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Your Teen is a Bully, Now What?

For some parents, their first indication that their teenager is struggling is finding out that their teen is bullying others. Troubled teens, particularly teenage boys, can become aggressive when they experience difficulties of any sort.

While the idea that bullying among children and teens is a normal part of growing up, it can have highly damaging consequences for the target and the bully. Parents need to address their bullying teenager’s behavior before things get worse, and it starts with determining when their teen turned to bullying others.

What Made Your Teen Turn Bully

Being a bully is not an innate trait. It is often something learned, and in many cases, the bully is acting out their own internal trauma. Some of the most common reasons why teens turn to bully others are:

  1. Low-self esteem

  2. Trauma

  3. Poor emotional management

  4. Isolation

  5. Peer pressure

  6. Attention-seeking

  7. Being bullied

Look For These Types Of Bullying Behaviors

Bullying is a catch-all term for a variety of poor behaviors. There are four different main types of bullying behaviors, and many teen bullies engage in one or more of these behaviors.

Physical Bullying

One of the easiest types of bullying to spot on both the target and the bully is physical bullying. With teens who are engaged in physically bullying someone, there are often signs on their hands and clothes. You can check for bruised or skinned knuckles, as that is the most likely area for a bully to show that they have been hitting someone.

As for the clothes, many bullying victims will fight back. This resistance can leave your teen with dirty and torn clothes that they can’t explain. By investigating, you can discover if your teen was the instigator or the target.


A growing bullying issue is social media cyberbullying. Now, instead of just sending bullying emails and other less publicized forms of cyberbullying, teens are experiencing embarrassingly visible bullying on social media. Highly personalized social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat are where 31% to 32% of teens experience cyberbullying.

If your teen is bullying others on social media, they will often spend a lot of time on their phone, guarding the screen so that you can’t see what they say. That is not terribly unusual for many teens. But, if you are listed as one of their social media friends, but you don’t see your teen post often, it is likely that your teen has separate accounts that they are using to bully others.

Verbal Bullying

It can be harder to detect verbal bullying. As the majority of the bullying likely takes place at school, you may not see how your teen is treating others. However, when an individual often resorts to insults, profanity, and harsh words toward others, that kind of speech conditioning doesn’t just shut off.

While your teen may speak circumspectly around you, see how they speak to their siblings and friends. If you notice a pattern of derogatory, degrading speech aim at others, your teen is likely engaging in worse verbal bullying outside of your earshot.

Social Bullying

When it comes to social bullying, a teen bully is as likely to turn on a friend as they would an outsider. Often, social bullies use the shunning and isolation of one of their friends as a way to control the relationship. Targeted friends are taught not to cross the will of the social bully, and like other types of abusive relationships, bullied friends work harder at making the bully happy.

It is harder to determine if your teen is socially bullying someone outside of their friend group. However, you can watch for changes in your teen’s friend group. If there is regular shifting—i.e., “So-and-so is my best friend now,” or “Ugh, I’m not talking to them right now”—you may have a social bully on your hands.

Ways To Address Bullying With Your Teen

Not all is lost if you do find out that your teen is bullying others. While it is upsetting, particularly if you were bullied when you were young, there are ways you can address your bullying teen.

Ask why your teen is bullying others – You may not initially get much of an answer when you ask your teen why they are bullying others. However, it is essential that you discuss with your teen their motivations behind their actions. In many cases, it has little to do with the victim and a lot to do with how the bully is feeling.

Talk about the potential consequences of bullying – Some teens who bully others do it in ignorance of the real consequences and just go along with their peers’ bullying actions. Your teen may believe that they aren’t doing anything that is actually harmful. But bullying victims can suffer from depression, anxiety, mental breakdowns, suicidal ideation, and in some cases, some have taken their own lives to escape the bullying.

By making your teen aware of the potential consequences their actions can have on others can go a long way to help your teen end their bullying ways.

Lay down rules and discipline – It is likely that you will need to put down some clear rules regarding bullying behavior and the disciplinary consequences. With the knowledge of the consequences of their actions, your teen may hesitate to join in with bullying someone.

Also, with the rules and discipline defined, you can prevent coming off as a bully, an accusation that many bullying teens throw at their parents.

Consider therapy – As we mentioned earlier, teen bullies are often suffering from their own trauma and taking it out on others. These teens can benefit from working with a therapist who specializes in working with aggressive teens. Your teen’s therapist may be able to help your teen confront their issues and work through them in positive ways.

Have your teen attend residential treatment – If your teen is particularly resistant to changing their ways and is engaging in other destructive behaviors, then a residential treatment center for troubled teens may be what they need. In a highly therapeutic atmosphere, your teen can work to make permanent changes while they attend classes and work with professionals who specialize in helping troubled teens.

If you would like more information concerning our residential treatment center for troubled teenage boys, please contact us. One of our program advisors will be able to answer your questions and help you determine if our treatment program is a good fit for your son’s needs.

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