Know the signs of bullying

Finding out that your child is not being accepted by their peers can be heartbreaking. Even worse, learning that your child has been harmed by a peer is an experience that no parent hopes to face during the school year or at any time. Unfortunately, the reality is that approximately 10 percent of 6th to 12th graders have been bullied and subsequently 1 in 10 parents across this nation will find out that their child is being bullied. Parents then must come up with a plan to address this sensitive issue. The questions likely are:

  • Where should you start?
  • Who should be a part of the action plan?
  • What resources are available within your community?

Health care professionals can be valuable allies in these stressful circumstances. Health care providers take bullying very seriously. When providing care to patients, we consider bullying to be an important topic to screen for and many times advocate against. From a health and well-being standpoint, bullying can be detrimental to health both physically and mentally.

Effects of bullying may include:

  • Physical injury
  • Difficulty sleeping and/or concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Physical symptoms (nausea or anorexia)
  • Poor attendance at school

As a parent, be aware of the effects on the health and self-esteem of your child if they are being bullied, and try to support them to find talents that bring them joy and boost their self-confidence. Immediate intervention is important, so always keep the communication lines open and/or find other adults who your child can share with in confidence. Remember that bullying doesn’t always happen in person–cyberbullying has become a constant in today’s society.

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There are several recommended ways to address bullying. If your child has been or is currently being victimized, consider taking these initial steps with your child:

1. Discuss ways to react to these situations (you may even consider role playing with them).

For example:

  • Teach your child to clearly tell the bully how they feel and be direct when asking the bully to leave them alone.
  • Explain the importance of telling an adult.
  • Model respectful behavior both in your teachings and in your interactions.

2. Consider discussing ways that your child can avoid situations where/when bullying typically occurs.

For example:

  • Recommend walking to school with a parent or older peer.
  • Ensure that there is adequate supervision in classes or at events.
  • Parents may consider supervising situations when appropriate.
  • Avoid certain activities or places where the bullying occurs.

3. Ensure that the adults involved in your child’s education and on their health care team are aware of what is going on and ask for their assistance.

4. Investigate your child’s school’s anti-bullying program. If there is not one in place, consider advocating for one. Also review district and state legislation.

5. Discuss social media guidelines with your child and ensure proper privacy settings are in place. Inform them to not share account information or passwords with others. Ensure that they are very conscious of what they post online and who may be seeing it.

Parents also should contact law enforcement officials immediately if:

  • Weapons are involved
  • Illegal behaviors are involved
  • Any type of sexual or physical abuse is going on
  • Any actions are hate-motivated
  • There has been any serious physical injury

Many resources and publications are available online to help you come up with a strategy when dealing with this sensitive issue. Here is a list of some of those resources:

For more information on the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, visit

Updated Sept. 14, 2020

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