Bullying has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years. News agencies have run stories, researchers have published articles and governments have taken action. We know more about bullying and its effects on teens now than at any other time in our history. I collected the following information on bullying while I was working at the University of Miami and I present it below to inform parents, teenagers and families about bullying in more detail than the press can afford. It includes tips on what to do if your teenager is a bully or being bullied.
What is Bullying?
It is important for all children and teenagers to learn to respect the rights of others despite any differences that make them vulnerable or part of a small minority.
Bullying is a form of abuse. It happens when an individual or group repeatedly uses physical or social advantages to physically, emotionally, or socially harm another individual or group.
- Physical: Hitting, punching, kicking
- Verbal: Name calling, teasing, making fun of people
- Social: Starting rumors, social exclusion
Bullying can happen through computers and the internet, referred to as “cyber-bullying”. This includes actions like sending insulting messages or posting humiliating stories on Facebook. Girls are more likely to report being targets of rumor spreading and sexual comments.
Bullying is also more common than you might think with 15% - 25% of U.S. students reporting being bullied with some frequency. Bullying is also prohibited in Florida by Florida Statute Section # 1006.147. Every school district is required to have anti-bullying policies and offenders can face either school disciplinary actions, criminal actions or both.
The Effects of Bullying on Teenagers.
Teenagers who are bullied are more likely than their peers to be:
- Have low self-esteem
- Feel unwell
- Have more migraine headaches
- Think about suicide
Victimized teenagers are at increased risk for:
- Mental health problems (e.g., suicide, social withdrawal, depression, anxiety)
- Physical complaints (e.g., headaches, stomach aches)
- Feelings of unhappiness at school
- Academic problems
A teenager who is being bullied might:
- Come home with torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings
- Have unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches
- Have few, if any, friends with whom he or she spends time
- Seem afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part in organized activities with peers (such as clubs)
- Take a long, “illogical” route when walking to or from school
- Lose interest in school work or suddenly begins to do poorly in school
- Appear sad, moody, teary, or depressed when he or she comes home
- Complain frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical ailments
- Have trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams
- Experience a loss of appetite
- Appear anxious and suffer from low self-esteem
Characteristics of Teenage Bullies
Teenagers who bully their peers regularly (i.e., those who admit to bullying more than occasionally) tend to:
- Be impulsive, hot-headed, dominant
- Be easily frustrated
- Lack empathy
- Have difficulty following rules
- View violence in a positive way
Teenagers who bully are more likely than their peers to:
- Get into frequent fights
- Be injured in a fight
- Vandalize property
- Steal property
- Drink alcohol
- Be truant from school
- Drop out of school
- Carry a weapon
Teenagers who bully others are at increased risk for:
- Engaging in serious violence later in adolescence
- Short-term and long-term adjustment difficulties,including academic problems and psychological difficulties
- Dropping out of school
- Social relationship problems, including behaving aggressively toward their romantic partners
Teenage boys are more likely than teenage girls to bully others. Teenage girls are more likely to bully each other using social exclusion.
Correcting Bullying Behavior
- To stop bullying, make it clear to your teenager that you take bullying seriously and that you will not tolerate this behavior. However, this cannot be done in such a manner that could reinforce bullying patterns.
- Hold the teenager who bullies fully accountable for his or her actions. Confront excuses that minimize the behavior (“I only called her a name.”) or externalize the cause of the behavior (“I hit him because he kept staring at me.”). Help the young person fully acknowledge his or her behavior. Emphasize that the youth had other options, no matter what the provocation and that he or she is fully responsible for the decision made.
- Develop clear and consistent rules within your family for your teenager's behavior. Praise and reinforce your teenagers for following rules and use non-physical, non-hostile consequences for rule violations. Show a warm and positive interest in your child.
- Spend more time with your teenager and carefully supervise and monitor his or her activities. Find out who your teen's friends are and how and where they spend free time.
- Talk to your teenagers about what the social environment at school is like and periodically monitor their emails, text messages, and social networking sites (facebook or myspace) to check for signs of cyber-bullying.
