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Bullying Self-Harm

How Bullying Increases Risk for Self-Harm in Teens

We all learn from a pretty young age that bullying is bad. Yet, that doesn’t stop bullying from happening. While the reasons for bullying are aplenty, most bullies know that bullying can have consequences for the bullied person. However, they might not realize just how significant and long-lasting these consequences can be. There’s more to bullying than just hurting someone’s feelings for a quick rush – a bully can do severe and long-term damage to a person’s self-esteem and mental health, feed existing or create new insecurities, and encourage them to do horrible things to themselves out of self-loathing, ranging from self-harm to suicide.

Coincidentally, children are most likely to remember cases of bullying from when they were between the ages of 11 to 13, marking the early teen years as the most formative for these kinds of memories. In fact, current estimates say that about one in five children between the ages of 10 and 18 engage in self-harm. Regardless of whether you’re being bullied in person or through a screen, a person’s hurtful words and actions – even when it’s a stranger – can feel worse than a punch to the face. The feeling some people are left with after being bullied doesn’t go away nearly as quickly as a bruise does, either. Memories of bullying can persist for decades, and the damage they deal can accumulate and show itself later in life through depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and even suicidal ideation.

Why Bullying Is a Bigger Deal at a Younger Age

Children and teens are not equipped with the experience and coping knowledge that might come with age. Self-harm, while obviously self-destructive, is a dangerous coping mechanism in its own right. Pain can relieve and release stress, partially through the resulting release of endorphins and because of the catharsis of self-punishment. This also creates a dangerous feedback loop where someone will return to self-harming behavior when feeling bad as a way to feel better, only to realize what they’ve done, resulting in feelings of shame and embarrassment that can result in more harm.

Additionally, bullies breed bullies. Being a victim of bullying can, in turn, lead to victimization further down the social hierarchy, from middle siblings to younger siblings, classmates to younger schoolmates, or from senior coworkers to new hires. Sometimes, bullying becomes a learned behavior from home, a way of getting what you want, either because you’re used to seeing it being used by others or because you had a history of using it that way.

Bullying may also be brought about through feelings of envy, anger, perceived power imbalances, severe insecurities, or to gain something. Not all bullies are sociopaths, though some bully out of a sense of satisfaction or because they feel no remorse nor empathy for those they hurt. Does that mean we should stop worrying about bullying? Absolutely not. Just because something is widespread or even normalized does not mean it should not be challenged.

Bullying, the Internet, and Self-Harm

We’d be remiss to talk about bullying and not mention the elephant in any teenager’s room: the Internet. Cyberbullying is just as harmful as face-to-face bullying, if not more so due to its ubiquity, the heinousness of some of the messages and bullying that occurs online, and the sheer volume of it. Examples of cyberbullying include:

  • Forum mobbing
  • Cyberstalking
  • Doxing (revealing personal information about someone online, including their name and address)
  • Trolling
  • Swatting
  • Revenge porn
  • Impostor accounts
  • Harassment (private and public)
  • And more

A person being bullied through the internet may not just be targeted by their classmates, but by total strangers from throughout the school, community, city, country, and world. Furthermore, by hiding behind anonymity and a virtual distance, bullies receive little to no direct feedback from their victims through which they might feel remorse. They aren’t watching someone react in front of them when they send hateful messages or spread hurtful content online. Cyberbullying that is perceived as public (i.e., publicly posted rumors or callouts, posts that can be shared and seen by anyone, etc.) is perceived as much worse than private messages. Even with the ephemeral nature of the Internet – where the content appears and sinks amid an endless ocean – the emotional scarring never completely goes away.

Some Teens Face More Bullying

There are risk factors associated with bullying, aside from the aforementioned parenting styles. These include being a minority among your peers (skin color, country of origin, culture, nonbinary gender identity, sexual orientation, being over/underweight, disabilities, other special characteristics), trouble socializing with others, struggling with anxiety or depression, and being perceived as less popular than average. Bullying does and will continue to do emotional and physical harm to children and adults alike and can lead to dangerous physical and mental consequences such as self-harm. Victimization is particularly harsh among overweight children and children or teens who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community.

Furthermore, these children also possess a higher risk of developing problems with self-harm and self-esteem and signs of severe depression or anxiety disorders later in life. Whether you’re a friend, a victim, a bully, a parent, or all of the above at some point in time, we all owe it to ourselves and each other to practice and preach a little more empathy – and help children who are victims of bullying find ways to assert themselves, and practice ways to protect themselves from bullying through self-esteem boosting activities.

