How teens can deal with bullying: Teen advisers weigh in

One in five students age 12-18 in the U.S. have experienced bullying, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice. More than 70% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools. Kids and teens who are bullied can experience physical and mental health issues, and problems at school.

CHOC Children’s teen advisers share their own experiences observing and dealing with bullying, and what they do to cope. CHOC experts also weigh in on what parents can do to support a child who is being bullied.

Talk openly about bullying

One of the best ways to protect your child from bullying is to talk openly about it, says Dr. Heather Huszti, CHOC’s chief psychologist.

Dr. Heather Huszti
Dr. Heather Huszti, chief psychologist at CHOC Children’s

“Have a discussion about why some kids might be bullies. You can explain that most bullies have low self-esteem and that they bully other people to try to feel better about themselves,” she says.

CHOC teen adviser Heather Bisset, age 14, has seen this play out firsthand.

“When someone bullies another person, it is often because they are insecure and do not know how to emotionally handle it,” she says. “A bully does and says things to make others feel hurt or down, and if you do not show a response, they will most likely leave you alone.”

Heather Bisset, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

Dr. Huszti also recommends parents ask open-ended questions of their children such as, “Is there anything going on at school?” or “Is there anything I can help you with?”

She adds that this approach usually works better than firing off a list of specific questions and can facilitate a bond between parent and child that will encourage them to open up to you when something is affecting them.

Find a trusted adult to talk to

CHOC teen adviser Zoe Borchard, age 15, knows the benefits of having someone to talk to when you have been bullied.

“At a high school football game, a girl that I don’t even know called me stupid along with a bunch of other nasty words behind my back. When I heard what she had said, I thought it wouldn’t affect me at first, but it started to eat away at me. I walked away to a quieter area during halftime and called my mom. I told her what happened, and it made things a million times easier to process and even let go,” she recalls. “To this day, I’ll call my mom every time I need help. If you can find someone you trust to share your problems with, it lightens your emotional load and gives you room to breathe and feel better.”

Zoe Borchard, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

Teens can look beyond their parents in finding someone to talk to.

“The best advice I could give someone who is being bullied is to talk to an adult you trust and know is willing to help you,” says CHOC teen adviser Carina Alvaro, age 16. “This could be a teacher who has openly expressed willingness to help, or another trusted adult who can help you resolve these problems.”

Carina, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

Teens and cyberbullying

Nearly 15% of high school students have experienced cyberbullying, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Cyberbullying can include text messages, instant messaging and other apps, social media or gaming.

CHOC teen advisers see a clear link between social media and bullying.

“Social media plays a part in bullying because it’s a lot easier to target someone and attack them online,” says Sanam Sediqi, age 16, a CHOC teen adviser. “On social media, everyone is hiding behind a phone or computer screen, so they more freely throw out hurtful comments towards the victim, often without actual consequences.”

Sanam, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

CHOC teen adviser Layla Valenzuela, age 14, agrees.

“Having the power of technology comes with responsibility. When you send a message, people can’t see your face or hear your voice, so there is no way of conveying sarcasm or playfulness,” she says. “A simple joke could be interpreted in an unintentional, harmful way. Being responsible for everything you do online is a huge part of being considerate and staying away from bullying.”

Layla, a CHOC Children’s teen adviser

Social media and technology use contributes to a rising number of mental health concerns in young people, says Dr. Christopher Min, a CHOC Children’s psychologist.

“Technology is great, but it has consequences, especially on our younger population,” he says. “it’s made teenage culture very unstable.”

Tips for staying safe online

Dr. Min offers the following tips for parents on how to keep kids safe online:

  1. Monitor teens’ social media use
  2. Encourage teens to get together in person
  3. Remember that parents control access to social media

For teens, his advice includes pausing before posting.

“When you’re ready to post something, pause for five to 10 seconds to consider your actions, the post’s meaning and the possible consequences,” he says. “This will help you avoid posting things you don’t want cemented on the internet forever.”

