There’s a reason kids bully. A reason teens can feel like something is the absolute end of the world. A reason parents don’t quite get it.

Su Langdon is a lecturer in Bates College’s psychology department and a mom to an eighth-grader and just-graduated 12th-grader. She’s studied it and lived it.

“The whole teenage world is so intense in so many ways,” said Langdon, who’s also a campus program coordinator to educate and prevent sexual violence. “It’s easy as adults to forget that, but it is their whole world. It’s naturally developmental that peers become the most important source of information, which is fantastic in many ways because they’re gaining independence. On the other hand, they’re not fully developed emotionally, socially, brain-development(-wise).”

When an embarrassing video is shared or someone starts a nasty rumor, “it’s really easy as an adult to dismiss that, to say it’s not a big deal, to shake it off. But they can’t,” she said. “They really cannot. Some kids are better at having a better armor, if you will; others do not. They’re all vulnerable at some time in some ways because peers are so important.”

The kid doing the bullying likely doesn’t feel good about themselves, Langdon said. Their solution out of that: making it clear they’re better than someone else.

“They’re going to point out somebody else’s wrong-ness, different-ness, and different is kind of the No. 1 reason that kids are bullied,” she said. “It often has to do with socio-economic status, looks. Race can be a factor, religion — any way that kids are not fitting in.”

Bullying, she said, has been around forever; social media’s exacerbated it. Twenty years ago, someone might be pointed at, kids might snicker and the target might not even realize they were being singled out.

“Now, because of Snapchat or Instagram, anything with the group sharing of information, everybody can know right away,” Langdon said. “That’s one of the biggest differences now compared to when parents were kids and teachers and school administrators were kids. Things worked differently.”

What’s a parent to do?

Keep being there, even when all signs say “go away.”

“One of the challenges is that because peers become so important, kids are saying, ‘I hate you, go away, leave me alone,’ if they’re even able to express that,” she said. “Oftentimes, it’s a grunt or it’s a scowl. So they’re very much pushing parents away because they’re trying to grow that independence, but at the same time they still desperately need parents.

“Even if you are getting the grunts or the scowl or the ‘I hate you and you don’t understand,’ keep checking in,” said Langdon. “That simple check-in can make all the world of difference. To listen, not judge, just listen.”

Keep reminding your teen that this too shall pass, she said, even though there’s no reason for them to believe you; their brains tell them it won’t.

Except, with time, it will.

“Part of it is just being available,” she said. The message needs to be: “‘Even though I’m horribly uncool, I’m here and I do love you and others love you.’ . . . Parenting teens is not easy, but parenting is not ever easy.”

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Su Langdon

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