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Q. My teenage son comes home with stories from school – often included as an aside while he is talking about something else – that sound to me like bullying. For example, he will say that one boy’s yarmulke was grabbed and not given back; another boy was mocked in front of everyone in the gym for his laugh. When I express my dismay, he insists that it’s normal boys’ behavior and that it’s funny and no big deal. He says the same thing when I observe similar behavior among his friends when they hang out at our house. How do I differentiate between bullying and normal behavior? If it is bullying, how do I handle it? Is it okay for me to involve the school? 

A. Bullying. That word alone brings up a lot of tense feelings. First, I want to provide emotional support to the parents. It is normal to have lots of feelings and concerns regarding your child’s safety and well being. It is normal to feel a sense of helplessness or anxiety about your child’s safety. Let us recognize that this is a stressful situation for the parents. I feel for you.

Let’s understand what it means to be bullied. According to stopbulling.gov, bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. 

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

An imbalance of power: Kids who bully use their power – such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity – to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.

Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.


This definition should help you figure out if your child is being bullied. Other signs to look out for may include fear or anxiety about going to school, having very few friends, not sleeping well, complaining of headaches or other physical ailments, becoming aggressive at home, or having angry outbursts. 

The most important thing is to always, like in all areas, keep the lines of communication open with your kids. Talk to them about what they think is good or bad behavior in school. Discuss these topics in an open and non-judgmental way so they will feel comfortable telling you about it. Listen to them calmly and focus on making them feel heard. Help them to understand that they are not at fault and that they have amazing qualities that make them great!


If you feel your child is being bullied, it is important to talk to the teacher and/or school. I cannot stress this enough. Your child should feel supported in what they are dealing with (regardless if they are in the loop with what you are doing). The school should have a policy on how to deal with bullying behavior and can help the situation. 

So, what if it’s not bullying? Let’s break down the difference between bullying and teasing. Teasing is a type of communication. It’s a social exchange. Teasing can be used to relate to one another. It can also be used to communicate negativity; for example, a group of girls might tease a girl about her fashion choices. Teasing can help kids learn what others are thinking or feeling. Not all teasing is bad. Sometimes teasing is harmless and can be playful and can even create a bond. When teasing is meant to humiliate and done over and over, it can become bullying.

You can talk with your kids about it. Ask questions like: Are the kids who tease you your friends? Do you mind when they tease you? Do you ever tease anyone? If you told them to stop would they?

Regardless of what your kids are dealing with, the most important thing that you can do for them is to build their self-confidence so they can deal with these kinds of situations. Remind them that if someone is being unkind they are probably going through their own difficulties and it has nothing to do with your child. 

As with anything, daven to Hashem and have siyaatta diShmaya that He should help your child (and you!) get through this difficulty and come out more resilient and stronger!



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