Parents and Other Adults

Spotting the Signs of Bullying

Teenage bullying can be hard to see.  In high school, the bullying is often less physical.  Also, your teenager might try to hide the bullying from you and others.  Most teenagers aren’t going to come home and tell you that they’re being bullied.  They might feel ashamed and afraid or they might not want you to worry or make a big deal – or perhaps make it worse.   Often teenagers just want bullying to go away without drawing attention to it.

What are the signs you need to know as a parent?  There are a number of signs to look for if you suspect bullying.  One word of caution.  Exhibiting one or more of these signs might not necessarily mean that your son or daughter is being bullied.  Your teenager might be experiencing some of these signs for other reasons, so it’s best to talk.  Don’t assume bullying – but don’t ignore it either.  It’s best to talk to get the truth.

School Problems

  1. Loss of interest in classes or school activities
  2. Unhappy or anxious before or after school
  3. Reluctant to go to school or to get on the computer.
  4. Not wanting to get on the school bus; begs you for rides to school every day.
  5. Doesn’t seem to be eating his lunch
  6. Decrease in school performance

Emotional Signs

  1. He or she becomes more and more isolated from others
  2. She or she shows noticeable changes in behavior or emotions, like withdrawal, anger, depression, aggressive behavior, anxiety
  3. She or he has trouble sleeping
  4. He or she seems low on self-confidence.

Physical Signs

  1. Physical injuries he or she can’t or won’t explain – for example, bruises or torn clothing
  2. Coming home with damaged or missing belongings or money
  3. Significant or rapid weight loss or gain
  4. New nervous habits
  5. Is frequently sick, with headaches, stomach ache and sleeping problems—and often wants to stay home from school.
  6. Disconnecting from home or isolating self from peers
  7. Changes in appetite
  8. Self-destructive behaviors or thoughts – self harm and suicidal thoughts
  9. Running away from home
  10. Explosive moodiness beyond normal pubescent behavior

Specific Cyber Signs

  1. He or she suddenly stops using the computer or cell phone. The National Crime Prevention Council calls this the biggest red flag.
  2. She or he appears upset after using the computer or receiving calls or texts.
  3. He or she is secretive about what they are doing online or with their cell phone.

The most beautiful people that we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle and have known loss and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.


Partnering with Your Teenager to Combat the Bullying

Parents, school staff, and other caring adults have a role to play in preventing bullying. They can: 

1. Affirm their courage when they ask for help.  Most teenagers don’t tell their parents about bullying online or offline. So if they do ask for help, let them know that you admire their courage and their willingness to stand up for themselves.

We gain strength, and courage, and
confidence by each experience in which we 
really stop to look fear in the face ... we
 must do that which we think we cannot.


2. Communicate openly.  You can ask about bullying in their school or neighborhood.  You can also check in if you see signs of bullying.  You can encourage them to talk with other trusted adults and you can talk with other parents or school personnel to understand what is going on around you.  At appropriate times, you can also talk about your own experiences with bullying.

3. Increase the Love, Attention and Support You Show.  That does not mean treating them as a victim that you need to save.  It does mean acknowledging that they are under pressure or duress and could use the support – and that you might overdue it just to make sure they get the message.  You are loving them for who they are and supporting them in dealing with the bullying and growing in the process.  This also means ensuring that they know that they are not to blame and that the bullying will not last forever – because you will deal with it together.

She was unstoppable, not because she did not have failures or doubts, but because she continued on despite them.


4. Respond calmly and thoughtfully, not rashly out of anger or anxiety. Parents can make things worse for their teens if they act rashly or out of fear or anger. You can lose your son’s or daughter’s trust and can sometimes precipitate an increase in the bullying.  The power that you can bring to bear in a calm thoughtful way is the kind you want – and you will have much more control over the outcomes.

5. Listen – Seek first to understand, then to act.  What helps targets of bullying the most initially is simply to feel heard – either by a friend, parent or another trusted adult.  That communicates the caring and opens the door to looking at solutions.  It provides an open safe space into which your daughter or son can step.  It also ensures that you have as accurate a picture as possible.  This can take significant energy to hold off the desire to act in order to make room for the listening.  Listening and reflecting before acting also prevents impulsive overly emotional responses that can be regretted.

6. Be a partner, not a savior. Assure you daughter or son that you will not just run off on your own and “save” them.  Let them know that you will partner with them.  Talk about bullying, why it happens, the impact it can have and that it is unacceptable.  You can then talk about the array of strategies that they can engage in (earlier in this document) and that you can employ as parents. 

It may take some discussion and a couple of sit-downs to come up with a plan, but the discussions are valuable.  Remember that plans are starting points and experience may well dictate that the plans have to change.  Your teenager might not want to do everything you want them to do and they may not want you to do everything you want to do. 

One critical reason to partner vs. just step in to take over and protect is that your son or daughter has just had power taken away by the bully.  You don’t want to do the same thing, so share the power and build it together.

Make sure that your plans include potential upstanders wherever possible and adults in positions of authority where necessary.  You will also need to decide how public to be and where to be more private.

The central issue in a teen’s heroic journey is becoming the author of their life, so it’s critical to keep that in mind when establishing the partnership.    

7. Practice and rehearse.  This is surprisingly important.  Thinking ahead about how different strategies might be employed in different settings can decrease anxiety and make it more likely that the strategies will be employed successfully.  It’s like practicing for a game or a performance.  You can also practice what to do if the strategies don’t work – they don’t always work as planned.

8. Don’t let the bullying dominate. Make sure that attention and energy is focused on positive areas of your son’s or daughter’s life.  You can focus on favorite activities, hobbies, relationships, trips, upcoming events, etc.  Bullying can easily dominate or undermine the healthy areas of life, so get the focus back on them.  You can support them and deal with the bullying at the same time.

The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.


9. Involve others as appropriate.  This can range from involving school personnel or police to internet providers and potential peer upstanders.  Bullies lose much of their power and motivation when confronted by significant numbers of people standing up to them.  And sometimes you need people in authority to act, particularly when there is the threat of physical harm or self-harm. 

10. Model the behavior you want in your teenager.  There are a lot of possibilities and it is worth significant attention to be a model.  You can model understanding and toughness.  You can model respect and challenge.  You can model accepting a person, but not their behaviors.  You can model standing up for your teenager and your family.  You can model collaborating with others to get the desired outcomes.  The list is impressive – and your teenager will not miss your behaviors (even if they don’t show it).

11. Focus on growth.  We all grow when challenged and the targets of bullies can grow quite a bit in responding effectively to the bullying – as can their families.  Dignity, self-worth, resilience and the confidence to meet life’s challenges can all develop in dealing with bullying.  The bullies won’t be growing and developing, but the targets of the bullies certainly can.

Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, you hurt. You fall. But, you keep going.