What to do if My Teen is Being Bullied or How to Accept the Fact that my Teen / Child is the Bully
Today, some people think the words “bully” and “bullying” are associated too quickly to child behaviors, and that kids need to learn how to fend for themselves; that a little teasing here and there is, “good for them,” or, “will help them develop a thick skin.” According to stopbullying.gov, if your teen is being bullied, it affects everyone — Those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. The behavior is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance abuse, depression and suicide.
According to The Search Institute of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a caring, encouraging campus climate is just one of the 40 developmental assets a student needs in order to reach their highest potential. A few other essential assets identified in the study are: family support; positive family communication; support from other adult relationships (non-parent adults); and parent involvement in schooling.
As a parent, there are many signs that can help you identify if your teen is being bullied or is bullying others. Recognizing the signs listed below is an important first step in taking action against bullying. Once you identify them, there are important dos and don’ts to consider when approaching the issue.
Children Who Are Being Bullied / Teen is Being Bullied
- Refusing to go to school
- Frequent headaches, stomachaches or other physical complaints
- Decreased self-esteem
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
- Lost personal belongings or ripped/destroyed clothing
- Avoiding peer interactions or after school/weekend activities
- Afraid of riding the bus
- Loss of interest in school or declining grades
- Changes in eating habits
- Appearing sad, lonely or turning to self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, cutting, or talks of suicide
- Let your child know that they have an adult ally in you. Assure them that together, you will do everything you can to make the bullying stop. Assure your child it is not their fault they are being bullied, and they don’t deserve to be treated this way.
- Use the 24 hour rule. It’s usually wise to wait 24 hours before confronting the bully’s parents or school administrators. This gives you time to think through the situation and develop a plan, giving you time to shift your anger from destructive to constructive.
- Encourage your child not to react to a bully’s taunts. Have them practice assertive but nonthreatening body language, and conceal their emotions as much as possible from the bully. Let your child know that they don’t owe a bully any kind of response.
- Have a Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, or whatever social medium your child most uses to communicate with their friends. Make sure you know the basics of that medium and how to report abusive behavior. Just like with in-person bullying, you should never directly attack a cyberbully. Instead, report them and carefully document each occurrence of bullying. Screen shots are a great way to capture and document cyberbullying.
- Physically or verbally attack the bully. This action has become a trend among parents of bullied children, but ultimately it is not a good way to handle the situation. These parents are letting their anger dictate their actions. Not only is it a criminal activity, you will further damage your own child’s psychological well-being.
- Call and blame the school without first gathering all of the information. You will probably end up making the administrators defensive, in which case they will be less likely to help you. Also, in some cases, this causes an increase of bully activity against your child when bullies discover that the target’s parent is involved.
- Tell your child they need to “toughen up” and “deal with” the bullying. They are most likely dealing with feelings of powerlessness and depression. They have been psychologically torn down by the bully. It is your job to build them back up so that they have a chance to regain the dignity that has been stripped away from them, not demoralize them further.
- Encourage your child to stoop to the bully’s low. Bullies target peers who are weaker than they are in some manner, whether it be physically or socially. Bullies know that they have the power. When a target fights back against the bully using the bully’s methods, they are outmatched and the bully knows it because he or she has designed it that way. It ends up causing even more harm to the target. It also gives the bully and the bully’s family ammunition against your child when you bring the bullying incident to the attention of school administrators.
Children Who Are The Bully
- Aggressive behavior
- Blames others for their problems and doesn’t accept responsibility for their own actions
- Has friends who bully others
- Frequently gets into verbal or physical fights
- Often receives behavioral referrals at school
- Has unexplained new belongings or money
- Acknowledge the behavior. Speak with your child in a calm, firm tone, and ask them what happened and why they behaved a certain way. Avoid blame and be a good listener, providing a trusted space for them to admit they made a mistake. Also ask them questions such as, “Did your actions hurt someone? Would you want someone to do that to you? Were you disrespectful to someone?” These questions will help your child think through their actions, and connect them to consequences.
- Focus on meaningful consequences: Once your child shows signs of understanding their negative behavior, emphasize, “Our family does not tolerate this behavior because we love and respect others, just as we want others to treat us.” Outline consequences for bullying behavior and follow through with them.
- Be proactive in making it right. The goal is to help your child see how their actions affect others. Utilize the incident as a teachable moment by discussing positive ways your child can handle future situations, and talk through with them what it would feel like to be in the other child’s shoes. The child can: write an apology letter to the child that was bullied; do a good deed for the child that was bullied; repair, clean up or work to pay for any property they took or damaged.
- Seek help. Don’t feel you are being judged as a parent if your child is a bully. Raising a child is hard, and you are not a failure if you ask for help from school personnel such as a counselor, principal or resource officer. Stay in touch with the school to see if your child’s behavior improves, and ask if there are any community resources you can tap into as well.
- Assume your child isn’t bullying others. Many parents will take the stance of denial, thinking it is a phase or “kids just being kids.” It takes a courageous and open parent to realize that their child has a problem and that they need help.
- Immediately get defensive with other parents or school personnel. It is a natural reaction to want to believe your child. However, it is important to listen to what others have to say about your child’s behavior. Then, listen to your child’s side of the story.
- Minimize the situation by not taking it seriously. Children may not always recognize their behavior as bullying, and may not realize the impact it has on another child. Help them understand what defines bullying and emphasize that negative behavior is not tolerated.
- Stray from your plan. Follow through with consequences you put in place. Keep the lines of communication open with your child and help them learn different ways to resolve conflict, and how to deal with feelings such as anger, insecurity, or frustration.
While these tactics may not end the bullying that your child is facing, they will have the much more important effect of fortifying your child against bullying and give them the essential ingredient in their struggle – hope. Your child’s mental and emotional health is your first priority and should be the beginning point in your strategy.
Just Say YES Bullying Prevention Speakers
More Just Say YES Bullying Articles:
- Just Say YES Bullying Prevention Programs
- Brutal Boys vs. Mean Girls
- 6 Steps on How to End Bullying
- Is My Child Being Bullied?
- How to Build a Bully-Free School
- Is That Really Bullying?
- Could My Child be a Bully?
- Bullying and the Bystander
- Minimizing the Target – How to Not be a Target for Bullying