Why Is Bullying Such a Big Deal?

Bullying is on the news.  It is a big topic in our schools. 

It is the subject of legislation in almost all 50 states. 

All this attention for something that has been going on as long as there have been people on the planet seems like an overreaction to some, and another example of how today’s parents are coddling their children to others.

While this attitude may seem insensitive and callous, it isn’t usually malicious or ill-intended.  To many of these people, being bullied was just part of growing up, almost a rite of passage that everyone had to deal with in one way or another.

But times have changed and even though the need for some people to bully others remains, today’s bullies are not the bullies from your childhood.

How Parents Respond to Bullying

Parents and grandparents of today’s children sometimes struggle to understand why bullying has become such a big deal.

They look back to their childhood and see themselves overcoming being bullied, standing up to their bully, walking away from their bully and becoming the bigger person.

In this light, it is easy to see why people still view bullying as a part of childhood that builds character and teaches valuable life lessons.  However, this nostalgic view of childhood doesn’t fit when superimposed on the lives of children living today.

Where Bullying Occurred

For previous generations, most bullying happened on the playground, in the park, on the walk home from school.  The places you could be bullied were limited, often to those few locations where there were no adults to intervene.

You could, in theory, kick your bully in the shins and run home to safety.  You always knew who your bully was because he or she was the one standing in front of you acting mean.

Bullying wasn’t really a private matter because it had to be done in person.  Even going after someone in the bathroom carried the risk of others walking in and intervening.

Being a bully was a bad thing and even if the bully had some henchmen, he was the social outcast and the others banded around you when you took your stand.

Bullying Today is Different

As a child or teen today, you are generally bullied everywhere except the playground. Bullying occurs inside the classroom, at lunch, at home in their bedroom, and in cyberspace.

There is no limit to where or how often someone can bully you because they no longer have to be standing in front of you in order to harm you.

This also means that it is very easy to bully anonymously which removes much of the social pressure not to do it to others.

You can still run home, but you won’t feel any safer there. That’s because the way your bully can do the most damage is less likely to be physical than it is to be mental, emotional, and social.

The nature of bullying today, especially cyberbullying, lends itself to private attacks that are both pervasive and unrelenting.

Today’s bullies are also more likely to travel in packs and less likely to be the social outcasts.  They are often popular with lots of friends, which only increases the power they have to hurt others.

Rather than feeling surrounded and supported by all the other kids on the playground who are being bullied by the bad kid, you feel isolated and alone as if you are the only one this is happening to.

Trying to chalk bullying up to a normal part of growing up or downplay the damage it does to the children of today doesn’t make the problem go away. Minimizing bullying just makes it harder for the children and teens in your life to come to you and ask for help.

What You Can Do About Bullying

If you know someone you think may be a victim of being bullied, encourage them that they are not alone.

Don’t be afraid to talk to a teacher, parent, or healthcare professional to seek help.

We all need to do our part to raise awareness that bullying is happening. In time, hopefully, we’ll be able to recreate the cultural norm where once again, bullies aren’t celebrated but called out for their behavior.

7 Signs Your Child is Being Bullied

Rich bullying Simon

Do you know if your teen is being bullied? Image via Wikipedia

It is on the news.  It is on the web.  It is in your child’s school.  You know that bullying is a problem and are confident you could help your child if they were being bullied.  You may be right; but the reality is, you might not even know that it’s happening.  Studies have shown that although almost 50% of children are bullied at some point in their life, less than half of them will talk to their parents about what is happening.  If the bullying is happening in cyberspace, that drops to 5% according to StopCyberBullying.org.  In order to protect your child, you need to know what to watch for and when to step in and take a stand for your child while teaching them to stand up for themselves.

Here are 7 signs your child may be the victim of bullying.

1.    They Stop Being Social

Tweens and teens are, by their very nature, social creatures.  They have entered the part of their adolescence when the opinions of friends and peers become more important than those of their parents and families.  If your formerly social teen suddenly stops spending hours on the phone, texting at dinner, posting everything to Facebook, or playing their favorite online game, you should take that as a big red flag.   Watch for a suddenly shrinking social circle, unwillingness to participate in activities like dance classes, sports, youth groups, or extracurricular activities they have always enjoyed.

2.     Acting Out at Home

When teens are unhappy, stressed, or struggling with issues they can’t fix, like being the victim of a bully, they often lash out at the people who love them like parents and siblings.  This is a normal response called transference and is a red flag for parents.  Pay attention if your teenager’s attitude toward family members radically changes and they start lashing out angrily at younger brothers and sisters or you.

3.     Avoiding School or Other Places

Teens who suddenly resist going to school without any stated reason may be struggling with a bully.  This holds true for other places as well, especially if it is a place where they generally spend time with their friends or other teens their age.

