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Risk Factors for Substance Abuse for Teens

Teen substance abuse treatment los angeles
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
Adolescence Communication Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care

I’m Sorry but I’m Not Sorry

“I’m sorry.” “No, really, I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry. Can you help me?” “I’m sorry. I really appreciate it.”

Is “I’m sorry,” the unconscious mantra you use when you engage with the world? For years, I said, “I’m sorry” for some of the most banal reasons:

  • To a server who brought me the wrong order;
  • To someone who had issues pronouncing my name;
  • To a person who didn’t know an answer to my question;
  • To someone for a mistake that they made;
  • For asking a question, and better yet, for asking a “stupid” question.

The list can go on and on, but the truth is, many of us have said this or continue to say this day in and day out. It’s become a conversation filler, a verbal crutch for times when we might feel uncomfortable asking for what we need…and deserve.

Perhaps this is the real issue: fear around owning our own voices and honoring our needs. Punctuating a request for help with “I’m sorry” devalues the very thing you are asking for. Are you really sorry because you need help with your homework? Are you really sorry because you need a ride to school? Maybe there is embarrassment or concern that you are being demanding or needy. And maybe someone has hammered that negative message into your subconscious enough times that it’s become part of your internal dialogue. Time to turn that tape off: It’s time to take your power back and honor your voice.

These days, I very rarely punctuate my statements with “I’m sorry,” but this shift took time.

  • First, I had to become aware that I was saying it in the first place. In early recovery, I had several people point it out to me over and over and over again. I finally heard it.
  • Second: Once I was aware of my language, I had to shift my awareness to notice when I was about to say I’m sorry. This is the time when the real internal work begins. Because every time you may want to say “I’m sorry,” you are now aware, conscious of your words and methods of communication. This is where you can stop and pause in order to truncate your phrase and remove “I’m sorry.”

This is a habit. Sure, it’s not a habit that will cause you great physical harm, but it is a negative habit nonetheless. The positive shift that occurs once this habit is broken is one of quiet empowerment. Self-esteem perks up, self-worth perks up, self-love perks up. The need for an apology should be been remanded to a time when there is really something to be sorry for: stealing, lying, cheating, hurting someone’s feelings, et cetera. It no longer has a place as the perpetual grammatical prefix in your sentence structure.

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Communication Holidays

Valentine’s Day: Love and Kindness For All

Valentine’s day:

It’s the day to celebrate love and joy, and connectedness, not just a partnership with another human being.

Anthropomorphic Valentine, circa 1950–1960 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Maybe you’re single, or you just broke up with someone, or heck, you’ve been together with your Valentine for several months or years: can you honor your heart? Can you be of service to those around you, calling everyone your Valentine? Today, in Huffington Post’s “Good News” section I came across this post about students leaving random love notes around for people to find. I was inspired by their kindness and ability to care for others. It is a wonderful way to be of service and it got me thinking about all of the things we can do for each other, like:

  • Pay for the person’s lunch behind you in line.
  • Leave a kind note for a friend.
  • Pick a flower and hand it to the first person you see–just for the heck of it.
  • Compliment someone without expecting something in return.
  • Cook a meal for someone.
  • Write a card for no reason.

 

These are just a few ideas, with the through line being kindness, which means, “The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to express friendliness, generosity, and to be considerate. And perhaps it will inspire you to carry those actions throughout the rest of the year.  Here’s an inspiring quote from Mr. Rogers, a man whose kindness was a visceral part of who he was:

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

 

Oh and one more thing, as if Mr. Rogers wasn’t already inspiring. Check out this video of a 29-year-old woman who was born deaf but hears sound for the first time after receiving cochlear implants. Grab a tissue; Her joyful, awe-filled reaction is remarkable!! Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

 

 

 

Categories
Addiction Adolescence Communication Recovery

Worried About Smartphone Overuse? There’s an App for That!

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you worried you might be addicted to your smartphone?

Well, researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany have created an app called “Menthal” to track your smartphone usage and help you determine how much time you’re spending checking messages, email, or playing Candy Crush.

 

It’s an interesting study, to say the least. Using an app on your smartphone to determine if you are overusing your smartphone is ironic. But the hope of these researchers is that people will become aware of their excessive smartphone use and back off.

