Bullying and being victimized by a bully are often linked to many negative outcomes for children and teens.
You’ve probably heard that kids who are bullied are more likely to experience feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness, complain of health issues and miss school, which results in lower academic achievement.
What we talk about less often is how detrimental bullying is to the child who does the bullying. Kids who bully others are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs later in life, get into fights, vandalize property, engage in early sexual activity and get in trouble with the law.
Both the bully and the bullied experience increased risk of suicidal ideation or behavior, according to research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
It’s safe to say we don’t want our children to experience any of those outcomes, which is why it’s important for parents to know some of the basics about bullying and how to prevent it.
What is bullying?
Bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior that is repeated over time. It can include name calling, spreading lies or rumors, teasing, making threatening comments, inflicting physical pain, excluding someone, humiliating someone, hurtful pranks, or defacing or stealing someone’s property.
How prevalent is bullying?
According to the most recent High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2021, 15% of Arizona high school students reported being bullied at school in the 12 months before the survey and 19.9%, or nearly one in five, ninth through 12th graders reported being electronically bullied through text or social media.
Why do kids bully?
Children or teens may bully because they don’t know how to handle conflict. Most bullies are seeking attention, want to regain perceived power or are imitating behavior they have seen in older siblings, peers or adults.
According to the National Association of School Psychologists, bullying is a learned behavior. That means it can be unlearned and replaced with more positive habits.
Is bullying preventable?
Yes, bullying is preventable. The best way to prevent bullying is to teach children and teens communication skills and healthy ways of resolving conflict.
We recommend teaching children the following proven steps:
- Think before you act. When conflict arises, it can be easy to lash out before stopping to think about the consequences. Teach your child or teen to slow down and calm their emotions before reacting.
If being bullied, have your child practice appearing calm, even when they are upset. Emotional responses may embolden the person doing the bullying.
- Identify the source of the conflict. Sometimes it’s easy for kids to identify why they are upset. Other times, it may take a little digging. Figuring out the true source of the conflict is important in being able to resolve it.
- Brainstorm solutions. Help your child learn to identify and think through the other person’s point of view before committing bullying behaviors. Then ask your child to brainstorm ideas and pick a strategy for resolving the conflict. Be sure to check in with the child to see if the solution is working. It may be necessary to try several different solutions before finding one that works.
If your child is being bullied, help them practice being assertive in telling the person to stop. If the bullying doesn’t stop or is beyond what your child is capable of handling on their own, urge them to seek the assistance of teachers or school personnel. Ask the child at what point they would like you to get involved or help them to talk to people at school. It is important to allow your child an opportunity to have a voice even when your instinct may be to jump in and address the issue immediately with school officials.
- Practice, practice, practice. It can be helpful for kids to role-play tricky conversations in advance with an adult. Work with your children to practice verbalizing how they feel, using humor to diffuse a tense situation or seeking help from an adult.
Older children and teens who need to talk about their problems with a teen who understands what they are going through can call Teen Lifeline 24/7/365 at (602) 248-TEEN (8336) or (800) 248-TEEN for free and confidential help.
The hotline also welcomes texts at (602) 248-8336 between the hours of noon and 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.