Parents and educators have long been concerned about how bullying may negatively affect the mental health and general wellbeing of youth. These effects include low self-esteem, low sense of security, anxiety, social withdrawal, and depression. All these negative emotions affect not only youth who are being bullied, but also bystanders of bullying behaviors.
Bullying is not only physical. It can happen in the form of verbal exclusion, body shaming, or other emotional and mental abusive behaviors. It is time that everyone comes to understand bullying as a public health concern because of its negative impact on young people’s mental, developmental, and social outcomes.
The Social World of Youth and Bullying
Teens and adolescents thrive in social relationships where they feel accepted and included. If there is exclusion, even violence, involved in these peer relationships, the impact can be traumatizing for a young person. They may try to handle the situation on their own so they feel in control again. The fear of rejection can be debilitating.
In most cases, young people hesitate to tell adults—parents or teachers—about bullying because they may feel humiliated by the experience or do not know how to talk about it. There is the fear of adults ignoring their problems or judging them. They may even feel like the bullying will get worse if they “snitch” or “tattletale.”
Warning Signs Parents Should Watch For
Recognizing the warning signs that a young person is being bullied is always the first step when helping them combat bullying-related mental health issues. Parents are placed in a unique position to be present and to offer timely advice. Talking to the child can help identify deeper problems behind experiences of bullying.
Warning signs that may point to a bullying problem include unexplained injuries, lost personal items, faking illness to avoid classes, changes in eating habits, sleep problems, loss of interest in previous hobbies, social isolation, self-destructive acts, and more. Parents might confuse some of these behaviors with teenage rebellion, but patience and careful listening help parents know what is going on with their child.
Preventing Bullying Begins with Education and Communication
Parents and educators all have a role to play in preventing bullying in a young person’s social life. Anti-bullying education requires helping teens and adolescents understand why and how bullying happens. Youth need to be educated on what harm bystander behavior brings and how to stand up to bullying. There are simple anti-bullying techniques that can help them de-escalate social conflicts.
Some schools teach young people to recognize the importance of bystanders’ roles. When bullying happens to others, as a bystander, you can either be an outsider, a reinforcer, an assistant, or a defender. The last stance is the only way to intervene and stop bullying from continuing. Schools should also raise awareness about cyberbullying, which happens on a larger scale among teens and adolescents as they learn to navigate the cyber world.
Parents and educators need to keep the lines of communication open. Not all children trust or are willing to talk to their parents, so educators should be well versed in these things and ready to help as well. There need to be constant check-ins with young people about how they are doing socially. Adults should create a safe space for teens and adolescents to voice their concerns without being judged by their “grown-up” standards. Above all, schools should prioritize a code of conduct among students that prizes kindness, respect, and inclusion. Parents and educators should model how to treat each other with these same principles.
Practical Talking Points with Youth
In most cases, teens and adolescents do want to talk with parents or educators about their experiences, especially when they are making tough decisions in life. If you are a parent, make a daily routine such as a short walk after dinner or the car ride home from school as a regular ritual to talk about life with your child. Try to ask questions that are open-ended and non-confrontational by centering on their experience. Below are a few examples:
- Can you share something interesting that happened today in school? Something unpleasant?
- Who do you talk with during recess or lunchtime at school? Who do you tend to avoid?
- What do you like most about school or hanging out with your friends at school?
- Who are the teachers you like and trust most when difficult things come up and you need to talk to a grownup?
- Do you ever see kids at your school being bullied by other kids? How does it make you feel?
- Have you ever tried to help someone who is being bullied or excluded?
Do you worry about how bullying might impact your children’s mental health? In the world of teens and adolescents, bullying can take many forms. Parents and educators need to know more about bullying in order to prevent youth in their care from developing mental health issues, which might increase the risk for substance use and addiction. You can work with health professionals who have experience in coaching parents to support their children’s mental health needs. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists know how to coach you or your child through mental health issues brought on by bullying. We believe in holistic recovery, which makes us experts in designing all-rounded treatment plans for our clients. Our complete medical and residential facility can provide a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, 12-step programs, and treatment plans. Call us at (866) 906-3203. We can help your family cope with youth mental health challenges.