The study was small—only 50 participants—but researchers discovered smartphones were accessed every 12 minutes. That’s 5 times in an hour, and frankly, that’s too much. Not surprisingly, they also found that people felt like they were missing something if their phone was missing. We have become significantly attached to our technology and this idea that we have to always be connected. I’ve noted this before: in this attachment to staying connected, we have inadvertently become disconnected.  Ask yourself, do you really have over 700 friends?

Teens and tweens are often chided for not having the “right” smartphone or for not having a smartphone at all. Those who do have smartphones tend to flaunt them like high commodities, bragging about their Instagram accounts and how many followers they have. Note, Facebook is becoming an outdated space for teens. Sites like Instagram and Snapchat are of higher interest now, and part of that is because they are easier for teens and tweens to navigate without being under the watchful eye of their parents as a result of privacy settings. I hear kids talk about how frequently they block people whom they don’t want to follow them.

 

Smartphone overuse hasn’t been deemed an actual addiction, but if addictive behavior is present, it needs to be addressed. In our residential treatment facilities, cell phones are not allowed. And in our day school and outpatient facilities, cell phones are stored during class time and only permitted to those who have earned the privilege.  Cyber addiction is a real issue, and the reality is, having dedicated times that are unplugged are invaluable.

 

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who has a phone glued to his or her hand? Eye contact isn’t even plausible let alone a cohesive conversation. I often find myself around gaggles of teens and tweens and I have to say, the ones who are unplugged are far more engaged. The ones neck deep in their smartphones think they’re engaged but they are in fact, detached from the present moment.

 

Try any of all of these suggestions:

  • Have dedicated smartphone-free zones: mealtimes or (gasp) the car
  • Turn off your phone when you go to bed.
  • When you are out with friends, keep your phone in your purse or pocket.
  • Unplug for 24 hours – call it a retreat – go outside, read a book, play an instrument, meditate, do yoga, go for a run or a hike, take a walk with a loved one and enjoy your environment.
  • Volunteer at the Los Angeles Food Bank or at an Animal Shelter.

 

Will this app work? Who knows, but it offers an opportunity to continue this conversation about the overuse of technology and our disconnection from each other. A hug, a genuine laugh, eye contact: all of those things trump the latest meme or sunset on Instagram.

Categories
Adolescence Communication Mental Health Parenting Recovery Therapy Trauma

Healthy Boundaries Make for Healthy Teens

© sarit z rogers

What steps can you take to ensure that you aren’t in violation of someone’s boundaries? For example, not everyone enjoys being hugged, nor is it always appropriate to express that level of touch. From the perspective of a teacher or a therapist, one must understand the innate power differential that exists between teacher and student or therapist and client. One is looking to the other for advice and pedagogic elucidation, and one is holding the power to elicit such information. We therefore need to be thoughtful in our approach to employing touch in these situations.

 

In a therapeutic environment such as Visions, we address more than substance abuse and mental illness; we are facilitating the excavation of trauma and creating safe boundaries. It’s important to maintain awareness around our own sense of boundaries and how execute them. Asking ourselves these questions and contemplating the answers through talking to our peers and writing them out will help you discern where you may need some work, and where you are strongest:

 

  1. What does it mean to set boundaries?
  2. Is it hard to say “no”? If so, what does saying “no” feel like?
  3. How do I feel when my boundaries are crossed?
  4. What is my reaction internally and externally?
  5. Am I afraid to set boundaries? Why?
  6. What is my history around setting boundaries?

 

As clinicians and teachers, it’s imperative that we know and understand where our weak spots are so we can work on them. For some people, it’s not uncommon to wait until someone pushes us to our edge before we set a limit. The desire to please others or to be liked plays a part here, and our own backgrounds and upbringing will also effect how we interact with others. Perhaps we come from a family where hugging and touch is part of the norm. It may be natural for us to reach out and hug someone when they are suffering, but it’s not always appropriate.

