Bullying can be a real problem for teenagers, and while no parent wants to hear that their child is being bullied, it can be difficult for them to know how to stop it. Bullying behaviors can be hard to identify in teens – especially with the rise of cyberbullying – and parental involvement can sometimes make a bullied teen even more of a target.
Bullying situations can also be very difficult to unpack – sometimes bullying victims also engage in bullying behaviors themselves, blurring the lines between bully and victim.
What are the signs that parents should look for to know whether their teen is being bullied? What are the signs that a teen might be engaging in bullying behavior themselves? What’s the best way for parents to intervene in either situation? How can schools help, and when is it appropriate to involve law enforcement?
Take a look at some of the things that you need to know, and what you can do to stop teen bullying.
1. Know the Signs That Your Teen Is Being Bullied
One of the problems with bullying is that victims often don’t like to talk about it. Teens may feel ashamed that they’re being bullied. They may not want their parents to worry. They may worry that involving their parents will make things worse.
In some cases, they may be worried that if they admit to being bullied, they’ll also have to admit to things that they aren’t proud of.
For example, when a teen who was sexting with a crush or a dating partner may be bullied when the person they sent the sext to shares their pictures or videos with other people. But that teen may not want to admit to their parents that they were sexting in the first place.
Some telltale signs that a teen is being bullied include:
- Reluctance to go to school
- Frequent vague illnesses that your teen uses to get out of going to school, like headaches or stomachaches
- Reluctance to take the school bus
- Avoiding their computer or cell phone
- A change in mood after checking email or social media
- Anxiety, depression, or nervousness
- Missing clothes, jewelry, accessories, or other items, without any explanation for why their items are missing
- Unexplained bruises or injuries
- Social isolation
2. Know the Signs That Your Teen Is a Bully
What if it’s your teen doing the bullying? You might be surprised to learn that teens who have been bullied themselves are also at risk of engaging in bullying.
Of course, not all bullied teens will bully other teens, but some will see bullying others as a way to assert some control over their own lives, or as a way to gain acceptance so that they’re no longer the target of other bullies.
It’s important for parents to look for and address bullying behaviors in their own teenagers. Some signs that your teen is acting like a bully include:
- Getting in trouble in school
- Aggressive behavior toward siblings
- Behavioral problems
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Attempting to hide their online behavior
- Intolerance toward people who are different from them
- Attempting to justify bad behavior
You should also take note if you see these types of behaviors from your teen’s friends. It may be easier to identify bullying or aggressive behavior in your teenager’s friends than in your own child. But if your teen is hanging out with bullies, there’s a good chance that they’re also engaging in bullying.
3. Intervening When Your Teen Is the Victim of Bullying
It can be difficult for parents to know when and how to stop teen bullying in a sensitive situation. By the time your child is in high school, calling the bully’s parents or approaching school administrators really can just make your teen even more of a target for bullying. But that doesn’t mean that you should do nothing.
You can help your teen find a way to handle the bully themselves. Help your teen strategize and role-play. In some cases, the best choice is to simply ignore the bully – refuse to give them a reaction. In other situations, it can help your teen to give a quick one-line response like “I’ve had enough,” or “not funny,” and then just walk away. For some situations, the buddy system is the best defense – if your teen has their own friends around them, the bully may not approach them.
In more serious cases, you may need to involve the school. Find out what the school’s anti-bullying policy is. Involve your teen’s guidance counselor, who may be able to help resolve the issue without outing your teen as the one who spoke up about the situation to the bullies.
In serious cases, you may need to consider bringing in law enforcement. If your teen is being physically hurt, robbed, or constantly harassed, and other methods of handling the bullying have not worked, your teen may have grounds for a criminal complaint.
Teens who have been bullied may also benefit from counseling. Therapy can help your child develop tools to cope with bullying and to move past the trauma of being bullied.
4. Intervening When Your Teen is the Bully
If you discover that your teen is bullying others, it’s important for you to step in to help correct the behavior. Talk to your teen about their actions and why they feel the need to bully others. Have they been bullied themselves? Are they trying to achieve or maintain popularity? Talk to your teen about how they can get the result they want without hurting others.
It can also help for parents of bullies to get in contact with the school. Learn the school’s anti-bullying policies and enlist the help of guidance counselors, teachers, and administrators to help hold your teen accountable for their behavior. Set a good example by examining your own behavior and that of other adults in your teen’s life – are they imitating behaviors they see from adults they look up to? Consider separating your child from friends who behave like bullies. Your teen may benefit from joining a team or other group activity where they can meet new friends and learn team-building and leadership skills.
Consider counseling or therapy for a teen who is engaging in bullying behavior. A therapist can help your teen get to the root causes of their behavior and learn strategies for making friends and engaging in social situations in a healthy manner.
Parents of bullied teens and parents of bullying teens both have a responsibility to intervene to help stop teen bullying. Being aware of your child’s behavior, alert to signs of trouble, and open to different methods of problem-solving can help stop teen bullying before it gets out of control.