You’ve heard the old saying, ‘Little kids, little problems. Big kids, bigger problems.’
That’s especially true when you’re raising teenagers and dealing with the problem of bullying. High school students aren’t always forthcoming about their problems. It helps to know the signs of bullying and what to do if your child is being bullied.
How to tell if you child is being bullied
One of the challenging aspects of parenting a teenager is determining the cause of a problem if they’re not talking about it with you. This is especially true if you are raising an independent teen.
Bullying is an active behavior, designed to make someone else feel inadequate. It might include harassment, physical harm, repeatedly demeaning speech and efforts to ostracise another person. According to Kids Helpline, some of the less obvious signs of bullying include:
- Withdrawing from others
- Avoiding social situations or school activities
- Losing personal belongings at school
- Changes in appetite
- Trouble sleeping, headaches, stomach-aches
- Feeling stressed, anxious or depressed
Keep in mind bullying comes in different forms: physical, verbal, emotional, social, and cyberbullying. Each case of bullying is unique and there’s no cookie-cutter approach to solving the problem. To add to the challenge, you won’t always have physical proof it’s happening.
How to deal with your child being bullied
Having an open line of communication with your child is critical. Chances are they’re not going to approach you, because they’re embarrassed or ashamed about what’s happening to them. By checking in with them and having regular conversations, you are more likely to hear your child admit to having a problem. If face to face conversations are uncomfortable for one or both of you, use time together in the car to talk. This is often easier because your teenager doesn’t have to make direct eye contact with you and may feel more relaxed.
The first thing to do if you think your child is being bullied is listen. It’s hard not to jump in and try to solve the problem for them, but make sure you understand their point of view before you start offering solutions.
Keep in mind bullying occurs when there’s a power imbalance. If your child is being bullied, you want to help them gain control and neutralise the bully or group responsible for the bullying behavior.
Each situation requires a different approach. Focus on helping your child build resilience in the face of bullying. Work with them to figure out what resilience looks like in their particular situation.
Get in touch with your child’s high school to discuss the best ways to manage the situation. They may not have an active role in resolving the issue but they should be aware and monitor behavior in the classroom, on the school campus, and during recess and lunchbreaks. Schools have a lot of experience dealing with bullying and may be able to offer resources or counseling to help.
Limit the use of technology and ask your child to ‘check in’ all devices in the evening. If your teen is experiencing cyberbullying, this can give them a legitimate excuse to be absent from a situation they don’t know how to manage. This also provides your child a complete break from bullying behavior for several hours a day, especially late at night when they’re alone in their bedroom.
Help your teenager find alternative social outlets including sporting clubs, family activities, faith-based clubs and community events. Building other social circles and support groups is a valuable activity to help build confidence in the lead-up to university.
Don’t forget to look after yourself while working through a bullying situation. You may feel helpless and impatient and it’s not unusual for parents to become depressed, feel stressed or suffer from anxiety. Make sure you’re eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.
Other places to find support for bullying
- Ngala Family Services offers a free parenting helpline for families with children between the ages of 0 and 18. You can call them on (08) 9368 9368 or 1800 111 546 from country WA. The helpline is available from Monday to Sunday, 8am to 8pm.
- The Bullying. No Way! website has a lot of research about bullying in Australia and good information on how parents can respond.
- The Impact of Bullying, an episode of the Mumbles podcast from BUPA, has personal stories from parents who have experienced bullying, along with advice from a bullying expert.
- Kids Helpline for Teens has helpful resources on bullying for children between the ages of 13 and 17.
- headspace offers advice and resources for young people experiencing bullying. They also provide ways your child can support a friend who is the victim of bullying.
If you suspect your child is being bullied, check out these warning signs your high school student is struggling.