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Your teenage child bullying others: what to do

9-15 years

It can be a shock to discover your teenage child is bullying others. But if it’s happening, you have an important role to play in helping your child learn about caring and respectful relationships with others. This is a vital step towards changing the bullying behaviour.

What does teenage bullying look like?

Bullying is when your child deliberately and repeatedly upsets, frightens, threatens or hurts someone or someone’s property, reputation or social status.

Bullying can be:

  • verbal bullying – for example, insulting, threatening or making fun of someone
  • bullying behind someone’s back – for example, playing nasty jokes, spreading rumours, or encouraging peers to exclude someone
  • physical bullying – for example, pushing, tripping or hitting, or damaging property
  • cyberbullying – using digital technology to deliberately harass or humiliate.

All bullying is hurtful. When it keeps going, it can cause long-lasting harm.

Signs your child might be bullying

If you think your child might be bullying, there are some signs you can look out for. For example, your child might:

  • talk about other children at school in an aggressive or negative way
  • have money, electronic goods or other things that don’t belong to her
  • be secretive about mobile phones or computers
  • deliberately exclude others from her friendship group.

None of these signs means your child is definitely bullying. But you might want to talk to your child to find out if he’s been having any problems getting along with other children at school.

Bullying in adolescence can be hard to spot because it’s generally less physical than bullying in younger children.

What to do if your child is bullying

The first step is to acknowledge that your child is bullying others.

This involves talking with your child. She needs to know that you know about the bullying. And you need to make it clear that bullying is always wrong, whatever the circumstances.

The next step is telling your child that you want to work with him to stop the bullying. Your child needs to know that you’re taking the matter seriously and that you’ll support him to change his behaviour.

Not all bullying behaviour is deliberate. Some young people bully others without realising the harm they’re causing. Generally, this sort of bullying will stop when your child is shown that what she’s doing is wrong or hurtful.

Working with your child’s school on teenage bullying

If your child is bullying at school, working with the school is likely to be the best way to stop it. This means it’s important to tell your child’s school what’s happening and find out about its approach to bullying.

Here’s how to involve the school in a positive and constructive way:

  • Let your child now that you’re going to talk to the school to see how they can help.
  • Make an appointment to see your child’s teacher, the year coordinator, or the head of pastoral care.
  • Discuss the problem with the school representative, and ask what the school does in these situations.
  • Ask what you can do from home to support the school’s approach. 
  • End the meeting with a plan for how the situation will be managed and a time for a follow-up meeting.

What if your child doesn’t want the school involved? 
Your child might be embarrassed. It’s important to listen to your child’s concerns and see whether there’s anything you can do to make him less worried. For example, you might be able to make an appointment at the school at a time when other students are less likely to notice.

But in the end, you’re the best person to decide what’s in your child’s best interests, even if that means involving the school against her wishes.

Helping your child change behaviour and stop bullying

You’re the best role model for your child.

When you model respectful and caring behaviour, you help your child build the skills he needs to develop positive relationships and feel good about himself. This can be as simple as making sure your child always hears you talking about other people with respect and empathy. For example, ‘I know that teacher can be grumpy sometimes, but he has a lot of experience and knowledge to share with you’.

It’s great if your child sees that your social media posts are always kind and respectful too. 

You can also help your child learn to express anger or negative emotions in healthy ways. For example, if you feel angry, you could say something like, ‘I feel really angry just now. Could we talk about this later when I’ve calmed myself down?’

And if you have a conflict with your child or somebody else, it can be a chance to show your child how to resolve conflicts constructively. For example, it often works best to listen to your child, express your own feelings without judgment, and look for ways to negotiate and compromise.

This lets your child know that you can talk about feelings, rather than having to act on them.

If your child has a warm and positive relationship with you, she’s less likely to get involved in bullying others. And when your family sets rules, boundaries and standards for the way you treat each other, it helps to build strong relationships in your family. This can go a long way towards helping your child grow into a well-adjusted, considerate and caring adult.

Why your child might be bullying

Young people bully for many different reasons. For example, they might have seen aggressive behaviour at home or somewhere else, or they might have learned to be prejudiced towards certain groups of people. They might be looking for ways to feel more important or in control, or they might have experienced physical or emotional abuse.

It’s a good idea to talk with your child about why he’s treating others disrespectfully. This can help you work out the best ways to change things together.

Here are some things to discuss with your child:

  • What’s going on in your child’s life? For example, is something worrying your child? Your child might be using bullying as a way to get control over these feelings.
  • How is your child feeling? For example, your child might be using bullying to communicate anger.
  • Does your child feel confident about making and keeping friends? For example, your child might be bullying because she isn’t sure how to make new friends.
  • Who are your child’s peers? It’s possible that someone else is influencing your child to bully others.

It’s also a good idea to think about the following:

  • Is your child frequently exposed to arguments, conflicts or relationship problems at home? Some teenagers develop bullying behaviour when they see the adults in their lives treating each other disrespectfully. 
  • How do you solve problems as a family? Teenagers need to see and practise problem-solving using calm words rather than physical actions.

Where to get extra help to stop your teenage child bullying

Some children might need extra help to stop bullying. There are many programs and resources to help you to support your child.

These include:

  • your child’s school – you can approach your child’s teachers, principal, school psychologist, school counsellor or guidance officer
  • confidential telephone counselling services like the parenting hotline in your state or territory, Lifeline on 131 114, and Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • health professionals like your GP or a psychologist or counsellor.
Video

Teenage bullying: sharing experiences

3:45

In this short video, parents and teenagers discuss their experiences of bullying and its impacts. Parents talk about what they’ve done to help resolve bullying. Teenagers discuss types of bullying, including cyberbullying, and what might cause bullying behaviour.

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Last updated or reviewed
05-12-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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