It is common for parents to either downplay bullying, or try to correct it simply with words of encouragement, rather than taking action steps to put an end to it.
Things parents might say: “Oh don’t worry about it, that’s just how kids are.”
“Just ignore them. They aren’t worth your time.”
“Stop being so sensitive and get over it.”
“You’re better than them anyway, don’t let it bother you.”
Unfortunately this does nothing to help the situation or the internal battle bullying produces.
90% of students between 4th and 8th grade report being harassed or bullied. Often, in a way they can’t escape.
Teens reportedly spend around eight hours a day on a screen. Every minute of those hours leaves them vulnerable to cyberbullying.
If they spend an equivalent amount of time at school, teens are exposed to the potential of bullying every minute they are awake.
Can you imagine living in that world?
Bullying is an epidemic that parents can’t afford to ignore. It impacts nearly everyone. A growing body of research warns that bullying doesn’t only impact victims. It can traumatize the witnesses.
The stakes are high. Not only because the damage can be significant but because healing is possible. Redemption is available.
You can see beauty and strength rise from the ashes of bullying.
What do Parents of Teens Need to Know About Bullying?
Consider yourself an anthropologist studying a different culture. Don’t assume that you understand the norms of the natives.
Theirs is a different world.
And in this world, bullying can be deadly. I have counseled many teens through suicidal ideations that were directly tied to being victimized by bullying.
It can be easy as a parent to downplay bullying by saying; “it’s just words, ignore them.” Some can minimize the damage of bullying by challenging their children to “stop being so sensitive and get over it.”
Dismissing the impacts of bullying threatens a potential increased risk of suicide for your child. This cannot be taken lightly.
Bullying is pervasive. It doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor. Black and white. Sinners and saints.
The Oxford Dictionary defines bullying as: seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce.
Australia’s National Center Against Bullying offers four categories within which bullying takes place:
1: Physical Bullying:
Repeated attempts to cause physical harm or discomfort to another person is physical bullying. This can and should be distinguished from assault.
Physical bullying can be as subtle as pinching or aggressive as kicking. It can also involve damaging someone’s property or belongings.
2: Verbal Bullying
It turns out that while sticks and stones may break bones, cruel words may cause even greater damage. An ancient proverb says:
“Reckless words pierce like a sword.”
In some ways, verbal bullying can seem plain. Things like name-calling, insults, teasing, or intimidation stand out.
But when does playful teasing turn into verbal bullying? How is a teenager supposed to discern when a peer’s self-deprecating humor is actually a cry for help and not a joke?
3: Social Bullying
Our innate desire for community is part of what makes us human. Attacking someone’s place in their community can be traumatizing.
Social bullying can include:
lying and spreading rumors
negative facial or physical gestures, menacing or contemptuous looks
playing nasty jokes to embarrass and humiliate
encouraging others to socially exclude someone
damaging someone’s social reputation or social acceptance.
4: Cyber Bullying
The Cyber Bullying Research Centre defines cyberbullying as “Intentional and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, phones, and other electronic devices.”
Cyberbullying can include:
abusive or hurtful texts, emails or posts, images or videos
deliberately excluding others online
nasty gossip or rumors
imitating others online or using their log-in.
Teenagers being cyberbullied can feel like they only have salt water to drink. They are dying of thirst, but the water they have access to makes them sick.
Much of their life is lived online – but it’s killing them.
Parents: your teen will likely not limit their screen time on their own. This is up to you. They might not like you very much for it, but that is one of the parenting challenges that makes a huge difference in the long run.
How Can You Process the Impact of Bullying with Your Teen?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The core issue to identify is this: How safe do your kids feel with you?
Studies demonstrate that bullying alters the brain structure of victims. Particularly in the parts of the brain that lead victims to experience higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Teens suffering from depression and anxiety need safe space to unload the pain they carry.
Trust is easier to lose than gain. It must be earned. Daily. But even when trust has been broken, it can be repaired.
Here are four ways to cultivate trust in your relationships with your teens.
1: See Your Kids
Like you, your teenagers are whole, complex, contradictory, beautiful people. They have fears and hopes, talents and weaknesses, potential and limitations, strengths and scars.
Can you see this? Take the time to look. Verbalize that you notice THEM. Not what they do or don’t do. Not their success or failure. Not the action – the person.
Ask how their day was. And don’t settle for two grunts and a shrug! Press in. Ask how they feel. What they liked about _________. Or didn’t.
Like an anthropologist – enter their world with curiosity.
2: Take an Interest in Their Interests
I often encourage parents to ask their teens this question: If we could do anything together this week, within reason, what would you like to do?
Ask the question. Listen to their answer. And then have fun doing that thing!
Even if - especially if - you’re not good at what they want to do. Kids appreciate the opportunity to instruct their parents. It’s healthy for every relationship to embrace and celebrate the strengths of the other.
What should you do, though, if your teen wants to do something that you don’t enjoy?
Do it anyway!
Remember, the point is cultivating trust in your relationship, not being mutually entertained. If you can’t enjoy the activity, you will almost certainly be able to enjoy your child enjoying it.
And that can make all the difference in the world for your relationship.
Don’t you love being with people that enjoy you? There is something disarming about people who take a genuine interest in who you are.
You can do this for them. It just might save their life.
3: Stay Calm
Many teens don’t share their hearts with their parents because they fear how their parents will respond.
Of course, sometimes this is unfounded. They need to be encouraged to face their fears and be honest. But too often, their fear is justified.
If you want your teenager to open up to you, you must give them the space and safety they need to share their thoughts.
Depending on what they have to say, you may not know how to respond. That can be good! Then you will have time to process an appropriate response and reengage the conversation when it’s healthy for you both.
Trusting, healthy relationships allow space for processing.
4: Apologize When You’re Wrong
The power of an apology is profound in a paradoxical way. Many think that apologizing shows weakness.
Taking ownership of your actions demonstrates remarkable strength. It produces humility in you and invites a tenderness in the one you’ve hurt.
When you apologize, you validate the pain of the other – and offer an invitation to rebuild trust with you.
Consider your experience growing up. Did your parents ever take ownership for their wrongs and apologize to you when they hurt you?
If yes, how did that make you feel? If no, imagine how different things would have been for you if they had.
This is essential for bonding with your child and earning their trust.
Is there Hope?
Yes, yes, and YES – hope is possible! I have seen it. Don’t despair. Don’t delay. Life Transformation Counseling utilizes multiple and varied therapeutic techniques to heal your teen’s unique story.
The resiliency of the human spirit is remarkable. The brain’s ability to heal is astounding.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy can retrain the brain to replace the trauma caused by bullying with positive images that breathe beauty into their life.
An additional technique I utilize is Brainspotting. Brainspotting is defined as:
“a powerful, focused treatment method that works by identifying, processing and releasing core neurophysiological sources of emotional/body pain, trauma, dissociation and a variety of other challenging symptoms.”
By utilizing these techniques – and others – I have seen greater healing than most people would even dare to pray for.
Your teen can recover from bullying. Your family can heal. Hope can adorn your home, and trust can stabilize your future.
Reach Out Today to Begin Your Process of Transformation!
Don’t let another minute of joy be stolen from your life. Today is the day that a new story can be written for your teen – and your family.
You can contact us any time by reaching out here. If you’re more comfortable with a phone call, we would be happy to talk with you during our business hours.
Your teen can experience deep, transformational healing. Your kids can live a story of redemption and resiliency.
We can help. Let’s do this together!