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7 Steps to Help Your Teen Deal with Bullying

Written By: Butler Hospital on January 25, 2024

Navigating the terrain of teenhood can be tumultuous. In this digital era, the complexities of the teenage years are compounded by evolving forms of harassment - from the traditional schoolyard taunts to the world of cyberbullying.

Parenting a teen who is being bullied is challenging and can feel overwhelming. So, in this blog, we are breaking down the steps to take and strategies to empower both you and your teen in the face of adversity.
Step 1: Approach and Ask
While it’s important to check in with your teen, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach the situation.

Do approach and ask a question that could open dialogue in a non-judgmental way.

Do not use language that sounds like it could lead to a parental lecture.

Depending on your child’s age, the relationship you have at different points of their development, and the degree to which they confide in you - some may find approaching and asking questions easier than others. If you have any reservations about how your child may respond, don’t let it stop you from trying. Better to ask than to avoid. Keep your questions simple and free of language that could be considered the start of a lecture.

Say: “Seems like something is up… do you want to talk?”

Don’t say: “You didn’t do your chores like you usually do and your tone is off today. What’s going on?”

If your teen is unwilling to share with you, keep the door open for future conversations but also let them know you will be checking in from time to time to see if they change their mind about talking. You can also offer suggestions of people they may consider speaking with if they are not comfortable speaking with you.

It’s also important to manage the understandable feelings you will have if your child withholds information. Do not take it personally, and don’t share your feelings about that with your child.    

You can say: “I understand you don’t want to share. I am going to trust you have a handle on things but if there is a point where you want to share or you feel like you need some help, I am always here. I will probably check in with you sometime soon, but I’ll respect your boundary here.”
Step 2: Seek to Understand
It’s a whole new world in which the teens of today are living. Most parents didn’t have to deal with cyberbullying. So, it’s important to learn what your teen is going through.

Do ask your child what the bullying has been like for them and LISTEN.

Do not assume you know what they are feeling and thinking or that it is the same as any experience you may have had in your past.

Children experience bullying in different ways. It’s important to ask what it has been like for your child specifically so are not making assumptions. Assumptions can lead to misinterpreting the severity of the situation (either missing something more serious or exaggerating something less severe).

Provide a listening ear if they are willing to share. Ask clarifying questions if your child will allow. Spend time simply listening and learning about their experiences.

Say: “I can’t imagine what it has been like for you in the halls at school. Walk me through it.”

Don’t say: “I’m sure you feel targeted in the halls.”

Step 3: Validate
Bullying can be a torturous and confusing experience for a child. It can leave children questioning everything about themselves.

Do validate each feeling and thought your child identifies.

Do not tell a child they shouldn’t feel a certain way to relieve them of the negative feelings/thoughts.

Spend time validating your child’s feelings. Fight the urge to discount the facts of the bullying and do not move too quickly towards solutions.

As parents or caretakers, we tend to want to fix things for our kids and fix them fast. That gut urge to protect our kids can cause many parents or caretakers to skip this very vital step of validation and at times even cause us to accidentally invalidate our kids.  

Say: “I can see how you would think you are ugly when you are hearing so much of that from these girls.”

Don’t say: “Those girls do not know what they are talking about. You are not ugly. Look at yourself.”

Step 4: Acknowledgement and Thanks
Acknowledge how hard it might have been for them to share with you and thank them for taking that risk. Recognize that it is not always easy for kids to share how they feel, especially with their parents.

Let your child know that you are thankful they took the risk to be open with you and that you are impressed with how they were able to share it.

Say: “You shared some pretty tough stuff with me today. I appreciate you trusting me with this”

Step 5: Relate If You Can
It may be helpful for your child to hear that you have also endured bullying in your past, however, if and how you share these experiences makes all the difference.

If you have ever been bullied, you likely find those memories easy to recall.

Do offer to share personal experiences (briefly/age-appropriate) if applicable.

Do not insist on sharing your story if your child does not want to hear it.

Do not make comparisons between your experience and what your child is going through.

Offer to share your experience with your child and allow them the option to decline. Keep in mind that bullying has evolved since you were a child. Additionally, remember people experience bullying in different ways. There is a fine line between relating to your child and invalidating them in this circumstance. Be very careful not to compare your situation to theirs as being either more or less difficult.

Say: “Did you know that I was bullied once? It was different than what you are going through but

would you want to hear about my experience?”

Step 6: Offer Realistic Reassurance and Hope
Ask your teen what they might want to do about the bullying regarding the next steps.

Do tell your child it will get better.

Do not sugarcoat the reality that it could take time and is not an easy thing to deal with.

Do ask what your child is comfortable doing as far as the next steps and propose options.

Do not move forward forcefully and independently with solutions.

Some teens will want to act, and others will not. Offer ideas of what can be done with the goal being to stop the bullying. If your child is not comfortable taking any action, you will need to decide as a family about how to proceed with your child’s safety being the driving factor.

If you choose to move forward with something your child is not comfortable with, listen to their fears and try to understand. You do not want your teen to think decisions will be made without their input because this could prevent them from coming to you with difficult stuff in the future. The reality is that your child’s safety trumps everything - so a solution is imperative. However, giving your teen as much control as possible will go a long way.

Step 7: Get Your Teen Professional Help
It is easy to fall into the mindset that things are better once bullying has stopped, however keep in mind there is often a negative impact on self-esteem and confidence that can occur.

Do offer to get your teen professional help.

Do not assume the support you are providing is enough to overcome the damage that bullying can do to a teen.

A therapist can help your teen learn how to cope with bullying, how to stand up for themselves, and how to combat negative self-talk that is often a result of bullying.

Finding outpatient providers for a teen can be a challenge considering how mental health help is in high demand. Butler Hospital offers a 24/7 intake line, 1-844-401-0111, where you can find out what type of help might be needed for your teen. Clinicians are ready to listen and help you determine the appropriate treatment options.  


Disclaimer: The content in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only and should not serve as medical advice, consultation, or diagnosis.  If you have a medical concern, please consult your healthcare provider, or seek immediate medical treatment.