Bullying | How to Respond
Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 students in the US say they have been bullied in school. That is a staggering number of our young people who are either the bully or the bullied. Most bullying happens in middle school and is done face-to-face but we are hearing more and more of instances of cyberbullying, meaning that the bullying can be relentless for some.
One of the things we hear from our young people often is that adults don’t understand how different it is to be a teenager today. Which is true! Young people face so many more diverse pressures and, as adults, we often don’t feel equipped to support them. Only 20% to 30% of those bullied ever share their experience with an adult; we need to equip ourselves so that we feel able to be available, so that young people feel safe to share their experiences.
So how should we respond when a young person comes to us with an experience of bullying? While there are many things we can do, here are three of the most important:
Listen. Really Listen.
It can be tempting to assume, to want to share your experience, or to start giving solutions. By taking time to really hear the person’s story, to let them share it several times if they need to, will help them to feel like you are a safe space: someone they can trust and who understands. It will not only make the young person feel secure, but it will give you much more insight into their experience and what your response needs to be.
Make sure they feel safe.
As far as is your responsibility, do whatever it takes to make sure the young person feels safe. Make sure they know that you are there to support them, come what may, and that you will help them work through this - whatever that might look like. Can you help them shut down an app or speak with the school? What steps can you help them take so that they no longer feel threatened?
Take them seriously.
It can be tempting to dismiss a young person’s story as part of growing up, or maybe over-exaggerated, but they need to know that you believe them and that you will help them get the support they need. This may mean helping them record evidence of cyberbullying or to get their story straight before they speak to their school about a situation.
All of these things will not only help the young person to open up, but they will show them that they are loved and valued, that the words of the bully or bullies do not contain their identity.