PEERS clinic at UCLA, says this is the wrong approach to take. She shares some scientifically proven social skills that can help your child deal with being teased at school and other social settings.">

Jul 13, 2015 — For generations, children have been told to “walk away” or “just ignore it” when they’re being teased. But Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, founder of the PEERS clinic at UCLA, says this is the wrong approach to take. She shares some scientifically proven social skills that can help your child deal with being teased at school and other social settings.

Interview

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Interviewer: Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson is the founder and director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic and PEERS curriculum developer. It's essentially a program that offers social skills training for adolescents and young adults. And oftentimes, adults give the wrong advice to teens when it comes to teasing and what you should do if somebody teases you.

Dr. Laugeson, tell us what the advice normally is and then let's talk about why it's wrong and what we should do.

Dr. Laugeson: Well I want you to actually think about that for a second, Interviewer. I don't want to put you on the spot, but what do you think that parents and teachers and adults will tell kids to do often in response to teasing?

Interviewer: Somebody teases me, let's see It's tough for me because I don't have kids, but I'm going to pretend that I have kids. So-and-so teased me, I'd tell them to ignore them.

Dr. Laugeson: That's right, that's what they're told. They're told to ignore, they're also told to walk away, and they're told to maybe tell an adult. I ask every group of teens that I work with that same question and they always give me those same three replies. They're told to ignore, walk away, tell an adult. Then I ask them if it works, and do you want to guess what they say?

Interviewer: It does not work.

Dr. Laugeson: They say it does not work. And you know, it completely makes sense. Imagine this, imagine that you were teasing me and I ignored you. What do you think you would keep doing?

Interviewer: I would keep doing it until I got the reaction that I wanted, because that's what I'm trying to do.

Dr. Laugeson: Right, exactly, and I'm kind of looking weak in the process. Do you think I'm more likely or less likely to get teased if I ignore you?

Interviewer: Yeah, exactly. You are, aren't you?

Dr. Laugeson: I'm more likely. If I walk away, what are you going to do?

Interviewer: Keep teasing you until I get you to turn around.

Dr. Laugeson: Exactly, you're going to follow me and keep teasing me. And if I tell and adult and try to get you into trouble, then what are you going to want to do?

Interviewer: Oh, there's going to be payback at 3:00 out on the playground by the bike rack.

Dr. Laugeson: Exactly, right? So again, these are not the kinds of skills that we want to teach and unfortunately the vast majority of social skills programs teach those very skills. They say to ignore, walk away, or tell an adult.

Interviewer: Why? Why is that what we're teaching?

Dr. Laugeson: I think it's because we don't really stick to the research. Most psychologists, clinicians, people who teach social skills are not researchers. So we haven't investigated what actually works in reality. It's what we call ecologically valid social skills. What do socially accepted kids do in these situations?

Interviewer: And I still want to know why is this the common I mean, it must have continued this way for a reason. Like, my parent told me, I tell my kids, is that why? Is it just

Dr. Laugeson: I mean, we can only hypothesize. I think we've been telling kids to do this for generations. And I'm certain that we were told to do the same thing.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Laugeson: And just never really thought about what that would look like in reality.

Interviewer: Gotcha. So we know that that's wrong and there is actually research that shows what we should do.

Dr. Laugeson: Yeah. So the reality is that every kid gets teased. It doesn't matter how popular you are. It's how you react to it that determines how significantly or severely, how chronically you're teased. And so kids who are pretty socially accepted, what they do when they're being teased is they give a little comeback. A short comeback that shows that what the person said to them didn't bother them. And actually, what they said, it was kind of lame, you know? It was kind of stupid.

So they'll say things like, "Whatever" or "Yeah, and?" Or, "And your point is?" Or, "Am I supposed to care?" "Is that supposed to be funny?" "Tell me when you get to the funny part." Things like that. And they give the impression that what the person said, really didn't bother them. That does not make the teasing fun. For the teaser, it doesn't reinforce the teasing. In fact, if anything, it sort of embarrasses the person who's teasing us. That is an ecologically valid skill, and that's what we teach in peers.

Interviewer: Fascinating. So what kind of success rate does this generally have? Eighty percent, 90%?

Dr. Laugeson: It's difficult to know because we don't follow kids around all the time, but this particular skill has been tremendously effective in terms of reporting on homework. One of the things we do in our programs, we actually give kids homework assignments to practice the skill that they learned in the group in order to generalize these skills outside of the treatment setting.

One of the assignments in this case would be to use these comebacks when you're being teased and it happens so frequently, every kid gets teased throughout the week. They use these strategies and report back, and our kids, I think, are actually quite shocked at how quickly and how effectively these skills work. And they're rather easy to learn.

Interviewer: Very nice. Is it the way you deliver it as well that you've got to be paying attention to?

Dr. Laugeson: Definitely the way you deliver it. So there's basically, there are some gender differences in how boys and girls actually say this. And I don't teach the gender differences because every person is different, but in general what we find is that boys tend to sound a little bit more bored when they give these comebacks. So they'll say things like, "Whatever." Kind of indifferent, kind of bored.

Girls, on the other hand, will often have a little bit more attitude, a little bit more dramatic flair. They might say "Whatever." The way that you deliver this is very important, but, boys and girls can do this either way. A lot of people sound bored, a lot of people sound indifferent, others sound more dramatic and have more attitude. It's fine however you choose to do this.

Interviewer: So there's not a way that I shouldn't do it, the point is I need to come back with something that shows, eh, that doesn't bother me or that's dumb or whatever.

Dr. Laugeson: As long as you're giving the impression that it doesn't bother you. I mean, you could say whatever and sound really upset. That would not give the same type of meaning and wouldn't be as effective.

Interviewer: Some great solid advice. Is there some other resources you can recommend to parents that want to learn more of these social skills, these scientifically proven social skills?

Dr. Laugeson: Yeah, absolutely. We do have a really nice resource for families, parents, or educators that's called the Science of Making Friends. It's a book that basically teaches all of the skills that we teach in the PEERS program. There are narrative sections for parents or teachers, there are actually chapter summaries for teens and young adults to read about the skills in more kid-friendly terms.

There are homework assignments at the end of every chapter. And there's even a companion DVD that provides video role play demonstrations of all the skills that we teach, including teasing. Additionally, there's also an app. It's called Friend Maker. You can find it in the App Store. It also has all of the skills that we teach in PEERS, but everything is laid out in outline form with embedded role play videos in the app.

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