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 at some point in the next few years your child may encounter bullying.

Bullies seem to turn up everywhere and bullying is on the rise, fueled by technology and oftentimes by a culture that permits or ignores it altogether. In fact, 48 percent of children say they've been the victim of bullying at one time or another. Bullying during the middle school years is especially common as children attempt to establish their place and their social circle among others. Unfortunately, that may mean singling out another child, a behavior sometimes referred to as relational aggression.

Bullying tends to peak in 6th and 7th grade, and then gradually decline over the next few years. Bullies can be clever and their behavior can go unnoticed for quite a while.

Signs of Bullying

There are ways to detect bullies and determine whether or not your child has had to face them. If you suspect your tween has had a run in with a bully at school, on the bus, in the cafeteria, or even on the ball field, there will be clues in her behavior and appearance, 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 with your tween. Many tweens will be reluctant and embarrassed to share details of the bullying, and some may even feel they deserve to be bullied. Others will worry that the bullies will increase their torment if they tell on them.

Sit down and ask if there have been any problems or bullying issues at school, or if she's encountered someone whose trying to make her life difficult. If the answer is yes, offer up suggestions on how she may 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. Role-play situations your tween might encounter with possible solutions to stop the abuse. Encourage your tween to keep away from the bully, and to stick with one or two friends when the bully is present.

It's also important that your child understands that it's not his fault that he's being bullied. Be sure he knows that he can ask teachers or the bus driver for help, if the behavior continues, and help him find ways to inform adults about bullying, without sounding like he's tattling.

If your child's attempts to end the bullying fail to work, and the bullying continues, it's time to call the school and ask for a meeting with the principal and/or the teacher. Be very clear that you expect the behavior to end, and that you expect a follow up by the school in several weeks to make sure it hasn't returned. As a last resort, ask to meet with the other child's parents, but do so only with the teacher, guidance counselor or principal present.

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