Bullying Behavior Peaks in the Tween Years

Friends Gossiping at the Park
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The tween years offer up a number of challenges, including puberty, middle school, and the possibility that your child may encounter (or be the target of) bullies.

48 percent of children say they've been the victim of bullying.

Bullying is also on the rise, in part fueled by technology and a culture that permits or ignores it altogether.

During the middle school years, bullying is especially common as children attempt to establish their place and find their social circle. Sometimes, this means singling out another child, a behavior that's referred to as relational aggression.

Bullying tends to peak in 6th and 7th grade, then gradually declines over the next few years.

Signs of Bullying

Bullies can be clever and their behavior can go unnoticed for quite a while. That said, there are ways to identify bullies and whether your child has been confronted by one.

If your tween has had a run in with a bully at school, on the bus, in the cafeteria, or even on the ball field, you may notice clues in their behavior and mood such as:

  • Withdrawing from her favorite activities
  • Declining interest in school or after school activities
  • Withdrawing from her friends or social circle
  • Wanting to run away
  • Anger (may or may not be directed at you)
  • Stress
  • Volatile emotions
  • Consistently missing the bus
  • Torn clothes, backpack, or other personal items
  • Missing school items, such as books, homework, lunch box, or band instrument
  • Wanting to take protection to school such as a knife or a gun
  • Bruises and/or scrapes
  • Loss of or increase in appetite

If the signals are there, it's time for a talk. However, this isn't always an easy task for parents, as some tweens can be reluctant and embarrassed to share details of the bullying. Others may be worried that the bullies will increase their torment if they tell on them.

A tween who is struggling with self-esteem may feel that they deserve to be bullied.

Talking to Your Tween About Bullies

Ask your child directly if there are problems or bullying issues at their school. To take the conversation a bit deeper, ask your tween if there is anyone they encounter at school who teases or makes fun of them or just seems set on making their life more difficult.

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, be prepared to offer up suggestions on how your child can handle the bully in question.

Sometimes, a simple response such as, "Don't talk to me that way!" or "Stop annoying me!" may be enough to deter the bullies or quiet them down.

It may help to role play situations that your tween might encounter, arming them with possible solutions to the bullying interaction.

Encourage your tween to avoid the bully as much as possible and stay close to their own friends when the bully is present.

It's also important that your child understands that it's not their fault they're being targeted by a bully. Be sure that your child knows they can ask teachers, coaches, or even their bus driver for help.

Empower Your Tween to Speak Up

If the bullying continues, make sure your tween feels empowered to talk to the trusted adults in their life about the bullying without feeling like they're "tatting."

Once you've talked to your child about bullying and helped them develop strategies, know what your next steps will be if your tween's attempts to stop the bullying don't succeed.

When to Step In

As a parent, you may need to step in and request a meeting with the principal or your child's teachers. Be clear with them that you expect the bully's behavior to be addressed, to stop, and that the school will follow up to ensure that it doesn't start again.

As a last resort, you might consider talking to other parents about the issue—but do so only with the teacher, guidance counselor, or principal present.

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