Parents with children who might be out of the ordinary in a way can help their kids prepare for bullying by helping them strengthen their sense of self, foster stronger self-esteem by encouraging their emotional growth, and helping them learn how to be positively assertive towards others. There is also a perceived link between parenting styles and a child’s likelihood of being bullied and being a bully, with children from authoritarian households (where rules are absolute, and children are punished for expressing themselves) being more likely to find themselves on either end of the spectrum.

Categories
Bullying

Text Bomb: What Parents Should Know About This Cyberbullying Sidekick

Roughly one in two American children has a smartphone at age 11, and that number skyrockets to 85-95 percent among older teens, of whom 45 percent say they spend time online “almost constantly”. It’s clear that kids and teens growing up today are far more entrenched in the digital world than their parents have ever been – and with that come a whole host of new and unique issues and avenues for interpersonal conflict and bullying.

While the rate at which children are bullied and bully each other has remained steady at about 20 percent, the nature of that bullying has shifted considerably in recent years towards far more online bullying or cyberbullying. Some experts have argued cyberbullying presents the potential for even more harm than face-to-face “traditional” bullying.

More than just a nasty message or a malicious comment, cyberbullying can take on the dangerous forms, including “doxxing” a child (making private information public) and “swatting”. The fact that many teens and youngsters often start cyberbullying others anonymously provides them with an emboldened feeling to say and do things they would never say or do in person.

Long before things escalate to such a degree, however, the myriad of ways in which teens bully one another through the Internet can leave long-lasting impressions and far-reaching repercussions, including self-harm and suicide. One common practice is the text bomb, which was much more prevalent during the days of teenage SMS and has since taken on different forms.

What Is a Text Bomb?

Text bombing can be defined as the practice of rendering a person’s phone unusable by way of mass texting hundreds and thousands of copies of the same message, often slowing down, or crashing their device. The contents of the text bomb don’t always matter but can include anything from a prank message to gibberish to encouraging suicide.

When sent via SMS, text bombing someone can incur major charges on their phone bill. When sent via instant messaging, the constant notification pop-ups can range from annoying to downright traumatizing (especially when the contents are tailored to target a teen’s insecurities or low self-esteem). Text bombing campaigns can end in an hour, or last for weeks.

They’re easy to launch and take very little effort – text bombing applications and websites are a dime a dozen, and whenever one dies, another two pop up to take its place. These applications utilize a dummy number that can’t be traced back to the real sender and send out anywhere from 50 to a few thousand messages over a given period of time with the sender’s intended message.

The other side of the coin features anti-spam and anti-text bomb applications which work to help prevent or block text bombing by:

    • Filtering incoming messages.
    • Blocking unknown senders.
    • Warning a user of a potential text bomb/spam campaign.

Why Would That Be Dangerous?

For those of us who grew up without any great attachment to our phones and the communicative possibilities of the modern-day smartphone, the idea of a text bomb presents itself as a minor inconvenience at best. But it’s an entirely different situation for a teen, especially one who has been bullied in the past, or is struggling with a series of insecurities. The answer to cyberbullying does not lie in just “getting up and walking away”.

Teens live in a day and age where their connection to the Internet is not just a luxury or a source of entertainment, but a considerable part of their social life and one of the few escapes they have from crippling isolation during a global pandemic. Many rely on their connectivity to do schoolwork, interact and communicate with friends, and continue their education. They cannot disconnect themselves from the web.

Furthermore, in cases where text bombing represents just a single facet of a larger bullying campaign, teens must grapple with not just the content of their tormenters’ messages, but with the impact those messages can have on their reputation. Despite the fact that information moves at the speed of light and we move past old stories almost as quickly, nothing is ever truly forgotten online, and the repercussions of being canceled or smeared can lead a teen to believe that their life has ended before it even had a chance to start.

Is Text Bombing Still Prevalent?

Thankfully, the trend of text bombing seems to have died down since it spiked heavily in 2011-2013, and again in 2018. Text bombing seemed to hit its stride around the same time that teenagers largely relied on text messaging (SMS) to communicate over any other form of communication, including talking face-to-face. Since the early 2010s, however, SMS messaging has slowly been on a decline while teens continue to communicate largely over:

    • WhatsApp
    • Messenger
    • Snapchat
    • Discord
    • Telegram

Nevertheless, many teens still rely on SMS to communicate with friends nearby, particularly in places where their mobile data plan doesn’t provide a reliable Internet connection. For iPhone users in particular, however, text bombing has seen the inclusion of a brand-new friend – the iMessage bug message, which has taken on a number of different forms, including the Telugu bug, the “effective power” message, and most recently, the iOS 13 text bomb.

