Take a Stand Against  Bullying

Parents have recently begun to get tough and ask me questions about bullying – whether it is really a problem and what can be done about it.  Well, I don’t want to wimp out on this one, so let me provide some information on this topic.

2.7 million teenagers consider themselves as victims of bullying, and 2.1 million teens label themselves as bullies. Some surveys suggest that 3/4 of all kids say they have been bullied at one time or another.  Both boys and girls can bully.  It can be physical, emotional, or verbal, in-person or online, or a combination of any of these.  Often times the bully is someone who has been bullied or abused themselves and who does it to get relief from their own feelings of powerlessness.  Studies suggest that over 50% of bullies drop out of school and have difficulty getting higher paying skilled jobs and may go on to be more at risk for mental health problems and may even become abusive as a parent or spouse.

If your teenager is being considered a bully, don't call them that or the label will stick.  Instead tell your teen that aggressive behavior will not be tolerated, and support that by taking a firm stand and reducing privileges as needed.  At the same time, do everything you can to improve your teen’s self-esteem and self-confidence.  Praise their good behavior whenever possible.  Reduce or eliminate their exposure to violence on TV, the movies, and in videogames.  Be a positive role model by being a more compassionate, helpful, and understanding parent.  By doing these things, you can help a bully to change his or her ways.

If you find your teen a victim of someone’s bullying, tell him or her not to take it personally.  It’s really the bully’s problems that are causing the situation, not your teen.  Remind your teen that it’s best not to react – just say “you’re right,” and walk away, remain assertive and calm, and report the behavior to a teacher, guidance counselor, or parent if it continues.  Remind your teen not to bully back.  Involve your teen in some kind of special activity to improve their self-confidence and gain the respect of others. 

Parents should not confront the bully themselves, nor should they contact the family of the bully, but instead should talk to their teen's school via a teacher or guidance counselor.  If the school refuses to take a stand (they almost always will take a stand against bullying), consider reporting the incident to the police. 

If your child is not being bullied, or bullying, they can still play a role by asserting themselves and speaking up on behalf of someone being bullied as well as becoming friends with that child so that child does not feel isolated or alone.  Bullies are less apt to bully groups of friends rather than individuals.

Hopefully tips like this will allow you to fight off any concerns when it comes to helping your teen deal with bullying. 


Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids