- Unexplained bruising, cuts or scratches, ripped clothing
- Physical complaints – stomach aches, head aches, being tired all the time
- Trying to avoid school or other social activities – making up a lot of excuses to try to get out of things
- Sudden change in mood or behavior – this could be that they become more withdrawn or that they are presenting with increased sadness or even anger or aggression
- Missing items they cannot account for when you question them
- Increased nervousness or anxiety – particularly when going to school or other social situations
- Signs of declining self-esteem (not taking care of themselves, making negative comments about themselves)
Teenage Bullying – Warning Signs And What To Do As A Parent
January 28, 2012 by How To Parent A Teen
As was mentioned in the previous How To Parent A Teen blog post, bullying is a serious and widespread problem for teenagers today and can take on many forms. Bullying can involve physical acts of violence, verbal threats and attacks, isolating or excluding someone and can be done in person or increasingly via cyber space, aka cyber-bullying. All forms can be damaging and can have lasting effects. The danger with cyber-bullying is that it can be difficult for adults to see unless they are looking at the teenager’s electronic devices and also that it allows those who bully to put their negative comments, rumors, or gossip out there for so many more people to see.
Below are some potential warning signs that your teenager may be being bullied – while seeing these warning signs does not necessarily mean your teenager is being bullied, if you are seeing them you should investigate further.
What to do as a parent:
1. If your child comes to you and expresses concern about bullying:
Thank them for coming to you, reinforce that they did the right thing by telling you and validate their experience. Be open, calm and really listen to them. You want to be a good role model for them as you work to figure out how to address the problem so it is important that even though you may be really angry and may be feeling really protective of your teen that you stay calm and appropriate while discussing this situation with them.
2. If your teen does not tell you but you are noticing some of the warning signs above:
Talk to your teen about this. In a gentle, supportive, non-judgmental way, share with them your concerns. Let them know that you have seen some things that concern you and that you are worried about and that you want to make sure that they are OK, that they are safe and that they are happy. Your teen may feel a great sense of relief that you have opened the door and may share what is happening with you if you take this type of approach. Of course, they may continue to deny anything is wrong because they feel ashamed, depressed or scared. Even if they deny any bullying, you should let them know you do have concerns, that you want to support them and you should go with your gut. Try to get a sense of what is going on int their day. Who are they around, what are their favorite classes, who do they like and dislike at school? This may give you some additional insight. You know your teen – if your gut is telling you something harmful is happening to your child, you are better to be overly cautious and explore this further rather than ignoring it.
Even if your teen asks you not to, if the bullying is happening at school, you need to get the school involved. Bullying is on the radar for school administrators and there is a lot of pressure on them to address any concerns of bullying swiftly and effectively. Many school systems have required training for all staff on this issue so sharing your concerns and getting the support of the school is important in helping to make sure your child is able to receive an education in a place that feels safe for them. You should also talk to any coaches, parents of friends, or other adult leaders who are involved in your teen’s life who may be able to offer insight and additional supervision to get the bullying to stop. Make sure you are keeping the lines of communication open and that you are following up with these other adults so that you are all working collaboratively in the best interest of your teenager ongoing.
4. Support the development of positive self-esteem in your teenager:
When teenagers are bullied, it can do a real number on their self-esteem. They may be internalizing the negative messages others are telling them, they may feel worthless, weak or shameful, they may feel like they don’t matter or that others will never respect them. Even once the bullying has stopped, you want to make sure that your teenager has opportunities in their life to build upon their strengths, receive praise for their strengths and have positive social interactions. This may involve getting them involved in a sport or a club, getting them involved in a cooking class or a church group or just making sure that you are supporting opportunities for them to have positive social interactions and that they are spending time with other teens and/or adults who support and praise them ongoing.
5. Educate your teenager about bullying:
As adults, we know that the bullying behavior is typically more about the person doing the bullying than about the person being bullied and that the individual doing the bullying is probably trying to cover up or hide their own insecurities. It is helpful to talk to your teenager a little bit about this keeping in mind and let them know that any bullying is more about a bully trying to control them or to control a situation than it is about them as a person. Just remember that even if they hear this intellectually, they may still have a hard time internalizing this and the bullying may continue to be just as painful for them.
6. Supervise their internet / phone use:
It is absolutely reasonable and appropriate that you, as the parent, have access to what your teenager is doing online. I am guessing that you are paying for the phone and computer anyway, right? Even if you are not, it is absolutely reasonable that you want to be able to periodically check your teenager’s electronic devices. You should have access to all their passwords and know what sites they are using. What is most helpful is if you set clear expectations with them upfront about what you will be monitoring and if you have not done that yet, that you do it now and tell them that this is what they should expect moving forward. Let them know that you will be monitoring what they are doing, what sites they are going on and who they are texting and to what level you will be monitoring this. This is not to say that teens are not savvy and cannot delete text messages or emails but it is a good starting point to help you be more aware of what is going on in their lives and to make sure that they are safe (not only physically but emotionally as well).
7. Never encourage physical retaliation:
You never want to encourage your teenager to use violence as a means of solving a problem. That is not a life lesson you want them to learn. Instead, help coaching them on other things they can do (walk away, continue to talk to you or other adults, avoid certain situations, try to remain around safe friends, and ways that they can use their words to address the bully in a non confrontational way) will be more helpful to them and serve them well into adulthood.
Teenage bullying can be scary and upsetting so you should not hesitate to get support for yourself and your teenager as is needed. For further parenting tips and advice, go to How To Parent A Teen.
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