What does teenage bullying look like?
Bullying is when your child deliberately and repeatedly upsets, frightens, threatens or hurts someone or someone’s property, reputation or social status.
Bullying can be:
- verbal bullying – for example, insulting, threatening or making fun of someone
- bullying behind someone’s back – for example, playing nasty jokes, spreading rumours, or encouraging peers to exclude someone
- physical bullying – for example, pushing, tripping or hitting someone, or damaging their property
- cyberbullying – using digital technology to deliberately harass or humiliate.
All bullying is hurtful. When it keeps going, it can cause long-lasting harm.
Signs teenagers might be bullying
Bullying in adolescence can be hard to spot because it’s generally less physical than bullying in younger children. But if you think your child might be bullying, there are some signs you can look out for.
For example, your child might:
- talk about other children at school in an aggressive or negative way
- have money, electronic goods or other things that don’t belong to them
- be secretive about mobile phones or computers
- deliberately exclude others from their friendship group.
None of these signs means your child is definitely bullying. But you might want to talk with your child to find out whether they’ve been having any problems getting along with people at their school, sports clubs or other organisations.
If your teenage child is bullying others, you might find out about it through watching and talking with your child. But teenagers will often deny they’re bullying others if you ask them. It’s more likely that you’ll find out when the school contacts you or another parent tells you.
Talking with teenagers about bullying behaviour
If you think or know your child is bullying others, this can be very upsetting. But you need to tell your child that you know about it. This involves staying calm, talking with your child, and then actively listening to what your child has to say.
Talking with your child helps you to understand what’s going on 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. This is an important step towards changing the bullying behaviour and helping your child learn to treat others respectfully.
Here are some things to discuss with your child:
- What’s going on in your child’s life? For example, is something worrying your child? Your child might be using bullying as a way to get control over these feelings.
- How is your child feeling? For example, your child might be using bullying to communicate anger.
- Does your child feel confident about making and keeping friends? For example, your child might be bullying because they aren’t sure how to make new friends.
- Who are your child’s peers? It’s possible that someone else is influencing your child to bully others.
It’s also a good idea to think about the following:
- Is your child frequently exposed to arguments, conflicts or relationship problems at home? Some teenagers develop bullying behaviour when they see the adults in their lives treating each other disrespectfully.
- How do you solve problems as a family? Teenagers need to see and practise problem-solving using calm words rather than physical actions.
- Who are your child’s role models? Other than family members, teenagers can have role models like celebrities, influencers, world or community leaders, actors, musicians, athletes or older peers. Some of these people might not be positive influences on your child’s behaviour.
Sometimes your child might not want to talk with you about the bullying. You could suggest they talk to another trusted adult, like a relative or family friend. Or your child might be willing to talk to their GP.
When you understand what’s going on, the next step is telling your child that you want to work with them to stop the bullying. That’s because bullying is always wrong. Your child needs to know that you’re taking the matter seriously and that you’ll support them to change their behaviour.
Working with schools when teenagers are bullying
If your child is bullying at school, working with the school is the best way to stop it. School staff should be trained in handling bullying. They can work with you to prevent further bullying and help your child learn to treat others more respectfully.
There are several things you can do to work with your child’s school in a constructive and positive way:
- Let your child now that you’re working with the school to help them. You might work your child’s teacher, the year coordinator, or the head of pastoral care.
- Discuss the problem with the school representative, and ask what the school does in these situations.
- Ask what you can do from home to support the school’s approach.
- End the meeting with a plan for how the situation will be managed and a time for a follow-up meeting.
Your child might be embarrassed or think that you’re over-reacting by working with the school. But learning to treat others respectfully is an important aspect of your child’s social and emotional development. The best way to support your child is working with the school, even if it’s against your child’s wishes.
Not all bullying behaviour is deliberate. Some young people bully others without realising the harm they’re causing. Generally, this sort of bullying will stop when your child is shown that what they’re doing is wrong or hurtful.
Helping teenagers change behaviour and stop bullying
When you and other adults in your child’s life model respectful and caring behaviour, you help your child build the skills they need to develop positive relationships and feel good about themselves. This can be as simple as making sure your child always hears you talking about other people with respect and empathy. For example, ‘I know that your teacher can be grumpy sometimes, but they have a lot of experience and knowledge to share with you’.
It’s great if your child sees that your social media posts are always kind and respectful too.
You can also help your child learn to express anger or negative emotions in healthy ways. For example, if you feel angry, you could say something like, ‘I feel really angry just now. Could we talk about this later when I’ve calmed myself down?’
And if you have a conflict with your child or somebody else, it can be a chance to show your child how to resolve conflicts constructively. For example, it often works best to listen to your child, express your own feelings without judgment, and look for ways to negotiate and compromise.
This lets your child know that you can talk about feelings, rather than having to act on them.
If your child has a warm and positive relationship with you, they’re less likely to get involved in bullying others. And when your family sets rules, boundaries and standards for the way you treat each other, it helps to build strong relationships in your family. This can go a long way towards helping your child grow into a well-adjusted, considerate and caring adult.
Where to get extra help to stop teenagers bullying
Some children might need extra help to stop bullying and learn how to treat other children respectfully. Counselling can help if your child is having trouble with self-esteem, anger or impulse control.
If the bulling is happening at school, you can ask the school about support. You can start by speaking to your child’s teachers, principal, school psychologist, school counsellor or guidance officer.
Your child can also see a mental health professional who isn’t associated with their school. To do this, you’ll need a referral from your GP.
Confidential telephone counselling services like Lifeline on 131 114 or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 can help if your child wants to speak to someone between appointments.
Your child can get Medicare rebates for up to 20 sessions with a mental health professional. You can also get Medicare rebates for visits to a paediatrician or psychiatrist. Your child will need a mental health treatment plan to claim these rebates. You can speak to your child’s GP about making a plan.