- Build on your teen's talents by encouraging him or her to get involved in prosocial activities (such as clubs, music lessons, or non-violent sports).
- Share your concerns with your teens's teacher, counselor, or principal. Work together to send clear messages to your child that his or her bullying must stop.
- Make sure parents and school staff intervene on the stop when bullying behavior is observed.
Helping Adolescents Who Have Been Bullied
First, focus on your teen. Be supportive and gather information about the bullying.
- Never tell your teen to ignore the bullying. What the teenager may "hear" is that you are going to ignore it. If the child were able to simply ignore it, he or she likely would not have told you about it. Often, trying to ignore bullying allows it to become more serious.
- Don't blame the teenager who is being bullied. Don't assume that your teen did something to provoke the bullying. Don't say, "What did you do to aggravate the other kid?"
- Listen carefully to what your teenager tells you about the bullying. Ask him or her to describe who was involved and how and where each bullying episode happened. Learn as much as you can about the bullying tactics used, and when and where the bullying happened. Can your teenager name others who may have witnessed the bullying?
- Empathize with your teenager. Tell him/her that bullying is wrong, not his/her fault, and that you are glad he or she had the courage to tell you about it. Ask your teen what he or she thinks can be done to help. Assure him or her that you will think about what needs to be done and you will let him or her know what you are going to do.
- Do not encourage physical retaliation ("Just hit them back") as a solution. Hitting another student is not likely to end the problem, and it could get your teenager suspended or expelled or escalate the situation.
- Check your emotions. A parent's protective instincts stir strong emotions. Although it is difficult, parents are wise to step back and consider the next steps carefully.
Contact your child's teacher or principal.
- Parents are often reluctant to report bullying to school officials, but bullying might not stop without the help of adults. Call or set up an appointment to talk with your teenager's teacher. He or she will probably be in the best position to understand the relationships between your teenager and his or her peers at school. Keep your emotions in check. Give factual information about your teenager's experience of being bullied including who, what, when, where, and how.
- Ask the teacher to talk with other adults who interact with your teenager at school (such as the music teacher, physical education teacher, or bus driver) to see whether they have observed students bullying your teenager. Emphasize that you want to work with the staff at school to find a solution to stop the bullying, for the sake of your teenager as well as other students. Schools can develop policies to create a caring environment and employ evidence-based strategies to prevent bullying.
- If you are not comfortable talking with your teenager's teacher, or if you are not satisfied with the conversation, make an appointment to meet with your teen's guidance counselor or principal to discuss your concerns.
- Do not contact the parents of the student(s) who bullied your teenager. This is usually a parent's first response, but sometimes it makes matters worse. School officials should contact the parents of the teenager or children who did the bullying.
- Commit to making the bullying stop. Talk regularly with your teenager and with school staff to see whether the bullying has stopped. If the bullying persists, contact school authorities again.
Help your child become more resistant to bullying.
- Help to develop talents or positive attributes of your teenager. Suggest and facilitate music, athletics, and art activities. Doing so may help your child be more confident among his or her peers.
- Encourage your teenager to make contact with friendly students in his or her class. Your teenager's teacher may be able to suggest students with whom your teen can make friends, spend time, or collaborate on work. Help your teenager meet new friends outside of the school environment. A new environment can provide a "fresh start" for a teenager who has been bullied repeatedly.
- Teach your teenager safety strategies. Teach him or her how to seek help from an adult when feeling threatened by a bully. Talk about whom he or she should go to for help and role-play what he or she should say. Assure your teenager that reporting bullying is not the same as sniching.
- Ask yourself if your child is being bullied because of a learning difficulty or a lack of social skills. If your child is hyperactive, impulsive, or overly talkative, the child who bullies may be reacting out of annoyance. This doesn't make the bullying right, but it may help to explain why your child is being bullied. If your child easily irritates people, seek help from a counselor so that your child can better learn the informal social rules of his or her peer group.
- Make sure your teenager has a safe and loving home environment where he or she can take shelter, physically and emotionally. Always maintain open lines of communication with your teenager.
Please help raise awareness about bullying by sharing this article. Thank you!
By Miguel Brown