A mum from my daughter’s friendship group rang me today to tell me she had heard my 13-year-old daughter was writing nasty comments about other girls in her class online. I’m devastated to find this out and I don’t know what to do. How do I bring this up with her to make sure she stops this behaviour?
There’s a popular belief that bullying is done by a small number of ‘bad kids’ who are thuggish, violent and anti-social. Of course, most parents assume ‘my child would never do that’!
In reality, many young people bully others at some point, including if they are friendly and well-behaved in other situations. The good news is: you can offer support to change things for the better.
Find out what happened
Although the situation is upsetting, it’s important to stay calm. Get the full story, including where the bullying happened. Encourage them to put into words what happened, why they did it, and what they thought was going on.
Explain what bullying is, and why it’s wrong. Be clear about how serious this is.
Encourage them to reflect on how the bullied person must be feeling. Empathy skills are always a work in progress. Help your kids build these skills by helping them to understand other people’s feelings and the importance of showing kindness.
Change the behaviour
Make clear the bullying must stop at once, regardless of ‘who started it’. Apply any relevant family rules and consequences. (You can read some good ideas here.)
Then keep a close eye on their behaviour to make sure that the bullying has not started up again. Signs they may have started again include:
- talking about others in an aggressive or unkind way
- deliberately leaving others out of the friendship group
- money or possessions which don’t belong to them
- behaving in ways that are violent or threatening
- they are concerned about popularity and status
- they are secretive about their tech use
- laughing a lot at things online and won’t show you what’s funny.
If the school is involved, partner with them to work on changing the behaviour. Many schools use restorative approaches, where students reflect on their behaviour and look for ways to apologise and repair what they’ve done.
Understand the cause
Try to find out what led to your child bullying someone. Ask, for example:
- Are they feeling angry, frustrated, or disengaged at school?
- Are they looking for attention?
- Are they bullying other people because that’s what their friends do or are they eager to fit in?
- Do they see bullying being normalised elsewhere – eg. on reality TV, YouTube videos or social media?
- Have they seen family members treating other people disrespectfully?
Plan for better times ahead
Plan for what they will do if they find themselves in a similar situation in the future. If you’re concerned there’s a deeper problem, seek advice from a trusted GP or child psychologist.
If you think bullying is a big problem in your child’s friendship group, reach out to the other parents and plan to change things together.
Enjoy fun, positive times, and encourage them to keep coming to you with any problems they might have.
Reach out for support
Depending on the situation, you might decide to seek expert support and advice for your family – for example, from a trusted local GP, family service, or psychologist.
Free, confidential counselling is also available from: