Teen Bullying, What Is It?
Bullying is a very real, present stress in many adolescents’ lives. Though there aren’t strict rules as to what is or isn’t bullying, it is basically defined as any unwanted or aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is often repeated over time. Middle school and high schools tend to serve as particularly vulnerable environments for teen bullying issues to occur, considering the given hierarchy of grades, the schedule of seeing peers every day, and the many different unsupervised contexts within a school day. In addition to bullying in schools, because the internet and social media play such an important role in adolescents’ lives, cyber bullying is a common form of bullying today.
What It Looks Like
Bullying looks different depending on the environment and the people involved. That being said, there are some common traits exhibited in kids who are being bullied that include, but are not limited to:
- Physical threats or intimidation
- Verbal threats or intimidation
- Spreading of rumors or embarrassing information
- Excluding someone from a group, on purpose
- Name calling
- Inappropriate sexual comments or questions
- Purposely embarrassing someone
- Ganging up on someone or encouraging a group not to be friends with the person
- Stealing or breaking a person’s belongings
Sometimes the stress of these individual symptoms will build to create greater issues, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
Teen Bullying Treatment
Unfortunately, despite national and local movements to take action against bullying, it continues to be a rampant and pervasive force in adolescents’ lives. Because of this, sometimes teens will actually underestimate or downplay what they’re experiencing, and refuse to call it bullying, because they view the word as only constituting very extreme behaviors. Because of this, it’s important for teens to feel they can be open and honest about what’s happening, and that they understand there’s nothing too big or too small to be addressed, if it concerns them.
Because the stress created by being bullied can often create other problems, treatment is built around the teen as a whole person, and adapted to address his/ her individual needs. However, much of the counseling specifically surrounding bullying will address ways in which the teen can firstly, gain clarity about the situation they’re dealing with and how it works; secondly, learn techniques and strategies as to how to defend themselves against such behaviors; and thirdly, learn ways to deal with stress and maintain a confident sense of self, regardless of how others choose to behave. Ultimately, intensive therapy can provide an excellent disruption to what might feel like an endless cycle of torture, and in this time, a teen can gain back some peace, a sense of self, and some empowerment for moving forward.
If my teen isn’t the bully, than why is he/she the one that needs treatment?
Though there are certainly steps worth taking (such as with parents and school teachers or administrators) to stop bullying at school, ultimately we can’t change other people. The best we can do is change the way we react to them, despite how they may act. Therapy shouldn’t be seen as a way to punish your teen, but rather, a way to help provide them healing and also, empower them to face their challenges. There will always be stress in life and difficult people to deal with, and though we understand it can be extremely painful and difficult to watch your teen deal with such things, there is great potential for them to not only heal, but grow. And we believe they will come out on top.
What if my teen won’t admit they’re being bullied?
Sometimes it can be hard for a teenager to admit they’re being bullied because, in a sense, they’re admitting to being powerless, nerdy, lame, weak, or however else they see the “role” they’re playing. Adolescents can also be extremely worried about telling on other kids, which can often make things worse, if they get caught. Beyond this, it’s common that a teenager believes the false, negative messages that they’re receiving, either verbally or non verbally, from the bully, and so they don’t quite realize that how they’re being treated is wrong, and/or how serious it is. In such cases, you may have to continue looking into how you can best support your child. And if you come to the decision that this means seeking treatment, despite their best efforts to discourage you from this, then you should make this decision, and we’ll do anything we can to help.