4.     Grades Take a Nosedive

If your A and B student suddenly starts getting D’s and F’s, you may need to consider that they are being bullied before exacerbating the problem by getting angry, imposing punishments, or otherwise responding to the grades themselves.

5.     Unexplained Illnesses

If your otherwise healthy teen suddenly seems to be sick with generalized, non-specific symptoms all the time, it can be a sign that they are being bullied.  It is important to have them checked out by their pediatrician or family doctor in order to rule out any medical conditions, but if the doctor can’t find an underlying cause, it may be the stress of being bullied.  Feeling unwell can also give teens a way to avoid going to events or interacting with people, which is another red flag.

6.     Changes in Habits or Routines

If your child’s eating habits, sleeping habits, or other routines radically change overnight, it may be a red flag that they are being victimized by a bully.  Teens may suddenly eat much more, stop eating, sleep all the time, have trouble sleeping, and/or experience nightmares as a result of being bullied.

7.     Depressed, Hopeless, Suicidal

Teens who are being bullied can become very depressed and sad and express a feeling of hopelessness about the world and their lives.  They may talk about suicide and blame themselves for things that are not their fault.  While teenagers can be moody, wild shifts in mood accompanied by changes in outlook and attitude may be more than just hormones.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, talk to them, talk to their medical provider, talk to the school, and keep talking until you feel confident that your child’s well-being is not being endangered by another child’s bullying behavior. If bullying is confirmed, you will want to find a counselor who can also help you and your teen process the effects of  bullying on their self esteem.

Stressed Out Parents Create Stressed Out Kids

Stressed out.  Anxious.  Worried.

If you were asked which members of your family are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, which would you choose?  Most of us would choose ourselves, our spouses, or our partners.  We, the parents, are the ones who are worried about paying bills, anxious over the economy and stressed out from being overworked, underpaid, or unemployed.  If you picked yourselves, you are definitely right and possibly wrong at the same time.   By picking yourselves, you are indicating that you are part of the 33% of adults that are routinely experiencing a high level of stress and who would know better than you, right?  However, you may also need to pick your kids, especially if you are one of the 33%.  Because whether you believe it or not, if you are stressed, your stress is rubbing off on your kids.

Do you know how your kids act when they are stressed out?  If you are like most parents, you probably don’t.  The majority of us don’t think our children are overly stressed or worried, even though 1 in 5 of them is experiencing a high degree of stress.  This disparity between what parents think children are feeling and what children are actually feeling is one of the key findings from the 2010 Stress in America survey published by the American Psychological Association .

The APA survey also found that almost 70% of parents feel their own stress has little to no effect on their children.  The children’s responses, however, tell a different story.  When asked how they feel when their parents are stressed, tweens and teens indicated that they feel sad, depressed, worried, frustrated, annoyed, and helpless.

Our kids are also better at reading us than we are at reading them.   You may not be able tell when they are stressed, but you can be sure that they know how you act when your stress begins to boil over.  Almost all children can point to the specific behaviors their parents exhibit when they are stressed out and worried.  Teens cite things like yelling, arguing with others, having no patience, irritability, and being too busy to spend time with them as signs of parental stress.

Signs You Are Stressed

You may think you know how to tell when you are stressed out but the signs are not the same for everyone and there may be subtle cues on the way from stressed to burned-out that you are missing.  The keys to helping everyone in your family reduce their stress level and learn to manage stress more effectively are to understand how stress affects each family member and to help each other see the signs before stress boils over and becomes burn-out.  Here are some of the most common signs of stress in both adults and children.

  1. Attitudes about work or school change becoming more critical and comments about work or school are sarcastic and/or cynical.
  2. Patience decreases or disappears.  Things like traffic, waiting in line, or delays cause immediate responses and angry outbursts.
  3. Everything irritates you.  From the sound of the clock ticking in the kitchen to the way your husband clanks the ice cubes in his glass together when he drinks puts you on edge.
  4. You feel lethargic and don’t seem to have the energy you need to do housework, schoolwork, participate in sports, exercise, visit with friends, or do other activities you normally enjoy.
  5. Things feel hopeless.  Everything seems to be an insurmountable obstacle from a chemistry test to weeding the garden.
  6. Everyone keeps asking you if you are ok.
  7. Even good things don’t make you happy.
  8. Your sleeping and/or eating habits have changed.  You are either sleeping too much or too little, eating more than you should or not at all.

Make stress management a family affair and talk to your kids about the signs of stress, what is stressing them out, and ways you can all work on managing the stress of the family together.  Just remember, talking about stress and how to manage it isn’t a license to discuss all your adult problems with your kids.  You can work as a family to learn to manage stress better without stressing your kids out more by unloading all of your adult problems onto them.

