October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, and in recent years the issue of bullying has finally grabbed the notice and urgency of parents, school administrators, and the media. Bullying is a ripple effect that if not addressed, can affect not just the many children and teens going through it, but also their parents and their school. Pre-teens and teens who are bullied at school or online often don’t tell their parents or other adults what is happening because they find it embarrassing, and believe that telling will just make it worse for themselves at school among their peers by being labeled a “snitch”. Signs that parents and teachers should keep an eye out for as signs of bullying that often go under the radar can include:
- Avoiding school or group gatherings including lunch and recess
- Going straight to class rather than hanging out with friends during breaks between classes
- Withdrawing from family, friends, and things they enjoy.
- Worrying about social situations like school dances, and any after school activities
- A sudden drop in grades
- Changes in sleeping, appetite, or mood that shows in acting out of anger at home.
Any of the symptoms listed above could be mistaken by a parent as teen angst and moodiness. Parents often hope that their children will learn and build strength or character from setbacks in life, but it may not be as simple if they have low self-esteem. After all junior high and high school is often filled with social rejection and ever-changing relationships among friends and others. If we stop to think on this for a bit, we find that being harassed by someone who is looking for conflict is one of the most uncomfortable things we can experience in school. There are a number of different factors that can result in a pre-teen or teen having low self-esteem and struggling to overcome bullying. Along with recognizing the symptoms of bullying that slip under the radar, there are steps parents can take in helping their pre-teens and teens to develop confidence and the resilience to overcome bullying.
1. Measuring Up
Often our self-esteem is shaped in part due to messages we grow up with. Parents who reflect on their child’s upbringing may uncover some potential factors such as how parenting, family relationships, and cultural values and beliefs may have shaped their self-esteem. When children don’t feel like they measure up to what is expected of them by themselves or others, it results in their adopting a negative perception of themselves from not being what they think they need or should be. Raising awareness of this can help pre-teens and teens begin to determine and distinguish what and how they value and measure their self-worth. It’s important for parents to be mindful how they react, and try not overreact when their teen doesn’t meet certain expectations, such as grade slipping. Many teens interpret their parent’s reaction of disappointment as rejection. Parents sadly realize that their reaction to poor grades have been interpreted as: “you will only accept me if I get good grades in school”.
2. Talk It Out
Start a discussion about how to deal with setbacks. Whether a parent draws from their own experiences or uses stories of bullying ripped from the headlines in the news or social media. Talking about real life experiences is effective in shining a light on how pre-teens or teens perceives bullying and themselves in relation to how they deal with different types of setbacks in their lives.
3. Connecting with a Professional
Therapy gives pre-teens and teens the opportunity to process what their beliefs about themselves are and to challenge and test self-sabotaging thoughts. Therapy can also help teach mindfulness exercises that can help to recognize how they respond physically to situations with high anxiety and practice being in the moment while maintaining a sense of calm. Doing work in therapy can help students who struggle with being bullied in learning strategies to cope with and change the outcome of harsh social cliques and awkward situations. Students who even do well in school can benefit from therapy by learning how to embrace even the most difficult of challenges.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom.” ~ Aristotle
As human beings we are born with the potential for resilience to overcome obstacles in our lives along with the desire to connect with those around us. Parents can help their children by recognizing the symptoms of bullying and actively listening to how their pre-teen or teen views setbacks. While pre-teens and teens can become stuck feeling hopeless in overcoming shame and humiliation of being bullied or with a pattern of negative thinking that can come with low self-esteem, there is always hope that it can (and will) get better when they have support from their parents, and the opportunity to look within and develop a healthy sense of self.