Teens and Bullying

Bullying in American is on the rise. More than 160,000 students stay home each day for fear of being bullied. And thousands more have to face their tormentors in school and social situations every day.

But bullying doesn’t just happen in school. It can happen anywhere…at home, a sports event, concert, park, shopping center, on a bike trail, a parking lot—anywhere kids and teens are.

There are also more ways than ever to bully someone, thanks to new technologies like social media, photo and video capabilities in cell phones and other sophisticated methods of bullying.

When bullying exists, everyone loses:

  • Those being bullied have lower self-esteem, less confidence and increased fear, depression and anxiety. They can develop suicidal thoughts and perform worse in school and life.
  • Bullies grow up to have a much greater risk of getting in trouble with the law. In fact, by the age of 25, one in four bullies will spend time in jail.
  • Those witnessing bullying experience feelings of helplessness, fear and guilt.

What Is Bullying

We’ve all experienced or witnessed bullying before. It’s when one person intentionally harms or hurts another with words or behavior, and the one being hurt is unable to defend themselves. The bully is usually older, physically bigger or stronger or has more social status. It can also be a group of kids who “gang up” on someone else.

Bullying can be:

  • Physical—pushing, shoving, kicking, hitting, biting, hair pulling, breaking, damaging or taking possessions and inappropriate touching.
  • Sexual—using words that demean someone about their gender or sexuality, unwelcome physical contact, inappropriate touching, posting inappropriate photos online.
  • Verbal—teasing, calling names, threats, demeaning jokes, gossip, spreading rumors, slander and intimidation.
  • Emotional—usually done by a group, rather than an individual. Includes leaving someone out on purpose, flying to hurt another’s reputation, humiliating someone publicly.
  • Cyberbullying—using technology to bully someone, including spreading rumors through social networking sites or sending or posting mean messages, texts, videos, stories or photos that hurt or ridicule someone.

Warning Signs

There are many forms of bullying, and different signs that your teen or one of their friends might be the target of a bully. If you see one or more of these signs, speak up. Ask the teen if they are being bullied. Then, contact an adult who can be of assistance—a teacher, school administrator, school counselor or law enforcement professional.

  • Bruises, scratches and other physical evidence of abuse.
  • An increase in damaged or lost personal items or clothing.
  • Reluctance to leave home.
  • Increased moodiness, sadness, depression or anxiousness.
  • Change in friends.
  • Change in sleep or eating patterns.
  • A change in school performance.

What You Can Do

As an adult, it is important to intervene as soon as you hear about, or witness bullying. If you don’t, the bullying will continue—and you send a message that bullying is ok. Kids and teens usually can’t solve bullying issues themselves. And if you don’t step in to stop bullying, no one will.

If you witness bullying:

  • Step between the victim and the bully and separate them if necessary.
  • Be firm and calm, and announce that the bullying must stop.
  • If the bullying is physical, you may need to find another adult to help you. Don’t put yourself at risk.
  • Do not display aggressive behavior. That can actually escalate the situation, instead of resolve it. Speak calmly.
  • Thank anyone else who has been helpful in the situation.
  • Contact someone in authority (school administrator or law enforcement) and inform the bully and victim’s parents.
  • Remain in the area until the bullying has stopped and everyone is safe.

Talk to Your Teen About Bullying

It’s important for parents to have a general conversation with teens about bullying. After all, you want to make sure they are not being bullied, or the one who is doing the bullying.

The most important advice is this: don’t wait for your teen to bring up the conversation. You need to initiate it. One way to do so is pretty easy. There are more and more stories in the news about bullying. This provides a great conversation starter. You can ask your teen what they think about the news item. Don’t jump in with your viewpoint, and don’t correct or pass judgment on his or her opinion. Just listen. After your teen has shared, it’s a great opportunity for you to ask questions, like:

  • Have you witnessed bullying at your school?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • Have you ever been bullied? Are you being bullied now?
  • Can you share some specifics with me?
  • Have you ever been involved in bullying yourself?
  • Listen to the answers. Don’t react. Don’t try to problem-solve on the spot. Listen, gather information and let your teen know you want some time to think about what they’ve told you. You can then come up with a strategy for dealing with the information you’ve received in a thoughtful, informed manner.

