School Safety for Teens
Statistically, school is one of the safest places for teenagers. However, it is important to help your teen to be aware of potential threats to school safety, such as bullying. Bullying includes any persistent, aggressive behavior by an individual or group toward another person.
Bullying can be verbal, written, or physical. It can happen face-to-face; by phone; or through e-mails, instant messaging ("I-M-ing"), text messaging; or social media. Bullying by e-mail or instant messaging (also referred to as "cyberbullying") is occurring with increasing frequency. After elementary school, incidence of verbal and physical bullying declines while cyberbullying increases.
When bullying occurs in schools, it is important to enlist the help of school staff in addressing the problem. If bullying is severe or occurs outside of school, it may be necessary to contact your local police department.
If your teen witnesses bullying in school, parents should encourage him or her to tell a trusted school staff member. The following tips are general guidelines for dealing with bullying. However, every situation is unique and may require an alternative approach.
- Listen to your teen and try to stay calm as he or she tells you about the situation.
- Ask questions that encourage your teen to tell you as much as possible about the situation. ("And then what happened?" "How did you feel when s/he said that?" "Where did this happen?" "Who else was there?")
- Empathize with your teen and show that you understand. Help them identify their feelings. ("That must have been [scary, embarrassing, upsetting]." "Are you feeling afraid [angry, alone]?")
- Encourage your teen, offer support, and let your teen know that you have confidence in him or her. Assure your teen that bullying is wrong and it is not his or her fault. Praise your teen for coming to you with the problem.
- Talk with a teacher or guidance counselor to discuss the situation and provide as much information as possible. Establish a cooperative tone with school staff. Ask about how they will handle the situation and request that they keep you informed about what is happening at school. Update school staff on what your teen is reporting to you at home.
- Do not tell the teen to ignore bullying behaviorthis can make the situation worse—and do not advise the teen to retaliate physically—this may result in injury. However, in the case of bullying through e-mail or instant messaging (cyber-bullying), instruct the teen not to respond to any aggressive messages and to save the messages as evidence.
- Don't assume your teen did something to provoke the bully and do not criticize the way he or she handled the situation. This may discourage your teen from talking with you about the problem. Reassure your teen that you and school staff members will help handle the situation.