Question: I suspect that my child is being bullied at school, but she swears nothing is going on. What can I do?
Answer: You're right that many kids keep bullying victimization a secret. In fact, it's estimated that about one-third of bullying victims fail to tell any adults. Even more concerning, children who are bullied the most frequently are the least likely to report the abuse.
Being Bullied - What to Do
The best thing you can do when you suspect your child is being bullied is what you're already doing: keep the lines of communication open with your child. Researchers find that when children do report that they've been bullied, they tell parents more often than they tell teachers.
You may also find it helpful to become aware of the signs of bullying and the characteristics of both bullies and victims. Also know that there are many types of bullying, and some are quite subtle, especially among girls, so your tween might not even realize that it would be called "bullying". Also note that many children even celebrities face being bullied in the tween years. You might be able to gently use all of this information to encourage your child to speak up.
Hopefully if your child is experiencing bullying, she will eventually open up. Speaking up about victimization has many positive effects for children who are being bullied. For one, the bully may be confronted, in which case the behavior may stop. Secondly, children who withhold victimization may experience more health problems than those who are not keeping such a secret. Third, when a child is expending a lot of energy to keeping their victimization a secret, he or she is particularly at risk of developing stress-related issues, including anxiety and depression.
In the end, though, it will be your child's decision whether or not to report any ongoing bullying. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why she may be keeping her victimization a secret. That said, though, your ongoing support may be offsetting some of the effects of bullying, even if she chooses not to speak up.
Mishna, Faye, and Alaggia, Ramona. Weighing the risks: A child's decision to disclose peer victimization. 2005. Children & Schools. 27,4: 217-226.