 

Hugging a client may be a violation of a boundary, but if the client has been traumatized in some way, they may not know how to set that boundary. Likewise, if a client persistently tries to hug you, you have to maintain a firm boundary so they learn to understand what is and what is not appropriate. I was volunteering at my son’s school recently, and a kid came up and hugged me, not wanting to let go. It was a child I don’t know and it was a clear violation of my boundaries and the school’s rules. I gently moved away and held a boundary with this child until he moved on. Teens look to us as examples to learn from and to emulate. If we don’t show strong, safe boundaries, they won’t be able to either. Understand that the boundaries we create encourage freedom to be who you are while creating a safe container for healing and recovery.

Respecting boundaries applies to parents too. If the family dynamic has been compromised, parents have to work to rebuild a healthy and safe family structure. Creating solid boundaries is key in that process. Adolescents love to push buttons and stretch boundaries; they are smack dab in the center of their individuation process. That doesn’t mean you, the parent, have to give in. Remember: “No” is a complete sentence, and when it’s said with certainty and conviction, it makes all the difference. A wishy-washy, non-committal “no” may as well be a “maybe” or a “yes.” Poor limits leave room for negotiation where there shouldn’t be.

We all have a part to play in creating safe limits whether we are parents, teachers, or clinicians. Kids, in their infinite wisdom and testing behaviors, demand strong limits, whether they admit it or not. Boundaries create safety. They provide defined parameters in which to develop and grow. So as much as a teen may push, inside, they really do respect a firm “No” and a defined environment.

Categories
Adolescence Communication Parenting Prevention Safety

What You Need to Know About Sexting

TEDxBKK – Sexting (Photo credit: isriya)

Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit photographs or messages via your cell phone.

 

The Internet is a vast, unchartered space. Technology has expanded so much that our means of communication has forever changed to include text messaging, emailing, instant messaging, video calling, and emailing. As a result, we are faced with things like sexting. One of the most troublesome things about sexting is its wide reach. A text message can circulate remarkably fast and beyond the control of its original sender.

 

A recent study has shown the following:

  • 20 percent of teenagers (22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys) sent naked or seminude images of themselves or posted them online[1]
  • nearly one in six teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who own cell phones have received naked or nearly nude pictures via text message from someone they know.[2]

 

Notably, researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch discovered teens that sext are more likely to engage in sexual behaviors:

 

  • 28% of teens admitted to having sent a sext.
  • 76.2% of teens who were asked to sext admitted to having had sexual intercourse.
  • 68% of Girls were asked to send a sext vs 42% of boys
  • The peak age of sexting is around 16-17 years old
  • Sexting seems to decline in people 18+

 

From the perspective of the criminal justice system, teen sexting can fall under the child pornography statutes[3]. For example, a teen that takes a nude photograph of themselves has created child pornography; as soon as they hit “send” they have distributed child pornography. The significant danger lies in the fact that these images inevitably get passed around and often spread like wildfire across a school. This creates an environment rife with bullying, shaming, exclusion, and in some cases, suicide: An 18-year-old high school graduate committed suicide after a nude photo she sexted to her boyfriend was also sent to hundreds of teenagers in her school.[4]

Thus far, only 17 states have sexting laws in place.

Here’s what you can do to prevent sexting:

  • Parents, talk to your kids in a safe, relaxed setting about the perils of sexting. Ask what they know about it. Express how you feel in a non-threatening, non-confrontational way. Create a healthy, two-way dialogue. Remember, you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
  • Some kids are responding to peer pressure in the form of bullying, sexual harassment—after a breakup, those images can be used as revenge. Sometimes it’s impulsive behavior or flirting. Help your child understand that it is always a poor choice.

Kids:

  • Think about the consequences of taking, sending, or forwarding a comprising photograph to someone via text. You could get suspended, expelled, kicked off of a sports team, and/or get in trouble with the law.
  • Never take photographs of yourself you wouldn’t want everyone to see (classmates, parents, teachers, employers)
  • Before hitting “send,” remember that you cannot control where this image goes. What you send to your romantic partner or friend could be forwarded to their friends and friends of friends.
  • If you forward an image of someone that is compromising, you are as responsible as the original sender. You have essentially become complicit in someone else’s criminal activity.
  • Report any nude or compromising photographs you receive on your phone to an adult you trust. Do NOT delete it. Instead, immediately get your parents, teachers, and school counselors involved.

