Bullying is a serious problem that can have significant and severe consequences for teens. Bullying can be defined as aggressive behavior that is intentional, humiliating or frightening, dominating and which occurs over time. Bullying can include Physical Bullying (hitting, punching, pushing), Verbal Bullying (name calling, threats, rumor spreading) and Emotional Bullying (intimidating through gestures, exclusion). In addition to in-person bullying, teenagers may experience cyber-bullying. This occurs when teenagers use text messaging, social-networking and internet sites, and cell phones to bully. Bullying via cyber space includes spreading rumors, threatening, taunting or gossiping about others through the use of technology. It can have a cumulative effect as many, many peers, near and far, can join in the bullying in cyber-space. It is often invisible to adults as it happens on phones and computers, rather than in the school yard or classroom. The negative emotional impact of bullying (whether in person or via technology) can have a lasting impact on teens. The adverse effects of bullying include but are not limited to: low self-esteem, social withdrawal, avoiding school, experiencing physical symptoms, depression, anxiety, anger and/or having thoughts of suicide.
It is important that suspicions of bullying not be ignored and that action be taken thoughtfully and quickly. Below are some tips for parents who may have concerns that their child is being bullied:
- Know your teens’ friends.
- Know who your child is having difficulty with at school or in social situations.
- If possible, check in on your teen’s Facebook page and look at their texts on their phones.
- Help make your child ‘bully-proof’ by making sure they can talk with you about troubling aspects of their lives.
Signs that your child may be being bullied:
- Sudden changes in mood or behavior – increased sadness, isolation or irritability (with teenagers, stress and fear often present as anger).
- Increased anxiety – especially around social situations, riding the bus or attending school.
- Torn or damaged clothing, bruises or cuts, or missing items for which there is no explanation or an inadequate explanation.
- Seems more relaxed and happy on the weekends but is quiet, withdrawn and/or distressed during the week.
- Unexplainable physical complaints.
- Avoidance of school or other social situations.
- Changes in friends or groups of friends.
- Self-degrading statements (i.e., “I’m too fat”, “Nobody likes me”, “I am not good at anything”, etc.).
What to do if you notice any of the above:
- Be supportive. Never blame your teenager; give them an opportunity to share what they are experiencing with you. Empathize with them and tell them they did the right thing by reporting the bullying.
- Ask questions. Get information about what happens during your teen’s day and about the people he or she interacts with to determine the extent of the bullying.
- Never encourage physical retaliation. You don’t ever want to teach your teenager that problems are solved through violence.
- Don’t “react” out of your own emotions. Most parents get very angry and go into “protective mode” when their child is being hurt, which is understandable. However, you want make sure you are being a good role model and that you are acting reasonably and responsibly.
- Contact your teen’s school if this is where the bullying is taking place. Your child may not want you to or you may wonder if this will make it worse. However, it is important that you advocate for your teen. Share your concerns with the school and ask for their support in helping your teen feel safe in school. Stay in contact and make sure there is follow up taking place. Be persistent and follow up.
- Stay in contact with other adults who may observe your teenager’s interactions (i.e., teachers, parents, coaches, etc.) with other teens. Ask them to be on the lookout for signs of bullying and to offer extra support to your teen.
- Encourage and support your teen in developing hobbies and interests that will improve their overall self-esteem
- Make sure you are aware of what your teen is doing on the computer and reinforce to them that bullying through technology is not OK. Create blocks if possible and coach your teen how to avoid, block or ignore cyber-bullying.
- Report any concerns of physical aggression to the proper authorities.
- Call your E4 Health program for further information and consider counseling for your teen if you believe they are experiencing significant symptoms related to being bullied.
Most importantly – don’t ignore bullying. The earlier there is intervention, the less damaging the effects of bullying will be for your teenager.
Some internet resources:
www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov – information for kids and adults
The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use – www.CSRIU.org
www.bullyingprevention.org – some guides for communities