the “befriend,” “strong but firm,” or “absolutely ignore” technique. However, this father would not give up. He followed me around the stage for much longer than I’ve ever experienced with simulated or real bullies. I had to be equally tenacious in my ignoring him. And his persistence made me realize that I should tell all of you: don’t give up. Don’t give in. Whichever approach you adopt, don’t quit ‘til you win. If you had a stubborn rash, and it just wouldn’t go away, would you say, “Argh! Forget it! I’m not treating this skin thing anymore. Go ahead, rash, take over my whole body! See if I care!” No, you wouldn’t.

Sometimes in life, God gives us challenges and we have to be persistent, even though it’s uncomfortable. But don’t give in. Don’t cry. Don’t do what the bully wants. You can do this.

Last night, we had a really gross situation. One of our toilets was stuffed, and it would not flush. My husband plunged that toilet maybe 50 times, and it would not budge. I said to him, “Sweetheart, forget it. I’ll call the plumber tomorrow. Don’t bother with the toilet – you have surgeries to perform tomorrow. Just forget about the toilet and go to sleep.” He said, “Let me just try 10 more times.” He was tenacious and persistent. And do you know what happened? After those 10 more times, Whoosh!! The water swirled and exited properly, just like a good toilet should.

This is your anti-bully mantra: “Icky clogged toilets and red, inflamed rashes: I’m better than any bully ever could be, because I’ve got kindness, self-confidence, courage, tenacity, and all of Lauren’s techniques on my side. I can do this!”

Of course, don’t dismiss the power of telling as many adults as you can about your bullying problem. Even though you think they might not be able to help you, merely sharing your experience with them can make you feel less alone in your struggles. And you might be surprised – a parent, a teacher, a principal, a neighbor, the police… might just be able to effect change for you and your issue. If you’re worried that “tattling” on the bully might backfire, make sure you impress upon the adult how important it is that they not reveal the source of their information. And choose adults you trust.

I’m on your side.

December 29, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 11

(11) Bobby5000, June 23, 2013 10:00 PM

develop skills

Ignoring bullying is absolutely the worst thing to do.
You mean if I push Jack around he won't do anything and I can show people I'm strong and powerful. Doing nothing just insures you become a target for not only bullies but bully want to be's and your humiliation insures that few will be your friend. It's hard to figure a worse approach.

Making the commitment to fight and/ or retailiate is an important start.

Recognize that fighting is a skill like math, science. Your bully may have years of practice so you need work. Get a family friend with some skill with fighting. Be careful of long-winded judo or karate classes that purport to teach self-confidence and psycho-babble instead of just explaining how to effectively fight. For example, a policeman friend explained that a hard kick to the smaller bones in the foot can inflict damage; biting and holding can be effective. Practice your fight 500 times before doing it.

Do realize that schools will not exercise common sense. When Jack who beat up 93 kids through high school fights Wang Lo who studies science and math, the school will punish them equally. Also note that teachers hate to get involved and will freely ignore a student bullied.

(10) Anonymous, February 22, 2013 9:00 PM


although ignoring might work very well for psychological bullying since the bully will just get bored it is a completely different story for physical bullying. if a kid punches you you can't just ignore that and fighting back isn't always an option i wonder what some one should also telling an adult might just make it worse...

(9) scott, January 27, 2013 6:44 PM

I don't know...

I was bullied unmercifully for years as a kid. I mean really bullied-beaten bloody at times. As opposed to kids saying mean things...we called that teasing. I really get tired of hearing the two confused. How did I stop it? One day I had enough and I popped a bully in the mouth as hard as I could and got ready for the beating that was sure to follow. That day I was lucky...I picked the right guy to stand up to. He backed off and people stopped messing with me. I repeated this a couple times..llife is not like the after school special where you win one battle and everything changes. A couple times the bully did administer a sound beating before backing off...but after a while no one messed with me. It wasn't fun anymore. I fought back-pretty hard if I do say so myself. I learned that I had courage. Believe it or not that made all the bullying worth it. I learned that I could stand up for myself regardless of consequences-without whining- something that few people in my generation or the ones to follow me learned to do. Maybe it's different today when it's not just a bloody nose but a knifing or gunshot you have to worry about...I don't know. But to have sympathy for the guy that's tormenting me? To recognize that he's hurting? Are you kidding? We are commanded to kill the pursuer. I'm not so much on killing, but a sock in the mouth might be more appropriate than appeasing a bully. If I you don't stand up to him today-who are you endangering tomorrow? Who will be pursue next? And what will the next he guy he bullies do in response-go all Columbine?

(8) Marlene, January 6, 2013 12:19 AM

Jewish values play a huge role

I work in a public school downtown. The bullying that occurs there daily is horrid, horrid and simply horrid. The kids have little self-esteem if any. The overriding value there is, "someone hurts you, you hurt them back." There are none of the basic Jewish values I have always taken for granted. So the idea that "dont do unto others what you dont want done unto you" does not exist and the students have difficulty even comprehending the logic behind it. "Love your neighbor as yourself" "love comes from giving to others" "respect your elders" and ideas that making someone happy and helping others are GOOD things to do are no where near their radar. flattery, stealing, destroying people's property, gossip, making up stories about people that are not true, lying and calling people names are the norm. Dealing with bullying in this school is nearly an impossible feat. There is definitely bullying in Jewish schools, but putting that aside: The number one method for fighting bullying is practicing Jewish values.

(7) MezzoMench, January 4, 2013 7:33 PM

Common Sense

I was raised in a traditional Italian-American family on my mother's side and my father is part Jewish. My son (Samuel) was being bullied in the 4th grade. He had taken martial arts starting at a very young age (5). He was being bullied at school along with the other students. I sent him to school to stop the situation. The reason being is the pacifistic idiot teachers would just watch. Sure they said things to the bully daily; even grounded him the play ground periodically. But bully's dont care about that. They understand brute force. I told my son Samuel to tell him to leave him alone; I told Sam he would laugh at him but just walk away. On the 2nd day I told him the same and again walk away. On the third day I told him to tell him to leave him alone and when he moved toward you because you refused ot walk away or he threatend you - LIGHT HIM UP! My son understood to keep spacing in order to allow him to react to the movement and threats. The bully did what bully's do. Threatned my son and went to lay hands on him. The result was a good 'ol fashioned b-tt whoopin for that bully. Note: my son's school was in a tough (poor) neighborhood and there was no punishment for him at all. People that think you can "talk" with bully's are the Neville Chamberlain's of this world; "befriending them" ARE YOU SERIOUS? Nothing more than cowardice cloaked in neo-eductional garbage. Mindset: EVERYONE of the italians on my mother side told Sam to kick his b-tt HARD. On my father's side they wanted him to talk to the kid. Personally (growing up with both my parents in the same house) I believe in both. I told Sam; while your mouth is talking to make sure his fists were loaded and ready to roll. Note: The bully never bothered a single kid at that school again. In fact after a few weeks integrated into playing with the other kids properly.

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