We’re always telling teens ‘If you are bullied, tell an adult you trust.’ And usually, this is pretty good advice: studies show that talking to family and friends is one of the best ‘first steps’ for dealing with bullying. However, too many teens are still being bullied and keeping quiet about it. If we want them to ask for help, we adults need to do things differently.
There is no magical fix for bullying, but talking to other people often helps. We were fascinated to read an Australian study which asked school students about their experiences of asking for help with bullying. The majority of bullied students who had told a parent, a teacher, or a friend agreed that the person they told was helpful or caring, and that the bullying eased or stopped afterwards.
If talking to other people is such a good idea, teens must do it all the time – right? But unfortunately, that’s not the case. In that study of Australian students, only half the teens who’d been bullied had actually told their parents about it. And a study of cyber bullying found that only about one in six teens who had been cyber bullied said they’d fixed the problem by speaking to their parents.
So, why don’t teens ask for help? There are many reasons, including:
Cyber bullying can be particularly hard to talk about. Some teens assume their parents won’t understand how the technology works, or how people behave online. Other teens stay quiet because they’re afraid their parents will take their devices away.
Teens may find it especially hard to ask for help if they are suffering from suicidal thoughts, or if they tend to deal with problems by withdrawing in silence or lashing out in anger.
Fortunately, there are things parents can do to encourage their teens to ask for help if they need it. To encourage help-seeking, parents can:
It’s also important to reassure our teens that we won’t react to bullying by doing things that make their lives worse, such as:
The bigger picture
Studies have shown that teens are more likely to take positive steps to report bullying if they have good social connections, strong skills in problem-solving and asking for help, and a positive view of their school community as a supportive, caring place.
So, if we want to raise teens who are confident to speak up and ask for help, we can: