In this post for our 'Teen Talk' column—articles written by teens to help parents understand what's really happening in their world—a teenager shares what she learned from a personal experience with bullying in high school and how parents can support teens through their own situations.

By Ryan Walker
November 20, 2019
Illustration by Yeji Kim

As a junior in high school, I never thought it would happen to me. I was a varsity cheerleader, vice president of multiple clubs, and a prominent face in the student body thanks to being on the yearbook staff. I always thought of myself as someone who was friendly and fair while always trying my best to be compassionate to those around me.

While talking to a teammate during lunch one day, I realized that there was a team group chat that I, along with a few others, was not a part of. I didn't think much of it because I wasn't the only one being excluded, yet things changed when my teammate came to me a week or so later. She told me that there had been messages and videos sent about me in this chat, and she had her friend record them so I could see them without everyone finding out. I was shocked to press play on a video only to see myself walking through the cafeteria with the caption, "Ew! Why is she here and taking up my oxygen?"

At first, I didn't even think I was being bullied. I knew I could be somewhat of an acquired taste at times and I brushed this off as girls being "catty" as we often are. The videos shown to me gradually got worse, though, and started to impact me. I felt isolated and unwelcome while I constantly questioned if others around me shared the opinions of this one group. I put on a brave face around school and tried to not let my anxiety show, but I would end my nights secretly in tears over the harsh things that were said. Only after confiding in my parents did I understand and label this as bullying.

After being given their support, I went to my vice principal to help resolve the issue. Being there felt like I was tattling or causing a bigger issue than what actually existed, but with his help, my situation greatly improved. He discreetly talked to each girl involved and told them that if their actions continued, it would be grounds for suspension. He also told them that if anything was said to me or talked about to others, that it would result in the same way. From that point on, the situation died down, and I went to school feeling protected. His intervention allowed me to finish the year better than it had started.

From my own experience and other observations, I've come to realize a few things that I want parents to know about teen bullying that can help them understand and support their own teens.

There Is No Stereotype for Bullying

Anyone can be susceptible to bullying because it varies from situation to situation. There is no one type of kid that gets bullied despite what may be generally portrayed in movies and on TV. I came to understand it's not always a "nerdy," "antisocial," or "scrawny" kid that gets targeted. Similarly, there is no stereotype for a bully and many people can become one without anyone else even noticing.

Bullying in Real Life Is Not Like the Movies

Very rarely is there someone slamming down books, shoving heads in toilets, or starting fistfights after class. Most kids today are bullied through more silent methods such as exclusion or being talked about behind their backs. Cyberbullying also tends to be more prominent today as it is more accessible thanks to group chats, apps that allow text or pictures to disappear, comments, and screenshots.

What to Do If Your Teen Is Being Bullied

Discuss accountability for their actions online.

The rise of cyberbullying shouldn't lead to you ban your teen's social media use, but there is definitely the need for you to have a conversation about it. Youth of all ages need to fully understand how what they are typing and posting can hurt the feeling of others. They also have to understand that almost nothing on the internet is truly private, and whatever you post doesn't ever fully disappear, even if an app makes it seem like it does. Just because you intend for one person to see it, doesn't mean it won't reach the eyes of others.

Help teens talk about it with friends.

To break the cycle of bullying, it takes one person to step up and speak out. We are always taught about the bystander effect and how saying nothing can be just as bad as doing the action itself. Instead of standing by and hoping the problem will be fixed by someone else, teach your teen to stand up for their friends whether it be by telling a trusted adult, making someone feel included, or by not condoning the actions taking place.

Let them know that it's okay to ask for help.

If your teen is being bullied, make sure they know that they can talk to you, a trusted friend or another adult to find a solution. Asking for help doesn't make you a tattletale or coward, but rather it signifies that the issue is beyond your capabilities to handle and resolve. Always stand up for yourself, but don't be afraid to have others stand up for you as well. Voices are always louder in unison than they ever are apart.

Ryan Walker is an 18-year-old military child. She is currently in her first year at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study where she is concentrating in photography and social justice.

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