Dr. Christopher Min, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s

What to do if your child is being bullied

There are several things parents can do if they learn their child is being bullied, Huszti says, including:

  1. Inform your child’s school about bullying
  2. Talk to the bully’s parents about the behavior
  3. Help your child build up their self-esteem. The more solid their self-esteem, the less impact a bully’s behavior will have on their overall well-being.
  4. Monitor your child’s online activity.
  5. Remind your child of the trusted adults in their lives in whom they can confide.
  6. Pay attention to signs in your child that show something is wrong, such as acting withdrawn, irritable or sad; or changes in appetite or sleep. Some children will show none of these signs, so an open dialogue with your child is key.
  7. If your child needs additional support, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric psychologist.

Stay Informed about Mental Health

CHOC Children’s has made the commitment to take a leadership role in meeting the need for more mental health services in Orange County. Sign up today to keep informed about this important initiative and to receive tips and education from mental health experts..

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Back-to-school anxiety remedies

Transitioning from carefree summer days into a structured school day can be stressful for children. From a change in environment to new names and faces, heading back to school can be a stomachache-inducing, palms-sweating time for many kids and teens.

Many parents wonder if kids are faking these feelings to get out of going, but back-to-school anxiety is a real phenomenon, says Dr. Christopher Min, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s. Back to school anxiety occurs when nervousness goes into overdrive, causing physical, behavioral or cognitive consequences that can impact a child’s mindset and ability to perform in school.

“It’s easy for us as adults to forget what it’s like to be a kid,” Min says. “It can be really scary.”

Dr. Christopher Min, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s

A child’s job is to go to school, Min says, and their workload doesn’t simply include academics. School is where they learn and practice everything from social skills with peers and authority figures, to learning boundaries and appropriate behavior, to practicing physical activity, to selecting food on their own and eating without their parents.

“The likelihood that at least one of these things will create apprehension or anxiety in kids is great,” Min says. “So many things are packed into one environment.”

It’s important for parents to remember that children are just starting to learn these life skills when they’re in school.

“Not only are kids asked to encounter a multitude of new situations at school, but they’re still developing the skills necessary to succeed,” Min says. “They don’t have mastery of these skills yet; they’re still learning them.”

For parents struggling to determine whether their child is creatively avoiding school responsibilities or dealing with legitimate back-to-school anxiety, Min suggests looking for patterns in behavior.

Look back at their history with school, he says. What tends to happen in the weeks or days leading up to a new school year? How does your child adapt to changes? Does the behavior dissipate as the school year progresses?

“I like to empower parents and remind them that they are the expert on their children,” Min says. “Parents know their own children best. They know what their children do in provoking situations.”

Children are at increased risk for anxiety-based school refusal during periods of transition, such as when they start kindergarten, or move to a new school for junior high or high school, Min says.

“Every kid deals with school-based anxiety differently,” Min says. “However, boys tend to externalize their behavioral, such as acting out. Girls tend to internalize their behavior, which can be interpreted as being moody.”

Once their behaviors are identified, Min encourages parents to help their children cope with their anxiety by practicing easing into the school year.

“As adults, we wouldn’t go into a presentation at work, or show up for a marathon without preparing,” he says.

Kids tend to have a different sleep schedules and less structure during summer months, so in the weeks leading up to the first day of school, start to adjust their sleep and wake schedules.

Min also encourages graduated exposure, where parents can slowly introduce new routines in their child’s day.

“Practice their morning routine before school starts. You can even practice driving to school and show them where you will drop them off and pick them up,” he says.

Making small adjustments at home to help them prepare for the new school year will help them ease into the other transitions that come when school starts.

Although it can be stressful for parents to see their child struggling with a school transition, they shouldn’t immediately jump in to “rescue them,” Min says.

“With school avoidance, if you “rescue” a child or keep them home, that is detrimental because it reinforces their anxiety, and teaches their brain that school is a threat and something to be avoided.”

He encourages parents to partner with their child in managing their anxiety— while still going to school —and over time the anxiety will decrease with repeated exposure.

Stay Informed about Mental Health

CHOC Children’s has made the commitment to take a leadership role in meeting the need for more mental health services in Orange County. Sign up today to keep informed about this important initiative.

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