These messages would typically freeze up or crash a user’s phone just by appearing in a notification or on any Apple-native text app, caused by the unique combination of characters from different scripts and select emojis. These bugs exploit a weakness in Apple’s instant messaging service, essentially overloading the phone’s memory and causing it to stop functioning properly or get stuck in a boot loop. Rebooting the phone to recovery is typically a reliable fix, but only works until the next time the message appears.

While Apple has been quick to fix these bugs, they’re sure to take on new forms in the future as developers and hobbyists continue to find issues with the app, or other apps. Similar text bombs have plagued Android users as well. Text bombs are just one form of cyberbullying, especially when the intent behind them isn’t to play a quick prank on a close friend, but to incessantly torment and emotionally torture another teen.

Categories
Adolescence Bullying Depression Mental Health

Depression and Bullying

Everyone goes through trying times, and it’s only natural for us to say we feel depressed because of money, relationship or family issues. The problem with depression comes when we’re feeling sad, isolated and hopeless all of the time. Depression is a mental health condition that we see if over 60% percent of our population, and it’s not simply adults that are affected by this but children and teens are the most affected by depression.

Symptoms of Depression:

  • Feeling disconnected
  • Social withdrawal
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Loss of concentration
  • Agitation
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of interest

At Visions Adolescent Treatment Center, we see teens in addiction recovery that deal with depression as part of their daily lives. Depression gets worse when these kids suffer from bullying in school, which can sometimes lead to suicide. These kids move through life in a fog of sadness every single day; addiction for them is the only way they know how to get out of that. Our job is to remove that fog from their lives and show them there are so many beautiful things that can keep them happy, healthy and willing to explore all the world has to offer.

Pushed to the Edge Because of Bullying

Bullying isn’t something new, but it’s become increasingly worse as time passes with the availability of things like technology. Technology has created a web of bullying tactics that make the impact worse because of embarrassing videos or photos that circulate to thousands and live online for years. The web, social media and news stories bring awareness to the issue of bullying as well. People don’t realize how pranks that may seem small affect people that already have issues with depression.

Schools are a battlefield when it comes to being the most popular kid, the best dressed, or the coolest. Add this to issues at home that no kid wants to talk about at school, such as abuse, death or loss of a loved one, conflict, and we get a lethal combination of issues that can push someone over the edge. Many people that suffer from depression don’t know that it’s a chemical imbalance that’s made significantly worse when external factors blend with their own personal feelings. Early diagnosis of depression can help with managing depression; the child that has access to a counselor and already working to manage their condition are less likely to look to self-harm.

Don’t Let Bullying Continue—Be Better

We ask that bullying is taken seriously and that if you see or become an accomplice regarding bullying, please stand up for that person and say something. You never know what someone is dealing with internally, and it is our job as human beings to stop someone from hurting others unnecessarily. Whether it is children picking on each other or anyone treating someone rudely, we must rise as one and fight against this treatment and behavior. We would all hope that our children have someone there to lend a helping hand and stand up for them.

What can you do if you experience bullying?

If you’re the victim in a bullying situation, it’s important that you talk to someone about it. Teachers, counselors, friends and family are a great place to start. There are also hotlines you can call and speak to a counselor in just a few seconds. At Visions Adolescent Treatment Center, we have staff ready to offer advice over the phone at any time. You’re not alone in this and being afraid isn’t the answer. Often people don’t realize the negative effects they have on others lives, but we should never feel that it is our fault that they treat us this way.

Suicide Isn’t the Answer

Again, you are not alone in this. Others are experiencing the same things at school or home. At the end of the day, you have options to look to in these situations. Suicide is permanent, and it helps no one; suicide effects more than just the person who elects to end their life. Your friends, family and anyone else you care for will be burdened with more than you can imagine. Sharing your feelings with these people is the best option, they would much rather have had you sit with them and talk then to take these serious actions to end the problem.

Think about this for a moment—if every person that went through bullying said nothing and simply ended their life, there would be no one to stand up for what’s right and stop bullying. There would be no one to share their experience and feelings about bullying, and no one would understand that the things they do have consequences. Become an advocate and get involved. At Visions, we encourage our clients to go out there and have a voice.

If you suffer from depression and experience bullying, please call Visions Adolescent Treatment Center at (818) 889-3665 today and share your story with us.

