Bullying is not a foreign concept to anyone, but it is challenging to talk about. For some parents, the hope is bullying won’t happen to your child, or your child won’t ever bully another.
But, the truth is, the less bullying is discussed, the less teens are equipped to handle it when it occurs. In order to prevent bullying, it’s important for parents to have open and honest conversations with their teens about the effects of bullying and the importance of treating each other with respect and kindness (even when there are disagreements and conflict).
The importance of bullying prevention
No parent wants to watch their teen experience bullying, nor do they want their child to be the one bullying others. When a parent discovers bullying in their child’s life, it can be hard to undo the damage that has been done.
There are a number of negative effects of bullying, for both the bully and victim, including:
- Decreased self-esteem
- Increased anxiety or depression
- Self-consciousness, especially if a teen is bullied for their physical appearance
- Increased risk of substance abuse and risky sexual activity
- Relational difficulties later in life
- Difficulty maintaining a job
The experience of bullying can have long-term effects that last much longer than just a few weeks of high school. Especially if the bullying is prolonged, it can significantly impact the mental health of the teen for years to come.
In order to keep this from happening, it’s important for parents to do what they can to help prevent bullying and to know the signs of bullying so they can step in when necessary on behalf of their child. Additionally, talking with your teen about the reality of bullying and making it a topic of discussion can be helpful in preventing long term effects.
My child is a bully – what can I say?
If you suspect your child is the one who is bullying others, you may have noticed some signs, including:
- A lack of taking responsibility for their actions, choosing instead to blame others
- A history of disciplinary problems at school
- Having friends who are often disciplined for bullying
- Getting into physical or verbal fights with others
- Is focused on popularity, becoming increasingly aggressive or overly competitive
Additionally, you may receive a call from school informing you that your teen was involved in bullying — this does not automatically mean that your child is a “terrible kid” and that all attempts at parenting have failed. In fact, it’s crucial to not jump to that conclusion.
What you should do is have a conversation with your teen. Allow them to tell their side of the story; this should help form your understanding of why your child engaged in this behavior. Maybe it’s because of peer pressure; perhaps it’s due to incredibly low self-esteem. Whatever it is, understanding the root cause will better enable you to help remedy the behavior.
Additionally, help your teen work through potential scenarios — when they feel tempted to bully another teen, encourage them to stop and think before reacting. Teach them to think through their actions and responses and consider what impact their behavior may be having on the wellbeing of the other teen(s).
Bullying isn’t likely to resolve overnight, but by continuing to speak with your teen and work with them, you can help foster a healthy respect towards others and also a healthy respect towards themselves.
My child is a victim – what do I do?
Teens who are being bullied will also show signs, such as:
- Trying to avoid going to school or social situations
- Unexplained physical injuries
- Constant sickness, especially stomach aches and headaches
- Not spending time with other teens, but preferring to be around adults
- Not having many friends their age
- Showing signs of distress after being online or using social media, for no apparent reason
If you suspect that your teen is being bullied, it’s probable that they will feel ashamed of the situation and be hesitant to talk about it. However, it’s important to convey that it’s not your child’s fault, and probably has very little to do with anything your child has ever done — bullying is often caused by another’s desire for power or control, or a lack of self-esteem.
To help a teen who is experiencing bullying, listen to them calmly and allow them to share their story. Try not to display an emotional response, but express your sincere sorrow about their experience. Support your child, and tell their school or teachers so that your teen can begin to feel safe. Recommend taking a break from social media or setting boundaries of who your teen befriends online.
Most importantly, tell your teen that you believe them. When they feel seen and heard and their situation is not pushed aside as inconsequential, they will feel stronger and supported right away.
Fortifying your teen against bullying
Preventing bullying starts by talking with your teen about the reality, and encouraging them to be vocal about it, when and if it does happen to them (or to anybody else). Teaching your teen about what bullying is, what it looks like and where it comes from is the first defense against it.
For additional support for your teen, especially if they’ve experienced bullying long term or severely, mental health counseling is always available. Contact Seeds of Hope to learn more or to get in touch with a counselor today by calling 610-644-6464.