Take action when adults bully young people

When authority figures bully young people, caring adults have a responsibility to take the situations seriously and intervene carefully.

While countless news stories have highlighted issues of youth-on-youth bullying, far less coverage has focused on adults who bully young people. A recent example of adult-on-youth bullying that received significant news coverage involved a 10-year-old New Jersey boy whose father resorted to sending his son to school with a hidden tape recorder to document the ongoing verbal abuse he had been experiencing from his teacher and the teacher’s aide.

There has been much less focus on adult-on-youth bullying within scholarly research, but conversations with kids may provide adults with “data” about this issue. Many young people readily share examples of adult bullying, as well as their concerns about how adult power plays into these situations. While the vast majority of adults who work with youth in schools and other youth settings are caring, committed and conscientious about their work, adults who bully kids can pose significant risks for their victims. When young people or other adults confront adult bullies such as teachers, coaches or youth leaders, the results can involve more humiliation, being given unfairly low grades, loss of playing time or less involvement in special activities.

Adults who care about young people first and foremost have a responsibility to step up and work to end these kinds of harmful behaviors. Several strategies can be helpful when young people disclose that adult bullying is taking place:

Recognizing that kids aren’t the only people who carry out bullying behaviors – that adults also have a responsibility to examine their own behaviors and what they’re modeling – is an important aspect in creating safe, affirming and fair environments for kids. Visit the article "Adults who bully vs. adults who care: Adult behaviors are powerful modeling tools" to learn more about critiquing your own behaviors. Also consider ways you can help young people build and practice positive skills for confronting hurtful adults by visiting the article titled “Help young people build skills for confronting bullies of any age."