My Teen is Being Bullied. What Do I Do?

Bullying is not a new topic of discussion. It continues to be a prominent problem amongst children and teenagers. Oftentimes, adults are not present when their child is being bullied, and can miss the signs that it is occurring. Moreover, as a parent, it can be difficult to know how to proceed once you discover your teen has experienced bullying. This post serves to briefly inform you of signs to be mindful of and action steps you can take to best support your child faced with bullying.

First, here are some brief descriptions of some of the signs to be aware of:

  • Changes in Mood – more anxious, nervous, agitated, aggressive, etc.
  • Withdrawing/Isolating – reluctance to go to certain places, no longer spending time with friends or in activities they once enjoyed
  • Physical complaints – notice comments of headaches or stomach issues
  • Habit changes – significant difference in eating habits and sleeping changes
  • School issues – dropping grades, other behavioral patterns such as skipping class, falling asleep in class, or talking back.

As a parent it can feel discouraging when your teen faces bullying. You may not know how best to help them, and unsure of where to turn. Below are some of the things you can be mindful of to effectively support your teen through these difficult experiences.

  • Believe them. This is number one because while it seems the most obvious, it is not always the case for some teens. It is easy to dismiss the events as “just playing around” or “they didn’t mean it that way” or “you’re being too sensitive.” Hearing your child and letting them know you are in their corner is a vital first step, regardless of the severity of the bullying. Show them you have their back, and then you can begin to show them different sides to the situation.
  • Know your teen. As previously mentioned, changes in mood is a sign of something wrong. If the teen you have known is “suddenly” more moody, disengaged, agitated, or aggressive, chances are there is something going on deeper than biology or teen angst. Know your teen and start a conversation to get to the bottom of their issue.
  • Create a safe environment. Providing an open, engaging environment for your teen, one not void of consequences, but of no fear to bring mistakes and questions, allows them to feel safe enough to tell you what they struggle with. Empathize with what it was like for you as a teen. With not fully developed brains, they do not think anyone, especially you, will understand them. This is why offering unconditional positive regard and empathy will show them you are a trusted space. They will be more likely to engage you in conversation about their issues when they feel safe and are not pushed or bullied by you as well.
  • Educate/Encourage them. Teach your teen about assertiveness, respect, and how they do and do not deserve to be treated. Let them know what is happening is not their fault. Then encourage them to help boost their self-esteem, which has likely been affected.
  • Research. Understand the various types of bullying. Then look into the school’s policy on bullying and what they do to prevent it and in the event it occurs. Decide whether action through the school is necessary or whether discussing issues with the bully’s parents is the right step.
  • Involve them. While they do not get the final say, involving them in some decisions regarding action steps taken will allow them to have a voice and empower them to have a say into their own lives. Ultimately, do what is best to protect them, and explain your reason behind your decision. Open communication is key.
  • Monitoring. Set the precedent that when your teen first gets a phone or computer, that you will be monitoring certain aspects of it. This may seem like an invasion of privacy, but also protects them. Trust can be built between you by changing the monitoring boundaries as they age or as reinforcement. Do not allow passcodes you do not know and scan for harmful messaging between peers and also researched topics. There are also various apps you can utilize to aid with this.
  • Find a safe person. If your teen struggles to open up to you, or you have difficulty with some of these items, find out a person they feel safe with, or find them a counselor they can speak to about what they are experiencing.

This is a brief overview of ways you can support your teen who is facing bullying. If you would like further support and information there are many resources or you can contact a therapist to learn more how to successfully execute these steps.

– Callie Gross