Let’s face it: Middle and high school are rough. Kids can be mean. While we can practice kindness until our ears bleed or our eyes fall out, once our kids hit double-digits, they become their own people and start thinking for themselves. And sometimes, who they become isn’t exactly nice — finding out you’re raising a bully is… tough. But raising a kid on the receiving end of bullying behavior is really hard, too. Just ask the frustrated mom who recently turned to TikTok for help with a problem plaguing their family: “What should a 9th-grade boy do when several people call out his name in a mocking way?” One solution, says communication expert Professor Jaime Hamilton, is to teach our kids to respond neutrally in group mocking situations.
There’s nothing worse than watching your tween navigate all the ins and outs of school social situations and try to understand why so-and-so doesn’t like them. You can’t give them all the answers because you don’t know them. However, you can try your best to equip them with advice and tactics that might help them wade through these particularly tricky years (and maybe save a little face in the process).
So, what do you do? While Hamilton readily admits her advice may not work for everyone, she’s confident it can help many.
“I want you to do this: Have him put his arms out wide and make himself big, look right at them, and say, ‘Do you feel better? I hope so.’ And then clap, turn around, and walk away,” says Jamie Hamilton, a communication expert who’s recently started sharing insight on TikTok. “Chances are they’ll never do it again.”
In a follow-up post, Hamilton explains the tactic. As a professor of communication studies who focuses on human behavior, she’s a great source on the subject of bullying. She says responding in a neutral way is usually the best defense against bullies and will typically make them back down for good.
“So, why is it that some of these tactics work for some and some work for others?” asks Hamilton. “Let’s break it down… the bullies are trying to illustrate a message in order to showcase dominance or control. Listen carefully: What they say does not show that they are dominant or in control. The way I respond to their message is what makes their message domineering or controlling. That’s why, ‘Do you feel better? I hope so,’ is not considered a domineering or controlling message. It doesn’t assert control, and it doesn’t say, ‘I’m in charge of the situation.’ If the student were to respond with, ‘You’re stupid,’ that is a controlling or dominant message. That gives the bully a domineering, controlling position. The bullies only gain control and dominate the situation if we respond with a domineering message or a submissive message.”
Hamilton continues, explaining, “Escalation occurs when students respond to bullies with dominant messages. This is called a ‘one-up message,’ and you’re exactly right. It will definitely escalate. A ‘one across’ message does not dominate, and it doesn’t give up control. It is a neutral message. It leaves a bully confused on how to respond because we didn’t respond to them with a dominant message. In other words, we didn’t give them the response they wanted, but we still responded.”
As with all things on social media, Hamilton had plenty of detractors and people who didn’t think her advice would work — at least not in their neck of the woods. In many subcultures or more aggressive situations, responding at all will likely end in a fight.
“Agree? Disagree? It’s a good conversation to have, and our kids need us to have it,” Hamilton says in her follow-up video. “You have to use your best judgment when you are making decisions like this when it comes to bullying behavior. It’s gonna work in some subcultures and not in others. But using a neutral message is certainly a great way to start.”
After giving her background and explaining her own childhood, Hamilton agrees that while she might relate perfectly to some of her followers, she can’t necessarily provide the best advice for all people of all backgrounds. As she puts it, her advice isn’t “one size fits all.” Still, it’s excellent advice for a lot of kids.