What to do if your teenager is bullying
When your child has been identified as bullying outside of the home or their behaviour is threatening, intimidating or physically violent towards you or other members of the family, it’s likely you’ll be upset at your child’s behaviour. Try to remain calm when you approach them about this. Tell them that there’s a problem with their behaviour and that you want to help them work it out.
What to do if your child has been bullying others
If there’s been an incident involving your child outside of the home:
- Find a good time to talk to your child. It’s best not to start the conversation when emotions are running high.
- Describe the bullying behaviour you’re seeing or have been told has happened.
- Ask them about it – were they aware of what they’re doing and that it’s unacceptable? Try and get them to do the talking – listen carefully and try not to jump to conclusions or judgements. If you do, your child is likely to react defensively.
- Ask them to imagine how the person they bullied feels.
- Ask them what they think they should do next. If they’re not forthcoming, ask whether they think it would be helpful to apologise and take other appropriate actions.
- Close the conversation by acknowledging your child’s courage to own up to the behaviour and their willingness to take steps to make amends.
- Remind them that bullying is a negative behaviour they've engaged in, but that doesn't make them a bully. Point out their strengths and examples of their positive behaviours to reinforce that these are what you expect to see more of.
- Check in with them to see if they have followed through on what they said they would do. if they have, acknowledge that it was the right thing to do.
- If your teenager is unwilling to approach the person to make amends, have them write an email to the person concerned to apologise.
- Your child needs to take responsibility for their behaviour, insist that they do the right thing.
Bullying at home
When physically bullying behaviour results in injury or is impacting the mental wellbeing of others through yelling, name-calling, put downs or your family constantly picking on one another, then it’s time to take control and put a stop to it.
Sit together as a family and state your expectations clearly. This isn't a time for ambiguity. There is no excuse for people to feel unsafe in their own home.
The bottom line is that everyone takes responsibility for their behaviour by agreeing to show each other kindness and respect.
If the bullying behaviour in your home is beyond this sort of family intervention, seek help. Family counselling through Relationships Australia is a good place to get the help that both your family and you as a parent could benefit from.
Other factors in bullying
Other things to consider if you’re worried about bullying:
- Your child might not be the main perpetrator of bullying but feels powerless to stop it. Teach them that doing nothing when they know it’s happening is just as bad and that they need to act.
- Learn about your child’s social life. Sometimes teenagers join a group that uses bullying behaviour to avoid being bullied themselves.
- Don't trivialise your child's actions. It’s not ‘just something that all teenagers go through’ or ‘kids being kids’.
- Teach your child what it means to be a good friend.
- If your family is going through a stressful life event that you feel may have contributed to your child's behaviour, seek help from a counsellor to find the best ways to talk about it and work together on a solution.
What if your child continues to bully?
Bullying is serious, so it’s important that your child finds ways to positively manage relationships rather 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.
If you don’t see an improvement in your child’s behaviour it’s time to get additional support. It’s unlikely that there isn't a deeper cause behind their behaviour that they’re struggling with. It’s important that you give them every chance to learn how to build positive relationships with others for their mental wellbeing.