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Do I Need to Talk to My High-School Son About Bullying?

Bullying continues from preschool through adulthood.

Key points

  • Discussions of bullying usually focus on younger students, but it is important to continue the discussion with our high-school-age sons.
  • As we try to address toxic masculinity, we need to set our sons up to be leaders who do not abuse their own power.
  • Talk about bullying typically focuses on bullies and victims, neglecting the influence an audience member can play.

The discussion surrounding bullying and prevention typically focuses on middle-school students and early adolescents. Intervention programs target younger grades, such as fourth through eighth grades, in order to curb bullying in schools. In fact, in Olweus’s report on bullying (2019), incidents of being bullied decreased throughout high school. As parents, we tend to direct our bullying discussions at home to our elementary- and middle-school students. None of us want our sons to become bullies, and starting earlier, by talking and raising awareness, can help prevent later problems. However, given the prevalence of bullying and other forms of harassment into adulthood, it is important to continue our discussion of bullying with our high-school sons. As our teenage sons move toward independence and life on their own, here are five reasons it is important to continue to talk about bullying:

 Keira Burton/Pexels
Source: Keira Burton/Pexels

1. Talking About Anything at Any Time Is Always a Good Thing

Regardless of the subject matter, it is key to keep lines of communication open between parents and our teenage sons. Finding subjects to connect you with your son may include uncomfortable topics such as bullying, but this communication can help your son understand how to handle potential conflicts or uncomfortable situations in the future.

2. Conversations About Bullying Include General Conversations About Power Dynamics

In today’s world, as we try to address toxic masculinity, we need to set our sons up to be leaders who do not abuse their own power. Bullying, by definition, includes aggressive acts and a power imbalance between the individuals involved (Olweus, 2019). We can use conversations about bullying as starting points for discussions of power. Our sons will enter the workforce and have the opportunity, no matter their professional field, to demonstrate appropriate use of power. If we can start conversations early and continue them often, hopefully they will stick and impact adult behavior in a positive way.

3. Remember That Bullying Involves More Than One Person

Most bullying behavior involves a bully, a victim, and often an audience (one or more people who witness what is happening). Talk about bullying typically focuses on bullies and victims, neglecting the influence an audience member can play. While bullying behavior may decrease in high school, our teenage sons can look for ways to intervene as audience members to decrease negative effects of bullying. We can talk with them about what they see and possibilities for altering a bullying interaction, even if they are not the direct target.

4. Your Teenage Son Still Looks to You for Guidance

No, he probably will not say it out loud, but you, as a parent, remain a key influence in your son’s life. Yes, he tends to be more impacted by peers, but as parents, we have an opportunity to shape the adults our teenage sons will become. We want to let our sons grow up, learn lessons, and become thriving members of society. But we also need to talk about hard topics with them and encourage understanding. Being the adult example can help guide your son to make his own decisions when he is out on his own. Telling him what to do may not carry over into action, but having discussions that foster thought and action can set him up to internalize parental wisdom.

5. Bullying Still Happens, at Any Age

Although bullying behavior tends to decrease during high school, it still occurs and even continues into adulthood, with reports of bullying in organizations and the workplace. While we can, as parents, ignore it and hope our sons can deal with it, it is best to face reality, acknowledge bullying exists, and discuss the possibility with our sons. Furthering the discussion about bullying from early elementary age through high school will prepare our sons for the fact that bullying can continue to happen into adulthood, and they must be prepared to face it and address it.


Luxenburg, H., Linberg, S., & Olweus, D. (2019). Bullying in U.S. Schools, 2019 Status Report .