Bullying is a form of repeated aggression towards another person, with malicious intent. Bullying can come in many forms, some obvious, others much more sinister. There is a difference between aggressive behavior and bullying – some kids use assertive or aggressive behavior to communicate, without wishing others harm. They may come across as bossy or demanding, but with the proper guidance, can be taught to better respect others. Some kids, on the other hand, need to vent their frustrations on others, and use them as emotional punching bags through various acts of bullying.
Context matters, which is why guidelines describing and separating acts of bullying from other acts are vague. Teachers and parents have to discuss what counts as bullying and what counts as healthy social behavior, and it’s very important to distinguish real accidents from intentional acts.
Middle school and high school tend to serve as particularly vulnerable environments for teen bullying issues to occur. It is in these settings that kids first learn to truly communicate and interact with one another, form hierarchies, practice inclusion and exclusion, and develop socially.
Physical Bullying – this is the most obvious form of bullying, and more prevalent among boys. Examples include shoving, punching, hair-pulling, slapping, choking, and other acts of violence or intrusion in a victim’s personal space.
Verbal Bullying – this involves slinging insults and mean-spirited comments at a person, making them feel bad about themselves, especially for things they may not be able to change, such as physical appearance, weight, hair color, skin color, and more.
Social Bullying – while forms of verbal bullying are prevalent in social bullying, this form of bullying is more about reducing a victim’s standing at school by spreading rumors or lies, excluding them from activities they previously were a part of for no good reason, or alienating them from having any friends.
Cyber Bullying – cyber bullying is any form of degradation exacted through the Internet, usually through social media. Comments, aggressive messages, death threats, edited pictures and videos, and any number of other forms of aggression through the Internet can be a form of cyber bullying.
Most bullies start attacking others as a form of lashing out, usually due to emotional problems. Many studies record higher incidences of depression among both bullies and victims, and there is correlation between aggressive, antisocial behavior and a history of abuse or neglect.
Mental health - children and teens with a tormented history may turn toward bullying as a way to vent frustration or improve their own standing, or as a way of “protecting” themselves by hurting others before they can get hurt instead.
Perceived weaknesses - bullies often pick on children who are easier to victimize, due to an unusual physical trait, a unique personality, or a smaller, weaker stature. Larger and taller children can also be bullied and ridiculed for their size, especially if they are meek to begin with. Bullies pick easier targets, so they experience less resistance, and have less of a retaliation to worry about. This is because bullies are not looking for fights, but for emotional release.
Peer pressure & stress - sometimes, teens who are usually “good-natured” may bully someone out of peer pressure, or because they don’t know how to deal with their own stressful situation in a healthy way. Stopping bullying in any given environment requires an understanding of the whole situation, and an in-depth look at how each involved party can get help.
of US students in grades 9-12 experience bullying
of teens admit to bullying others
of LGBTQ students experienced cyberbullying, versus 15% of general high school students
Help your teen build confidence – bullying can seriously sap a teen’s ability to believe in themselves and their ability to do anything. Bullies can get under a person’s skin and make them feel terrible about who they are. Keeping tabs on your teen’s mental health and helping them build a mental and emotional resilience to bullying is important. You can also help them cope with bullies by learning skills to deal with bullying, including conflict resolution.
Listen to your teen – bullying can breed feelings of despair and depression. It’s critical to identify these feelings before they turn into symptoms of a problem. In teens with a history of mental health issues or a family history of mental health issues, bullying could trigger a mood disorder or cause serious anxiety.
Encourage your teen to talk about their experiences – only 20-30% of students who experience bullying notify adults about what happened. Understanding the scope of your teen’s bullying experiences is important for understanding what they’re going through, and how to help. It’s also important that you feel you can coordinate with your teen’s school to better understand what is going on there.
