Bullying happens everyday. But, what many parents don’t realize is that most of it is never reported to an adult. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only one third of bullying incidents are reported to adults. This often means that parents are unaware of the torment, humiliation, and abuse their children are suffering at the hands of their peers. It also means that the parents of the bullies are also unaware of their child’s behavior and therefore unable to intervene.
One of the questions we get asked a lot is why kids who are being bullied don’t ask for help. While there are many different reasons a specific teen would choose not to report an incident of bullying, there are several common reasons we have seen in our clients. Bullying can make teens feel powerless which includes feeling powerless to stop the abuse. Sometimes, they don’t report it simply because they don’t believe it will make a difference. Teens may also choose not to report bullying because they feel like handling it on their own gives them back a little of the power and control they feel they have lost. Others may be afraid of retribution or of being bullied more for being a snitch.
Another reason teens don’t report bullying behavior is because it would expose something they don’t want to share with their parents. Humiliation and nasty gossip are often a part of bullying and may be an exaggeration or an exposure of something that is true but secret – like experiencing some sexual confusion. The teenager may feel that in order to report the bullying, they would have to divulge and discuss their secret which they are not ready to do.
These are just some of the reasons that teenagers who are being bullied suffer in silence. The problem for parents is that being bullied and being a bully, and even being a witness to bullying behavior can have real, long-lasting repercussions.
Teens who are bullied are more likely to be depressed, suffer from anxiety disorders, feel sad and alone, lose interest in hobbies, sports, and interests, and struggle with sleep or food. Being a victim of bullying can also impact school performance and school attendance and may decrease the likelihood of graduating from high school which compromises their future opportunities. These problems can last well into adulthood impacting every aspect of their adult life.
Teens who bully others are more likely to struggle with substance abuse problems both as teens and as adults. They are also more likely to get in frequent fights, participate in violent behavior, be violent towards others including partners, spouses, and children, be convicted of crimes, and be sexually active at an early age. These problems, which can also last into adulthood, can have very serious life-long ramifications even if they do not persist past the teen years.
Teens who are neither bullied themselves nor bullying others but who witness bullying behavior can also be impacted. These teens are more likely to drink, smoke, or try drugs and to skip school. Witnessing acts of bullying can also increase the likelihood of suffering from depression and anxiety disorders.
The bottom line for parents is that when it comes to bullying, no one gets off without damage and those scars can last a lifetime. Talk to your child about bullying, encourage them to be open about their experiences with it, and if you suspect they are being impacted by bullying, get them help.