How to Stop Teenage Bullying

In my previous article, Examining and Understanding the Root of Teenage Bullying, I looked at some of the ways that people, teenagers and adults, bully. In today’s article, I’m going to try and examine the mindset of bullies, and why they do what they do, and how to stop bullying.

Acceptable & Unacceptable

Parents, everything your child does can be filtered into two categories: Acceptable & Unacceptable (A&U). A&U are the internal standards that you hold them to, and we all have this. We all have different standards of behavior for different people, depending on who they are in your life.

If your fourteen year old belches loudly at the dinner table, without shame, they find this to be a totally acceptable (and hilarious) behavior.

They think they’ve made the world’s greatest joke.

Teenage Bullying

To you this is absolutely unacceptable, and you would probably make it known that, “Hey, doing that at the dinner table isn’t OK.”

Two people. Two different standards of behavior, makes sense right?

Imagine for a second that your spouse had witnessed your fourteen year old doing the same thing a few nights ago, when you were running late due to traffic, and they thought it was quite funny. Your spouse allowed it, it was Acceptable (perhaps barely).

Three people, two similar standards of behavior, one standard completely opposite the first two.

Now, what is your reaction to a behavior you find unacceptable? Do you yell? Or do you sit down and talk about it?

Now when someone does something that lands deep inside your Unacceptable zone, how do you feel? You’re going to feel angry. And the angrier people are, the less rational and peaceful they’re going to be about resolving what’s happened.  When we’re angry we tend to react rather than respond.

A parent who yells, hits, or bullies their child is very similar to a teenage bully who does the same thing.

In fact, both of them are coming from very similar places.

  • Both find something that their victim has done is “Unacceptable”
  • Both have internalized anger.
  • Both have discovered a temporary solution to their anger: take it out on someone who can’t or won’t defend themselves. Typically this means someone younger or smaller than them.
  • Both are in pain that they can’t properly express.

When a child does something that lands inside their parents Unacceptable zone, and that parent uses a bully behavior on them, yelling, hitting, name-calling, etc. As I talk about in Guiding Your Out of Control Teen, people get angry  and lash out when they are in pain. They lash out when they feel that something is wrong with the situation or out of control, and they can’t easily fix it.

Often this plays hand-in-hand with a defense mechanism.  Before someone even has a chance to do something that’s unacceptable to us, we can lash out in a “If I hurt you first you can’t hurt me” kind of way.  It’s a preemptive strike, based on assumptions and fear.

However an angry or fearful person with poor impulse control isn’t enough by itself to make a bully. They need a little push. They need to be in a relatively unsupervised environment, such as a school, or a home. They need to have social support from people who use other bullying behaviors, other bullies or parents.

The advantage that parents who bully have over teenage bullies is that a certain amount of bullying is filed under different names: corporal punishment & discipline.

Teenage Bullying

Parent bullies can hide behind these words and get away with a moderate amount of bullying, while teenage bullies have no excuse.

Taking it a step further, when looking at how your child learns from simply observing your behavior… They can watch you bully someone you work with, or someone who you don’t like in the PTA, or the “trouble parent” on the soccer team you coach… Etc.  It teaches them that forceful and bullying behavior is acceptable when in pursuit of something.  Yikes!

That’s the harsh truth behind bullying. Teenagers and children who bully are told that bullying is wrong, hitting, calling names, and shoving are wrong, and the adults don’t put up with it. But when an adult bullies a child, it can be called discipline or corporal punishment or “climbing the ladder”?

Our children notice this contradiction. They understand what’s at work here. They know that we have two different sets of rules. Two different sets of Acceptable & Unacceptable zones.

If we really want to put an end to teenage bullying, we need to work from the inside out.

We need to make sure the standards of behavior we’re holding our teens to is the same as the standards we hold ourselves to.

We must first change our OWN behavior, before we can demand a change of behavior from our children.  This take self reflection and self honesty.  It takes self empathy as well.

As I said last week…

If you see a teenager 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, frustrated and lost.  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.

Make a commitment to yourself right now to end your bullying behaviors.  Like all changes in life, this is going to take time to adjust to.  It’s going to take conscious self reflection.  But if we want to see a change in our children, if we want empathetic and healthy-minded families, WE MUST start with ourselves first.

I offer several different articles here in my blog, as resources to you, to begin initiating these changes in your life.  I have also constructed a free teleseminar series for moms.  We’ve already started with a bang, but it’s not too late to join!  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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