By Jane Balvanz, MSE, RPT, MOM

Being a teenager is a tough job what with all that figuring out of stuff. You know the “stuff.” It’s the angst of becoming. Who am I? Why am I? Who am I compared to her or him? Am I OK? Am I liked? How should I act? Where am I going? Could I, would I, should I, and what if I did?

When a teen is bullied while walking this emotional high wire between childhood and adulthood, the legions of uncertainty rise. Did I cause this? Maybe they didn’t intend to be mean. There must be something wrong with me if I’m treated this way. How can I change? What do they want me to be? How can I change myself to be what they want me to be? What should I do?

And we adults tell them what to do. Report. Report bullying. Report to your teacher. Report to the school counselor. Report to the principal.

They’re not comfortable with this, of course. What was so easily done in second grade becomes an event more dreaded than having a tooth extracted without Novocain. Why? Because the aggressors will have to be talked to. Because it’s embarrassing to show (perceived) weakness of being unable to solve this yourself. Because the bullying will probably get worse. And maybe because no one will believe you.

We fail our high school kids miserably, you know, when they are bullied. Perhaps your school is the exception. I believe in the exceptions. Your school’s leadership, the principal, may be in the minority who truly believes in taking the time to research bullying. She can:

  • start and complete a thorough investigation
  • interview targets while setting them at ease
  • suspend judgment and give due process to the alleged bullies
  • enforce appropriate consequences for founded reports
  • navigate through negative parent phone calls while keeping an eye on safety for the target
  • inform and delegate safety responsibilities to appropriate personnel
  • prepare and educate the target and bully regarding possible retaliation
  • follow up with the target and bully to ensure continued safety

That’s a tall order, and you can imagine how time-consuming it is. But they’re the necessary – absolutely vital – actions that must happen to provide a safe environment for students. And saying there’s no time for this is inexcusable. Forget academics for the moment. The Target can’t concentrate on them anyway.

If you have a principal who doesn’t fail kids when they’re bullied, send her flowers or put a box of candies on his desk. (Actually, principals are blown away by free gifts such as “thank you” and “good job!”) Or you could hand your principal this article and say, “I’m so appreciative that you don’t do anything on this Top 10 list.”

10 Things NEVER to Say to a Target of Bullying

10. That’s just the way girls/boys are at this age.

You may be right, but that doesn’t make bullying right at any age.

9. What did you do to her?

Buzz! Wrong question! You’ll find out more in the investigation. Stop blaming the Target.

8. Why did you wait so long to report this?

There could be many reasons – one being that it takes courage to approach a principal. Unless the event happened years ago or there’s a statute of limitations on reporting, listen to the Target instead of asking questions that make her feel she is reporting incorrectly. Kids put up with a lot of abuse before reporting it.

7. What do you want me to do about it?

No, no, no! The Target came to you for help. You’re supposed to know what to do.

6. I can’t believe ___________ would do something like that!

It can be hard to believe some of our students would bully and easy to believe others are capable. But you make no remarks of the sort either way. It’s just not professional!

5. You know, _____________ could be kicked off the team for this.

Oh, don’t even go there! That’s no concern to the Target, and it might make him feel worse about reporting.

4. No one else has complained about something like this before.

A comment like this is not going to inspire anyone’s confidence in you. How should the Target interpret it? (Hmmm. Since no one has reported this before, maybe I’m wrong for reporting it.)

3. You’ve got to develop a thicker skin.

Really? Why? So the Target can learn to ignore or feel bad about her feelings? Emotions are indicators that give us information to attend to.

2. Bullying is physical or maybe includes some nasty name-calling.

It’s emotional, too, and research informs us that it does greater damage than the physical sort. BTW, there are at least 16 forms of emotional bullying.

1. You’re going to have to get used to this if you want to live in the “real” world.

The real world? What could be more real than high school? So, with this logic, school is a platform where you learn to accept bullying? It’s a place to experience it, so you don’t get so freaked out when it happens in adulthood? Mmmm




© 2012 A Way Through, LLC


You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Bullying strategists Jane Balvanz and Blair Wagner publish GAPRA’s bi-weekly articles. If you’re ready to guide children in grades K – 12 through painful friendships and emotional bullying:

For help with emotional bullying:

For the When Girls Hurt Girls® program: