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Help Your Adult Child Stand Up to Bullies

Intimidation can continue online and in the workplace

How to Help Your Adult Child Stand Up To Bullies

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You may not hear a lot about adult bullying, but it is a problem.

En español | The internet has taken bullying beyond the schoolyard and into homes and offices, with about 40 percent of Americans experiencing online harassment. Among our millennial children, the share jumps to 65 percent, a Pew Research Center survey found.

While in high school, New Yorker Mackenzie Gavel started an anti-bullying blog, based on her and her friends' experiences. The 24-year-old public relations specialist believes that cyberbullying continues to increase because of apps like Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. Even emojis are used as bullying weapons. "They are now an incredibly easy way that require minimal effort to attack someone," Gavel says. "I think cyberbullying is something that we are all going to have to experience throughout our lives. There isn't a cutoff age."

Telltale signs that your child may be experiencing bullying include withdrawing from social media or being glued to the cellphone, Gavel says. "Now more than ever is when they need someone to remind them of how great they are, how cowardly a form of bullying cyberbullying is, and how much more important it is to worry about and live a life outside of the screen," she adds.

Sometimes that "life outside the screen" encompasses workplace bullying, especially among millennials who are new to the workplace and without allies. Bullying by bosses and coworkers includes intimidation, verbal abuse and humiliation. Often insidious, it's hard to pin down, says management consultant Lynne Curry of Anchorage, Alaska, author of Beating the Workplace Bully.

To get an idea of what bullying a millennial can look like, Curry cites a couple of examples: On her first week on the job, a young woman goes out to get a cup of coffee and is asked by a coworker to bring her back a latte. The coworker continues that request day after day, never offering to pay. In another instance, a young man is reluctant to speak at staff meetings because a colleague rolls his eyes every time the younger man speaks.

Curry urges parents not to brush off repeated complaints of workplace bullying by an adult child. "The destruction [done by] the bully is so great that it can kill someone's morale and job satisfaction," she says. Her antibullying tips to share with your young adults:

  • Stop bullies in their tracks. "The bully tests who is a good target, and that's a test you want to fail." The next time that young woman is asked to buy the latte, she should say, "Sure. That's $3.50."
  • Don't share personal details too quickly. "Hoping for approval and wanting to make friends in the workplace, millennials can overshare personal information that a bully can use to embarrass them."
  • Avoid public confrontation. The young man should just ignore the eye roller and continue to share his ideas at meetings. "If you come on too aggressive, you're just playing the bully's game."
  • Share your life experiences. Children can learn from our work-life tales. Also ask your child what he or she learned from the bad experience. "By recounting what they learned, they can move past a bad experience and not feel so crummy."

Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. A New York University journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at

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