Bullying is a hot topic when it comes to teenagers. Unfortunately, it’s also a prevalent problem: According to stopbullying.gov, between a quarter and a third of students report being bullied in school, and others report being bullied online. No parent wants to think that their child is being bullied or is bullying someone else and many teens will not share this information with their parent. Since bullying can lead to social anxiety, depression, and even suicide, it’s important to be aware of the teen bullying signs so you can step in and intervene promptly.
Physical Teen Bullying Signs
Some of the most obvious teen bullying signs are physical. If you notice that your child has unexplained bruises, cuts and other marks, or if his or her clothing is ripped, these can be clear signals that something is amiss. Also, missing personal items without a good explanation is another sign. It’s possible that a bicycle or a set of headphones could be stolen, but if your teen is constantly losing expensive jackets, a cell phone, an mp3 player, or other items, it might be that someone is taking them, perhaps by force or coercion.
Additional physical teen bullying signs can be caused by the stress of being bullied. Your teen might lose weight from not eating well, suffer from insomnia or oversleeping, complain of stomachaches and headaches, or have other physical manifestations of stress.
Changes in Personality When Being Bullied
One of the teen bullying signs to look out for is changes in your teen’s personality. For example, your normally happy child might seem depressed or angry much of the time. A teen who has been fairly carefree might begin experiencing anxiety. A normally talkative teen might become sullen and reclusive, not wanting to talk to you about his or her problems with being bullied.
In serious cases, someone being bullied might begin to exhibit symptoms of depression, which include a feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness, overeating or not eating enough, a loss of interest in favorite activities, and sleep disturbances. Sometimes teens who are being bullied go so far as to attempt or even commit suicide.
School Performance When a Teen Is Bullied
Many times, bullying will cause a teen’s grades to slip. First, the victim is more concerned with the current situation of being bullied than they are about their schoolwork. Additionally, if the bullying is happening at school, it can be extremely disruptive. While it’s not abnormal or uncommon for a teenager to have some low grades at times, you know your child. If his or her grades are much lower than usual or if the grades in several classes are slipping for no apparent reason, it’s important to talk to him or her to see what is going on.
Signs that Your Child Might Be a Bully
As much as you might be surprised and hurt to find out that your child is being bullied, it might be worse to learn that your child is bullying others. This is one reason why many bullies aren’t stopped by their parents; they simply don’t know the signs and tend to write them off as being caused by something else.
If your teen is aggressive toward you, his or her siblings, or teachers, there’s no reason to think that this does not extend to classmates or other teens at school or in the community. Your teen might look favorably on violence of various types and disparagingly on the downtrodden, the marginalized, or those who they know are being bullied in one form or another. They might be very competitive and willing to break rules or push boundaries in order to get what they want.
As far as more tangible signs, if your teen is coming home with items whose origins are unexplained (a new phone, an expensive watch, a sweater or jacket), it’s possible that they’re taking the items from someone else. Also, if the school calls with accusations that they’ve been involved in bullying or a violent incident, that is a big red flag that something is going on, even if your child denies having any involvement.
Considerations Regarding Cyberbullying
One type of bullying that you did not have to worry about when you were a child or teen is cyberbullying. This is a type of bullying that occurs over the Internet, often on social media platforms. It can be direct, where things are said to the victim or posted on his or her various profiles. Or it can be indirect, where others pass along disparaging information about the teen, spreading incorrect or hurtful information with or without the knowledge of the victim.
Let your teen know that cyberbullying is a crime in many states, and can be a civil matter in other states. It can be far more serious to post certain information on the Internet than it might be to simply say it out loud or to talk about it with other teens. Sometimes, people don’t realize that things said on the Internet are cached forever and that they can be just as hurtful, if not more so, than things said face to face or over the telephone.
What to Do If Your Teen Is Involved With Bullying
If you notice any of these teen bullying signs or suspect that your teen is being bullied, try to get the story from him or her. Many teenagers are reluctant to share their experiences with their parents for fear that they will look weak or that their parents will make things worse. Contact your child’s guidance counselor or a favorite teacher to see if he or she can talk to your teen and get to the bottom of the situation.
If you do find out that bullying is taking place, talk to the principal to report it if it’s taking place on school property. Or contact the local police if it’s taking place outside of school or on the Internet.
On the other hand, if you find that your teen is the one doing the bullying, ask his or her doctor for a referral to a counselor who can help them overcome their anger, depression, anxiety, or whatever is causing them to act out in this manner. Also, talk to the school so they can be aware of the issue, and impose guidelines and consequences that will result in more supervision for your teen.
It’s important for these matters to be resolved as quickly as possible for all parties involved; the teen who is being bullied needs to be able to go to school in peace, and the teen who is bullying needs help so they can overcome their aggression. As a parent in the situation, it’s up to you to be an advocate for your teen as they navigate a tricky and emotionally upsetting 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.