Bullying is an experience that many teens around the country endure. Sadly, teens participate in adolescent bullying sometimes without really knowing they are causing harm. Social media, texting, and other forms of non-face-to-face contact make it easy for teens to be harmful to each other. As a result, those who experience adolescent bullying issues can become depressed, engage in self-harm, and even commit suicide.
Although parents might be quick to punish the bully and help the bullied, the truth is both need support. In fact, research indicates that mental illness develops in both the bully and the bulled. If you are a parent of a bully or a teen who is being bullied, the following article can provide helpful tips to support teens in both these situations.
Name-Calling vs Bullying vs Violence
There are differences between name-calling, bullying, and violence that parents should be aware of. These are:
Name-Calling: This is often how bullying begins but there is a fine line that is crossed to consider certain behavior as bullying. Often, children or teens might joke or make silly names for one another, sometimes even out of affection or friendship. However, when the intent behind the name-calling is to humiliate or cause harm, it could be considered bullying.
Bullying: This is the overt behavior of a teen to belittle a child, teen, or adult and to make that person feel inadequate. It can include harassment, physical harm, demeaning speech and efforts to ostracize that person. Adolescent Bullying is an active behavior and is done with intention to harm another, whether physically or emotionally.
Violence: When bullying includes aggression, assault, rape, or other forms of physical attack, it is considered violence. This is against the law, and a teen who engages in violence may experience legal ramifications.
How to Help a Bully
When the act of adolescent bullying takes place, the bully often expresses aggression towards the target. In many cases, the bully feels jealous, insecure, out of control, or simply, not good enough. Meanwhile the target is the recipient of a bully’s aggression. Often, the target feels as though he or she deserves the harsh treatment, that it’s their fault, or feels powerless. In both cases, adolescent bullying is a sign that a teen needs help. It’s an indication that an adolescent needs some parental or adult support. For this reason, the way that parents or school administrators handle adolescent bullying and aggression is important.
If parents want to be effective in the way they respond to their teen who is bullying others, here are tips to consider:
- Hold off on punishing and talk to your teen first. Bullying and aggression might be the result of low self-esteem, lack of self confidence, jealousy, or insecurity, or not feeling good enough, as mentioned above. Give your teen the opportunity to discuss what happened. Ideally, give your teen the chance to share their feelings about who they are bullying.
- Investigate whether there is a mental illness. In other words have your teen assessed by a psychologist. Sometimes, aggression is the result of a teen’s inability to manage uncomfortable or intense symptoms of mental illness. For instance, your teen might have a behavior disorder, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or conduct disorder. Keep in mind that when a teen is exhibiting violence, it’s a strong indication to seek professional mental health support.
- Gather more information from teachers. Because teachers are with your teen for most of the day, they may have information about what is happening at school. They may have details about your teen’s friendships, school performance, and how peers relate to your teen. This information might be useful in gaining a deeper understanding of your teen’s emotional or mental state.
- Discuss a consequence with your teen. If you uncover that your teen is expressing aggression because of symptoms of a mental illness, you may not want to provide a consequence. However, you may feel that a consequence is necessary regardless. If your teen has the ability to express empathy and remorse, perhaps discuss the consequence with your teen. Agree on upon one that makes sense for the situation, such as apologizing to the recipient of the aggression.
Communicating that violence is wrong is an essential part to responding to an aggressive teen. However, remember that punishing a teen for their bullying shouldn’t be as central as their psychological well-being. Securing the appropriate mental health support and treatment is just as important.
How to Help a Bullied Teen
Sadly in many cases, a bullied teen feels as though they deserve it. Often, the target feels as though he deserves the harsh treatment, that it’s their fault. Some bullied teens simply feel powerless to the bullying. However, here are ways that parents can support a teen who is being bullied by their peers:
- Teach your teen to take back control. This doesn’t necessarily mean fight back. Instead, a bullied teen can take back control by seeking the assistance of parents, peers, or teachers. In fact, the teen should share as much as possible about the bullying in order to gain protection from adults and prevent it from happening again.
- Develop an action plan. With the help of adults, a teen can take action when bullying begins. For instance, an action plan may include the time and place the bullying often happens and respond with prepared action with the help of an adult. Developing a plan might also include involving school administration, such as the principal or a teacher.
- Elicit the support of bystanders, if there are any. Although there is a strong pull for a bystander to sit back and do nothing, they can play a significant role in putting an end to the adolescent bullying. A bystander can talk to an adult. If anonymity is desired, they can talk to a school counselor in order keep a conversation confidential. Depending on the level of involvement, a bystander might also want to help create an action plan for the bullied teen’s safety.
- Tend to your teen’s mental health. Research indicates that a bullied teen is vulnerable to mental illness, including depression. You can support your teen by seeking the support of a mental health professional. Have your teen assessed and ensure that their psychological needs are being met.
- Familiarize yourself with the local, state, and federal laws against bullying. This can empower both you and your teen in order to fight back against a bully. Furthermore, there are many national agencies that work to prevent bullying around the country. Accessing their resources might also be useful.
Resources Against Bullying
If you would like more information on bullying, try the following resources:
Remember that there is a significant relationship between mental illness and adolescent bullying. If you feel that your teen is experiencing difficulties as a result of bullying OR if they are bullying because of mental health challenges, contact a mental health provider today.
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.