Teenage Bullying and Mental Health
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Nothing is so heartbreaking to parents as seeing their child bullied by his or her peers. Today’s bullying on social media reaches far beyond the school setting. Teenage bullying can leave deep emotional wounds, leading to an array of problems for the victim.
About Teenage Bullying
It is a mistake to believe that bullying only occurs in grade school. In fact, teens are also victims of bullying, ranging from physical assault to cyberbullying. In fact, almost half of U.S. teenagers report being bullied online.
The official definition of bullying is from the CDC and includes three elements:
- Unwanted aggressive behavior.
- Observed or perceived power imbalance.
- Repetition of bullying behaviors.
There are six types of bullying:
- Offensive name-calling.
- Spreading false rumors
- Receiving unwanted explicit images.
- Physical threats.
- Having explicit images of them shared without consent.
Teenage Bullying and Mental Health Issues
Being bullied in the teen years can result in an array of emotional problems that can have a profound impact on daily life. Teens that are bullied may experience:
- Loneliness. Teens who are ostracized by peers may withdraw socially rather than endure the pain and humiliation.
- Low self-esteem. Teen boys and girls are very sensitive to criticism. When their physical appearance is ridiculed or judged, especially on social media, it can result in low self-esteem.
- High rates of depression. Depression is an all too common occurrence among teens that were bullied. They become despairing and sad as a response to the rejection and cruel behavior. This may increase the risk of suicidal ideation in some teens.
- Anxiety disorder. Increased stress, due to threats or other cruel treatment, can lead to an anxiety disorder, such as panic attacks, PTSD, social anxiety, or generalized anxiety.
- Substance abuse. Victims of bullying may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the emotional effects of this abuse.
How Teenage Bullying Affects Long-term Mental Health
There is no disputing that bullying causes deep pain and distress when it occurs. Now, research shows us how bullying’s effects are linked to mental health problems in adulthood.
Children or teens who were bullied have a different life experience as those kids who were spared. The stress caused by being bullied can lead to long-term effects, such as PTSD, panic disorders, and even brain changes. In the brain, it may cause a larger amygdala, which is a cause of anxiety in adulthood.
There are other long-term effects of being bullied in earlier years. There is data that show that victims of bullying:
- Achieve lower educational levels.
- Earn less money.
- Have longer unemployment periods.
- Have higher rates of smoking.
- Struggle with relationships.
Social Media and Teenage Bullying
In recent years, teens use social media to inflict emotional harm on others. In fact, social media platforms are used to cause maximum damage to a teen’s self esteem and mental health. On social media, teens can berate other teens, whether they are schoolmates or perfect strangers. Malicious acquaintances may spread lies about a schoolmate and gossip about them on social media.
Online bullying can have tragic results. A fragile teen may take the bullying to heart and become very depressed. Sadly, some teens even resort to suicide as the only perceived outlet for their suffering.
5 Things Parents Can Do If Their Teen is Being Bullied
While it is natural for a parent to become angry and emotional if their teen is being bullied, it is not helpful in the long run. Some constructive actions for parents might include:
- Try not to personalize it. It is normal to relate to the teen’s pain if you also were bullied as a child. But the best thing to do is to know this is not you, but your child. Their experience will be different, so attempt to remain objective and not overreact.
- Resist the urge to try to fix things. As parents, it is normal to want to help your child and save them from suffering. Try to be a sounding board instead, asking them how you can help. Together you can come up with a plan to deal with the problem.
- Validate their pain. Just as important is to not underreact to what they are experiencing. Resist minimizing their pain, listen to them with an open mind, and try to see their side.
- Meet with a school official. If bullying is going on at school, you should contact the school counselor or administrator. They need to be made aware of what is going on with their child and the person doing the bullying.
- Encourage your teen. Offer some suggestions for responding to the bully that can help. It is always best not to engage with a bully, but to instead just tell them to stop it, and walk away.
If parents begin to notice signs that their teen is struggling, they should strive to keep lines of communication open. Here are some signs of distress to pay attention to:
- Symptoms of depression.
- Not wanting to go to school.
- Plummeting grades.
- Physical signs of abuse.
- Isolating behavior.
- Somatic symptoms like frequent stomachaches or headaches.
If you notice these signs, sit down with the teen and ask them to share their feelings and fears, or to express what they are going through.
Whether the teen opens up or not, it is good for them to be examined first by a doctor. If there is no health issue causing these symptoms, the doctor will refer the teen to a mental health expert.
Mental Health Support for Teens
If the bullying has resulted in signs of distress, such as depression, it is time to seek out mental health support. There are a few avenues to consider for teen mental health treatment:
- Private practice. Your teen may benefit from weekly therapy sessions with a local psychologist.
- Outpatient treatment. If weekly therapy isn’t helping, consider outpatient treatment programs. These are available in two levels of care, the IOP and the PHP. PHP is the highest level of outpatient treatment.
- Residential treatment. Residential treatment is best if the teen is impaired, is talking about suicide, or has developed a substance use problem. These programs offer both comprehensive treatment and academic support.
BNI Treatment Centers Teen Outpatient and Residential Mental Health Treatment
BNI Treatment Centers offers a safe, accepting place to work through the mental health effects of teenage bullying. Learn more about our programs by calling us today at (888) 522-1504.