Bullying and cyberbullying
Bullying can happen at any point in our lives and is never easy to deal with – whether you’re 14 or 40. Although bullying tends to become less common as young people mature and move through adolescence, it can be hugely damaging when it does happen.
Bullying can take a number of forms, ranging from ongoing teasing and verbal abuse through to social exclusion and physical assault. As children get older, bullying can become less overt – and harder to spot as a result. It can also move online (cyberbullying), which happens at least every few weeks to about one in 10 young people.1
Experiencing bullying can leave young people feeling alone, worthless, sad and angry, and can add to their worries and life stress. If it continues over a long period of time, bullying can lower a young person’s self-esteem and be a risk factor for anxiety, depression and suicide.
A young person who is being bullied or cyberbullied might:
- refuse to go to school – or wherever the bullying is happening – or make excuses not to go
- suddenly receive more messages than usual via text or social media
- be more unhappy or anxious than usual, especially before or after school, sport or wherever the bullying is happening
- seem unhappy or stressed after they’ve been on their phone or computer
- become more isolated – stop hanging around with friends or lose interest in school or social activities
- start doing poorly at school
- come home with damaged or missing belongings, or physical injuries
- have trouble sleeping
- complain about having headaches, stomach aches or other physical problems.
There might be other reasons for some of these signs in your teenager, so it’s best to talk together about what’s going on and any changes you’ve noticed.
Raising the issue
If you suspect a young person you care about is being bullied, it can be hard to know how to raise it with them. Some young people try and hide what’s happening, or feel ashamed, afraid or might not want you to worry or make a big deal. Often young people just want the bullying to stop without confronting the issue or drawing attention to it.
They might find it uncomfortable discussing their feelings and emotions openly with you, or get angry and defensive when you ask if they’re ok. Try to stay calm, and realise you may need to raise the conversation in different ways over time to get a response.
What you can do to help
Reassure your young person that you’re in this together.
Help them come up with a plan to respond to and cope with the bullying.
Encourage them to talk openly about what’s happening and how this is making them feel. You could suggest they see a health professional to talk things through.
Come up with some practical steps and strategies together – who they can talk to at school/work/sport and what they can do when the bullying is happening.
The Youth Beyond Blue website also has links to a number of anti-bullying resources you can work through together.
1 Cross, D., Shaw, T., Hearn, L., Epstein, M., Monks, H., Lester, L., & Thomas, L. (2009). Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (ACBPS). Perth: Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University.