Categories
Addiction Adolescence Alcohol Alcoholism Bullying Communication Depression Family Feelings Mental Health Prevention School Substance Abuse Treatment

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse for Teens


While there is no way to definitively predict which teens might develop a substance abuse disorder, there are a number of risk factors that considerably increase the likelihood an abuse problem will occur. By understanding these risk factors, parents and others involved in a child’s life can employ effective protective actions to minimize the risk. Below are a few of the common factors that raise the chances substance abuse could become a problem by the time a child becomes a teenager.

Genetics
Family history of substance abuse is one of the biggest risk factors for children develop a substance abuse disorder by the time they hit the teen years. Prenatal exposure to alcohol may also make a person more vulnerable to substance abuse later in life.

Environment
Children that are around substance use, either by parents, friends or members of their community, may regard drugs and alcohol as a normal part of life. They may not recognize the dangers of using these substances, which puts them at increased risk of addiction.

Behavior
Children who are impulsive or aggressive in the early years of life may also be more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Aggressive behavior could lead to anti-social tendencies, while impulsivity is an individual risk factor that involves the inability to set limits on one’s behavior.

Mental Health
The connection between a substance abuse disorder and a mental illness is very high. In some cases, the person may use substances to cope with the painful symptoms of the mental illness. Other times, regular substance use may trigger the symptoms of a mental disorder.

Family Life
Children with parents that abuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to use the substances themselves. In addition, a home life that is stressful due to conflict or other difficult situations can also make a teen more likely to use substances as a way of dealing with the stress.

Social Life
Children that do not socialize well with their peers are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their loneliness. By the same token, teens who choose friends that use are more likely to use themselves as well.

Academics
Struggles in school, whether academically or socially, can also lead to substance abuse. The earlier the school problems begin, the more likely it is that substance abuse will become an obstacle over time.

At Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, we have seen teens turn to drugs and alcohol for a wide range of reasons. While prevention should always be the primary focus in keeping this age group safe and healthy, sometimes prevention efforts are simply not enough to keep a potential addiction at bay. The good news is there are also effective methods of treating substance abuse that help teens move away from their abusive behaviors and into a healthier, sober way of life. To learn more about our treatment programs, contact Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers at 866-889-3665.

Categories
Bullying Mental Health Parenting Recovery

Stopping Bullying and Supporting the Bullied

Bullying is the systematic maltreatment of an individual by another individual or group of individuals as a means of exerting power to intimidate or harm someone that is perceived as weak. The innate powerlessness that is felt by the one being bullied is profound. Feelings of shame, anxiety, fear, depression, and loneliness are just a few emotional reactions to bullying. Often times, the shame and fear prevent these kids from speaking out, for fear of retaliation or not being believed.

 

In Hara Estroff Marano’s article “Bully Pulpit” in Psychology Today, she says: “Bullying is not garden-variety aggression: It is a deliberate attempt to cause harm to those of lesser power.”  Kids are beginning the long process of learning to stand up for themselves, understanding right from wrong, and developing accountability. However, by 8 years old, kids do begin to understand the power that they have, or the lack thereof. In truth, the social pecking order begins early. As kids find their way as individuals, some may realize they are different from some of the kids in their peer group. Being different or not like everyone else doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be accepted, though. Unfortunately, the bullies don’t always agree and are prone to viewing difference as a sign of weakness.

 

Children who are bullied don’t always tell teachers or parents that they are targets of bullying, and it’s not uncommon for someone being bullied to feel helpless in his or her endeavors to get help. From the bullied child’s perspective, it can feel like there is great risk in asking for help. The bully makes sure those they bully live in perpetual fear of retaliation. Sometimes, proving one is being bullied is often difficult, and the issues fall into a he-said-she-said cycle. As parents and teachers, we have to play the role of detective and investigate all facets of the situation, looking for key emotional and physical signs that our child is being bullied.

 

The following are some indications that your child may be a victim of bullying:

  • Becoming moody or short tempered.
  • Finding excuses for not wanting to go to school.
  • Claiming physical illnesses such as stomachaches and headaches that may have, in fact, actually evolved into such physical symptoms.
  • Returning to bedwetting.
  • Beginning to have nightmares.
  • Developing either a lack of appetite or increase of eating compulsively.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.
  • Deterioration in the quality of schoolwork.
  • Having insomnia, anxiety.
  • Starting to become quiet, withdrawn.
  • Exhibiting physical signs like bruises, torn clothing, scrapes, and so on.
  • Expressing sadness and/or violence in writing or drawings.
  • Displaying unusual acting out behaviors.

