Marilyn* was getting bullied at her public school. Girls made fun of her clothes and her appearance. She didn’t drink or go to clubs or bars, and they made fun of her for that, too. They called her names, threw her hostile looks, and taunted her behind her back.
Every time she walked into the cafeteria, her heart would start pounding as she wondered where she would sit. Each lunch table was separated into groups… and she didn’t fit in anywhere.
“I would go sit at a table and they would say, we don’t want you here,” she remembers. “It was literally the scariest part of my day. I started hating school.”
Different Types of Bullying
Getting bullied is a different experience for every teen. Some bullies engage in physical aggression, where they’ll push you, make you trip, slam you against a locker, or hit and punch you. These are the typical bullies that are often depicted in movies. Other bullies verbally harass you. They’ll call you names and insult you, your family or your background. They’ll embarrass you in public.
And yet other bullies are subtler, using emotional manipulation. These bullies will purposely exclude you from groups or events, throw you a dirty look, or gossip or spread rumors about you. This type of bullying is very common with adolescent girls, as reported in Rachel Simmons’ book Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.
But it can happen to boys, too.
Some bullies will also go online to hurt their victims. This is cyberbullying. Though less common than traditional bullying, cyberbullying is extremely hurtful. In contrast to regular bullying, cyberbullying can often happen among people who never even met you in real life. And the effect can, at times, be even worse: someone can write something nasty about you on Facebook for their thousands of friends to see—and it can be near impossible to undo the damage.
Effects of Bullying
Both regular and cyberbullying can have long-term effects on one’s mental health (and physical health, too). Getting bullied is a terrible, painful experience that chips away at one’s self-esteem and sense of worth. Being a victim of bullying can lead to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse issues, and suicidal thinking and attempts. If the bullying is happening at school, school becomes a scary and unsafe place, and your academic performance may be likely to drop, too.
If you’re part of the LGBTQ community or are questioning your sexuality, bullying can be even more common. According to a GLSEN Survey, approximately 90 percent of middle and high school students who identify as gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual were bullied in 2009. LGBTQ teens are also at a greater risk for suicide because they are bullied so often.
How to Stop Your Bully
No adolescent or teen deserves to be bullied. Below are a few ideas on stopping your bully, expanded from the suggestions given on StopBullying.gov and StompOutBullying.org—two useful sites to check out if you’re a victim of bullying:
Talk to your parents.
First, tell your parents what’s going on. Hopefully, they will provide a listening ear and lots of sympathy. While we know that won’t make the bullying go away, it will make you feel better temporarily—which is super important in the long run.
Stand up to the bully.
If you feel safe enough to do so, stand up to the bully if they’re being physically or verbally aggressive. Look them straight in the eye, sound assertive, and say “STOP this right now.” Hold your head high and appear confident, even if you’re really upset, sad, or scared. Another idea is to use humor or sarcasm to defuse the tension and outwit the bully. Some teens find that saying “Yawn, here we go again,” or “Do you feel better now?” or “Wow, did you come up with that all by yourself?” will make the bully stop in their tracks.
After your comeback line, even if the bully keeps trying to provoke you, just ignore them and walk away. Your bully wants you to respond and react—don’t give in, even if you’re about to cry or want to scream.
Surround yourself with friends who care about you. See if one or two of them (or more!) can walk with you so that you won’ t be alone when the bully strikes. Bullies like preying on those who look weak and lonely, so having a bunch of friends around you might reduce the bullying or even stop it. If your friends can stand up to the bully on your behalf the next time he/she tries harassing you, that’s even better! However, even if your friends aren’t able to be near you when you’re bullied, it still helps to have their emotional support. Tell them about what’s going on. When the bully tries provoking you, remind yourself that you have friends who love you and care about you—even if they’re not here.
Reach out for help.
If the bullying doesn’t go away on its own, tell authority figures. At school, tell your favorite teacher or your guidance counselor. If the bullying is happening elsewhere, like at camp, tell the head counselor. If these people don’t take you seriously, find an adult who does. Don’t just tell them once and assume they’ll take care of it: if the bullying doesn’t stop, you (or your parents) should continue advocating for yourself. No one deserves to be mistreated.
If you’re being cyberbullied, ask your parents to help you block the person and report the harassment online. Most social media sites have a way to report abuse—and bullying definitely counts as abuse. In these circumstances, most experts recommend not responding to the texts, emails or other messages. Instead, take screenshots of them and save them in a file. The more evidence you gather, the better it will be. Authority figures—or the police—will find this proof useful when they figure out how to discipline the abuser.
Pity the bully.
Bullying and aggression are learned coping skills. The bully probably has lots of issues going on in his life that are making him act this way towards you and others. He may be facing bullying at home, from his parents, or may have witnessed lots of violence and aggression growing up. He may have certain mental health issues that are causing him to be mean to you. Realize that the problem isn’t you—it’s the bully.
Find a new social circle.
If a former best friend has turned into a bully, the situation can be even more hurtful. You guys were so close, and now your friend has turned their back on you. While you can try to make peace, realize that unfortunately, things may never go back to the way they once were. Try to use this opportunity to find your true friends, the ones who are genuinely nice and care about others. This is particularly applicable when your friends are being emotional bullies, or spreading rumors: the true friends are the ones who stick with you, no matter what. Try not to care about the opinions of the crowd. Those don’t matter. The steadfast support of friends and family do.
The goal of a bully is to break you down. Try to stay strong, so the bully doesn’t accomplish their goal. While you can’t control what other people say about you or to you, you can try to determine how you react or feel about it. Keep attending school/camp/extracurricular activities, even if all you want to do is stay home. Remind yourself of all the great things about you, and all the talents you have. Have some friends remind you about them, too.
We know that a bully can make you feel worthless. A bully can hack away at every single part of your being. This can be extremely painful. Many times, bullied teens need help putting the pieces of their life back together, especially if they have developed depression, anxiety, or another mental health or behavioral issue, which is very common.
If that’s the case in your situation, you may find lots of relief in talking to a mental health professional. Or, if you find that your situation is already worse—that you can’t ever get out of bed, are thinking about running away, are harming yourself, or are thinking about suicide—you may need a teen mental health rehab center. Many teens who face trauma from bullying find it very helpful to attend a residential or outpatient treatment center. These programs help bullied adolescents regain their self-worth, learn coping skills to deal with distress, and teach teens how to overcome their past trauma.
To read more on bullying, check out: Other Kids Are Spreading Rumors About My Teen: What Can I Do?