Parenting Through the Tough Topics

By Jen Holman

Hands on parenting can help stop bullying

This June Savvy issue is a little heavy, isn’t it? But as anyone who’s lived through tragedy or even a house-wide stomach bug knows, parenting isn’t all morning hugs and lemonade stands. It can be tough—on bodies, on budgets, on marriages, on psyches. Like life, one of the most important aspects of parenting is how we deal with the hard times, the tough topics. 

There has been a lot in the news lately about kids hurting themselves and each other. Like the rest of the country, Arkansas is faced with an epidemic of addiction to opioids. Every other day in the United States, a child under 10 is killed or disabled through an accidental shooting. From cyber bullying to teen addiction to preventable gun deaths, it’s easy to think the world is headed to hell in a handbasket. If it is, where does salvation lie? With us, the parents of the next generation. 

I’ve been talking to my 9-year-old a lot lately about bullying. When reading news reports about the horrific way some kids are treated by their peers, it’s easy to say, “Oh, my child would never do that.” But, isn’t that what every parent says? If no parent’s child would do such a terrible thing, whose is? 

I’ve discovered it’s important to distinguish between rude, mean and bullying when talking about the topic, because kids have trouble grasping the difference. Rude, author and educator Signe Whitson notes, is unintentionally doing or saying something that hurts someone. Mean is inflicting intentional damage once, or maybe twice. Bullying, though, is “intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power.” 

Even though it’s difficult, I’m trying to navigate parenting with my eyes wide open. One way I’ve found to talk to my oldest child about how to stop or prevent bullying is with the concept of social currency. The term is often used when referring to a person or business’s online influence, but I think it works for the schoolyard, too. She has a network of friends who accept her, and plenty of support at home. She is rich in social currency. She can afford to spend some of it if she notices a classmate alone in the lunchroom or on the playground. She has enough social currency that she can stand up to anyone at school who’s being mean to or bullying another, and her friends will not abandon her. 

As confident and experienced adults, we parents (hopefully) wouldn’t hesitate to stand up for someone being wronged. When I was a kid, though, it was hard to deviate from the group. I think it’s even harder now for children growing up in a social media “status like” world. 

Relatedly, cyber bullying is at an all-time high, but parents, unfamiliar with some social media and messaging sites, often don’t know it’s happening. According to, 52 percent of teenagers reported being cyber bullied, though over half did not tell their parents. Twenty-five percent reported repeated bullying by cell phone, which over 80 percent of them use, making it the most common medium. What can we do to combat this? Take away their phones? Some parents may choose to. Others will hopefully take the approach of early and repeated education. 

Many of our state’s prescription drug abuses and accidental gun deaths are preventable, too. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says misused prescription pills are often obtained by teens from parents or relatives without their knowledge. Do you have prescriptions you’d like to dispose of? This searchable map of drop-off locations is covered with options: is a great resource for tips on talking about responsible gun storage. 

It’s easy to feel hopeless and helpless when faced with negative news. But as parents responsible for rearing little people, we must remember that we have choices, we have resources and we are in charge. A little proactive, hands-on parenting can go a very long way toward our children’s safety and our own happiness. And, hey, if we make the world a little better place to live in the process—bonus. 

Jen Holman is determined to be a voice of reason in the cacophony of reality TV and mom-judgment-gone-wild. She is often irreverent and frequently imperfect. But she’s happy, by God, and that’s what matters. She lives in Little Rock with her husband and three (im)perfect children.