How To Help Your Teen Cope With Bullying At School

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated May 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Bullying in schools has been present for generations, though it has moved into the spotlight in recent decades. New research has revealed the severe mental health impacts bullying can have on children, teens, and adults. 

Bullying at school can have short and long-term effects on the bullied child, the bully, and bystanders. As a parent, caregiver, or educator, you may want to prevent bullying behavior and defend your child from the impact of bullying in their environment. One way to support children impacted by this challenge is to teach healthy coping strategies and prevention of bullying.

Learn how to support a child experiencing bullying

What is bullying?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), bullying is a form of aggressive peer behavior involving an imbalance of power where a person intentionally and repeatedly causes another harm or discomfort. 

One out of every five students reports being bullied during school. Often, bullied children and adolescents cannot defend themselves and have done nothing to "cause" the perpetrator to treat them this way. However, bullies may make up "reasons" for their behavior to try to justify it. 

Bullying can appear in many forms. However, it most commonly takes the form of one or more of four types: physical, verbal, relational, and cyberbullying. This behavior can occur at every grade level, often peaking during middle school and tapering off at the end of high school. However, bullying can also occur in the workplace, university, or other social settings after high school.

Physical bullying

Physical bullying can involve physical actions committed to intimidate and gain control over the target, including hitting, kicking, shoving, pushing, tripping, pinching, and damaging property, among other behaviors. It is often ongoing and habitual to maintain a power imbalance. This form of bullying places everyone involved in immediate danger and can potentially lead to severe consequences.   

Verbal bullying

Verbal bullying involves using language and tone of voice to gain power over others. For example, insults, threats, and teasing could reinforce the power imbalance. This type of bullying may be difficult to notice, as it often occurs when no adults are around to witness the behavior. 

Relational bullying

Relational bullying is centered around social exclusion. Rather than inflicting physical harm, this bullying centers around damaging a person's relationships or social standing. This type of bullying might occur from individuals who are scared or experiencing difficulties in their own lives. 

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying involves harassment, rumors, social exclusion, insults, threats, and other negative bullying behavior via email, text messaging, and social media. It can also include discussing intimate details of someone's life and can sometimes cross the line into criminal behavior. 

If you witness an online crime, please report it through the FBI's online reporting tool. You can also contact local authorities and your child's school board for support. 

Bullying at college

While some adults may associate bullying with middle and high school, it can continue into college. Parents of college-age children may speak to them about bullying and help them build their self-esteem, assertiveness, and social skills. If you are a college-age adolescent or adult, consider also utilizing campus mental health support resources for support. You're not alone, and bullying is not your fault.

Effects of bullying in schools

According to StopBullying.gov, bullied children often experience adverse effects that could result in physical, emotional, social, academic, and mental health challenges. Students who witness these events as bystanders but do not take part in bullying may experience an increased risk for substance use, increased rates of mental health conditions, and school absences. Those who are bullied are also at a higher risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to their experiences. Both bullied children and bystanders may benefit from therapy to help them find constructive ways to handle the bullying. 

Bullying can have a wide range of physical and mental health effects, including

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities 
  • Physical health challenges 
  • Lower grades

Children who bully others are more likely to experience difficulty regulating anger, use substances, get into fights, drop out of school, and have criminal convictions or display abusive behavior as adults. Children who bully others may benefit from treatment to address their behavior's underlying causes and prevent this behavior from escalating. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

Coping strategies for bullying in schools

Researchers at Georgia State University studied the perceived effectiveness of coping strategies for kids who experienced bullying. The study divided coping strategies for bullying into two categories: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping, which were described as follows. 

Problem-focused coping

Problem-focused coping is the use of strategies meant to address the problem directly. It involves a process that begins with thinking about the issue, determining potential solutions on how to respond, and, if appropriate, implementing the chosen solution. It may be easier to make an informed decision about what action to take by assessing the situation. 

Below are a few problem-focused coping strategies you or your child may try: 

  • Informing a teacher or trusted adult
  • Weighing the consequences before retaliating
  • Avoiding the bully
  • Not responding in the way the bully hopes 
  • Reporting the bully's actions to the school
  • Transferring schools 
  • Finding a new friend group 
  • Attending therapy 

Emotion-focused coping

Emotion-focused coping strategies center around finding ways to feel safe and control the emotional outcomes that may be incited by bullying in school. Making a dedicated effort to identify and address the feelings that result from being bullied can make it easier to decide how to handle the situation.

Below are a few emotion-focused coping strategies that may diffuse the effects of bullying: 

  • Listening to music 
  • Finding a quiet place to cry
  • Practicing deep breathing techniques to relax
  • Writing in a journal
  • Discussing feelings with parents, friends, or a therapist
  • Spending time in nature
  • Playing with your pets 

How to support a bullied child

If your child is being bullied, they may be experiencing a loss of power in their peer environment. It might be helpful to offer them as much control as possible and remind them they're not at fault for what's happening to them. 

Some parents may choose to have minimal interference in this process, while other adults may want to get directly involved as their child learns coping skills. Talk to your child and discuss their options. They may choose to ignore the bullying and try to distance themselves from the situation. 

Some children may want to go to another school or switch classes. Work with them and their teachers to come up with a healthy solution. In addition, consider signing your child up for therapy. Although a school counselor can offer support, a child psychologist can offer long-term and individualized guidance.

Learn how to support a child experiencing bullying

Further support options 

Parents looking for mental health services for themselves or their children may struggle to find in-person options that fit their budget and schedule. In these cases, it may be helpful to try online therapy platforms like BetterHelp for adults or TeenCounseling for teens aged 13 to 19. 

Online therapy can be more convenient for some teens because of its format. The asynchronous messaging format allows teens to message their therapists throughout the week, which may allow them to review messages on their own and reflect. Studies have also backed up this benefit, with researchers at Cambridge University praising the asynchronous messaging format of online therapy

Parents may also benefit from online platforms, as they can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or live chat sessions and choose a time slot that best fits their schedules.

Takeaway

It can be difficult to watch your child experience the effects of bullying. For this reason, taking an action-oriented approach to teaching coping skills and preventing bullying can be critical. If you or your child believe you could benefit from further guidance, consider reaching out to a mental health professional online or in your area to get started.
Adolescence can be a challenging life stage
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