Examining & Understanding the Root of Teenage Bullying

Teenage bullying has become a hot topic in the parenting world.

With access to more people than ever before, kids are more likely to be bullied today than any other time previous to this.  We’ve seen several cruel tragedies online, as well as offline… All of it recorded in stark detail… And all of it preventable.  It’s simply heartbreaking.

Despite these tragedies, there is a silver lining.  Bullying has often been pushed aside and regarded as just a right of passage for children… But not anymore!  As a mother of two girls, mentor, and a victim of bullying, I’m glad to see that teenage bullying is finally being taken seriously.

Victims of teenage bullying can experience stress, anxiety, fear, loneliness, depression, self-harm, insomnia, and a higher risk of suicide… And many, both the bullies and the victims, turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with their pain. Some children, younger than teenagers, have even taken weapons to school, including guns, to protect themselves from being bullied.

Teenage bullying

But I’m afraid it isn’t enough to simply take a stand against teenage bullies. Standing up to a bully isn’t hard when everyone is standing with you.  We need to learn to stand with bullying victims, and the bullies themselves, and try to understand how things went wrong for both of them. We need help from both sides of the equation.

No one is born a bully. The people we think of as bullies are as much victims as the people they hurt. Bullying is a state of mind, of cruelty, not a disease or sickness that falls out of the sky.

Before we go any further, let’s define bullying, so we’re all on the same page.

Bullying is repeatedly:

  • Attacking someone physically, hitting, or shoving.
  • Attacking someone verbally, name calling, or inappropriately teasing.
  • Gossiping or spreading rumors.
  • Shunning or ignoring someone with the intent to hurt them.
  • Manipulating a person or people to do any of these things for you.

If a person is engaging in one or more of these behaviors, then they are being a bully. If we’re going to be honest about this problem, then we need to acknowledge that teenage bullies are only half of the problem. What’s the other half? It’s us, the adults.

“What, us?” you might be thinking. Yes, us. Reread the bullying behaviors above and tell me that you don’t know an adult who doesn’t do one or more of these things.

This is the harsh truth for us, as the guardians of our children, to face. That some of us may be a part of the problem. That teenage bullying isn’t the only problem. Adult bullying behavior is too. And unfortunately, parents bullying their children can turn their children into bullies.

Adults justify bullying to advance their careers, feel more secure in the pecking order of friends or groups of people, and more.  What may seem like “a way of life” doesn’t have to be.

Bullying is usually one of two things.  It’s either a defense mechanism, an “If I hurt you first you can’t hurt me,” behavior… Or it’s a learned behavior, in how we deal with people who do not meet our expectations.  We punish someone for not fitting into the mold of what we want, whether it’s how they respond to us, their life choices, how they dress, etc.  And it almost always starts at home.

What do I mean by this?

Children who are subjected to corporal punishment (spanking, smacking, yelling, etc.), or (in the more extreme cases) are physically abused, are far more likely to be aggressive with their peers. The parents pass it on from their childhood… In turn, they hit their kids… And then their kids hit someone else…

teenage bullying

That’s just what the authorities tells us about physical abuse. But what about verbal abuse, gossiping, teasing, or manipulating? Could they come from a similar place?

It’s not fair to completely blame parents if their child displays bullying behaviors. It’s not always so simple to say that every bully who hits a kid has been hit by their parents.

But that behavior has to come from somewhere, and we need to recognize that.

As I said in my recent article “Guiding Your Out of Control Teen”, healthy well-balanced individuals don’t hurt themselves or other people. If you feel the need to hurt somebody, that need is an expression of your own internal pain, disappointment, fear, or frustration. Addressing those emotions is the first step in helping a person stop being a bully.

If you see someone being a bully, try to talk to them . Ask them what they’re feeling in that moment. Why did they feel the need to do what they did. Ask them if they realize they were causing somebody else pain.

When you feel the need to bully, ask yourself the same questions.  Rather than reacting, stop and reflect and choose how to respond.  Often for parents, it’s because we’re burnt out and frustrated.  We have immersed ourselves so far into the role of parenting, that we don’t know how to surface for air, step outside of the role, and love ourselves!

The more open, honest, non-judgemental and empathetic questions you can ask, the quicker you can get to the root of your behavior, and your child’s behavior, and help them examine themselves (as well as ourselves) to bring about a real positive change in both you and your child’s lives.

My next article on teenage bullying will explore in-depth why people feel the need to bully others.

And if you’re a mother who feels burnt out, frustrated or lost, please don’t hesitate to join my upcoming free teleseminar series, Moms: Stepping Back Into Your Identity and Creating a More Fulfilled Life and Happier You.

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Need to talk to someone about your teen? Take a moment to speak with me personally on a 100% FREE Personal Discovery Session.  I’ve spent over 20 years mentoring parents and teens, so take this opportunity to join me today!

Debra BeckDebra Beck is a devoted mother, sought-after presenter, author, and has spent over 20 years working with teens and their parents. She’s helped thousands of teen girls develop their self-esteem through her blog, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and mother-daughter retreats.

Her award-winning book My Feet Aren’t Ugly: A Girl’s Guide to Loving Herself was revised and updated for re-release in September 2011 with Beaufort Books.

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