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warning signs of bullying

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Bullying is common in children and youth. Research shows that one in three young people admit to bullying others. An Alabama Extension family and child development specialist said it is important parents be alert for warning signs that their child is bullying others.

“How young people behave at home is often a reflection of how they behave with others at school,” Adrienne Duke said. “Children who bully others tend to feel a need to have control over situations, push boundaries, and are often unaware of the consequences of violent behaviors.”

Warning Signs of Bullying

Duke, who is also an associate professor in Auburn University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, said when youth have a high need for control, it may indicate they are exhibiting bullying behaviors toward others.

“Most teens like to have some sense of control, but it can become a problem when they want to control all situations at home, school and with their friends,” she said.

Teens can display this control as aggression and manipulation with peers. A child may display anger and violence to gain attention. Youth who bully others also may want to gain social status and control others to gain social dominance in school or within their peer group.

Bullies often challenge boundaries given by parents, teachers, coaches and authority figures. These youth may continue to act unacceptably, even when they know it is wrong or after being corrected.

“Some bullies may not understand the problems associated with their behavior,” Duke said. “They may not even consider how their behaviors affect others or themselves.”

For parents who think their child is showing signs of bullying, Duke offers these tips for following up these suspicions.

  • Communicate with school staff. Teachers and other school staff interact with children and observe their interactions with other students. Use parent-teacher conferences, email and phone calls.
  • Talk with adults that interact with the child outside of school. This is a good way to determine if bullying behaviors are happening outside of school and with friends.

“Having multiple information sources can provide useful insights about your child’s behavior away from home,” Duke said.

Addressing Bullying

Research shows that children benefit from parents and guardians who are warm and open to communication, and who set appropriate boundaries for their child’s behaviors.

“Show your teen that you take bullying seriously by creating rules and consequences for these behaviors,” Duke said. “A consistent set of rules, behavioral expectations, and discipline are effective in correcting problem behaviors.”

Additionally, she encourages parents to seek out school activities and resources that support positive behaviors. In particular, ask about after-school activities or sports programs that can help youth improve how they relate to other teens and adults. Students who participate in extracurricular activities tend to be less involved in bullying.

Duke offers these points to remember.

  • Traumatic events sometimes increase aggression in teens. If a teen has experienced a traumatic event and is displaying aggressive or bullying behaviors, consider taking him/her to a licensed counselor or therapist to help learn how to cope with the experience.
  • If a teen becomes aggressive or behaves inappropriately, consider why they are behaving that way. Teens act out for various reasons, so it is important for parents to consider a teen’s experiences. Talking to the teen could lead to a teachable moment resulting in better behavior.
  • Youth learn through observations. Parents should model positive behaviors and be cautious of aggressive language and behaviors.
  • Choose involvement. Meeting teachers and participating in PTA/PTO and other school activities can help to improve a teen’s behaviors at school. Youth tend to have less behavioral problems when their parents are involved in the school system.

More Information

More information on dealing with bullying is in the publication Advancing Bullying Awareness: Parenting Strategies for Teens Who Bully Others. For further information, visit www.aces.edu to read other Extension’s resources on bullying and other parenting information.

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