Categories
Adolescence Bullying Communication Mental Health Parenting School Social Anxiety Stress

Time to Stop the Bullies

this is my own version of what bullying looks like

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
Bullying Mental Health Suicide

Suicide: Neither an Answer nor a Solution

Suicide so often “comes as a surprise” to those left behind, but in all honesty, the signs

were more than likely always there. The identifying factors that lead up to this type of tragedy are many, but in our busy, multitasking lives, we tend to overlook them or dismiss them as part and parcel to growing up, particularly the subtle hints. While I can’t speak for most kids or adults, I can tell you that the inner turmoil which occurs in the mind of someone  who’s suffering from suicidal thoughts is akin to severe emotional isolation—with it comes the delusion that one is “the other,” so different from those around them, they can’t even begin to integrate. Often times, those who are bullied struggle with suicidal ideation. Often times, no one even knows.

Of late, there have been several anti-bullying videos, songs, as well as organizations who are ardently amping up their efforts to bring awareness to this issue. It’s not that bullying in and of itself is tantamount to suicide, but those that are bullied often get to a place emotionally where they simply give up trying. If drugs and alcohol can’t numb the pain, or if cutting can’t raise the endorphins enough to eradicate one’s uncomfortable emotions, then suicide suddenly can look like an option. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the CDC, “Nearly five times as many males as females ages 15-19 died by suicide,” and “Just under six times as many males as females ages 20-24 died by suicide.” Risk factors for suicide attempts include things like:

  • Depression and other forms of mental illness
  • Addiction;
  • A family history of mental disorders or substance abuse;
  • Family history of suicide;
  • History of physical or sexual abuse;
  • Firearms in the home
  • Incarceration
  • Exposure to suicidal behavior of others (family members, friends, media)

It’s important to note, however, that suicide is an extreme reaction to stress. There are many people in and out of recovery who can check off many of the above factors but are not suicidal. Regardless, the risks are notable and should be viewed with great concern and scrutiny.

I remember being a teen and feeling isolated and very much like “the other.” The irony is, the one and only time I was directed to the suicide hotline, I wasn’t actually suicidal. I was just a surly teen. Later, however, the internal dialogue of self-loathing and lack of self-worth drove me to put myself in more and more unsafe places. It wasn’t until many 4th steps later when I realized my actions were not only a cry for help, they were, in fact a means of subversive suicidal ideation. As a teen, I needed my parents and didn’t have them, either due to their emotional unavailability or their absence. As a parent myself, I have learned that despite the adolescent, parent-hating bluster, I am needed—we are needed. A child who can come home and talk openly to a parent is, in my opinion, less likely to revert inward. Talking about being bullied, asking for help, and getting it, is invaluable, and we, as parents, need to provide the environment in which our kids can safely do that. If not, then we risk being left behind, drowning in grief and unanswerable questions.

**If you or someone you know is thinking about or talking about suicide,take it seriously. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is available 24/7.


Categories
Anxiety Bullying

Bullies: Not My Child!

Image via Wikipedia

In today’s seemingly accepting society, why does bullying continue to be such a terrible epidemic? Why are gay teens still heavily targeted by kids in schools and social settings? And why are kids who are outside of the normative pop-culture box automatically seen as gay or weird? I see this behavior even at the elementary school level, where the biggest insult a child can throw at someone they don’t like is a gay slur. We have a problem–one that’s resulted in numerous suicides by teens breaking under the pressure of needless harassment and hatred.

Schools have anti-bullying programs in full effect, and in many ways, they are effective in eliminating the acute bullying attacks that kids experience. What is missing, however, is a way for kids to deal with the subtle bullying that continues to happen in the hallways and playgrounds. For instance, a child that alerts an authority will often fall subject to additional bullying for “telling,” enduring the continuation of threats and shaming albeit in subversive and low whispers. This goes on to create an intensely hostile environment for the victim and those who witness this behavior. I worry that the gap between the administration and hallway socialization is ultimately pushing bullying underground.
When children feel threatened, they cannot learn,” says Arne Duncan U.S. Education Secretary. Time and time again we see a bullied child revert inward to escape the emotional trauma induced by bullying antics, leaving things like school work on the wayside. Honestly, fractions become banal when one’s fighting for their survival on the social level.

Many things define bullying:

  • Verbal: name-calling and teasing.
  • Social: spreading rumors, leaving people out on purpose, breaking up friendships
  • Physical: hitting, punching, shoving
  • Cyberbullying: using the Internet, mobile phones, or technology to cause harm.

Remember, an act of bullying can fall into any of these categories, be it in one area, or several.

The BULLIED may:

  • Have higher risk of depression and anxiety, including the following symptoms, that may persist into adulthood:
    • Increased feelings of sadness and loneliness
    • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
    • Loss of interest in activities
  • Have increased thoughts about suicide that may persist into adulthood. In one study, adults who recalled being bullied in youth were 3 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts or inclinations.
  • Are more likely to have health complaints. In one study, being bullied was associated with physical health status 3 years later.
  • Have decreased academic achievement (GPA and standardized test scores) and school participation.
  • Are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.
  • Are more likely to retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.

And the BULLY may:

  • Have a higher risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults.
  • Are more likely to get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school.
  • Are more likely to engage in early sexual activity.
  • Are more likely to have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults. In one study, 60% of boys who bullied others in middle school had a criminal conviction by age 24.
  • Are more likely to be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses or children as adults.

And the WITNESSES:

  • Have increased use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs.
  • Have increased mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
  • Are more likely to miss or skip school

Where the concern lies mostly in helping the bullied, and punishing the bully, it helps to remember that the latter is suffering as well. What makes a bully is often times another bully. It’s important that in our ardent efforts to heal the effects of bullying, we don’t forget to examine the cause. If you discover that your child is the bully, get them help. Find out the cause of their violence and do something about it.

Bullying impacts everyone: the bullied, the bully, and the witness. No one gets out unscathed.

Statistics sourced from:
StopBullying.gov

Get into ACTION:
Challenge Day (www.challengeday.org)