  • Helping Teens with Holiday Stress (doorwaysarizona.com)
  • Stressed women know it. Stressed men … not so much. (psychologytoday.com)
  • Help For Stressed Out Families (fulleryouthinstitute.org)

Build Family Bonds: Life Lessons from Family Game Night

As teens stretch their wings and start functioning farther and farther from the family unit, some parents struggle both with letting go and with finding ways to entice their teens back into the nest for a little family time.  The bonds created by shared experience are just as important to teens as they are to toddlers. If your family has children of different ages, one of the best ways to have fun as a family is to have family game night.

Family game night provides the one thing you need to entice your teen, fun.  It may not be the kind of fun that comes from holding a controller or looking at a laptop, but it may be enough to get them to the table.  Once the game starts, your teen’s competitive nature and the sense of family togetherness will keep them coming back for more.  While the main goal is spending time having fun together, family game night also offers some valuable life lessons that everyone, even Mom and Dad, can benefit from.  As an added bonus, you might make a lifelong memory or two as you battle over the Monopoly Board or trounce each other at Trivial Pursuit.

According to Scholastic.com, the lessons learned on family game night don’t come from playing the educational game with the highest teacher rating or from stocking the shelf with every new game on the market.  The lessons about life are taught in small ways just by playing a game together.   From how to communicate to taking turns, these life lessons serve as good reminders for everyone in the family and reinforce important messages that many teens need to hear.

Lesson 1: Play by the Rules

Life is like a board game in that there are specific rules that everyone is expected to follow.  In life, these rules are represented by laws, company policies, school policies, and family expectations.  During family game night, when you play a board game, it is easy to see that when everyone plays by the rules, the game runs smoothly and everyone has the same chance to win or lose.  This is an important message for teens whose world is often too complex for them to see that they same thing is true.  When everyone follows the rules, things run smoothly and everyone has the chance to win.

Lesson 2: Learning How to Win and How to Lose

One of the most valuable lessons that playing games together during a family game night can teach younger children is that sometimes they will win and sometimes they will lose and they are okay, either way.  It doesn’t matter which as long as they do their best and take their win or their loss gracefully.  Many teens and their parents can benefit from revisiting this lesson.  At the end of the day, everyone has days where they are the winner and everyone has days that they are the loser and remembering that can make it easier to be thankful for the wins and to let go of the losses.

Lesson 3:  What Comes Around, Goes Around

In a board game, just like in real life, if you make a move that knocks your brother back to start, it is very likely that he will be looking for a chance to do the same to you.  If you slip your sister a get out of jail free card just because she needs it, she is more likely to spot you a $100 to buy a little plastic house on your property.  It is one thing to say that you should do unto others as you want them to do unto you; it is another to see your sister’s sadness at losing the game after you sent her back to start every time you could.

To get your family excited about family game night, pick a date and then have everyone nominate a game or two to be played.  Hand out voting tokens as the night approaches and let everyone vote for the games they want to play.  The two or three games with the most votes make the cut.  Make sure you have some great snacks on hand and let the family set the flow and pace of the night.  Focus on having fun with your family and you will be amazed at what everyone learns along the way.

 

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Tips and Tricks for Communicating with Your Teen

If you are the parent of an adolescent, it is likely that you will experience problems communicating with them at some point before they become adults.  This is one of the most common problems parents and teens have to overcome and is often the root cause of other problems.

Teens are going through one of the most significant transitions of their lives; they should be learning to make their own decisions, take responsibility for their actions, and to become independent from their parents.  This can be stressful, confusing, and frustrating for them and you as they struggle to handle situations and make decisions without the confidence that comes from experience.  When parents take this struggle and frustration as a personal rejection or label it as just a bad attitude, it can close the door to effective communication at a time when teens need that two way interaction more than ever.

One of the most common mistakes parents make is forgetting that effective communication involves both sending a clear message and trying to receive the message as intended.  Parents need to be able to listen more than they talk.  This can be a challenge when it feels like your teen is being evasive, belligerent, or withdrawn and may feel impossible when it seems like they aren’t listening to you.

Open the door to meaningful communication with your teen by:

  • Being willing to let them talk with you about everything and nothing.  Make sure you have a strong reliable communication channel for the important stuff by using it even when there isn’t anything of great importance to say.
  • Focusing on your teenager, show them you are interested in their life and engaged in your conversation with them by giving them your full attention, listening without judging, and being as respectful to their views and opinions as you expect them to be of yours.
  • Using supportive, engaging language that shows you are listening and invites your teen to ask for advice, seek support, and turn to you in times of trouble.
  • Making sure you stay on the same page by using your own words to restate important points your teen makes to confirm you have a shared understanding.
  • Involving your teen in decision making and troubleshooting as a team.
  • Maintaining a daily connection by spending time together, even if it is only a few minutes before bed or the length of the car ride to school.
  • Using shared interests and activities to provide teens with a pressure-free platform to talk.  It isn’t always easy for them to bring up sensitive issues or to talk through things they are struggling with when they are on the spot.
  • Respecting your teen’s privacy.  This helps foster independence and creates a bond of trust that increases the likelihood that they will come to you when it really matters.
  • Talking to your teen with respect as you would talk to another adult to help them learn how to communicate and interact like one.

