5 Things You Should Never Say to a Bullied Teen

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It is hard to find the right words when your teen is being bullied. In fact, your emotions can be so raw that you say the first thing that comes to mind. But, unfortunately, this can have disastrous results. Instead, try to calm down and choose your words carefully. Research shows that your response is crucial to your teen's recovery.

As a result, avoid criticizing or minimizing what the victim of bullying is experiencing. Instead, validate her feelings. Tell her you are proud of her for talking with you and emphasize that it took courage to share something so painful. Remember, kids often don’t tell adults about bullying. So you want to encourage her to continue communicating with you.

Also, take time more time to listen and less time to offer advice. And when you do say something, keep your focus on the bully, his choice to bully and what she can do to move beyond the incident. Remind her that no one deserves to be bullied and that she is not alone. Unfortunately, many people focus on what the victim did or said during the incident. But this is not a good approach and is called victim-blaming. Never blame a victim of bullying for something that is out of their control. And be sure you refrain from making the following five comments to your bullied teenager. 

“What Did You Do to Cause It?”

When a child comes to you about a bullying incident, one of the worst things you can do is blame the victim. Asking what she did to cause it implies that she is somehow responsible for the bully’s choices. Remember, bullying is not about a defect in the victim, but about a choice the bully made. Be sure that the responsibility for bullying is placed on the bully’s shoulders, not on the victim's. If you do suspect that there is more to a story than what the victim is telling you, ask her open-ended questions but never assume that she is responsible for the incident.

“Why Didn’t You Stand up for Yourself?”

Instead of accusing the victim of doing something wrong, help her learn how to manage the bullying incident. Offer support, report the incident and help her find a solution to end the bullying. Remember bullying involves a power imbalance and victims can feel helpless. Expecting a victim of bullying to defend herself without being coached on how to respond will not be effective. Also, remember that bullying situations are scary and even the best-prepared victims can be caught off guard. A more effective approach is to help the victim overcome any negative feelings from the situation.

“You Need to Toughen Up”

Statements that imply there is something wrong with the victim minimize the bully’s actions. They also communicate that the victim is defective or “too sensitive” because she is bothered by someone else’s poor choices. While it is good to instill perseverance and assertiveness skills, being hurt by a bully’s actions is a normal response. Instead of criticizing the victim, try encouraging her. Remind her that it took courage to report the bullying.

“Get Over It”

Bullying is not something a person just forgets. Bullying has significant consequences and can have a lasting impact, even into adulthood. Expecting a child to just forget about the incident and “get over it” is counterproductive. Instead, look for ways to help the victim. Some options include helping her develop friendships, teaching social skills and building self-esteem. Likewise, if she is struggling with anxiety, depression or even has thoughts of suicide, be sure you contact a healthcare professional right away. Never ignore your child's emotions. Instead, find several healthy outlets for her to process her feelings and emotions.

“Maybe You Should Change”

If you remember one thing about bullying, remember this: The victim of bullying does not need to change, the bully does. Expecting a victim to be different or compromise who she is only given the bully more power. It also communicates that the bully is somehow right and there is something truly wrong with the victim. Even if there are things that a victim could do differently to avoid school bullies, refrain from communicating that there is something inherently wrong with her. Statements like these will only wound the victim more. It is best to build her self-esteem rather than imply that you agree with the bully.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with a bullying situation is never easy. But it also doesn't have to be the end of the world. Be sure you listen to your teen as often as she wants to talk (even if it feels like she is saying the same things over and over again). With your encouragement and empathy, your teen can find healthy ways of coping with bullying and move on.

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