Bullying 101: A Parent’s Guide


No matter how much the times may change, one thing about going to school remains the same: bullying is still something about 10% of school age kids experience at school in some form, be it physical, verbal, or even online. 

Bullying can leave a lifelong mark on both bully and victim. When adults are aware of bullying, they can  intervene to get affected children the help they need to overcome the experience. However, most kids don’t freely share their experiences of being harassed or unable to defend themselves, and certainly don’t self-report when they themselves are the aggressor who picks on someone more vulnerable or who seems not to fit in.

To stop bullying in its tracks, parents need to be aware of the common signs that children or teens are experiencing bullying, or are bullying other children, and need help. Here’s what to look for.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying is a repetitive, systematic, and aggressive behavior that occurs when a person with more power intentionally causes physical harm or psychological distress to someone they perceive to be vulnerable or weaker.

Bullying can be overt or subtle, and can include:

  • teasing 
  • threats 
  • physical attacks 
  • destruction of property 
  • compelling a person to do something they don’t want to do 
  • defamation 
  • exclusion from a group 
  • manipulation

The power dynamics at work and the consistent outcomes are characteristic of bullying: the bully wins because they are stronger, physically or otherwise, and they leverage a power imbalance over the victim, leaving the target feeling afraid and powerless to prevent continued harm. It happens over and over because the bully enjoys making his target feel afraid or insecure, and so seeks out opportunities to do that over and over again.

Since bullying happens in places with the least adult supervision—bathrooms, hallways, cafeterias, online—it often goes unnoticed by people who would be in a position to put a stop to it, like teachers, parents, or other authority figures.Victims of bullying tend to be passive, easy to intimidate, or socially ostracized. Choosing a victim who doesn’t fit in is an easy way for bullies to make sure they can continue to terrorize their target unimpeded, and choosing younger, smaller, weaker victims, or targets who already struggle with self-esteem or anxiety, allows the bully to ensure that they will continually have the upper hand.

Bullying most often takes place in areas without adult supervision, and nowadays that extends into cyberspace. 

Cyberbullying includes:

  • sexting
  • publicly disparaging or excluding
  • sharing photographs that aren’t meant to be shared 
  • threats and harassment

Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied

Physical bullying involves inflicting physical pain, whether by shoving, tripping, or more severe acts of aggression. Your child may be experiencing physical bullying if they display the following:

  • unexplained injuries 
  • lost or damaged property 
  • developing an anxiety about going to school or to the place where bullying occurs 
  • unexplained stomach aches headaches. 

Verbal bullying can be just as damaging, however. The brain processes social and emotional pain in similar ways to physical pain, so the social rejection that plays a part in all forms of bullying hurts.

Bullying can take a mental, physical, social, emotional, and potentially even academic toll on bullying victims. Children who experience bullying may exhibit the following:

  • depression and anxiety
  • loss of interest in activities
  • slipping grades 
  • absenteeism

Other Effects Of Bullying

Bullying is bad for the bullies, too. Bullies tend to take part in different risky behaviors, and these habits often persist into adulthood. Bullying others as a child increases the likelihood of:

  • alcohol or substance abuse
  • fighting, vandalism
  • dropping out of school
  • criminal records
  • romantic partner abuse

Even bystanders of bullying don’t come out of the experience unscathed. Children who witness bullying behaviors are more likely to develop mental health issues like depression or anxiety or start to miss school.

What Should Parents Do

If you think your child is bullying others, it is critical to intervene and get your child help. Often, a bully has experienced abuse or bullying themselves. Depression and anger can also lead a child to bully someone else. 

Your doctor, school principal, or school counselor can help get you resources to better understand how to help your child change the pattern of harassment and destructive behavior before the long-term consequences of being a bully take hold. Without intervention, bullies may continue the destructive pattern of behavior into adulthood, but with the help of a therapist these patterns can be broken.

If you think your child is being bullied, creating multiple opportunities for them to talk about it can make it easier for your child to open up to you. Make sure to validate your child’s experience, explain that it’s not their fault, and gather information: what has your child tried already to stop the bullying? Has anything worked? What are the patterns?

Instead of fighting back, encourage your child to tell an adult and to stay in groups, and in the meantime reach out to your child’s teachers, guidance counselors, and other personnel who can intervene in the moment and make changes to keep your child safe. 

Resources For Parents On Bullying:

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