 


[1] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Cosmogirl.com, “Sex and Tech: Results from a Survey of Teens and Young Adults”;https://www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/PDF/SexTech_Summary.pdf  

[2] John Sutter, “Survey: 15 Percent of Teens Get Sexual Text Messages”;https://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/12/15/pew.sexting.survey/index.html 

 [3] Justin W. Patchin”Summery of State Sexting Laws, https://cyberbullying.us/summary-of-state-sexting-laws/

[4] Mike Celizic, “Her Teen Committed Suicide Over Sexting”; https://www.today.com/id/29546030/#.UnvjcpTXR8s

Reference:

Teen Sexting–The Real Issue (psychology today)

Sexting: Risky Actions and Overreactions (FBI)

Cyberbullying Research Center

Categories
Adolescence Communication Recovery

Technology: It Will be There After Dinner

© sarit z. rogers / sarit photography

Technology allows us to be more connected, more in touch with what’s going on in our communities, and it enables us to reach beyond our wildest dreams in terms of connections; there’s also a dark side. With this incredible connection comes an inevitable disconnection. This may sound ironic coming from me, the New Media Manager, but stick with this, I promise you, it’s relevant.

 

How many of us have a few hundred or a few thousand followers and connections across several social media platforms, whose lives we “know” and “touch” on a daily basis? Most of us do. In fact, if someone says they don’t have a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account, we find ourselves at a loss for words. Let’s be honest, technology is a wonderful tool: it gets a message out there in a way that analog marketing couldn’t. One post can reach thousands of people at the press of a button. The fingers of the Internet and social media mavens are long and far-reaching. It’s phenomenal, to tell you the truth. The current technological age is monumental.

 

So what’s the catch?

 

As we have become more plugged in and more connected, we have subsequently become disconnected.  Text messaging has become the primary means of communication for many, because it’s fast, convenient, and it takes away the discomfort of confrontation. It’s much easier to dump someone via text, or tell someone off via text, or give someone bad news via text…isn’t it? In a sense, but it’s deeply impersonal and detached.  We have deluded ourselves into believing we are “safe” behind our smart phones and computers.  I have seen teens in coffee shops hanging out and texting to each other in lieu of having a real conversation: Eyes on the iPhone, rather than on each other. Conversations seem to happen technologically rather than face-to-face, which is, in this case, a disservice. Talking to each other is an invaluable way in which to connect, and making eye contact is part and parcel to that connection.

 

I realized I was doing some of this myself. I was disconnected to the people trying to talk to me in real time, because I was too busy staying “connected” in tech time. This is a problem. So I made a decision. I decided to unplug when I am sitting with people, and chose to engage with and be present for the people I’m with.  Texts and the like could wait. As a result, I find myself less stressed out, less anxious, and more connected with the present moment.

 

Where do we go from here?

 

First of all, technology is here to stay. It’s incredible. I couldn’t do my job without it. There are outlets like Skype and Google Chat, which allow us to stay connected with family, friends and co-workers that are not geographically close. Social media provides a global connection.  These tools are invaluable.

 

To me, the solution is to use these tools wisely and consciously. We can choose to unplug at:

  • Meals
  • With our family
  • With our friends
  • While we’re driving

We can pick up the phone to share pertinent information with those in our lives.  Yes, even the uncomfortable stuff. Confrontation is tough, but so is being on the receiving end of a terse or insensitive text message. I write all the time and am enamored with words, but it’s more authentic and heart based for me to directly communicate significant information. I recently received a text message in text lingo telling me a distant uncle had passed. I was more jarred by the transmission of the information than the loss. It was clear to me that using that form of communication for that type of information had desensitized my reaction.

 

I encourage you to unplug incrementally: be present at dinner, with your friends, and with your family. Technology isn’t going anywhere. It will await you in all of its magnificence when you return. That’s the beauty of it.

Categories
Adolescence Communication Safety

Texting and Driving: It’s Not Worth It

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Texting and Driving: Are you guilty of doing it? Even for a second? To an extent, we all are. Even if it’s at a stoplight, and no one is moving, many of us will check our phones. Gone are the days of “just driving.” We have evolved into a culture of fast-moving, busy, multi-tasking folk, and the importance of checking a text or checking our email or checking social media outlets has consumed us.

