When a teenager falls off a bicycle or has a sports injury, parents can easily identify the medical help needed and take action. In addition, they can offer the appropriate emotional support. However, some wounds are invisible, and are inflicted when parents aren’t around. Being bullied can cause serious emotional harm, even when there is no visible physical harm. Due to the shame and fear involved with bullying, teenagers may not want to talk about it. Therefore, parents need to educate themselves about the signs that their teen is being bullied.
What Is Bullying?
Bullying is defined as using intimidation, aggression, or perceived power to create a physical or emotional sense of domination by one or more people over their victim. Bullying can occur in many forms, including:
- Gender identification–based
Typically, bullying is done in front of or with the help of a group of peers as well. Typically, the goal is to establish domination at the expense of someone else. There is no stereotypical bully—bullies come from every background, culture, and level of education, and bullying is unfortunately very common. Surveys from the National Center for Education Statistics show that one out of every five teens (ages 12–18) report being bullied at school.
Therefore, it can be difficult for adults to identify or observe the situation. Often, parents are unaware of what is happening, and the victims of bullying are too scared, ashamed, or intimidated to report bullying. Hence, bullying can continue for a long time without adults realizing what’s going on.
Signs That Your Teen Is Being Bullied
Regardless of the type of bullying or the method used, the result is the same: pain, shame, anxiety, and sometimes depression and suicidal ideation. Therefore, parents need to watch for changes in their teen’s behavior. Teens may have one or more of these symptoms, or may have marked changes in other behaviors. While these signs are not a guarantee that a teen is being bullied, knowing what to look for can help parents find out what is happening.
Signs that your teen is being bullied include:
- Unexplained cuts, scratches, or bruises
- Missing, damaged, or torn belongings
- Loss of appetite or changes in appetite
- Frequent stomachaches, headaches, or other physical complaints
- Trying to get out of going to school or after-school activities
- Reduced interest in school, or poor grades
- Seeming sad, moody, or depressed, especially after school
- Exhibiting anxious behaviors
- Decreased self-esteem
- Withdrawing from friends and social activities.
Talking About Bullying with Your Teen
As a result of the lockdown in the spring, students who return to on-site school this fall will be going back after an extra-long break. Being at home for an extended period of time may have given them a reprieve if they were previously bullied. Therefore, parents may notice higher levels of anxiety than usual as students prepare to go back to school. This is a great time to discuss their apprehension and what they may be looking forward to about heading back to school versus what they may be dreading.
Remember that victims of bullying often hide their pain, so talking about bullying will be most successful if they are indirect. Talking about all aspects of school, who they are looking forward to seeing, and who they would rather not have to see may provide some insights. Most importantly, make sure your child knows they are loved and that harm caused to them by others is not their fault.
Bullying & Going Back to School
Going back to school now means some children will face in-person bullying that they have not had to deal with for months. Being bullied based on appearance, disability, mental health, popularity, and/or physical or mental strengths or weaknesses may resurface. In the midst of the unknowns of a global pandemic, anxiety levels will already be high, making this year’s back-to-school potentially more difficult for everyone.
Furthermore, cyberbullying has been the primary method of access for bullies during this lockdown. Not all teens who are bullied in real life are bullied in cyberspace, and vice versa. But with students returning to school, cyberbullies may also use pictures and videos taken in real life. Thus, it’s important to continue paying attention to whether teens are experiencing or inflicting this type of bullying—particularly because adolescent victims of cyberbullying are twice as likely to attempt suicide and self-harm.
Empowering Your Child
If you detect signs that your teen is being bullied, one of the best ways to combat it is by discussing this situation openly with your teen. To help empower teens, work with them to develop strategies to deal with bullying, such as:
- Having a few neutral phrases to use when facing a bully, such as “Not funny” or “Cut it out”
- Walking away; not reacting or engaging with the bully
- Keeping a straight face without showing anger or fear
- Making sure to have supportive friends with them in situations where they may encounter bullying
- Letting adults know what’s going on. This may be hard for teens, but parents can let them know that doing so is not “tattling,” it’s a way to protect themselves and other potential victims.
In summary, going back to school this year is going to be very different, and bullying may increase along with the anxiety and distress many students are feeling. But if parents remain vigilent and maintain communication, teens will have a better chance of avoiding bullying finding the positive aspects of the new normal.
J Med Internet Res. 2018; 20(4): e129.
National Center for Education Statistics