Bullying is an epidemic that can affect children and teens of any age. It can range from verbal abuse to physical harassment to cyberbullying, which takes place over the internet or via text or other electronic media. If you are a parent, you might be concerned about how you can help prevent your teen from being bullied and also from becoming a bully. Read on to learn about what you can do to help your teen and community when it comes to bullying.
Know What Bullying Is (And Is Not)
One of the first ways you can help prevent bullying is to know what bullying is and is not. Not every unpleasant interaction that your child experiences is going to be bullying. Knowing when something is not bullying will help you be better able to determine when something is bullying.
Bullying is aggressive, repeated (or likely to be repeated), and must contain a real or perceived power imbalance. Among children and teens, the power imbalance might be age, size, or social standing. For example, a popular teen might bully a less popular teen, or an older teen might bully a younger teen. Bullying can also take place via social media, email, texting, or other electronic means. This is called cyberbullying.
An offhand rude comment might upset your child, but if it isn’t repeated and if there is no power balance, it does not qualify as bullying. Knowing this can help you avoid going through the process of reporting bullying unnecessarily.
Talk to Your Teen About Bullying
Another great way you can prevent bullying is to talk to your teen about it. Let them know what bullying is and give examples. Ask your teen if he or she has seen bullying behavior at school or in the community. Keep in mind that adolescents might be reluctant to share their observations with adults for fear of getting themselves or someone else in trouble.
You can also talk to your teen about the dangers of bullying. It can lead to low self-esteem, physical injuries, and mental health issues like depression and social anxiety. Bullying can also lead to suicide or violence. Knowing these facts might encourage your teen to be more vigilant and willing to report any bullying that he or she sees.
Recognize the Signs of Bullying
Since many teenagers will not share information about bullying due to feeling ashamed or being afraid of the consequences of reporting it, you should be aware of the signs that a teen might be bullied or that they might be bullying someone else.
The signs that a teen is being bullied include:
- Injuries that your teen can’t explain or explanations that don’t seem to add up
- Missing personal items like sneakers, jackets, electronics
- Refusal or reluctance to go to school
- Falling grades
- Aggression that is uncharacteristic
- Signs of depression
- Lack of appetite
- Insomnia, nightmares, or other sleeping problems
- Physical issues like stomachaches, headaches, or digestive complaints
- Signs of anxiety
While many parents think that their teen would never bully someone else, it is also important to know the signs that a teen is bullying someone else. This can be difficult to accept, but remember that any teen has the potential to bully another teen or child.
The signs that your child might be bullying someone include:
- Getting into more than one physical fight
- Aggression in the home toward siblings or parents
- Getting into trouble with the law
- Being sent to the principal’s office
- New belongings that they can’t explain how they got them (or the explanations don’t seem to add up)
- Physical injuries
Find Out Your Teen’s School’s Anti-Bullying Policy
Every school should have an anti-bullying policy. Clear consequences for bullying, as well as guidelines for preventing bullying, should be included. There should be a process for reporting bullying as well as who you should go to if the first person alerted does not respond appropriately.
There are also usually guidelines on how students should treat one another, as well as a policy that spells out what the school can or must do if the bullying takes place off of school grounds. Many will also have a section on cyberbullying. You can ask the guidance counselor at your teen’s school for a copy of this policy or refer to the student handbook.
Seeking Help for Your Teen
If your teen is the victim of bullying, having a plan will help. First, make sure your teen is safe. This might, in some cases, entail working with the school while your child stays home temporarily. Depending on the specifics of the bullying, the police might need to get involved. Don’t hesitate to call the local authorities if a crime has been committed. Your teen might not want you to, but it will usually help the bullying teen get the help that they need, preventing further problems. Counseling might be necessary. In some cases, changing schools or homeschooling might be the right answer.
If your teen is the one doing the bullying, work with the school and, if necessary, local authorities to get your teen the help they need. Therapy is likely in order. There might be underlying mental health issues involved, so find a specialist who can help your teen get on the right track.
Be aware that bullying can cause suicidal thoughts in both the bully and the bullied, so be ready to address that if it comes up. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, go to your teen’s primary care doctor, or even head to the emergency room if you think they are in imminent danger.
Knowing what bullying is, keeping an open line of communication with your teen, and working within the school’s anti-bullying policy will go a long way toward helping your teenager (and other teens in the community) get through this difficult time. You should also stay calm as you decide what you need to do to keep your teen safe, both physically and mentally.