As parents, one of the things we often worry about is the possibility of our children getting bullied or picked on at school.
This worry never goes away, even as our children become teenagers and adults. We all know first-hand how cruel kids can be, and just how damaging it can be to feel isolated—especially somewhere you’re meant to feel safe.
Bullying has become a real issue within educational institutions. In fact, one in five children and teenagers have admitted to being the victim of bullying at some point in their lives.
Bullying is different, and more serious than, teasing. Bullies are stronger than their victims, either physically or because they have more power due to their age, popularity, or another hierarchical factor. And bullying behavior can become a regular occurrence, with its negative effects compounding over time for the victim.
Unfortunately, there are no schools that are free of this behavior. No matter where your child or teenager goes, there is the risk that they will be taunted. However, there are things that parents can look out for in order to spot the signs of bullying.
In this article, we’ll cover the different types of bullying, reasons why your teen may not come forward about bullying, warning signs that your teen is being bullied, and how to spot a bully.
What are the different types of bullying?
According to StopBullying.gov, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” There are many different forms of bullying that you need to be familiar with if you want to be able to prevent them.
Physical & verbal bullying
When we think of bullying, we typically imagine physical or verbal bullying.
Physical violence can be easily spotted through bruises, gashes, ripped or torn clothing, and burn marks. Verbal aggression includes shouting abusive threats and insults.
Although these types of bullying are extremely harmful to children and teenagers, they are the easiest to spot, and thus, are less likely to happen in the schoolyard.
One of the most common types of bullying we see today is cyberbullying.
Unfortunately, this type of bullying isn’t just restricted to while your teen is at school. It can follow them and continue at home. This is why cyberbullying is so dangerous; the Internet is difficult to regulate and it can be accessed almost anywhere in the world, meaning that anyone at any time could be harassing and bullying your teen online.
Relational aggression is a lesser-known form of bullying, and it can be fairly challenging to pinpoint. This type of bullying is emotional and uses isolation and manipulation to socially ostracize the victim. Relational aggression is typically seen in cliques, especially among teenage girls.
Why bullied teens may stay silent
- Embarrassment or shame. Teens want to appear independent and cool. If the bully is already making your teen feel embarrassed and insecure, your teen may feel even more reticent to admit that they are being bullied.
- Feeling defeated. Some teens don’t realize that bullying is something that can or should be stopped.
- Fear of exacerbating the bully. Many victims of bullying fear that if they report the bullying, the bully will retaliate even harder. They may also assume their peers will mock them for tattling on the bully.
- Uncertainty of parents’ reactions. If you haven’t discussed bullying with your teen, or made it expressly clear that you are here to help, your teens may not know what to expect by bringing up the conversation. They may be concerned that their parents will be disappointed in them.
Signs that your teen may be dealing with bullying
Most parents will do everything possible to intervene on their teen’s behalf to stop bullying. However, some teens may feel too embarrassed to tell an adult about being bullied, so they continue to suffer in silence. That’s why it’s up to us to be able to spot it.
Warning signs of bullying include changes in mood, behavior, and physical appearance.
Here are several physical red flags to look out for:
- Torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings
- Unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches from fighting
- Few, if any, friends with whom he or she spends time
- Appearing afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part in organized activities (such as clubs or sports) with peers
- Taking a long "illogical" route when walking to or from school
- Losing interest in doing school work, or suddenly begin to do poorly in school
- Appearing sad, moody, teary, drained, or depressed after returning home from school
- Complaining frequently of headaches, bellyaches, or other physical problems
- Having frequent bad dreams, or trouble sleeping
- Experiencing a loss of appetite
- Appearing anxious and suffering from low self-esteem
At school, your teen may:
- Become belligerent, aggressive, or combative
- Withdraw from social situations
- Have missing or damaged belongings or clothes
- Start falling behind in school
- Show signs of isolation or exclusion from friendship groups at school
- Shut down in classroom settings, especially if they used to be talkative
- Appear insecure or frightened
At home, your teen may:
- Have trouble getting out of bed
- Not want to go to school, especially if they were previously excited to go to school
- Change their method or route to school, or become frightened of walking to school
- Change their sleeping or eating patterns
- Have frequent tears, anger, mood swings and anxiety
- Have unexplained bruises, cuts and scratches
- Experience bellyaches or unexplained pain
- Have missing or damaged belongings or clothes
- Ask for extra pocket money or food
- Arrive home hungry
- Show an unwillingness to discuss, or secrecy about, their online activities
How can you spot a bully?
Adults need to be capable of spotting bullies, whether it’s in the classroom or the local neighborhood. Recognizing the characteristics of bullies will allow for early intervention.
Here are some tip-offs that you may be dealing with a bully:
- A positive attitude toward violence and the use of violent means
- A strong need to dominate and subdue other students and get their own way
- Impulsivity, aggression, and/or a hot temper
- Lack of empathy toward underdog types, as well as students who are bullied
- Defiant and aggressive toward adults, including teachers and parents
- Involvement in other rule-breaking activities such as vandalism, delinquency, and substance abuse
- Greater physical strength than that of others in general and the students they bully in particular (especially in boys)
- Be more likely to report owning a weapon, such as to gain respect or to frighten others
Signs of anger and aggression are key indicators of physical and verbal bullying. Both girls and boys can show anger and aggression, but it is more commonly seen in boys.
Moreover, most bullies have an altered sense of entitlement, which can be a precursor for all kinds of bullying behaviors.
Take a closer look at the teens who put on a facade of perfection, as these individuals are highly aware of social appearance and may use relational aggression to bully and control others. This is because relational aggression and emotional bullying are much more sly and manipulative, so many bullies are able to fly under the radar.
Sometimes, peer pressure can get the best of anyone—teens can succumb to the peer pressure of bullying others, even if they personally would not have engaged in bullying otherwise. Cliques are notorious for peer pressure, as group leaders encourage their followers to bully outsiders. If you see a clique, keep an eye on the clique members and observe how they behave together and separately.
How you can prevent bullying
Now that you know the warning signs of bullying, you can begin to work toward preventing bullying behaviors.
At home and at school, open communication should always be encouraged. When you support open communication, kids and teens feel more comfortable speaking about anything and everything—from mental health struggles, to bullying problems, or even just a bad day at school.
Not only will open communication help you spot signs of bullying, it can also help you recognize when your teen is being the bully. Oftentimes, it’s the bully who suffers from low self-esteem and mental health struggles. Creating a safe space to talk about internal problems can help ease the stress and negative emotions that lead to bullying behaviors.
It’s also crucial to have ongoing conversations about bullying at home and at school. Children and teens must be taught the fine line between innocent teasing and outright bullying. Especially when it comes to emotional and cyberbullying, wherein there are no physical actions involved, the lines can be blurred. Children and teens need frequent reminders to understand and internalize the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
A Word From A Brighter Day
Research confirms that bullying causes serious consequences. Victims may suffer from a range of issues. Low self-esteem, physical injuries, sleep difficulties, headaches, stomach issues, chronic pain, and increased stress and anxiety are just some of the awful consequences of bullying. Moreover, a UCLA study, published in the Journal of Early Adolescence, demonstrated the impact of bullying your teen’s performance in school. So, it’s crucial to put an end to the bullying and to support bullied teens.
By teaching your kids about all forms of bullying, you can inform them of signs of cyberbullying and the dangers of the Internet. Use your best discretion when setting boundaries around social media and the Internet. Open a continual dialogue about the different types of bullying and about how to stay safe on the Internet. The more open communication, the higher likelihood that you’ll be able to banish bullying from your children’s lives.