Posted by Kalila Badali on November 19, 2019
Written by Kalila Badali M.ED., RP (Qualifying).
It is important to remember that there are ways to support teens being bullied and there are ways to mitigate the impact of bullying.
Teenagers are often highly focused on how their peers might perceive them and it is a natural part of growing up to have encounters with bullies. The impact of bullying can be severe for some teens leading to social anxiety, loneliness, depression, school avoidance, and an increase risk of contemplating, attempting, or committing suicide (PREVNet, 2019).
In a 2007 survey of 13–15-year-olds, over 70 per cent reported having been bullied online and 44% reported having bullied someone at least once (Lines, 2007). As a parent, this is what you can do to support your teen:
Teen seems anxious, insecure, unhappy and may have low self-esteem
Physical symptoms such as headaches and/or stomach aches
Lack of interest in studies, attempts to skip school, poor grades.
More likely to be depressed and engage in thoughts of suicide.
Lack a single very close friend
If your teen volunteers information about being bullied, listen to their story and offer empathy and support. (KidsHealth.org)
If they are reluctant to share, but you suspect your teen is being bullied, validate the difficulty in talking about things like bullying. Ask questions about why they might be reluctant. They might feel embarrassed, think it is their fault, or even worry that parents are teachers will be upset with them or make things worse.
Show curiosity about friendships in your child’s life without prying.
Some people believe fighting back against bullies will improve the situation, but research supports reporting instead of encouraging teens to fight back (PREVNet, 2019).
Secrecy empowers bullies to continue abusing their victims (PREVNet, 2019). As a parent you might be in the position to help your teenager end the bullying by communicating with teachers or encouraging your teen to do this on their own.
Here are some resources you might find helpful.
Due to the nature of parent/teen relationships, sometimes it can be difficult to support a teen on your own. Some teens don’t want to confide in parents but might be more willing to speak to a professional. My approach to supporting teens experiencing bullying is to establish a trusting relationship with them so they know I am going to listen to them and keep their information private.
I often start by exploring what bullying means to the teenager and express curiosity about differences between bullying and conflict. In my experience, more often than not teenagers confuse bullying with conflict between friends. Conflict resolution requires more nuance than a bullying/victim binary, starting with validating hurt feelings, seeing other points of view, and taking the risk of possibly offering an apology or negotiating compromises. I also assess whether social skill training is necessary to decrease the likelihood of bullying.
Then I focus on helping them create a sense of safety. We may do this by discussing boundaries and how to assert them when we need. This can be difficult for adults, let alone teenagers who still have developing brains, but it is a wonderful skill to learn early on.
PREVNet. (2019). Research: Expanding our focus for a deeper understanding. Retrieved from Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network: www.prevnet.ca
Lines, E. (2007). Cyberbullying: Our Kids’ New Reality. Retrieved from Kids Help Phone: www.definetheline.ca/dtl/cyberbullying/cyberbullying-in-canada/
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