Bullying in Japan: Insights from Experts (Part Two)
Last week, we shared insight into what bullying in Japan might look like, and who it's most likely to affect. This week, we're sharing our experts' thoughts on what parents might be able to do about it!
What Parents Can Do
First and foremost, parents should always be conscious of their own behavior. Kids are like sponges; they take in everything around them and replicate what they see. Consider how you talk about and handle the conflicts in your life; would you want your child to see that as acceptable for themselves?
Dariusz recommends socializing your children as early as possible. While this ideally means providing low-stakes environments for interaction with other children their age (like the neighborhood playground), it can also include exposure to different cultures, languages and experiences (like bilingual babysitters!). This not only teaches children to be open-minded and flexible in novel environments, it also provides them with critical social skills that will help them interact with their peers as they get older.
Parents should also be aware of the things that may make their child “different” (not better or worse! Just characteristics that may inherently set them apart from others) and give consideration to the environments and situations they will encounter. As Dariusz mentioned in our chat with him on school options, mixed-heritage children may find it difficult to fit in at Japanese public schools. These are environments that can place a lot of importance on fitting in, and mixed-heritage children are often visibly “different.”
That is not to say that these environments are automatically off-limits. But rather, parents can preemptively evaluate what barriers their child may face and help to prepare them accordingly.
In fact, Dariusz believes all parents should teach their children an important lesson: it’s a given in life that some people will not like you and that some people may be mean for no reason. When children learn that this just is and not something to be taken personally, it can help to lessen the negative impact of bullying in the future.
If your child is actively being bullied, Sachiko says one of the most important things a parent can offer is a safe space for their child’s concerns and thoughts to be heard.
“One of the worst things a parent can do when their child tells them they are being mistreated is to dismiss it,” she says. Validate their experience and trust that they are not telling you stories.
What Parents Shouldn’t Do
While it is important to help children build resilience in the face of bullying, per Dariusz, Sachiko warns parents to be careful not to inadvertently blame their children for what they’re experiencing. As a grown-up, you may see how your child’s behavior could encourage teasing or being left out, but telling them that certainly won’t fix the situation. Instead, consider it your job to help them overcome it.
Conversely, parents should not overcompensate if their child is being bullied.
“No helicopter parents!” Dariusz says.
Obviously, if a child is being physically assaulted or the bullying is otherwise severe, intervention as soon as possible is absolutely necessary. Not only is that an issue to be brought to the attention of the school, coach or otherwise, but also law enforcement if warranted. In many cases, however, getting involved too soon or too much can worsen the situation. For one, “tattling” can just add fuel to the fire. Secondarily, it won’t allow your child to build those skills that will prove necessary for dealing with difficult situations throughout life.
Any More Tips?
If you do feel that involving your child’s teacher and/or other authority figures is the solution, keep two things in mind:
Sometimes, even teachers or coaches may lack an understanding of why either their behavior or the behavior of the children is problematic, especially if it’s an issue of cultural differences. Sachiko advises that creating a dialogue for discussing the issue may be all that is needed to help put an end to it.
Dariusz recommends also including other adult stakeholders, like the principal and school counselor, in these discussions, if possible. As previously mentioned, Japanese culture prioritizes group dynamics, so creating an incentive for group consensus in this way may also help to expedite a resolution to any problems of bullying at school.
You can also help your child remove the incentive for bullying. All humans are programmed to seek out opportunities to gain and exert power according to Dariusz. Bullying is one method that some people may use to this end. If your child “goes along with” the teasing or demands (“give me your lunch money!” “Sure!”), Dariusz offers, rather than struggling against them and therefore giving the bully the reaction they are seeking, this robs the bully of satisfaction. Without that, there’s little reason to keep the behavior up.
Ultimately, each family that is dealing with bullying, whether their child is victim or perpetrator, is dealing with a unique situation. Paramount to resolving it is being proactive at home by modeling good behavior and providing a space for open communication. It’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to shield your child from all negative interactions but you can help to give them the confidence they need to overcome them.