Daughter with back to mother and arms crossed in kitchen

If your teenager is bullying other people, they may need to develop some social and emotional skills that they lack, or be taught ways to resolve conflict and treat others with respect. They may also be bullying because they have learnt some negative ways of relating to people, which you will need to address.

The kinds of skills that your teenager may need include:

  • awareness of and ability to manage their own emotions
  • understanding and recognising other people’s feelings
  • an ability to manage pressure from peers
  • respect for others and acceptance of difference
  • an ability to deal with conflict
  • problem solving.

How to talk about bullying behaviour

  • Acknowledge that they are bullying others. Your teenager needs to know that you know about their behaviour. Talk with them about it and make it clear that their behaviour is unacceptable, whatever the circumstances. 
  • Focus on the behaviour, not your child as a person.
  • Tell them you want to work with them to stop the bullying behaviour. Not all bullying is deliberate, and many teenagers will stop when they are shown that they actions are hurtful or wrong.
  • Try and find out their reasons for acting as they do. Is it frustration? Are they trying to assert power or control? Are they doing it for popularity, acceptance, or to fit in?
  • Encourage them to examine their behaviour from the other person’s perspective. For example, ask them how they might feel if one of their friends acted in the same way towards them? Why?
  • Talk about what they think might help them stop the bullying. What is it they are trying to achieve by bullying? How else can they get it? For example, if they are looking for approval, or expressing anger because of something other people have done, brainstorm how they can do it in a more constructive and helpful way.
  • Encourage them to ask others to point out if they’re doing things that are not ok. It is never too late to change their behaviour. If they ask for help, other people will know your teenager is serious about changing.

If your teenager’s bullying behaviour continues

Your teenager needs to find ways of managing their relationships with others more positively than trying to dominate, control or exclude others. It’s important that you work on teaching them conflict resolution skills and how to develop social and emotional skills such as awareness of their feelings, and empathy for the feelings of others.

  • Discuss their friends and their influence. Sometimes, someone else may be encouraging or supporting your teenager to engage in bullying behaviour.
  • What else is going on in their life? Is something causing anxiety, or fear? If they are acting out because of something else, you may need to identify it in order to help.
  • Is your teenager exposed to arguments, conflicts or relationship problems? This could be having a very negative effect on their behaviour.
  • What is your teenager watching? Are they playing or watching violent video games or movies? You may need to talk about what cannot be translated to real life.
  • Are they bullying to communicate anger, sadness or other emotions? Consider discussing effective communication skills.
  • Learned prejudices can lead people to bully. Do they have negative perceptions and beliefs about others that need to be addressed?
  • An aggressive temperament can be a contributing factor. Encourage them to consider some of the ideas at ReachOut.com about anger management. Consider engaging a counsellor if this is a consistent problem.

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