Make sure that door stays open by avoiding the following:

  • Talking down to your teen, demeaning their ideas, or using every conversation as a chance to criticize them. You, of course, can disagree and hold to your own standards and expectations of conduct, but let them know that you value what they say and think.
  • Talking over your teen or interrupting them when they are speaking to you.
  • Dismissing your teen’s point of view or their concerns.
  • Being judgmental, criticizing their friends, belittling their beliefs, or overriding your teen’s opinions.

The bottom line is that you want to be the rock they rely on, the person they know they can always turn to when they are struggling or in trouble.  In order to be that person for them, they need to have confidence that you will listen, you won’t fly off the handle, and you will help them find the right solution to their problem.  The keys to fostering that type of relationship are being reliable, listening, staying calm, and helping them figure out how to solve the problems that matter to them.

“Help! I Can’t Talk to My Teenager, He Says I Don’t Understand!”

By: Jan Hamilton, MS, PMHNP-BC

Every parent who has ever had a teenager understands this feeling.  It is a topic I get asked about a lot and a frequent topic in family therapy.  As teenagers grow, one of the fundamental changes they are making is the formulation of their own identity, separate and distinct from that of their parents.  In former centuries, this change more closely coincided with actual changes in circumstances as well, like getting married, striking out on their own, or taking on more adult responsibilities.  Even so, there were probably quite a few shouting matches and just as much misunderstanding between parents and their teenagers as there is today.

Communication is the key to helping our teenagers navigate the often rocky path between childhood and adulthood.  Unfortunately, the very nature of that change creates significant challenges and barriers to communication.  In order to keep the communication channels open, parents need to take charge of keeping them clear.  Here are 6 things that will help you communicate better with your teen.

1.      Communication is more than Words

Remember that there is more to communicating than just the words that come out of your mouth.  Your teenager is attuned to the subtle and silent messages you send with your body language and the tone of your voice.  If these messages don’t match, your child will interpret what they think you really mean and respond accordingly.

2.     Watch What You Say

Most teenagers have heard what you are about to say a hundred times.  They can tell by the circumstances, your body language, and the tone of your voice what is coming and if it is old news or an unwelcome message, they may tune it out.  Pay attention to all the messages you are sending and look for ways to impart the same message without wandering into a well-known battlefield.

3.     Listen

Communication is not just about talking or educating the other person or convincing them that your point of view is right.  Communication is about a two-way exchange.  You need to learn to listen, to truly listen, to what your teen is saying before you can learn to communicate with them.  Too often, parents tune out their kids as well, only hearing the things they want to hear or using the time their child is talking to think about what they are going to say next.  Listening to your teenager is the most empowering thing you can do.

4.     Trust Your Parenting

Trust in the foundation you provided them and give them room to make choices, fail, and then learn from their mistakes.  Believe in the guidance and education you instilled in them.  Don’t lecture. Focus on listening and allow them to make decisions for themselves.  Bolster their belief in themselves by showing them you believe in their ability to make good decisions.

5.     Be a Curious Observer

One of the reasons teenagers feel so misunderstood is that their lives, bodies, hormones, and relationships are in a constant state of flux.  You can help them through these challenges by providing validation that they are OK, that they are good people, and that what they are going through is normal.  To do this, you must be curious about their lives, ask open-ended questions, and then listen to what they have to say.  But you must only be an observer; you cannot force openness and you shouldn’t use curiosity to spy or pry into their lives.

6.     Watch Out for Transference

Remember that your child is not you.   If you have issues to work through, take the initiative and work through them yourself, don’t assume your child is going down the same path you did or that they will make the same mistakes you made.  You don’t want to  limit their freedom to find their own path, make their own mistakes, and learn to live with the consequences that result because of your own fears or guilt about your past.  The healthier you are, the better you are able to let go when you need to.

 

About Jan Hamilton, MS, PMHNP-BC

Jan is a nationally Board Certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner who specializes in adolescent treatment.  She earned her Master’s of Science and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner certification through the University of Arizona. She then worked for over eight years at Remuda Ranch providing inpatient services for adolescents and adults suffering from eating disorders. Jan has been a registered nurse for 31 years and worked in a wide variety of medical settings, including 30 years of serving young people through her work with Young Life, an interdenominational outreach program. Her desire to provide quality psychological and psychiatric care for adolescents and young adults in an outpatient, faith based setting has led to the opening of Doorways in 2008.