12 Year Old Bully

Dear Sharon,

Our next-door neighbor’s son is a bully. He is 12 years old, sizeable and formidable. I know he’s a bully because my 10-year-old son is one of his many victims. I don’t know what to do or how to begin to deal with this situation. My son is afraid of retribution if I take action, but I think to do nothing is more terrifying for everyone. What do you say?

Dear Parent,

I am sorry to hear about this all too common problem.

It is often challenging, although necessary, to conduct a thoughtful and effective adult intervention when bullying occurs. It can be particularly difficult when tensions come from a “formidable” neighbor who is an ongoing presence in a child’s life.

There is rarely a simple solution to repeated intimidations but here are some possible steps to think through as you tackle the problem.

I think it is important for parents to play a role in the resolution of bullying. It is often useful for Moms and/or Dads to enlist advice and specific assistance from a variety of sources who can keep discussions confidential. Taking time to brainstorm and strategize with trusted family members, friends, and/or school, religious or community advisors before acting can help generate ideas that can effectively stop the problem. It is not uncommon for children like your son to fear retribution. Unfortunately those fears are not unfounded, all the more reason to have any parental actions be carefully thought out beforehand. Impulsive responses, an understandable reaction to bullying, are sometimes effective but can also lead to complications in the long run.

Of course one possible solution would be for an adult to talk directly to the child and/or his or her family. However, it can be useful to remember that bullies are frequently experiencing family discord or hardship that is spilling over onto others. Those underlying issues might have to be addressed or at least understood to have interventions go well.

While sorting through ways to stop the harassment I suggest that Moms and/or Dads in your position set aside ample time to listen to the details of their child’s experiences and then provide good counsel about any steps that might be taken to interrupt the behavior (avoiding the bully, not responding, asking for help from others, etc.). Finding additional support through school or community resources (counseling and or support groups in or outside of school) can prove invaluable for a child even when stopping the problem is not quick or easy to do.

Parents are understandably upset and worried when their child is being bullied and also need plenty of support and good counsel. If Mom and Dad can sort through their own emotions it is easier for them to provide the calm and reassuring emotional support and practical strategizing that a child needs during this time.

I am sorry to hear about your son’s dilemma. I know many parents who have sorted through viable solutions to handle bullies over time. I wish you well as you do the same.