As a parent, it’s hard to accept that your child is being bullied. You feel angry, betrayed, and heartbroken for your child. The first thing you should do is remain calm. As difficult as it is to know that your child has been victimized, keeping a clear head will help you keep your teen safe. Another important tip is that your adolescent’s safety comes first. While you are following the tips below, make sure that your teen is physically and mentally safe. Read on for the steps to take when dealing with bullies.
1. Watch for Signs of Bullying
Many times, teenagers won’t volunteer the information that they’re being bullied. This occurs for a variety of reasons: Your teen might be embarrassed or they might think that it’s “no big deal.” Talk to your teenager about what bullying and cyberbullying is, but be aware that he or she might just blow off the discussion without commenting. They might even deny that they’re dealing with bullies, when in fact, they are.
So what can you do? Be able to recognize the signs of bullying. Some signs that a teen might be dealing with bullies include the following:
- a sudden drop in grades
- mysterious physical ailments, such as stomachaches and headaches
- unexplained bruises or scrapes
- sudden depression or anxiety
Keep in mind that there are many mental health issues that can cause these symptoms; if you suspect a mental health issue and your teen vehemently denies that bullying is the problem, seek a physical and mental evaluation.
2. See Something, Say Something
Many times, children, teenagers, and adults see bullying but don’t say anything. Encourage your teen to speak up if he or she sees dealing with bullies. They should not confront the bully; instead, they can do something that keeps them safe while helping the victim. The right solution will depend on the circumstances.
For example, it might be possible for your teen to go over and talk to the victim of verbal harassment. Simply inserting themselves between the victim and the bully and making conversation with the victim can dissuade the bully from continuing on. This is a recommended strategy for adults to use if they see verbal harassment taking place in a public area. This article focuses on Islamophobia, but the strategy could be used for anyone being harassed.
In other cases, it might be necessary to find an adult or call the police. Let your teen know that you will always support their decision when it comes to dealing with a potentially dangerous situation. Encourage them to follow their gut instinct as to whether an action is safe.
3. Label Bullying and Insist on Action
Something that some adults do that can make victims feel bad is to characterize bullying as something less serious than it is. Saying, “boys will be boys,” or “well you know she’s difficult,” about someone who has been bullying someone else is giving them an excuse to continue. It also discourages the victim from going to an adult or otherwise looking for help. Remember, it’s not the victim’s fault that they’re being bullied.
Approach your teen’s school administration with a firm stance. Define the bullying as such; do not allow school employees to make it sound less serious. Also, insist that anti-bullying policies are followed. Look in your school’s student handbook to find out how bullying, including cyberbullying, is handled. If necessary, consult with the superintendent or the school board. If working with the school does not solve the issue, you might need to get the local police involved.
4. Work on Changing a Bully-Friendly Culture
One way that you can help minimize bullying is to work with your teen’s school to change a bully-friendly school culture. If bullying has been swept under the rug in years past, changing that can be a strong incentive for students to improve their behavior. Suggest an anti-bullying club or educational seminars on how to stop bullying in its tracks for the students. Some of the staff should be specially trained in dealing with bullies. All students should know that egging on a bully makes them partially culpable for the situation. Encourage all students to speak up against bullying if they see it or hear of it happening.
5. Find Another Educational Solution, If Necessary
If your teen is dealing with bullies at school and the situation is persistent or severe, look into all of your options. Would he or she be happier homeschooling, doing online school, or having a tutor? Maybe they can transfer to another school, either a public school or a private school in your area. Help your teen understand that their safety is the first priority. If at any time your teen shows signs of being suicidal, seek emergency mental health care.
6. Seek Professional Help for the Bully and the Victim
The victim of a bully often needs counseling to help them get past the incident. If your teen has low self-esteem, therapy can help them see themselves as the unique individual they are. If the bullying has caused or exacerbated anxiety or depression, those mental health concerns need to be treated.
Some people forget that the bully him- or herself often needs counseling, too. Many times, teens who bully others are suffering from one of the following:
- low self-esteem
- an anger disorder
- a social disorder
If your teen is the bully as opposed to the bullied, it’s important to take him or her to a mental health care provider for an evaluation and treatment.
If your teen is dealing with bullies, you might feel helpless and afraid. The good news is that there are steps you can take to help them get through this difficult time. Read through the preceding suggestions and sit down with your teen to formulate a plan. Many times, just having a plan in place will help your teen feel less overwhelmed and more positive about the situation. From there, you can work with your teen and the school to solve the problem and make things right again. Remember, no teenager should feel unsafe at school, on the sports field, or while hanging out with friends. Offer your teen love, support, and the actions that it takes to resolve the situation.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.