Bullying and how it affects teenagers
Bullying can be devastating for teenage confidence and self-esteem.
If your child is being bullied, they need support at home and at school or in the place where bullying is happening. Your child also needs to know that you’ll work with the school or other organisation to prevent further bullying.
Teenagers have the right to learn, develop, socialise and work in safe and healthy environments. Protecting teenagers from bullying and working to prevent it in schools and other settings is part of creating safe environments that help teenagers grow and thrive.
Talking with teenagers who are being bullied
If your child is being bullied, listening and talking with your child is essential. This helps you to find out what’s happening so you can take action with the school or organisation where the bullying is happening. Calm and caring conversations with you will also help your child feel loved and supported.
Here are ideas for talking with your child:
- Actively listen to how your child is feeling. Try to talk somewhere quiet where you can give your child your full attention. Ask your child simple questions, then listen to the answers. For example, ‘So what happened next?’ and ‘What did you do then?’
- Tell your child that you’ll help. For example, ‘It sounds like things haven’t been so good. Let’s think about what we can do to make it better’.
- Make sure your child knows that the bullying isn’t their fault. For example, ‘It isn’t OK for someone to treat you like that. You deserve to be treated with respect no matter what’.
- Praise your child for telling you about the bullying. It might have been hard for your child to talk about it.
Your child might feel too ashamed or afraid to talk to you about the bullying. If this sounds like your situation, you could suggest that your child talk to another trusted adult, like a relative or family friend or your child’s GP. Or they could call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.
Working with schools on bullying
If your child is being bullied at school, it’s important to get the help of the school as quickly as you can.
Schools must take bullying seriously. Your child’s teachers should be trained in spotting and handling bullying. They can work with you to prevent further bullying.
Here’s how to involve the school in a positive and constructive way:
- Let your child know that you’re going to involve the school. Ask whether they’d like to be with you when you talk to the school, and what they want you to say.
- Make an appointment to see your child’s teacher, the year coordinator, or the head of pastoral care. These people have the most contact with your child.
- Discuss the problem with the school representative, put forward the facts as you know them, and ask for the school’s views. It might also help to explain the effect that the bullying is having on your child. For example, ‘Jessie doesn’t want to go to school anymore. It takes a lot of encouragement to get her there’.
- Be ready to listen, and be assertive rather than angry. For example, ‘Yes, children do have disagreements sometimes. But I think this is more serious’.
- Ask for a copy of the school’s policy on bullying. Ask how the policy will be put into action in your child’s situation.
- End the meeting with a plan for managing the situation and a time for a follow-up meeting.
What if your child doesn’t want the school involved?
Your child might be embarrassed or worried that involving the school will make the bullying worse. It’s important to listen to your child’s concerns and see what you can do to ease their worries. For example, you might be able to make an appointment at the school at a time when other students are less likely to notice. You could also ask the school representative to make sure that the school deals with the bullying in a way that has no negative consequences for your child.
In the end, you’re the best person to decide what’s in your child’s best interests, even if that means involving the school against your child’s wishes.
It’s best not to contact the person doing the bullying or the person’s parents. This is likely to make the situation worse. It’s always safest to work with the school than to try to solve bullying on your own.
If the bullying doesn’t stop: what to do
If the bullying doesn’t stop, it’s still safer to work with your child’s school than to take matters into your own hands.
At this stage, it’s important to have a record of what’s going on. So when there’s a bullying incident, get your child to write down:
- exactly what happened
- the name(s) of the person or people who did it
- when and where it happened
- what your child has already said or done to stop the behaviour.
If the bullying involves physical harm, you or your child can take photos. You can also get injuries checked by your GP.
You can take screenshots if the bullying involves posts on social media, comments on instant chat, emails or text messages.
You need to talk with a school representative again, and this time you can use your child’s record of what happened and when. You can ask for your concern to be addressed in writing.
If the bullying still doesn’t stop even after you’ve spoken to a school representative several times, you can ask to see the school’s grievance procedure. You could also speak to the school principal, school board or school’s regional office.
It takes time for behaviour to change, so you might not see overnight results.
Support outside the school system
If the bullying is extreme or violent, if criminal offences have occurred, or if you think the school has treated you unfairly or unreasonably, you have options outside the school system:
- Seek legal advice.
- Tell the police.
- Apply to the Children’s Court for a restraining order against the person doing the bullying.
- Contact the education department or the ombudsman in your state or territory to make a complaint.
It’s best for your child’s wellbeing and development to be in an environment where they feel safe, respected and valued. Changing schools might help, but bullying can happen again in a new school, so this is probably a last resort. If you decide that changing schools is best for your child, it’s good to get support with this process. You can ask your GP for a referral to a child or adolescent psychologist.
Supporting teenagers at home
Your child needs support and love at home while you work with the school to stop the bullying.
You can show love in ways your child likes. This might be a hug or a pat on the back, telling your child you love them, or spending time together doing something they enjoy.
Your child might not want to talk much about the bullying, but let them know you’re there whenever they do want to chat.
What teenagers can do to cope with bullying
If your child is being bullied, you should always step in using the strategies above. But your child can also learn ways to handle bullying when it’s happening. This gives your child skills to deal with future bullying or negative social behaviour. It also helps your child feel more confident and less powerless about being bullied.
Here are ideas for your child, along with ways to approach these with your child:
- Tell the person doing the bullying to stop: ‘Calmly standing up to people who are bullying lets them know that what they’re trying to do isn’t working. Stand up tall, and use a firm voice’.
- Ignore verbal taunts and comments, and move away if the bullying continues: ‘Don’t engage with the bully, ignore what they say, don’t look at them and walk away’.
- Avoid high-risk places: ‘If you keep away from places where bullying happens, you can avoid the people doing the bullying – as long as this doesn’t stop you from doing things you like to do’.
- Identify safe places: ‘Stick to places where there are plenty of people around, especially teachers. The library, canteen or other busy places are good options’.
- Stay around other people, especially people you trust: ‘If you stay with your friends, the person doing the bullying probably won’t bother you’.
- Ask other students for help: ‘Other students probably understand what you’re going through and can help you if you need it. People are less likely to bully if they can see that you have backup’.
- Tell a teacher: ‘Your teacher can help you deal with the problem. The person doing the bullying might not even know that the teacher is helping you. Bullying can be hard to handle, and teachers are there to help make the behaviour stop’.
You could also talk with your child about strategies for different situations. For example, if someone is calling your child names, your child might tell the person to stop or try ignoring it. But if the person doing the bullying is being physically violent, it’s best to tell a teacher.
What if your child is the one doing the bullying? It can be hard to understand and accept. But it’s also essential to acknowledge the bullying behaviour and get professional help to change it.