Bullying and How To Stop It
Whether your preteen is the bully, the bullied, or the bystander, the problem is serious. Stay on your child's side, listen carefully without over-reacting or being shocked, and follow these tips.
If Your Preteen Is Being Bullied
- Identify the people your preteen can go to for help: teacher, counselor, coach, bus driver.
- Don't say, "Ignore her," "Stand up to him," or "It's just words." Ignoring can sometimes make things worse, and picking a fight or insulting a bully certainly will.
- Teach and practice positive body language: head up, eye contact, strong voice with "I want" statements like, "I want you to leave me alone," or "I want you to stop that now." They can also try, "Yeah, whatever," and walking away.
- Tell them he/she is not alone. Abuse from others is painful and isolating. Remind your child that emotions change, and that kids often tease others when they feel insecure about themselves. Find books or movies with characters in similar situations, and encourage your child's true friendships, especially those outside of school. Bullies do not pick on a kid in a group.
- Meet with your child's teacher. Sometimes teachers are not even aware of the problem.
- Cyberbullying, or online bullying, is very common with young people. If possible, have your child show you the texts or posts that hurt or threatened them. Keep copies, in case legal action must be taken.
- Don't take matters into your own hands by calling the bully's parent right away or talking to the bully yourself. Your preteen needs to feel empowered too. Help them figure out a plan.
If Your Preteen Is the Bully
- This can be a very difficult thing for a parent to hear. Stay calm and listen. Thank whoever told you and apologize for the trouble. Assure them that you will take action right away.
- Have a serious discussion with your child. Ask how they are getting along at school with people, if there is anyone they don't get along with, and why. Be careful with specifics. Bullies will sometimes make things worse for whoever told on them.
- Studies show that bullies are often insecure kids with stress or big changes happening at home. Discuss how they are feeling, what things are bothering them, and what you can do. Have your pediatrician or counselor help you with this discussion.
- Meet with your preteen's teacher or principal. They may also have you meet with the other child's parents to discuss a plan of action.
- Teach your preteen to manage aggression, like taking deep breaths or walking away from a situation.
- Apologies can't be forced. If/when it is appropriate, make it clear that your preteen is expected to apologize in person for their unkindness. Whatever other rules you have at home for bad behavior, make sure you follow through with consequences.
If Your Preteen Sees Bullying Happening
- Bullying tends to stop when another person steps in. Teach your preteen to not be afraid to say, "Hey, y'all stop that, leave her alone," or "Don't say that to him, man, we're better than that."
- Teach them to stay away from anything that doesn't feel right, even if their friends are doing it.
- Kids should leave the area and find an adult for help if they see physical fighting or weapons.
- Teach good online judgment. Don't give out passwords or personal information to anyone, and don't say anything you wouldn't say in person.
- Raise your preteen to be respectful to all. No talking/texting about people behind their backs, and keep your hands to yourself!
- Your kids must always be able to talk openly to you, so you can detect changes in mood or behavior. Check in regularly with a text in the middle of the day, ask about who they sat with at lunch, attend practices and games. Ask about who fits in at school and why or why not, and who they interact with in person and online. Be patient and interested, and your preteen will know it's safe to come to you.
For More Information
- StopBullying.gov has information, videos and help resources for kids and parents about bullying and how to prevent it. [go now]
- StompOutBullying.org provides warning signs and examples of questions to ask your child about bullying. [go now]
- The National Bullying Prevention Center offers ways for kids to talk to each other about stopping bullying. [go now]
- Download and print these colorful tip sheets from our Parent Resource Library: