Is Your Child Friends with a Bully? What’s a Parent to Do?
When my older daughter Becca was in middle school, a new girl moved to town. I’ll call her Cherie.
Cherie met my daughter at the bus stop and quickly glommed on, coming over after school to hang out. Becca was flattered. She had friends, but Cherie was different. She was mature beyond her years: tall and pretty as a model, with sophisticated hair styles and make-up. She was boy-crazy and filled with gossip.
But Cherie was also mean. Very mean. My wife caught Cherie making fun of our younger daughter Julia, who wanted to hang with the cool, older girls. Sadly, Becca let Cherie mouth off and hurt her sister’s feelings. I talked sternly to Cherie about this, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Another friend of both our daughters, Amelia, who practically lived at our house for years, was driven away in tears by Cherie, and things were never the same with her again.
Cherie was a bully. She was new in town and wanted Becca for herself. Anyone who stood in her way inflamed her possessive jealousy and was verbally attacked.
It was difficult. Becca told us she liked having Cherie as a friend. After all, like many bullies, Cherie was powerful and charismatic. And Becca was drawn in, made to feel special by the attention, intimidated by Cherie’s strong personality, and no doubt fearful of what might happen if she got on Cherie’s wrong side.
She was, in effect, being bullied into a “friendship” with Cherie. She started to dress more provocatively, like Cherie, and learned how to put on bold make-up. Becca was starting down a potentially dangerous path.
How We Clamped Down
This had to stop. But how? In our case, here’s what we did:
- We talked with Becca and got her to define and write down what a good friend is like. We pointed out that Cherie had few, if any, of those qualities.
- We said that because Cherie had been mean to Julia and Amelia, she was not allowed in our house.
- We asked Becca to think about what kind of influence Cherie was having on her, and whether she liked the kind of person she was changing into.
- We coached our daughter on how to act to gradually get out of Cherie’s grasp: to say she was busy when Cherie invited her over; to say she had homework when Cherie called. We even drove her to school for a while, so they wouldn’t meet at the bus stop.
Acting Quickly Helped
I’m convinced that by moving relatively fast, taking decisive steps, talking things over with Becca, and appealing to her good values, we dodged a bullet. Fairly soon, Cherie lost interest in Becca and fell in with a rough crowd. By the time high school rolled around, Cherie was into drinking and drugs and was arrested in tenth grade for shoplifting. Had we done nothing, goodness knows how our daughter might have turned out.
Resources That Can Help
If your son or daughter is friends with a bully, these articles offer helpful advice:
- “Helping Girls Cope with Bullying and Frenemies” by Signe Whitson is an article from Psychology Today that lays out good perspectives and tactics for dealing with this phenomenon.
- A CNN video and post, “Is it OK to discipline another parent’s child?” by Kelly Wallace, has some thoughtful help for parents who want to intervene over inappropriate behavior.
- This About.com post, “Is Your Child’s Friend a Bully” by bullying expert Sherri Gordon, has a great list defining “frenemies” that you can share or adapt for your child as a powerful tool to help pry your kid away from a dangerous bully.
Michael Solow has worked as a teacher, journalist, and commercial writer/creative director. Michael has also taught high school English and junior high math, gaining his teaching certification from Vassar College and a master's degree in the teaching of writing and literature from George Mason University. His writing has been published in the New York Times, the San Francisco Review of Books, TheMorningNews.org, and the Hemingway Review. He is the proud dad of two grown daughters and the happy husband of an elementary school librarian.