If Your Teen is Being Bullied

Many teens are embarrassed to admit they are being bullied. They often bury their heads in the sand and hope the situation will stop. The goal is to find out if your teen is the victim of bullying without leaping to conclusions, solutions or reacting out of anger or emotions.

  • Make sure your teen feels safe and loved at home, and keep lines of communication open.
  • Listen carefully to what your teen tells you about the bullying. Ask him or her to provide you with specific details: who was involved, where it happened, what was done, who was there.
  • Be empathetic. Let them know bullying is wrong and it is not their fault. Praise them for being willing to share information about the bullying with you.
  • Let your teen know you have to think about this carefully and come up with a solution or plan of action. Once you do, share your plan with your teen.
  • Don’t encourage retaliation.
  • Stay calm during the conversation. Getting emotional won’t help you gather the information you need to go to the appropriate party.
  • It’s a good idea not to contact the bully’s parent directly. Most bullying happens at school, so report it to school officials.
  • Work with school officials and follow their plan of action.
  • Follow up with your teen and make sure the bullying has stopped. If not, contact school officials or, in some cases, law enforcement.
  • Help your teen meet new friends outside of the school environment, through art or music classes, athletic opportunities or other interests.
  • Teach your teen safety strategies. Teach them how to get help from adults.

Help Your Teen Stand Up Against Bullying

Here are some simple things your teen can do to let others know they won’t tolerate or condone bullying.

  • No matter what, don’t join in or encourage bullying. Your non-support sends a message that you don’t agree with what is happening.
  • Help the victim of bullying. Choose to walk or stand with them so they are not alone. Let them know you don’t agree with what’s happening.
  • Post a positive message on their social media site or let the bullies know you don’t think it’s right to make fun of people online. You can also report the online bullying and service providers will remove the post.
  • If the bullying is violent, like a fight, don’t intervene. Find an adult or authority figure immediately.
  • Inform you, a teacher, school counselor or school official about the bullying.
  • Talk to friends and ask them to help stop bullying, too. Make the bully feel isolated.
  • Join or start a bullying prevention program at school.

What if Your Teen is the Bully?

If you find out your teen has been bullying someone, or supporting someone who does, it’s devastating. Your first inclination may be to emotionally react—by yelling, grounding them or even crying. It’s normal to be upset, but the best thing you can do in the situation is take a deep breath, and only speak to your teen when you are calm and feel centered.

Just because your teen is bullying, doesn’t mean you’ve failed. There are things you can do to help get your teen’s behavior back on track. But it is important to act sooner than later, since 25% of kids who bully end up in prison before they are 25 years old. Be firm, but loving.

  • Have a firm conversation with your teen. Let them know that bullying is not acceptable behavior, even if they see similar behavior on TV or from other teens.
  • Determine why the bullying is occurring. You may need the help of a school counselor or family therapist to get to the root of the problem. Work together with them to help your child alter his or her negative behavior.
  • Set family rules regarding bullying. Establish appropriate consequences and follow through with them. If you let your teen get away with bullying, you are sending a message that bullying is ok.
  • Observe how your teen interacts with others are home and with friends. Initiate discussions about respect with your teen.
  • Get to know your teen. Find out who they are hanging out with and what activities they are involved in and enjoy. Encourage them to participate in school clubs, sports and other activities to keep them occupied and engaged.
  • Pay attention to your teen’s behavior at home. Are they acting aggressively toward other children in your home? Coach your teen about interacting and encourage respectful and kind actions.
  • Set a good example. Children of all ages learn from you. If you don’t treat others with respect, you can’t expect your teen to. Set an example by treating others kindly and respectfully—even during arguments or uncomfortable discussions.
  • Be patient. Behavioral change doesn’t not happen overnight. Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Ask for help. If you don’t know how to solve the problem, or can’t get through to your child, get help from a trained professional.


Find Out More

More and more people are speaking out about bullying, which means there’s lot of information out there. Here are a few of our favorite links that can provide more information, tips and advice about bullying.