Can a teen bully change?
Yes, of this I have no doubt.
But how do we know if the bully has changed? How do we know if the words, “I’ve changed,” really hold meaning? When is a stupid teen no longer a stupid teen?
In all the research I have done, through all the interviews I have conducted with former bullies and their victims, I have learned a pretty reliable way to discern who has changed.
It is a simple assessment of accountability and restoration.
If the former bully takes true ownership of the behavior, if he deserves our wholehearted support in letting go of that part of himself, we will know, because he will say, "Yes, I did that.”
He will say, “I was a stupid kid. And I am ashamed to say that I did that terrible thing. I didn’t think it was so terrible at the time. I thought it was okay, but I learned that it was not. I caused others real pain by treating them as if they mattered less than I do, and I am sorry. Not only am I sorry, but I plan to make amends. I want to ask how I can make it better. ”
If the former bully acknowledges what he has done and tries to restore the harm caused by his or her actions, chances are strong that the teen bully no longer exists.
But if the former teen bully says he has changed but does not demonstrate true regret for his actions, and if he does not express genuine empathy for his specific victims, then chances are he is now a grown-up bully.