 

If you notice your child is exhibiting any of these behaviors, it’s important to honor your child by lending them your ear and your respect. It’s frightening to talk about being bullied, and if we as parents can sit and listen fully, without judgment, the likelihood of our child or children opening up is better. Second, parents must intervene on a larger scale in order to stop the bullying behavior in its tracks.

 

  • Contact school administration to ensure that they are aware that bullying is happening in their school. They need to take necessary steps to stop it.
  • Get informed!
  • Find out what anti-bullying programs are available in your area and contact them for support.
  • Does your school have an anti-bullying policy? If not, see if you can form a coalition of parents and administrators who are as concerned as you are and create some solid guidelines for addressing bullying

 

Please don’t punish or shame the child who is being bullied. It’s not their fault. Asking questions like that start with, “You should have,” or “Why didn’t you,” implies blame and judgment. A bullied child (all children, really) needs compassion and understanding, particularly from their parents. Home has to be a safe space for them to land. They need to be encouraged to be exactly who they are and they need to know that you, their parent, loves them and sees them and accepts them no matter what. They need to learn that walking away is far braver than engaging in negative interactions with a bully. And they need to know that walking away is not a sign of weakness but a sign of great courage.

 

“The common mistake that bullies make is assuming that because someone is nice that he or she is weak. Those traits have nothing to do with each other. In fact, it takes considerable strength and character to be a good person.” – Mary Elizabeth Williams

 

Bullies may seem like they prevail, but over time, their feigned popularity and social pull wavers as those in their peer groups tire of the bullying antics. The bully’s aggression “lowers their social desirability,” thrusting them toward other likeminded, deviant kids.

 

David Schwartz, associate professor of psychology at USC is quoted in the same article, “Bully Pulpit,” as saying, ” “Victimization is not about the child, it is about what the peer group is doing. The only promising interventions are based on activating the bystanders.” In other words, those on the sidelines need to speak up and out. If we are silent when bullying is going on, we are complicit in the bullying behavior. Bullying can be stopped and the sooner the behavior is recognized, the sooner an intervention can occur.

Categories
Adolescence Bullying Mental Health Parenting Prevention Safety

Cyberbullying And Teens: The Facts

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve recently talked about text bombing and sexting, with the overlying arc being cyberbullying. It is defined as pervasive, relational aggression, also known as “covert aggression.” It is carried out via the use of electronic technology, such as cell phones, computers, and tablets by means of text messages, social media sites, and online “chatting.” For example, someone may create an online rumor by posting an embarrassing, or inflammatory image or story on social media or in an email. Because it’s online, it has the capacity to spread much faster and have a longer reach.  Cyberbullying intimidates its victims with its intent to control, isolate, shame, and instill fear.

Some forms of cyberbullying are: 

1. A person pretends to be someone else and chats or messages someone online with the intent to trick, shame, or embarrass someone else.

2. Extremely sensitive or personal information is posted and shared online.

3. Lies and gossip are maliciously posted or shared online.

4. Digitally manipulated, often pornographic images are posted or distributed without consent.

5. Online threats. These can be vague or specific.

6. Exclusion, or intensionally excluding someone from an inner or online group or site

 

Why is cyberbullying different?

 

1. There is no “off” button: this type of bullying can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The aggressor can reach its target when they are alone, late at night, and early in the morning.

2. Images and/or messages can be posted anonymously to a wide audience, and they can be difficult to trace.

 

What can you do?

 

1. Monitor your child’s web activity. Take care to really pay attention to what sites they are using and how “connected” they are. Increase your vigilance if you notice your child is showing signs of depression, becomes withdrawn,  or suffers from low self-esteem.

2. Teach your kids to avoid environments rife with cyberbulling: Facebook, chat rooms, Snap Chat are some of the many sites out there that are breeding grounds for this behavior.

3. You decide what places are unsafe for your child, taking age, maturity, and other factors into consideration.

4. Arm yourself with information. Become well-versed in the ins and outs of social media sites. Get tech savvy, folks and embrace your inner geek!

5. Express the importance of keeping personal information personal and off of the Internet.

 

Unfortunately, statistics are showing an increase in cyberbulling not a decrease:

 

1. 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out of 10 say it has happened more than once.

2. 53% of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online. More than 1 in 3 have done it more than once.

3. 58% of kids have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.

4. 40% of kids have had their password(s) stolen and changed by a bully.

5. Cyberbullying victims are eight times more likely to report carrying a weapon to school in the last 30 days than non-bullied teens.

