Bullying can make someone feel unsafe and unworthy. A teen who is being bullied exhibits different signs and symptoms as a result of their experience. The effects of bullying will differ from person to person, however, there are some common signs that you can look out for. The following signs might indicate that a person is being bullied.
Behavioural and emotional signs
- Feeling sick – They often complain about feeling physically sick, having frequent headaches or other physical illnesses. Sometimes they may even fake an illness to avoid uncomfortable situations where the bully may be present.
- Sleeping problems – Many teens who are being bullied suffer from sleeping problems. Poor sleep is a common symptom of trauma and stress. Teens who are being bullied may also experience nightmares about what is happening to them.
- Changed eating habits – Teens who are being bullied may also experience changes with eating and appetite. They might eat more or less as a result of the stress, or they may eat at different times to avoid being picked on. Meal skipping and binge eating are important red flags.
- Low self-esteem, anxiety, and low mood – It is well known that bullying is associated with low self-esteem. Bully victims of all ages usually have low self-esteem. They tend to question themselves and see themselves in a negative light. This can lead to anxiety, low mood and feelings of hopelessness.
- Mood swings – Teens are already going through a turbulent time with puberty. If you add bullying on top of this, mood states can fluctuate even more. Watch out for rapid changes in mood, such as when someone seems to go from calm to highly distressed in an instant.
- Becomes unreasonable and aggressive – Teens who are being bullied will often keep the bullying a secret. As such, they may say or do things that don’t seem fair or logical, but which would make sense if people knew what was happening behind the scenes.
- Refuses to open up – Bully victims are often scared to open up. They may have been threatened by the bully not to tell anyone about what is happening and might therefore fear retaliation.
- Self-harming behaviour – Being bullied can be a form of trauma, which can feel inescapable and overwhelming at times. As such, bully victims may resort to self harm, talking about suicide, or running away from home as a way to cope.
- Refuses to go to school – The victim of bullying may refuse to go to school in an attempt to avoid the bully. They may make up excuses as to why they don’t want to go to school (e.g., feeling unwell).
- Changing the normal school routine – In an attempt to avoid more bullying, victims might change their routine to get to and from school. For example, if they usually take the bus, they might take a different route or start walking to school instead.
- Do poorly in school – Due to the stress of bullying, victims may stop engaging in academic work and group activities. They may skip classes and their school grades might fall as a result. Teens who were previously keen on school may appear to lose interest in their work.
- Unexplainable injuries – Teens might have unexplainable injuries on them, such as bruises, sore spots, black eyes, cuts, or scratches.
- Lost or damaged belongings – Teens who get bullied often come home with lost or damaged belongings. For example, they might have torn clothes, missing pieces of books, damaged books, or even lost belongings such as diaries, phones, etc.
- Comes home from school being hungry – This might indicate that bullies are taking food from the victim. It might also mean that bullies are taunting and teasing so much during break times, that the victim is unable to eat.
Other possible signs
- No friends or few friends – Victims might have no or only a few friends. Most of the time, they are being excluded from groups and group activities. They often stay alone or spend time with one or two close friends.
- Insecure or scared – Most of the time, teens who get bullied by others have many visible insecurities. They may appear anxious and withdrawn, avoid speaking up in class, and stay quiet during group activities.
- A frequent target for mimicking and teasing – If you notice outward signs of bullying, it is likely there is more going on behind the scenes. Teens who are mimicked or teased in front of others may be experiencing more severe forms of bullying when others are not around.
- Blamed for something that isn’t their fault – Teens who are targets for blame might also be targets for bullying. They might have some insecurities that make them more vulnerable to this type of treatment.
Noticeably different – Sadly, teens who have a disability and those who are from a different culture, race or religion are at a higher risk of being bullied than other teens.