 

When we text and drive, we are driving blind for short periods of time.  According to this study, “Texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving the length of a football field at 55mph BLINDFOLDED.”

 

The University of Utah did a study, comparing drivers who are texting and driving versus those drinking and driving and found “Texting while driving is the same as driving after drinking four beers.” That same study also “found that cell phone drivers had slower reactions, had longer following distances, took longer to recover speed lost following a braking episode, and were involved in more accidents. In the case of the cell phone driver, the impairments appear to be attributable, in large part, to the diversion of attention from the processing of information necessary for the safe operation of a motor vehicle (Strayer et al., 2003; Strayer & Johnston, 2001).”

 

One of the things I do like about texting is the fact that it is a form of non-contiguous conversation. It was originally designed as a way of communicating necessary information that didn’t require an immediate result. Times have changed, however, and the need for instant gratification has trumped the original utilitarian modality of the text message. The current generation prefers using text messaging to live conversation. In fact, that is often the primary means of communication.  It’s easy, it’s fast, and it’s non-confrontational. It’s not uncommon for breakups and arguments to occur via text. And with the advent of smart phones, one is afforded less character limitations, so the “text” book has evolved. Texting is so easy that one can do it anywhere and at any time; ironically, the danger is the same: you can do it anywhere and at any time.

 

Let’s make a concerted effort to be more responsible and more aware of our actions and interactions with those around us. We can start with implementing the following actions to stop texting and driving:

Action:

  • Put your phone in the trunk or the glove box when you’re driving.
  • Wait until you are parked to respond our check your phone
  • Let your friends know you won’t be responsive if you’re driving.
  • When you’re not driving, try calling someone instead of texting. Make an effort to make contact beyond your fingertips.

 Notice any changes that may occur:

  • Are you more or less stressed out?
  • Are you more or less aware?
  • Are you less distracted and more engaged with the activity of driving?
  • Are your interactions with others more or less engaged?

 

Next, take the  “It Can Wait” pledge here and make a commitment to stop texting and driving. Encourage your friends to do the same. This is how change happens: one positive decision at a time; eliminating texting and driving is a wonderful step in a positive direction.

 

Watch this trailer for Werner Herzog’s documentary “From One Second to the Next” which documents four lives that have been impacted by texting-related accidents.

https://youtu.be/SCVZqeAGY-A

Categories
Adolescence Communication Prevention Safety

Teens: For Your Safety, Don’t Text and Drive

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Don’t text and drive!” Your parents say it, your teachers say it, the billboards say it, and even some of your friends say it. But you still do it. I’d ask why, but there’s really no logical explanation for it. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t occasionally participate in texting and driving, even though I know it’s dangerous. It’s not a good idea—for any of us. Nothing is so important it can’t wait until you can pull over or until you reach your destination. The fines alone for texting and driving should be enough of a deterrent, right?!

U.S. government research shows “more teen drivers are buckling up and not driving drunk than in years past,” but texting and driving is “posing a new threat.” In fact, according to a research team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “One in three high school students said they had texted or emailed while driving during the past month.” While the decline in drunk driving incidents and the increase in buckle-ups is wonderful news, the texting issue is a deadly problem.

Texting is the primary means of communication for teens: Teens typically send upwards of 100 texts a day. I’ve seen teenagers text each other in the same room! It’s clear that there’s a whole world of communication happening via technology, some good, and in the case of texting and driving, some deadly.  According to Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center in Washington, “A lot of teens say ‘Well, if the car’s not moving and I’m at a stoplight or I’m stuck in traffic, that’s OK.'” Lenhart goes on to say, “Other teens acknowledge they know it’s not safe, but think it is safer if they hold the phone up so they can see the road and text at the same time.” Neither one of these practices is safe.

It’s hopeful that this current generation of teens is exhibiting safer driving behaviors. There are less incidents of drunk driving (from 17% in 1997 to 8% in 2011) and a 44% drop in car crashes amongst teens. This says a lot about kids making healthier choices. I’m hoping to see a positive shift in the choice to text and drive. This is a fad that really needs a short shelf-life.

 

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