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Bullying in children and adolescents

We all know the situation from our childhood - we teased others and peers teased us. This is part of every childhood and certainly has no significant impact on later life.

Bullying in children and adolescents
Bullying in children and adolescents | ©: stefanolunardi - Fotolia

But where does teasing stop, and where does bullying begin?

Basically, this question is quite easy to answer. Bullying in children and adolescents begins where it leaves traces that, in the worst case scenario, leave marks for the rest of the person’s life. Unfortunately, often outsiders cannot detected this early enough, and the children and youth affected, often feel too ashamed to talk about the injustices that are inflicted on them. Or they do not dare to talk about it for fear of further harassment. After all, society dictates, the one who is bullied is weak and has shortcomings which others do not have the.

However, it is essential to recognize bullying as early as possible to take appropriate counteractions. These countermeasures must be planned and carried out carefully if the situation is not to get worse. Education and guidance, in this case, are necessary indeed.

Bullying | ©: Ilike - Fotolia

How to recognize that a child is bullied?

Children and young people, in particular, are superb at hiding unpleasant things from their parents and other adults. One of those unpleasant things is bullying. Therefore, sensitivity is required to detect that a child is being bullied, as early as possible. Pay particular attention to self-imposed isolation. Children and youth who are bullied, often retreat – even from those who have nothing to do with the bullying. One of the signs could be, your child suddenly gives up friendships, does not want to talk about it and instead hides in his room, excessively playing on the computer, etc.

Excessive sadness, depressed or aggressive behaviour can be another symptom of bullying among children and adolescents. Every child processed such a problem in a different way. That leaves for a variety of diverse expressions, which eventually show up on the outside. However, not only emotional changes as well as changes in everyday behaviour that can be a sign of bullying. There are also physical symptoms. These include lack of sleep and eating disorders. If your child is basically healthy, has always slept or eaten well and suddenly problems occur in these areas, you should make the effort of finding the root of this behaviour. The same applies to a drop in their general school performance or the child shows signs of difficulties to concentrate. Children who always had A grades yet, suddenly, all that changes significantly for the worse, those children should be observed with great care so that the underlying problem can be identified as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon that those above mentioned physical problems can evolve to chronic illnesses such as a chronic headache or stomach-ache. If the cause of the problem is recognised in time and adequate treatment follows, sometimes it is possible to prevent for the symptom to progress into a chronic disease.

What should parents do if their child is being bullied?

When parents realize that their child is being bullied, their first response might be a sense of anger and helplessness. The important thing is not to respond thoughtlessly and trying to stop the bullying with drastic measures. Such proceedings are bound to backfire.

victims of bullying | ©: petrabarz - Fotolia

First, try to find a dialogue with the child or youth. In many cases talking to the person helps already as it gives them the feeling to unload, to tell what’s burdening them. Reassure your child that you always stand behind him and that you will support him. When it comes to bullying the young person’s self-esteem often becomes impaired. Therefore, it is paramount to give him any help and support needed. Try to find out in which circumstances the bullying occurs. Whatever the reason never blame your child for those circumstances.

After an initial discussion with the child, it is important to plan the next steps carefully. In most cases, it is not helpful to approach the bullying perpetrator personally. Most likely this will only disadvantage your child further and maybe even increase the harassment. It is much better to engage the help of third parties, such as teachers and the principal of the school. However, be mindful, the school administration might want to downplay the problem. Do not accept such behaviour and threaten to take corresponding actions if the school does not take actions against the bullying.

The school administration and all the teachers are responsible and have a duty of care towards the welfare of students. If they do not take their responsibility seriously, they will be made accountable and legal actions can be taken against them. However, I would only suggest the latter as a last resort.

Is it possible to take preventive action against bullying?

Basically, preventive measures against bullying are difficult to implement. Bullying usually starts silently and progresses slowly and unnoticed. Therefore bullying represents a difficult opponent. Nevertheless, it is advisable, that in particular teachers and schools carry out appropriate preventive measures against bullying. These include discussions within the class as well as through education about the dire consequences of bullying – this can be done through books, films and newspaper articles.

If children truly understand that bullying can have grave consequences, such as addiction, depression, suicide, etc. that might give bullying a negative standing and make bullying less attractive. If this anti-bullying training starts really early in the life of the young person the more likely, it will be for those children not to engage in bullying. Unfortunately, not all schools in Germany have yet recognized this fact and implemented the appropriate preventive anti-bullying measures in their curriculum.

Bullying in adolescents | ©: shootingankau - Fotolia


There is hardly any other area of concern in a child’s or adolescent’s life that is so hard to detect like bullying. Downplayed by society, teachers and schools, bullying can leave scars, which last for life. In the worst case scenario, bullying might even be lethal. Nonetheless, bullying is still a taboo for many. In this regard, teachers and in particular schools are encouraged to actively pursue prevention. Parents, however, are often left powerless and depend on professional help.

How can we recognize and prevent bullying in our youth groups?

In our weekly group sessions, we will see bullying, not all that often. However, we still can observe that one or the other child or youth is teased more than others. This usually happens in unsupervised moments. This makes it, as in schools as well, hard for the bullied child to recruit help from the youth worker. For the youth worker, on the other hand, it might be hard to figure out initially, what’s actually going on and what is true about allegations of bullying.

On holiday camps, where we see the children longer, it becomes easier to observe possible teasing or bullying.

Therefore, I only can give you the advice: Keep eyes and ears open. By observing conversations and what children play, one or the other picture might quickly emerge. If it all fits together, it is time for the youth worker to have a talk to the group and teachers at schools alike.

The emphasis is on showing the bully what he is actually doing. None of the kids wants to be bullied. Bullying means exclusion, means "none acceptance," means "You do not belong". For most kids, this would be easy to imagine and therefore not wanting to be bullied.

Once I had to deal with a teenager who refused to go to school any longer and even changing school was not an option anymore. The reason was that he was a bullying victim and the perpetrators got it in for him. The irony of the story is, that not all that long ago, it was this young boy, in particular, who had it in for all his classmates. Sometimes the table turns and it is not always foreseeable in which direction it will turn.

Ultimately, this situation was reversible. I was able to show this young person his own behaviour and secondly I could teach him, not to let others intimidate him. This, of course, takes some courage and self-confidence but at least in this case it helped. Other instances might not be solved that easily.

In any case, it is within the youth worker’s responsibility to make it unmistakably clear to the young people, that there is a zero- tolerance, bullying is not accepted. Here and not anywhere else. The aim is that every person within our youth groups is treated equally and justly and above all is respected for the person he is. Bullying is anti-social behaviour. That is quite opposite to our vision in youth groups: learning and practicing social behaviour. In this context, it just does not matter if the person concerned is sporty or not, pretty or ugly, tall or small, fat or skinny and whether he receives A grades at school.

If dealing with the bullies, it might be helpful to point out to them, that their behaviour is antisocial and, therefore, unacceptable. Perhaps he is "hiding his own weakness, uncertainty and fears". The youth worker can tell the young person that he is very much liked as a person, yet, his behaviour is unacceptable.

[ © | 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work ] - 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work
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