6. Cyberbullying has led to at least four documented cases of teen suicide in the United States.

7. Only 15% of parents polled knew what cyberbullying was.

 

Cyberbullying isn’t going away right now; it’s an unfortunate byproduct of the increase and variability in technological tools and means of communication. We as parents and teachers need to arm ourselves with information and learn to make better, safer choices. Frankly, most kids don’t need smart phones, but they have them and as a result, they have easy access to a multitude of apps that are designed for online social activity. Some are even designed to promote anonymity or to delete messages as soon as you’ve sent them.  This is a good opportunity to have stronger, more defined boundaries and some dedicated time set aside that is technology free.

 

You can:

1. Have a no-tech zone around meal times.

2. Go on an outdoor adventure with your family that is technology free.

3. Embrace the value of direct communication. For example, call someone instead of texting.

Technology was designed to make things more efficient and interactive. It has the capacity to reach into spaces we never thought possible. Still, we must harness its dark side for the sake of safety and well-being.

Resources:

Internet Safety Project

Psych Central

Bullying Statistics

Stop Bullying.gov

Categories
Adolescence Bullying Parenting Prevention Safety

What You Need to Know About Text Bombing

are you really laughing out loud? (Photo credit: MrPessimist)

The concept behind text bombing is to save time: you can send mass texts out to multiple people telling them where to meet you, et cetera. Ultimately, it was designed to be a cheap tool for efficiency. According to this latest from Huffington Post,  text bombing is the latest technological tool used by cyberbullies to go after their victims. The sender can be anonymous and the apps can be programmed to auto-send persistent, negative messages. Text bombing someone means you are sending 1000-10000 text messages to the same person in the same day, and it can go from being simply annoying to cruel. In the banal sense, one could look at text bombing as the equivalent of crank calling someone. Unfortunately, in the wrong hands, text bombing has sinister underpinnings.

 

Imagine repeatedly receiving a text message saying, “die” or “no one likes you,” in the same day.  The victim of the text bomb has to endure receiving the same hateful and/or degrading message time and time again, experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and even depression. Unless you have a means of blocking the text messages, there’s really no way to stop the barrage of hate. You are in a relentless technological loupe.

 

Alas, you can protect yourself!  You can download one of these spam-blocking apps, which allow you to block numbers and texts from coming in:

 

For the Android, you can use Text Bomb Defender or Anti SMS Bomber Pro.

For the iPhone, you can use NumberCop.

 

Parents, if you are worried that text bombing may be an issue for your child, look for the following:

  • A spike in the phone bill
  • Make sure your child’s phone isn’t rooted. (“Rooting an Android phone means that you give yourself, rather than Sprint/Verizon/T-Mobile/AT&T’s software, the permission to act as the administrator of the phone. New Android operating system 2.3 and higher only allows 30 SMS — texts — from the same phone at one time. Teens with rooted phones can still send thousands of texts.” – via Internet safety expert Sedgrid Lewis)
Categories
Bullying Mental Health Parenting Recovery Suicide

Bullying: Helping the Bullied and the Bully

Compassion (Photo credit: Sarit Photography)

As National Suicide Prevention Week continues, I realize we can’t let the week pass without talking about bullying. The recent documentary Bully deftly brought to light egregious bullying behavior, some of which led to suicide. The conversation continues, however. We are more aware now that the bullied child is suffering, often in silence, and often filled with shame and anger about why this is happening to them. They are always asking the eternal question, “Why me?”  Unfortunately, there are still an alarming number of bullying incidents that go undetected, and there continues to be a systemic problem in the way we deal with the bullies themselves and the children being bullied.

Children who are bullied won’t typically tell anyone this is happening,  typically feeling helpless in their endeavors to get help. From the bullied child’s perspective, there is an implication of great risk in asking for help. Experience has proven the bully makes sure they live in a state of fear of retaliation. This is particularly true when dealing with verbal bullying such as name calling, exclusion, ostracizing, rumors, racial, cultural, and sexual taunts. In these cases, proof is often difficult. This presents a catch-22 situation for parents, teachers, and administrators: it becomes one child’s word against another’s. As parents, we have to play the role of detective and suss out the situation, looking for key emotional and physical signs that our child is being bullied.

From Sheri Werner’s book In Safe Hands: Bullying Prevention and Compassion for All, she lists the following things to look for if we suspect bullying:

  • Becoming moody or short tempered.
  • Finding excuses for not wanting to go to school.
  • Claiming physical illnesses such as stomachaches and headaches that may have, in fact, actually evolved into such physical symptoms.
  • Returning to bedwetting.
  • Beginning to have nightmares.
  • Developing either a lack of appetite or increase of eating compulsively.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.
  • Deterioration in the quality of schoolwork.
  • Having insomnia, anxiety.
  • Starting to become quiet, withdrawn.
  • Exhibiting physical signs like bruises, torn clothing, scrapes, and so on.
  • Expressing sadness and/or violence in writing or drawings.
  • Displaying unusual acting out behaviors.

