In preparing your children to go back to school, you navigate to-do lists, buying new clothes and gear and coordinating rides to school. You’re looking forward to them meeting new friends and seeing old ones, learning new materials and joining new teams. And maybe you’re nervous because you don’t know what they will face each day; because you want to protect them; and because you don’t know how your five year old is suddenly 15 and asking you to please not give hugs in public.
You hear advice from every side. Parents who have “been there,” adolescent experts and studies are certainly invaluable resources. But we spoke with Hannah Howell, daughter of JRMC employees Jodie and James Howell, who is starting high school next week. She gave her take on bullying, helping others and finding worth from a student’s perspective.
Hannah, who has dealt with bullying, offered her advice to other kids who might be going through the same thing. “I’m not going to say it’s easy, but respond with kindness,” she said. “Go to someone you trust, like a teacher that you know will talk to you and help you through it, or your parents, or just a really good friend of yours.”
Hannah also said it’s important for kids to understand why people become bullies. “Remember it’s not about you,” Hannah said. “In 99% of the situations, you didn’t do anything to make this person be mean or to dislike you. It’s something going on in their life. They take it out on other people because they don’t have another way to deal with it.”
When standing up for someone else who is being bullied, Hannah said kids should try their best to talk to an adult first and the person who is bullying second. “Have a very mature conversation with them,” Hannah said. “Don’t go to them and say, ‘you’re doing this wrong and this is why you have to stop right now.’ Because if you have that reaction – even if you’re not the person they’re bullying – it gives them gratification. Because they know they’re getting to you or that other person.”
When is comes to social media, Hannah is amazed how easy it is to contact someone anonymously. To protect privacy and guard against cyber bullying, Hannah said it’s a good idea for kids to have a private page so they can control who can follow and message them.
Hannah had a surprising message for parents about social media and text messages. Don’t keep new technologies from your kids, but monitor the social media that they have, she said. “As much as they might get mad at you for it, you should do it. You never know what someone is saying to them or what they’re saying to other people. Monitor who follows them and who they follow.”
Hannah encourages kids to talk to their parents about life, even if it might seem awkward. “It’s something that I’ve struggled with,” Hannah said. “But in the end when I went to my mom and talked to her about it, it made things so much easier and so much clearer.” Adding, “Not only are they going to find out anyway, but they love you so much and nothing’s going to make them stop loving you.”
Hannah shared a story her mom told her when she experienced bullying in middle school. “Imagine you’re on a train, and there are two rows of seats,” she said. “On the left, there’s this rocky, dark slope. On the right, there’s a beautiful field, and the sun is shining bright with these white puffy clouds. You have to choose what side of the train you’re going to sit on. You can get up in the morning and sit on the rocky side and be upset, or you can sit on the other side and focus on the positive things in life.”
In the end, Hannah said kids shouldn’t think about what they look like or how popular they are, but the kind of people they are becoming. “Do your best to be kind, and remember other people,” she said. “Remember that you’re not the only one that is going through something. At the end of the day, focus on who you are as a person and what your heart is like.”