You probably already know that bullying is an epidemic in our country. A quarter of kids are being bullied, a fifth admit to having bullied others, and over three-quarters have said that they’ve been bullied at some point. Many teenagers believe that revenge for bullying is the catalyst behind many school shootings. Bullying can also cause an individual to attempt or commit suicide, and it’s behind some homicides, too. As the parent of a teen, it’s important that you are educated on the topic so you can help your teen and his or her friends if it’s necessary. Here are five ways you can help stop teenage bullying.
1. Know What Teenage Bullying Is (and Is Not)
Once considered just a part of growing up, teenage bullying is now seen as a danger. Bullying has been responsible for the development of mental health issues, as well as violence, including suicide. Several high-profile school shootings have been allegedly caused by the wish for retaliation against bullying.
The definition of bullying is unwanted and aggressive behavior that involves a power imbalance, whether real or perceived. The behavior can be or is repeated. It can include:
- physical attacks
- verbal abuse
- spreading rumors about someone
- making threats
- purposely ostracizing someone from a group
While bullying is a serious problem, sometimes it’s used to label behavior that isn’t actually bullying. Joking is not bullying if it ends once the object of the joke indicates that they don’t like it. An argument or interaction between quarreling classmates where there is no power imbalance is not bullying. Teenagers can sometimes engage in awkward miscommunications that might look like bullying at first glance but actually aren’t. Remember, bullying has a component of a power imbalance and it’s also intentional.
2. Learn About Cyberbullying (and What to Do About It)
Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that takes place via electronics. It might take place through texting, email, social media, or other Internet platforms. It might include:
- fake accounts
- posting personal information
With teens, it can include distributing nude photos or sexts. Because technology allows information to get around town or even around the world in a matter of seconds, cyberbullying often has farther-reaching effects than traditional bullying, which is generally limited to one classroom, one schoolyard, or one neighborhood.
One way that you can protect your teens from cyberbullying is to keep an eye on what they’re doing online. Your teenager might not want you reading his or her personal texts or social media accounts, but you can make occasional check-ins a condition of them having a smartphone. Also, talk to your teen about what cyberbullying is. Saying something cruel or inappropriate seems easier when it’s not face-to-face, so urge your teen to think about whether they’d say something if they were looking at the person rather than at a screen.
3. Watch for Warning Signs of Teenage Bullying
Many times, teenagers won’t admit that they’re being bullied. If something seems not-quite-right about your teen, it’s good to ask some questions. One warning sign of being bullied is having unexplained injuries or missing valuable items. Your teen might have headaches, stomachaches, or other maladies that keep him or her home from school. They might suddenly lose several friends or seem to have no friends; they also might stop attending social events that they once enjoyed.
A teen who is bullying others might be getting into frequent fights. While it’s not terribly uncommon for a boy, in particular, to get into a fight or perhaps two over the course of his teenage years, getting into more frequent altercations is cause for concern. Your teen might bring home belongings that you haven’t seen before without an adequate explanation for where they came from. Teens who are bullies often don’t take responsibility for their actions and might blame others for any trouble that they get into.
Teens who are bullied or who are bullying others might also exhibit symptoms of various mental health conditions. For example, a bully might show signs of oppositional defiant disorder or excessive anger. Someone who is being bullied might develop anxiety, including social anxiety, or depression. They might also become suicidal. Make yourself aware of the signs of depression, particularly of suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and seek immediate care for anyone exhibiting these signs.
4. Work With Your Teen’s School
If you are concerned about teenage bullying, talk to your school’s administration to find out what is being done to curtail bullying. Many schools will get involved with bullying even if it takes place off school grounds; this includes cyberbullying. Find out how the school is fostering an atmosphere of respect and tolerance. If you hear of bullying that is based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, be aware that this is a hate crime. Talk to the guidance counselor, principal, or other administration at your teen’s school to find out what the policy is.
5. Escalate If Necessary
In some cases, the school administration might not be amenable to solving the problem of bullying. Do what you need to do to keep your child safe. If it means switching schools or homeschooling, either temporarily or permanently, those are options. In the meantime, escalate your concerns to the superintendent, the board of education, or the local police. If a hate crime is involved, you can even contact the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
As a parent of a teen in the 21st century, you have a lot to be concerned about. Bullying is one of those things that might have been tolerated in decades past, but now healthcare practitioners, mental health specialists, and school personnel know how harmful and damaging it can be. Talk to your teenager about his or her experiences and seek help if you suspect that your teen or one of his friends is being bullied. It’s possible that you will even be saving a life with prompt intervention. Remember the adage, “see something, say something,” and apply it to yourself if you witness or suspect teenage bullying.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.