Bullying doesn’t have to end in suicide. Suicide is never the answer. You are your child’s greatest advocate. You have a multitude of options:

  • Individual counseling/therapy
  • Group counseling/therapy
  • Form your own support group
  • Become informed.
  • Go to the school: find out what they have in place for bullying prevention.
  • If they don’t have anything in place, take steps to help develop a school anti-bullying policy.

 

I’ve seen this more times than I care to admit: a bullying situation resulting in the bullied child being punished and/or being told to “ignore” the bully or try to “make friends” with him/her. In truth, the child bullied needs support and compassion. But so does the bully. Yes, you read that right. The bully needs support and compassion as well, and more than likely an intervention of sorts. I truly believe that bullying is a symptom of a greater problem. What that problem may be isn’t an excuse for the negative behavior, but it still needs to be addressed.

There’s no doubt that it’s difficult to find compassion for a child who bullies, because their behavior is so hurtful and over the top, but suffering comes in all shapes and forms and it behooves us to take this into consideration.  A kid who goes home to violence, neglect, etc., or who suffers from unaddressed mental illness or a learning disability, or who didn’t have sufficient emotional connection in their early years may not know how to handle problems that arise. From the perspective of the administration and teachers, this is really an opportunity (and challenge) to A: monitor the bully, and B: help redirect and reteach the bully to change their thinking and behavioral processes to fit into a healthier social model. For the bully, their saving grace might just be the school they are in, if that school has methods in place to help them. The key is not to give up on them; they, too, deserve a chance to recover and change.

 

There are resources out there! You are not alone in this, regardless if you are the parent of the bullied or the bully.

www.soulshoppe.com (elementary and middle school)

www.challengeday.org (high school)

Books to read:

The Mindful Child – Susan Keiser Greenland

In Safe Hands: Bullying Prevention With Compassion for All – Sheri Werner

Categories
Adolescence Bullying Communication Mental Health Parenting School Social Anxiety Stress

Time to Stop the Bullies

It hurts to be bullied. It hurts the spirit and the body, the confidence and self-worth. No one should have to live in that kind of fear or circumstance. So what are we going to do about it?

With the advent of the internet, bullying’s primary setting isn’t merely in schools and playgrounds anymore: it also thrives in the technological halls of the cyber world. It’s pervasive. There are two types of bullies:  popular, well-connected with social power, overly concerned about maintaining that popularity, and liking to be in charge. The second type tends to be the kid who is more isolated from their peers, easily pressured, has low self-esteem, is less involved in school and doesn’t easily identify with the emotions or feelings of others.

Those at risk of being bullied are kids who are perceived as separate or different from the norms or social mores of our culture. They are often seen as weak, they tend to be anxious or depressed, they are less popular, and are often viewed as annoying or provocative. As a result, these kids are more susceptible to falling prey to bullying behaviors, behaviors which aren’t always as black and white as we once thought. Here are some examples:

Physical bullying:

  • Hitting/kicking/ pinching
  • Spitting
  • Pushing/Tripping
  • Intentionally breaking someone’s things;
  • Making mean or rude hand gestures.

Verbal bullying:

  • Name calling: weirdo, freak, fag, idiot, ad infinitum.
  • Teasing
  • Threats to cause harm

Social bullying:

  • Leaving someone out on purpose;
  • Telling others not to be friends with someone;
  • Rumor spreading;
  • Public humiliation.

Cyber bullying:

  • Mean text messages or emails;
  • Rumors sent by email or posted on social media sites;
  • Fake profiles on sites like Facebook, Tumblr, et cetera.
  • Embarrassing photos or videos

Keep in mind, the most reported bullying happens on school grounds: in the hallways and on recess yards. It also occurs travelling to and from school. But nothing is really sacred. Cyber bullying is growing like wildfire as kids become increasingly savvy with technology.