It seems strange to “treat a child for bullying”, and experiencing the wrath of a bully is not, in any shape or form, a mental disorder. Rather, bullying can cause children and teens alike to develop problematic behavior and thinking, particularly the kind that can lead a teen to feel less valuable to others and feel sadder in general. With time, consistent and regular bullying can scar children and cause them to feel more vengeful and bitter towards others as adults. Prevention measures matter, but it’s not always possible to completely eliminate bullying. There are ways to help teens cope with its effects.
Helping a teen open up about their experiences is the first step. If parents can’t do so effectively, usually it is a counselor’s job to attempt to gain a teen’s trust and help them figure out an effective way to deal with the situation. Therapists and counselors who specialize in helping teens cope with bullying can help your teen speak up about their experiences without fear of repercussion.
If the bullying has left a significant impact on your teen, changing their mood and behavior considerably, it may be time to consider bringing your teen to a professional. Talk therapy can help your teen understand that their negative feelings are unwanted and detrimental and can help them build the strength and emotional resilience to reject negative thoughts, embrace healthy coping mechanisms, and take up behavior that can help them build a sense of self and greater self-esteem.
Social Skills Training
Learning how to interact with others, especially in stressful situations, is important. Bullies will pick on the child who is weakest, not physically or mentally, but socially. Teens must learn to be empathic and respectful, but also to be confident in themselves and their ability to resolve conflicts, even when failing to do so. Not everyone can be talked out of being a bully, and there are times when bullying is unavoidable, so it’s important to have friends to call upon for support and help.
Treating a teen for the repercussions of bullying is very subjective. Every teen reacts differently to both bullying and the idea of seeking help after the fact, and it can be difficult to get a teen to accept that they might need help. But when they do, there are many ways to help them, especially in coping with the past and finding ways to move forward without flare ups of the same nature.
Sometimes, the best thing for your teen is to get away. Paradigm Malibu can be the perfect place for your teen to build the right coping skills for bullying, be in contact with professionals to help talk through their experiences and engage with other kids in a healthy and controlled environment. It’s difficult to build a set of skills to confront and overcome bullying when the fear of being bullied never ceases. Taking a break and stepping away from school and from home can put your teen at ease.
A Small Group
Paradigm Malibu’s programs only accept a small number of teens at a time, to keep groups manageable and to ensure that every individual receives the level of quality care they need to manage their issues and grow. This means your teen can enjoy a safe space to explore and learn how to interact with others in a better, healthier way.
I always had a lot of anxiety growing up. I can’t blame my parents or my home life because I pretty much always had everything I wanted. It was hard going from 8th grade into 9th grade and that year I ended up hanging out with people a few grades older than me because I wasn’t getting along with my other friends. I knew that I shouldn’t smoke weed but I liked it and I started smoking every day. When my parents found out I was “addicted” they sent me to Paradigm and I was pissed. I didn’t realize I had a problem until I stopped smoking. Everyone at Paradigm is understanding and it helped that I could still surf every day and eat good food. I am grateful that I had this happen to me because I could have ended up in a bad place. Paradigm helped me realize I needed help and how to accept it.
- Joey M.
If my teen isn’t the bully, then why is he/she the one that needs teen bullying treatment?
Ideally, both bullies and victims should get treated if there is anything to be treated. Many argue that aggression and conflict are natural parts of childhood, but there are examples of extreme antisocial behavior that can be traumatizing, including death threats, brandishing weapons, turning someone into a social outcast, and more. Behavior at such a level can indicate that the bully has serious behavioral issues, yet victims of bullying need help as well. Experiencing bullying on such a level can leave lasting damage and cause a teen to feel depressed or unsure of themselves.
What if my teen won’t admit they’re being bullied?
It’s normal for teens not to admit that they’re getting bullied. Some fear retaliation from the bully, or fear that the school administration doesn’t have the power or the will to act on the information given. Others feel that telling someone would constitute weakness, and they would rather suffer in silence. Only a fraction of children tell an adult about their experiences being bullied, and getting a teen to open up about it is important and takes time. Make sure your teen trusts you completely, and don’t suggest confronting the bully or telling the school immediately. Take things one step at a time, giving them the option to simply tell you what happened without fearing what you might do with the information.