It can be difficult for teens to open-up to their teachers, especially about bullying. But parents are in a prime position to help. Here are some ideas of how you can help your teen get the conversation started with their school.
Young people worry teachers won’t handle it well
It’s no real secret that young people can find it hard to open up to their teachers.
Although most schools put things in place to make it easier for teens to open up, there might still be some stumbling blocks, like:
Training: Teachers have a lot of balls to juggle, and not all staff will feel comfortable tackling issues like bullying. Schools generally have bullying programs and policies, and run training sessions for staff on anti-bullying. But sometimes staff miss out on this or it’s just not their forte.
Personality: Not everybody hits it off, and that’s no different for students and teachers. If a student doesn’t click with a particular teacher, it can make it really hard to open up, and they might worry that their teacher won’t understand how they feel.
Peers: For most young people, there’s nothing worse than ‘dobbing’ on other students. Students might worry that their friends will find out they’ve talked a teacher, and things will just keep getting worse. Schools are small, close-knit communities, and news travels fast!
‘If not a teacher, then who?’
Talking to a teacher might seem like a teen’s worse nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be.
There are ways to get the school involved that don’t involve a social disaster. It’s also important someone at the school knows what’s going on—it will help your teen to trust the school and come up with a solution that will work better in the long run.
It doesn’t mean your teen should go around opening up to just anyone. It’s important for them to choose a teacher or staff member that they can trust. School counsellors, year advisors or senior staff are probably the most obvious choices. But if your young person feels most comfortable with their PE or woodwork teacher, then go with them first. The most important thing is that a young person feels like they can trust this teacher to help steer them in the right direction.
How can you support your young person?
Young people only need one bad experience, and it can make them afraid to ask for help again. You are the most important adult in your teen’s life, and with your support, they can work through any issues:
- You don’t need to be an expert – ask your teen what they think the best approach might be or who they feel comfortable with
- Research anti-bullying strategies together and use it as an opportunity to plan. The ReachOut Parents bullying resources are a great place to start
- It might sound a little funny, but limiting eye contact can actually make those awkward moments a bit easier. Driving in the car or washing the dishes can actually be great opportunities for a more serious chat.
- Make a solid plan with your teen over when they will approach a teacher – after class, book a time during lunch? Discuss whether they want you to be there the first time they talk to the teacher, or would they prefer to do it alone?
- Ask them to think about time when a teacher was really helpful at school. What worked well? What did they find useful, or not?
- If they’re worried about their peers finding out, it’s a good idea to suggest your teen talk to their teacher at a time they know is private, like after class. They should also let the teacher know that they’re worried and ask the teacher to keep things private.
- Chat to your teenager about other adults in their life that they trust. Maybe they would prefer to talk to them about it before approaching the school.
- Encourage your young person to come up with their ideal scenario for dealing with the bullying. It may not be possible, or they may not be sure what it is, but it’s a good way to start a conversation with the school.
It can be confusing for parents and young people to know how to approach their school about a bullying issue. There are lots of different things to try, but the most important thing is that your teens know that they can trust you, and that’s you’ll be there to support them, no matter what’s going on at school.
ABOUT THE EXPERT
Annie Wylie is the Content Manager at ReachOut Parents. She has 5+ years’ experience across the media and not-for- profit sectors, using her passion and expertise for achieving better outcomes for vulnerable communities to produce stories, resources and events that matter.