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How Can I Know If My Teenager Is Being Bullied?

Young People Don’t Tell

There is a culture of secrecy surrounding the whole issue of bullying. The fear of retaliation is a legitimate reason not to disclose bullying as is the fear of others seeing that you can’t cope with the normal cut and thrust of interacting with your peers. Children often decide to put up with bullying rather than confront the possibility of the whole class or school knowing about it. Furthermore, the culture of silence in school is so strong that reporting bullying can be understood to be the same thing as tale telling.

Bystanders who witness bullying often remain silent because they believe it is not their business to intervene. Others may not know how to intervene effectively, or are too afraid to do anything about what they are witnessing. They may be afraid that they will be targeted next. They may have experiences of guilt that they did nothing to stop the bullying.

What makes it difficult for parents to establish whether their teenager is being bullied is that a young person’s response to bullying may have similarities to normal adolescent behaviour, caused by stresses other than bullying. For example, being less talkative at home, showing variations in mood, becoming sensitive about appearance, demanding more money and showing signs of being hungry are often part of normal adolescence. The key thing to look out for is sudden and unexplained changes in your child’s behaviour. These might include:

Physical signs

  • Unexplained bruising, cuts, scratches, sprains or torn clothing
  • Loss of property or damage to personal belongings
  • Hunger or thirst due to loss of lunch money to a bully
  • Frequent minor illnesses, headaches, stomach aches
  • Nervous rashes
  • Not eating
  • Being obsessive about appearance and cleanliness
  • Stammering
  • Asking for extra money or stealing (to pay off a bully)
  • Bedwetting

Emotional and psychological signs:

  • Fearfulness
  • Acute anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Avoiding friends and other children
  • Uncharacteristic bullying of siblings and/or other students
  • Uncharacteristic outbursts of anger
  • Refusal to discuss what is wrong
  • Change of sleeping or eating pattern
  • Becoming withdrawn or moody
  • Dropping usual hobbies and interests
  • Loss of confidence or self-esteem
  • Excessive tearfulness or crying themselves to sleep
  • Nightmares
  • Excessive sensitivity to criticism
  • Seeking to be alone
  • Implied or overt threats of suicide.

Signs related to school:

  • Returning from school in a very bad mood and showing reluctance to talk about it
  • Unwillingness to go to school or asking to be accompanied
  • Changing school route
  • Avoiding certain days or lessons
  • Uncharacteristic nervousness in class
  • Staying close to teachers
  • Punctuality problems
  • Poor concentration and a deterioration in school work
  • Expressions of hopelessness in school work e.g. essays, poems or artwork
  • A reduction in phone calls, friends calling, or invitations to social events
  • Being excluded from groups
  • Not being chosen for sports teams
  • A reluctance to take part in previously enjoyed activities
  • Abusive phone calls
  • Abusive text messages or e-mail

Is It Bullying?

  • If you are unsure that your teenager is being bullied or not, considering the following may help you decide;
  • Is verbal, psychological or physical aggression being used?
  • Is there an imbalance of power because of a wide discrepancy in age, size, strength, or ability to articulate?
  • Is the bullying behaviour deliberate?
  • Is the person so upset that they feel unable to handle the bullying situation?

    The Essential Parents Guide to the Secondary School Years - available from Primary ABC
    The Cool School Programme

    Return to our section focussing on Bullying