It’s common for kids who are being bullied not to tell anyone because they may be afraid of the vengeful repercussions from the bullies themselves. Bullying is, in its very nature, a power structure built on dominance and fear-driven control. When someone is being terrorized by fearful tactics, it takes an incredible amount of courage to seek help. In the mind of the bullied, it’s a risk they are not always willing to take, so instead, the fear gets internalized, making its appearance in various ways:

  • Unexplained injuries;
  • Lost or damaged possessions;
  • Frequent headaches, stomachaches, feeling sick or faked illnesses;
  • Changes in eating habits: some may skip meals, some may binge. Some kids might come home hungry because their lunch was bullied away from them;
  • Sleep disturbances: insomnia or nightmares;
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, not wanting to go to school at all;
  • Loss of friends or avoidance of social situations;
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem;
  • Self-destructive behaviors: self-harming, running away, isolating, suicidal ideation.

Despite the fact that many schools have implemented anti-bullying policies, the administration doesn’t always carry them out in the most effective ways. I’ve experienced a principal in my son’s school who typically punishes the victim along with the bully, creating situation of victim-blaming, which encourages the bully and fundamentally creates shame in the bullied. In this particular case, a child ended up reverting inward and internalizing the fear, ultimately trying to handle it on his own. As a result, the persistent concern about being called a snitch or weak drove this child’s efforts toward self-directed management of the situation. Unfortunately, this is a perfect situation for the bully, and in many ways, this maintains the bully’s position of control. Not surprisingly, the bullying hasn’t stopped.

As parents, we need to find safe, productive ways to stop bullying behaviors. We can:

  • Work with the teacher to help raise awareness in the classroom. There are activities geared toward educating  kids
  • Make regular appearances at the school. Sometimes, the mere presence of a parent can stop bullying in its tracks.
  • Get up to speed on those social networking sites and explore safer ways to navigate technology
  • Find ways to present a unified front against bullying.
  • Establish an anti-bullying task force or committee. There’s power in numbers.
  • Help establish an environment of tolerance, acceptance of others, and respect.

This is also a great opportunity to take your kids to see Bully or go see it yourself if you can. It’s a limited engagement, but one you don’t want to miss. Time to take charge and stop bullying in its tracks.

For more information and for resources, check out:

Stopbullying.gov

SoulShoppe

Challenge Day

Categories
Adolescence Bullying Self-Care Sexuality

Starry-Eyed and Lovelorn in Adolescence

Remember when you were a teenager, falling in an out of love faster than your jeans could stay in style? Remember how devastating the subsequent heartbreak was when your current flight of fancy moved on? The drama and excitement of it all is exacerbated by adolescence. I can distinctly remember the all-or-nothing perspective I had when it came to love or what I thought was love as a teen. At times, it can be overwhelming and because there is sometimes a vacancy where parental trust should be, it can also be lonely.  Growing up is tough, and matters of the heart lend an element of pain to the already awkward, bungling nature of adolescence. And no, this isn’t a bash on being a teen. I was one once, and I will always remember the sense of untenable angst and confusion.

The truth is, relationships happen. All the time. They are an inevitable part of life unless you are a hermit, in which case, you may have some other issues to tend to. So, how do navigate that stormy sea? Let’s see:

  • Be yourself.  You are good enough just as you are. When we try to act like something or someone we’re not, we create expectations that may eventually lead to letdown. Ouch.
  • Mutual respect. You deserve to be being loved and respected for who you really are and not who someone wants you to be. Respect also means your partner will respect your boundaries without pushing you to accommodate their wants and needs.
  • Trust. It’s one of the most important ingredients in creating and maintaining relationships.  Are you overly jealous? Is your partner? Without trust, relationships tend to stand on rocky ground—this is true for friendships and romances.
  • Develop skillful communication: Ideally, you are in a relationship with someone who honors you and your feelings. If something is bothering you, talk about it. We hear this too often: “men and women speak different languages.” While this may be true at times, instead of shutting down, we can learn to ask for clarification when we don’t understand what’s being said.
  • Retain your autonomy. Sure, it can be fun to do absolutely everything with someone…for a while, but in doing so, have you made your boyfriend or girlfriend your “everything”?  Make time for those that were in your life before this relationship, and more than anything, make room for yourself. You should never have to give up things you like, or the friends you keep because your partner isn’t into them.

With the starry-eyed disposition of many adolescent relationships, it’s safe to say that many move with the tides, but sometimes things do go awry, presenting difficult challenges. Domestic violence can easily seep into teen relationships. The warning signs that this might be happening include:

  • Verbal abuse, including insults, unkind language, degradation.
  • Physical abuse, including slapping, shoving, of forcing sexual activity.
  • Control of who you spend time with and what activities you do: in other words, attempting to isolate you.

If you recognize any of these behaviors or recognize a friend or loved one who may be experiencing anything like this, get help. You deserve to be happy, not abused.

And remember: “Be who you are and say what you mean. Because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Seuss