Teen bullying is an age-old problem that remains widespread in America. A 2015 survey on bullying reported:1
20 percent of high school students said they were bullied on school property in the 12 months before the survey.
About 16 percent of high school students in the same survey reported being bullied electronically.
Bullying can seriously affect a teen’s mental health—whether they’re the target or the aggressor. Further research has found that bullying does have lasting psychological effects.
Impact on Victims and Bullies
Teenagers who are bullied are at an increased risk for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, headaches, insomnia and school adjustment problems. Bullying may also cause long-lasting harm to self-esteem. Extreme bullying can cause physical harm or lead to suicide.2
Adolescents who engage in bullying are at increased risk for substance use, academic problems and violence to others in adulthood.
Teens who have bullied others and who have been on the receiving end of bullying experience the most serious effects. They’re at greater risk for mental and behavioral problems, compared to teens who are only victims or teens who only bully.
How to Approach the Problem of Bullying
Parents and teen bullying victims should sit down and talk about the experience. Don’t trivialize the incident by trying to downplay it. Instead, encourage them to fully explore the experience and the accompanying emotions.
Equally important is validating your child’s feelings by saying you’re glad your teen told you about the situation, and that intense feelings are normal and understandable. Express that you acknowledge and appreciate any positive aspects of how your teen coped with the situation.
When Talking with Your Teen Isn’t Enough
Any of the following signs may indicate it’s time for professional counseling:
Your child is not sufficiently verbal
Talking with you didn’t seem to help
Your teen is showing signs of emotional distress, like depression or anxiety
Your teen is displaying other signs of distress, such as behaving badly or becoming fearful or clingy
A licensed mental health counselor can provide effective therapy to address the negative emotional impacts of bullying and help your child to regain confidence.
Help for Victims
A skilled practitioner will use talk therapy to identify the source of distress, help your teen to let go of destructive emotions and assist in restoring mental health. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also an effective treatment method for teens because it’s a solution-focused approach. Studies show that CBT is effective in reducing mental health symptoms, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder in teenagers.3
Help for Bullies
A mental health practitioner will work to understand an individual’s situation and background to see why the teen is bullying. The therapist will teach the teenager how to identify and understand the emotions they experience, such as anger, frustration, jealousy and insecurity. The therapist then works with the teen on how to handle such feelings in positive ways. Additionally, therapists can help those who bully to develop empathy and realize how bullying affects others.