By Chris Taylor, MFT, Author "Back to Basics"
Many parents and adults know bullying is a common issue among kids, especially in their teenage years, but most do not know just how common or the effects it can cause short and long term. More than one out of every five (20.8%) students report being bullied according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2016). To put that statistic into perspective, for a class with 30 students, about every sixth is bullied.
But what is considered bullying? Bullying is aggressive and unwanted behavior. There must be an imbalance in power and a repetition of the act. It can also take on various forms, such as verbal (name calling), social (spreading rumors), and physical (pushing). In the past, teen bullying was only a concern when teens were not at home, however now bullying can occur online, which is becoming more common and more of an uncontrollable issue.
How do you as a parent help when you aren’t around when the bullying is happening or can’t monitor your teen 24/7? Teens are not likely to tell you they are being bullied. If you can encourage that open dialogue, that is great. For those that can’t, there are top warning signs to detect if your teen is being bullied so you can get to the root of it early, and prevent further effects such as substance abuse, mental health issues, difficulties in relationships and school, and future likelihood to be convicted of a criminal offense and engage in violent behavior by the time they are adults.
A teen may not show all of these signs, and they may even show some signs that are not on the list in addition to these. Signs of bullying can take on many forms.
Here are just 5 of the warning signs your teen is being bullied:
1. Unexplained physical marks or physical complaints - this may be the most obvious of the signs. Physical marks could be bruises, scrapes, or cuts. Physical complaints may come in the form of headaches or stomach aches, which may be a result of harm or may also be part of ‘faking’ to get out of something.
2. Loss interest in school activities and grade suffering, or avoiding school - Avoiding school could be a mechanism to avoid the problem. In order to avoid school your teen may act disinterested in activities or fake being sick. Another issue that may occur at school is suffering grades. This would be a sign primarily if the teen is normally a good student.
3. Change in eating patterns, or not eating - There are a few reasons eating patterns could be a sign, but one is because they might be bullied while eating lunch. Another is that their feelings are curbing their appetite.
4. Shift in group of friends or desire to hangout with friends - The alarming issue here is isolation. Bullies cause isolation, so not hanging out with old friends or possibly hanging around a new “wrong” crowd could be a sign that something is going on in the teens social life causing he/she to do so.
5. Change in attitude, demeanor, or personality - These changes can take many forms and may be obvious to see but not obvious to diagnose as a bullying sign, because a parent may assume it is another teenage issue. Changes in personality can be appearing sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed. Change in demeanor may be sleep patterns and mood overall.
What can you as a parent do once you notice one or more of these bullying warning signs? First you can try opening the conversation with your teen. If you need help, try using some of my tips such as my blog 3 Major Communication Strategies on How to Talk to your Teen. Then you can contact a teacher or staff at the school to seek help and support when the teen isn’t home. Lastly, when you think further action and help is needed, you can seek the help of a counselor or qualified therapist to help aid the conversation between your teen and you, and help your teen work through bullying issues.