From Playgrounds to Smartphones: The Link Between Self-Esteem and Bullying Prevention


For National Bullying Prevention Month, we examine the link between a child or teen’s self worth and bullying. Can building up a child’s self-esteem help that child avoid being bullied?

From Playgrounds to Smartphones

There are two forms of bullying taking place today. Along with physical threats, there are also psychological ones. Society’s modern technology and connectivity makes it easier for both forms to thrive, and the damaging consequences more far-reaching. Bullies can use the cyberspace to rally a group of peers to physically go after a child, or launch an unrelenting psychological attack that can last for months or years.

Children and teens who have become victims of bullying can’t just change schools or move away. Thanks to the Internet and social media, they get to follow their victims wherever they go. Often these bullies can even rally an online fan base of strangers to attack their chosen victim. The consequences can be severe, although the behavior of online bullies is often dismissed.

“Unkindness is dismissed as banter, and because they cannot see the effects of their words, they do not believe there is one,” writes Lucy Alexander. Alexander is the mother of 17-year-old Felix, who took his own life after being bullied over a video game. She hopes her open letter, published this month, prevents other families from suffering the same fate.

smartphone bullying

Self Esteem and Bullying

“Bullying has a devastating effect on the self-esteem of children and teens,” says noted child and teen psychologist and author, Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. “The ‘sound bites’ and ‘video bites’ that victims of bullying replay in their heads can leave an indelible impact on them all the way into and through adulthood,” he says. In other words, bullying is not just a temporary problem that children will outgrow. It can have lifelong consequences.

“Core negative self perceptions that children and teens internalize from teasing and bullying can include, for example, ‘I’m just not good enough, ‘I’m just here but nobody really sees me or values me,’ ‘I’m ugly,’ ‘I’m stupid,’ or ‘I’ll never fit in.’”

Imagine if you had to listen to those words every day. Now imagine that those words were coming not just from other people, but were also the beliefs that you tell yourself over and over again? According to Dr. Bernstein, these are the messages that victims of bullying have to live with.

child with self esteem

The Link Among Bullying, Self-Esteem and Childhood Poverty

To make bullying prevention a reality, we need to stop the negative internal messages victims of bullying are likely to tell themselves, such as “I’m not good enough.” Unfortunately, these are also the messages that many children living in poverty believe, too. While children and teens living in poverty are already at risk of low self-esteem due to their circumstances, one of the cruel realities is that being a victim of childhood poverty statistically makes a child more likely to be a victim of bullying, both within their own communities and outside of them. *

Bullying Prevention

“The best antidote for children to fight back against bullying is for them to internalize this three word phrase: ‘Know My Value,’” Dr. Bernstein says. “It is important for parents, teachers and peers, to try whenever possible, to help children and teens, especially victimized ones, to know their own value. It’s also important for children to be able to develop grit and resistance to bullying, by learning to find their value through more accepting peers.”

This is why it is critical for everyone to be part of the solution of fostering self-esteem and a positive self-image. When you build up a child or teen’s self esteem, you give them the armor they need to resist bullying. We all have the power to make a difference, if we are willing.


*Socioeconomic Status Contributes to Bullying Risk

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is the author of 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child.

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