Los Angeles Teen Therapist

Is Your Teen Being Bullied?

What would you recommend to parents whose teen is being bullied?

The behaviors that are being called bullying today are more appropriately called aggression or dominance behavior. Many times a bully is seeking power. If they don't receive a sense of having some legitimate power at home - because they are in an environment where they are constantly being controlled, told what to do, as well as how and when to do it - they may seek power outside the home which can present in the form of bullying.

I think it is important for us to understand that kids who are bullied seem to attract the attention of other kids in ways that make them uncomfortable. Perhaps they are smaller, act in odd or unusual ways, suffer from mental or emotional challenges, or lack social skills. The bully is then able to exploit other kid's discomfort, leading them to pick on the victim - or simply reacts out of his own discomfort.

Understanding Teen Bullying
For parents of bullying victims, please know that there will always be people who don't treat your child the way you would like. We live in a world where differences in preference and opinion abound. Teaching your teen self-love and acceptance, and helping them to be comfortable in their own skin will enable them to respond in ways that prevent giving bullies satisfaction.

There are ways to handle insults from bullies that can remove their sting. For example, if someone makes a mocking comment about one's clothes, hair, accent or physical features, a viable response could be to simply say: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Thank you for sharing yours." The bully is seeking a particular response from their victim, and when they fail to get that response, bullying stops being fun. Unless the bully is pathologically disturbed, simple techniques like using humor or walking away can resolve the situation.

Of course, physical violence must be dealt with through adult intervention with the intention of creating a corrective experience (i.e., anger management classes for the bully and emotional support for the victim). However, I want to caution those listening to not get caught up in rejecting attitudes toward bullies because this simply creates more humiliation and shame, a contributing factor behind their pain.

It is up to parents, teachers and anyone who has contact with children to truly listen and keep the lines of communication open. It is essential for kids to realize that they do not have to handle being bullied - alone. Working together, we can find a way for victims and bullies alike to safely get assistance.

What should parents think about if their child is the bully?

If there are 13 million kids who are hurt by bullying every year… who’s doing it? What happened to these kids who are so cruel? Why in the world do they do it? How do we address the root causes? Did you know that kids with a diagnosis of depression were three times more likely to bully?

In our society, shame – making someone feel bad about themselves – is also a very acceptable parenting tool to control kids. Comparisons with siblings or other kids, mocking age and ability, making kids feel stupid or inferior… many children hear shaming and humiliating messages all day long. Doesn’t that sound similar to what some students endure at the hands of bullies?

Facial expressions, body language, tone and volume of voice, threatening violence, withholding affection, rejecting behavior, demeaning words, and physical punishment can impact a child's self-esteem and teach them how to behave in an aggressive manner.

To really address bullying, we need to fundamentally change the way we see children, and begin to truly treat them with the respect that all people deserve. Good character traits, like empathy and respect, are skills that need to be learned at home. We have to teach our kids how we expect them to treat others – as well as show them how we expect them to treat others.

Bullying others is a choice. Compassion, kindness, respect, and any other moral characteristic are learned. There are many people who are good and nonviolent at heart, by choice.