School Bullying Harms Teens for Years
The symptoms are silent. Your daughter suddenly doesn’t want to go to school. Or your son gets a bad stomach ache or headache before class. When you ask what’s wrong, your adolescent mumbles, “Nothing” or “I just don’t feel good.”
Perhaps your teen is being bullied.
“Bullying is a serious public health problem that can cause lasting harm,” says Kimberly Erlich, a pediatric nurse practitioner who is a specialist in adolescent mental health and coordinator for the Adolescent Behavioral Health Project at the Palo Alto Medication Foundation.
- The Facts on Bullying
- The Way Teens Bully
- Subtle Signs of High School Bullying
- Develop a Safety Plan and Get Counseling
The Facts on Bullying
Nearly 30 percent of youth age 12 through 18 say they’ve been caught up in bullying – either as the victim, the bully or both. Erlich says the consequences can be serious and far-reaching.
Adolescents who are bullied are five times more likely to attempt suicide, according to one study. They have a higher rate of depression and anxiety than other teens. Their school work suffers, and they tend to have more health problems as adults.
The cycle of bullying even damages the bullies themselves, Erlich says. Research shows that teens who bully are more likely to develop alcohol or drug problems, have poor academic achievement, and as adults have lower-level jobs.
“Most people can think back to a time when they were bullied,” she says, “but that doesn’t mean we should accept it as ‘something kids do.’ It can lead to serious behavioral health problems that can hurt your child today and in the future.”
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The Way Teens Bully
Bullying can occur in every culture, at every age, says Dan Becker, M.D., a psychiatrist who specializes in adolescent mental health and the medical director for Mills-Peninsula Behavioral Health Services.
At its core, bullying is when one person tries to exert power over another, and it happens with little kids, teens and adults. But, among teens, bullying is different in subtle ways.
“As kids get older and more socialized, bullying goes underground more,” he says. You can see a little kid take a swing at another kid on the playground.
Parents and teachers may never hear the snide comments in the school hall, or see the online putdowns that can send a 16-year-old girl into depression. “It may look like nobody’s doing anything wrong,” Dr. Becker says. “It’s very subtle and difficult to pick up on.”
Dealing with high school bullying is even more difficult because adolescents often don’t want to talk about it. “They may think it makes them look weak or they may be embarrassed,” Erlich says. “Teens may feel that if they tell someone, it somehow validates the bully’s putdowns.”
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Subtle Signs of High School Bullying
Parents and teachers can help stop the cycle of bullying by being aware of the signs.
- Is your teen suddenly avoiding school or social activities?
- Does your teen have stomach aches, headaches or other types of pain she hasn’t had before?
- Has your teen come home with bruises or other injuries without a good explanation?
It’s easier for schools to intervene when there is a particular incident they can address. And do follow up: make sure the school staff fully deals with your concerns and does not dismiss them.
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Develop a Safety Plan and Get Counseling
Erlich also encourages families to make a “safety plan” to deal with any school bullying that’s happening. If your seventh-grader is taunted by a kid in second- period math class, meet with that particular teacher.
If your freshman daughter is being harassed, have her walk with a group, never alone. And in general, Erlich says, it’s a good idea to require your teens to “friend” you online so you can monitor their pages for any suggestions of cyberbullying.
When there’s problem, “Get counseling,” Erlich says. “Kids at this age already feel different and awkward. It can be helpful for them to understand that they didn’t do anything to bring this on.
Counseling can bolster teens, giving them tools to draw on their inner strengths to deal with and overcome bullying in school.”
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