When teens talk about bullying in their schools, a lot of what they say may come as a surprise to adults. Understanding the bullying problem through their eyes can help us to deal with it more effectively.

Teens say they actually want more monitoring & supervision
Adolescents may want adults to butt out of their lives in general, but that also doesn’t mean they desire anarchy. Youth still want and need stability in their environment. After interviewing teens from multiple schools about bullying, Garbarino & deLara write that “A major and unexpected finding is that teenagers are actually requesting more supervision and intervention than they currently have at school. Schools need to accept the fact that adolescents do need more attention, caring, supervision, and mentoring than is popularly believed to be the case. …It may seem strange to think that teens are interested in this much intervention and monitoring by adults. When asked ‘Do you think that you would really want this kind of supervision?’ kids generally responded, ‘At first we would have to seem like we resented it, but then we would get used to it. We really need it.’” (Garbarino & deLara, 2002, pp. 19, 186; emphasis theirs)

Teens think that adults don’t appreciate the challenges they face
Over and over again adolescents say that teachers think their lives are easy and don’t understand or appreciate the stresses and challenges they face. They cite instances of teachers snidely remarking about how they have no bills to pay and have it super easy compared to adults. This is not an accurate assessment. Youth face different challenges than adults, but these stressors can be every bit as severe as what adults face. Teachers need to appreciate and respect that the kids in their classroom do face a number of challenges throughout their day (both at school and at home) and that these stressors can seem overwhelming at times.

Teachers are clueless about what’s going on at school
Over and over again, teens will say that teachers and school staff are completely unaware of most of what goes on in their school, and that some bullying takes place right underneath their noses while they remain blissfully unaware.

Many teens think that adults just don’t care
A large number of students have “perceptions that the adults in the building don’t really care about them all that much anyway.” (ibid, p.132) Teachers may not agree with this assessment, but there’s no denying our schools are becoming more impersonal by the day. This often translates into student beliefs that adults really don’t care – or worse, that they actually hold animosity towards their young charges. If teachers really do care, they need to find ways of expressing this above and beyond simply showing up to work, because kids obviously aren’t getting the message.

Teens seek guidance, they just don’t want to be bossed around
Many teens say that rather than receiving assistance in their conflicts, teachers and other adults seem reluctant to get involved and tell students that they are old enough to work it out on their own. As one teen girl states: “So many of the teachers don’t really want to get involved, because they think it’s our job to handle everything.” (ibid, p. 131) There are too few adults who are willing to give teens the kind of help they need. They do want more independence and do want to handle problems on their own, but they also don’t feel comfortable being abandoned to their own devices, either. They go from being babied as children to being abandoned as adolescents, with no stage in-between where adults are readily available with independent support or guidance.

Other kids say about bullying:

  • 40% of teens say they can’t count on the adults around them to stop someone from hurting them at a school. (ibid, p. 188)
  • Many teens believe that teachers and other adults are prejudiced against certain students based on their clothing style or overall appearance.
  • Many youth say they feel that when they bring problems to the attention of school staff, they are ignored or not taken seriously. The majority of kids who had said something to an authority figure lamented that there was never any follow up to their complaint, so they felt as though nothing had happened.
  • Trust goes both directions, and teens analyze the trustworthiness of an adult before talking to them about a problem. They need to trust that the adult will take their concern seriously, that they won’t be patronized or brushed aside, and that the adult will not betray their anonymity or otherwise get them in trouble while handling the situation in a delicate manner. Adults are often concerned that teens will hide information they have about bullying or threats to safety, but the bigger issue is that teens are reluctant to share because they don’t trust adults to feel safe enough in doing so.
  • Youth repeatedly expressed the opinion that teachers need to walk the hallways between classes to curb problems and so they know what’s going on. Adolescents say most teachers “hide in their classrooms” between period’s and rarely step outside.
  • They say adults will only intervene if it’s a physical fight or “draws blood” but otherwise try to stay out of student conflicts. Teens say that they wish adults would be more attentive to the little matters that are a big part of bullying

We end this section with a bit of advice by bullying researchers Garbarino and deLara: “Insist on adequate supervision as kids define it. This means parents and school administrators need to get in the habit of asking kids what they need to feel safe. We have seen over and over that students’ and adults’ definitions of safe and supervised can be vastly different.” (ibid, p. 163) We included this information so you understand some of the universal themes that run through what teens are thinking and feeling about their schools. Now get out there and ask your own students or your own kids. You may be surprised at what they have to say.