3 Things to Do Today if Your Tween or Teen is Bullied

Bullying: it is a top worry in every town and every school. For many tweens and teens, the worry has turned into a reality which can leave them feeling discouraged and hopeless.

Those feelings of hopelessness aren’t anything new. Bullying has been traced to the 18th century and, unfortunately, it is part of our culture. Movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Karate Kid and books like Harry Potter or Diary of a Wimpy Kid show how bullying shows up in mainstream media.

While you cannot control whether bullying shows up in movies or books, there are three things you can do right now to minimize the damaging impact bullying has on your tween or teen.

Understand the motivation behind bullying. Bullying is an attempt to gain power typically by someone who is hurting. The taunts, aggressions, and abuses are a bully’s misguided attempt to cause someone else to feel the same pain they are feeling. Bullies hope that when they cause others to feel pain, it will reduce their own. This does not excuse the behavior but it can help you, as a parent, to understand the motivation and adjust your responses. (i.e. think compassion over cruelty.)

Listen to and believe what your child has to say. It is critical that your child feels heard and believed. When you take on the role of good listener, you send the message “you matter.” When your child tells you that he is bullied and what is going on, as much as it hurts to listen, be open and able to hear what he has to say. When you react too strongly to what your child is saying, he might stop talking because he’s afraid he’s going to upset you. One of the most effective questions you can ask your tween or teen is, “What can I do to help?”

Develop a bully-free plan. A bully free plan is a safety plan to help your child avoid bullies, respond appropriately in aggressive situations and reach out for support. Together, discuss the following: the safest way to/from school, space places to eat lunch or spend free time, who he or she can talk to including friends, interventionist, teacher, coach. Additionally, it is helpful to brainstorm responses that could be used when confronted by a bullying. For example, retaliating is not helpful but deflecting a taunt with humor could diffuse the situation. The bullying is looking for anger and tears as it is their attempt to pass along hurt and gain power. When your child doesn’t give that reaction, the bully may move on.

Dealing with bullying can erode at your tween or teen’s sense of self and confidence. Encourage them to spend time with peers and in activities outside of school. And, as always, say “you matter,” and “I love you,” often.


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Developed by Julie Smith, LMFT, What to Do When is an online resource library for parents of tweens and teens on topics such as communication, bullying, tech use, depression, anxiety, anger and more.