During the teen years, friendships and peer relationships begin to feel more important to young adults than their family relationships. While this is a normal part of becoming more independent, it does mean that these teens are experiencing increased opportunities for bullying. Social dynamics are beginning to shift at school or within their friend groups and peers begin to establish themselves outside of their own family unit. Teens are spending more time away from home by themselves for gatherings or after-school activities. Teens are also spending more time on their devices which exposes them to even more opportunities for bullying. When we look at all of these things combined, it is easy to see how prevalent bullying can be during the teen years. According to a 2019 report, about 20% of students ages 12-18 experienced bullying nationwide. 19% of students in grades 9–12 report being bullied on school property in the 12 months prior to the survey and An estimated 14.9% of high school students were electronically bullied in the 12 months prior to the survey.
Bullying goes beyond temporary or short-lived emotional pain. Bullying has serious effects on one’s health. Did you know bullying can cause physical changes in the brain and result in an increased chance of mental illness? Researchers predict that the prevention of high school bullying could result in lifetime benefits of more than 1 million dollars per individual. Putting an end to bullying in teens requires learning about its effects and engaging the whole community in the mission.
What Bullying Looks Like
Bullying comes in many different forms, especially for today’s teens. While we may assume that bullying means a shove in the hallway or hazing in sports teams, the reality is that there are many factors for bullying that include physical and emotional abuse. A few examples of types of bullying include:
- Physical bullying: This kind of bullying includes a range of aggressive behaviors in which one person aims to cause bodily harm to another person.
- Verbal bullying: Some people say that “words will never hurt you,” but anyone who has been on the receiving end of verbal bullying knows that cruel words and scary threats can, indeed, be very painful.
- Relational bullying: In relational bullying, kids use friendship, and the threat of taking their friendship away, to hurt others. This is the type of bullying most often referred to as “drama.” Because it often happens within the context of a once trusting friendship, drama can be especially confusing and hurtful. This can begin to present itself even in children at a young age.
- Cyberbullying is a specific form of bullying that involves technology: Cyberbullying can be especially destructive because of how quickly and how widely cruel messages can spread.
The Dangers of Bullying
Research suggests that children and youth who are bullied over time are more likely than those not bullied to experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. They also are more likely to be lonely and want to avoid school. Experiencing bullying can also have physical effects such as a loss of sleep or feelings of general illness such as headaches and stomach aches.
Chronic bullying is the term that refers to bullying that occurs repeatedly over time. Studies showed that adolescents who experienced chronic bullying were linked to changes in brain volume and changes in anxiety levels at age 19. This finding is what connected the effects of bullying with mental health issues.
Cyberbullying is especially prevalent and dangerous for today’s teens. Young adults have access to each other at all times of the day or night across multiple platforms thanks to smartphones and computers. Teens communicate through everything from text messages to TikTok to online gaming. With so many platforms, it can be difficult to track who is communicating to your teen and when. Cyberbullying can be especially devastating for teens because it so often includes more than one bully. Group texts that taunt. Instagram comments that criticism. It can feel completely overwhelming to teens and make them believe that everyone hates them. Cyberbullying has unique concerns in that it can be:
- Persistent: Digital devices offer an ability to immediately and continuously communicate 24 hours a day, so it can be difficult for children experiencing cyberbullying to find relief.
- Permanent: Most information communicated electronically is permanent and public, if not reported and removed. A negative online reputation, including for those who bully, can impact college admissions, employment, and other areas of life.
- Hard to Notice: Because teachers and parents may not overhear or see cyberbullying taking place, it is harder to recognize.
How You Can Help
Seeing your child experience bullying can be heartbreaking and leave you feeling powerless. Every parent wants their child to feel safe and supported, but because bullying can be insidious, it may be difficult for parents to recognize. Since it is unrealistic for parents to be with their children 24 hours a day, how can you help your teen? Here are tools you can use to help address bullying within your own home:
- Look for signs. You should watch for signs in your child that he or they may be being bullied. Don’t expect them to tell you. Ripped clothing, marks on skin, dread going to school, decreased appetite, crying, general anxiety and depression, or nightmares could be signs indicating issues with peers at school. From here, don’t tell them to toughen up.
- Create a conversation. Learn about the situation and grasp an understanding of what is going on. Don’t encourage your child to fight back, instead assure them that you will help them work through the situation.
- Work on coping skills. Teach your teen how to overcome bullying without feeling weak or defeated. Practice at home. Give them scenarios where they practice walking away or using assertive behaviors for coping with bullies. Also talk to them about resources they can seek out when they are worried about bullies.
- Set social boundaries. Cyberbullying is at an all-time high with the growing access and popularity of social media. Educate yourself and your child on how to properly use social media. Don’t forward emails or threatening messages. Don’t post inappropriate photos or comments. These are all things that should be addressed.
Residential Treatment for Healing
For some young women, the effects of bullying last far longer than the event itself. And while there are ways that parents can support them at home, they may need additional support and structure to work through the trauma of being bullied. In these cases, a residential treatment center like Solstice RTC may be the answer.
The emotional culture or “milieu” of our program is a critical factor in the healing process. A strong sense of emotional and physical safety is paramount so that the girls and assigned females at birth feel protected in the deeply sensitive work they do. Furthermore, the daily interactions and behaviors of the girls and assigned females at birth in and among their teammates are reflective of how they are progressing in their journey.
Daily interactions with peers and staff are best illustrated by the levels of responsibility they are developing, as well as the respect and care they invest in their relationships. Given this, the role of the residential program and the therapeutic impact it has in the lives of the students we serve is vitally important in creating a safe and healing culture.
When a new student arrives at Solstice RTC, they are assigned a “big sister”, another student that has advanced in their progress enough to be ready to support a new student. The big sister plays a vital role of an immediate friend, a source of information and guidance to the new student. They focus on helping their “little sister” feel welcomed and cared about during the first weeks following admission.
At Solstice RTC, our milieu culture combined with a built-in community can help our students begin to build relationships and trust with their peers. Young women and assigned female at birth can use tools such as group therapy, adventure therapy, and community service to work through their past trauma around peer relationships due to bullying.
Solstice West RTC Can Help
Solstice West RTC is a program for young girls and assigned females at birth ages 14-18 who struggle with issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, addictive behaviors, and/or relationship struggles. This program provides individual, group, and family therapy to help students heal and improve from every angle. Fitness, nutrition, and academics also play an important role in this program.
Our approach to change emphasizes student’s strengths within a therapeutic culture where acceptance, change, and growth are supported and valued. Positive relationships characterized by emotional safety are at the crux of this process. Students embark on a therapeutic journey that fosters relationships and a thorough understanding of themselves and those around them. Solstice gives teens the skills and help they need to transition into the world feeling confident, happy, healthy, and capable of self-managing. We can help your family today! For more information please call us at 801-919-8858.