Helping Your Teen Deal with Face to Face Bullying

No matter the form it takes, bullying can result in some deep and lifelong emotional scars for your teen. If you faced bullies as a teen, then you're aware of just how it can impact your life today.

Many resources address how teens should handle digital bullying. Online bullying is a serious and real problem for teens and even adults. That said, there are still issues with face-to-face bullying at school or perhaps at dance class or football practice. Despite social media being a huge part of our lives, face-to-face bullying is still commonly seen amongst teens.

Bullies can make something as simple as taking the bus to school or eating lunch in the cafeteria a true nightmare for your child or teen. In some extreme cases, bullying has led to property damage, violence, and even life-threatening consequences.

Schools may have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, but they aren't always the best at recognizing bullying and following through on consequences. Even if your teen isn't faced with bullies right now, having a conversation about it can help them be prepared if it becomes a concern.

Recognizing when it's bullying

Teachers can often downplay situations if they don't recognize that it's bullying. This can encourage the perpetrators to keep up their bad behavior, potentially escalating the situation.

Most children tease each other with occasional ribbing, and for the most part, it's usually mutual.
Teasing can escalate into unkind words, hurtful behavior, and it can be almost constant. This is when it has crossed the line and is now intentional bullying.

Bullying can take on several forms, including:

  • Physical harm. This could look like pushing someone into a locker, shoving someone off a bench, throwing things at someone, or hitting someone with fists.
  • Verbal abuse. Calling someone unkind names, body shaming, mocking, or threatening. Teens can also bully each other by spreading rumors or using social media to abuse their victims intentionally.
  • Psychological harm. This could take on several forms, including taunting anonymously or mocking them. Threats to extort money and personal possessions can also become a reality for some teens.

Bullying needs to be taken seriously, no matter the form that it takes. It is not something that your teen needs to simply handle, shake off, or tough out. The effects of bullying can be serious. It can take a significant toll on how your teen feels about himself, how he values himself, and how safe he feels.

In severe cases, bullying has contributed to tragedies, such as suicides and school shootings.

Warning signs of bullying for parents

Some of the warning signs for parents to be aware of could include:

  • Moody behavior that is out of character
  • Sudden shifts in behavior, especially after social events
  • Showing signs of anxiety or depression
  • Not sleeping or eating
  • No longer doing things they used to love
  • Avoiding situations, like riding the bus or playing sports

If you believe that your teen is being bullied, you must step in and get them the help they need to feel safe again.

Why does bullying happen?

One of the things your teen is sure to wonder is, "why me? Why am I being bullied?" The truth is that there is rarely a clear-cut answer.

Sometimes they see others who appear to be physically or emotionally weaker than they are. Or sometimes their targeted victim is someone who looks or behaves in a way they believe to be different. Sometimes bullies are looking for control.

They may believe that how they are behaving is normal because they see this same behavior mirrored at home. That said, there is no truly good reason for someone to be a bully or to bully others.

Sometimes the signs of bullying can be so subtle or be brushed off by educators that your teen may not even recognize that he is being bullied. Unless he tells you outright that he is being bullied, or you can see visible signs of physical abuse, it can be difficult for you to know that it's taking place.

Helping your teen recognize whether he is being bullied can go a long way to helping him to address it and get help.

What can your teen do?

It can be tempting to tell your teen to fight back when they are being bullied. However, this is not always the right approach. It is understandable to want your child to stand up for himself and fight back, to put the bully in his place. Don't tell your kids to respond to bullying by bullying back or by resorting to violence.

The reality is that taking this approach can rapidly escalate into a situation. Your teen may also get into trouble at school or with law enforcement if the situation escalates enough.

So, what can your teen do?

They don't deserve to be continually bullied and abused. They deserve to feel safe, secure, and confident.

Steps your teen can take when they are being bullied:

  • Speak up. Bullying can be embarrassing for the victim. No one likes to admit that they are being picked on for being different, but your teen won't be able to get help unless he speaks up about it. Speaking with a parent, a coach, a teacher, or a counselor about what is happening can be the first step to getting the right kind of help he needs.
  • Walk away. As hard as it can be to walk away from someone flinging insults at you, it's so important not to give the bully any further fuel to use against you. Walk away, ignore it, seek out help from friends or teachers.
  • Use the buddy system and avoid the bullies. There truly is power in numbers. Bullies are more likely to lash out at someone who is alone. With that in mind, be sure to tell your teen how important it is to spend time with friends who are a positive influence and help act as a buffer against bullies.

In some situations, it is better for your teen's mental and emotional wellbeing to remove them from the situation completely. If school administrators are not helping out and you've explored all other avenues to get him the safety and help he needs, it's time to consider whether that school is the right choice for him.

Getting your teen the mental health treatment he needs can help undo some of the damage caused by the bully. A residential treatment center can provide him with the safe, secure, and focused environment that he needs to heal and move forward.

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