Recognising and responding to bullying: Tips for parents

Bullying can have severe, ongoing effects on a young person's mental health and well-being. As their parent or carer, it can be incredibly distressing to discover that your teen is being bullied, but there are ways you can support them through this. 


Bullying is when a person or group deliberately and repeatedly hurts another person or group, usually happening when there is an imbalance of power. Bullying can be physical (hitting or pushing, for example), verbal (such as name-calling, teasing, or saying mean things), or psychological (like ignoring or excluding someone). It can happen in person or online (cyberbullying), which involves using digital technology to harass, humiliate, or send hurtful messages.

The impact of bullying can be devastating to a young person's mental health and well-being, especially when it continues over time.

It's important to note that having disagreements, arguments, or experiencing occasional hurtful comments from friends or peers does not constitute bullying. Bullying involves repeated mean and intentionally hurtful behaviour.

Signs of bullying

Recognising signs of bullying in teenagers can be more challenging than in younger children because teens may feel ashamed or afraid and may not confide in you. Here are some common signs that might indicate your tween or teenage child is being bullied:

  • Changes in behaviour: Becoming more isolated, having trouble sleeping, asking you for money.
  • Withdrawal from social activities or suddenly deleting social media accounts.
  • Physical: Unexplained injuries, regularly complaining of headaches or stomach aches.
  • Reluctance to go to school or changes in academic performance.

Communication is key

It's important to keep lines of communication open. When teenagers feel safe and know they won't be judged, they find it much easier to talk about their experiences. Listen to them without interrupting, and don't jump in offering immediate solutions. They want to feel heard and understood. Let them know that:

  • They were right to speak to you about what is happening, even though it might have been hard.
  • Bullying is never OK. 
  • This is not their fault.
  • You will work with them to make things better.

Having worked with young people for over ten years, I often hear from them that they don't want to worry their parents or carers with their problems. By keeping communication open and maintaining your connection, your teen will feel more confident that you can work out potential solutions together.

Practical steps

  1. Developing a plan: Collaborate with your teen to establish a plan of action, including how to respond to bullying, who to approach for help, and what steps to take if the bullying continues.
  2. Documenting incidents: If the situation is escalating, it is helpful to keep a record of bullying incidents, including dates, times, and descriptions.

When to involve the school

When dealing with bullying, involving the school is important, but the first step is to talk to your child. Reassure them that you are in this together. Talk to them about the key points they would like raised and whether they want to be at the meeting. Make an appointment to discuss the bullying with their head of year or pastoral lead to ensure appropriate measures are taken to address the issue. It can also be helpful to understand the school's policy on bullying, which you can refer to.

Advocate for your teen by staying informed about the school's actions. Avoid involving the other child or their parents directly, as this is more likely to make the situation worse. It's much better to work with the school on this.

Professional help

If your teen is being affected by bullying, counselling for young people can provide a safe space for them to process their experiences and develop healthy coping strategies. This can be done through the school or privately. However, it's important to talk to your child about this first and not go over their head; getting their buy-in is crucial.

Dealing with bullying is continuous; ongoing support and staying alert is crucial. However, you and your adolescent child can get through this together, building resilience and the skills to handle difficult situations in the future.

If any of this has resonated with you, please get in touch. Getting your own counselling can help. I work online with parents and carers to help them feel more confident in their parenting. Check out my profile or email me to learn more about how we can work together.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Seaford, East Sussex, BN25
Written by Jennifer Warwick, MSc Psych, BACP Registered | Counsellor and Parenting Expert
Seaford, East Sussex, BN25

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People constantly rush, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted.

I specialise in supporting parents and carers as they navigate their child's tween and teenage years. Contact me for an introductory chat by phone.

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