|Counseling and Psychiatric Services for Adolescents and Young Adults
Thursday, April 5th, 2012
Bully is a huge problem in schools today. Image via Wiki.
It is on the news. It is a big topic at our schools. It is the subject of legislation in almost all 50 states. All this attention on 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.
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.
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.
As a child or teen today, you are generally bullied everywhere except the playground including 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 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 cyber bullying, 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, it just makes it harder for the children and teens in your life to come to you and ask for help. 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.
Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
Some guys doing intimidation in Instituto Regional Federico Errázuriz, Santa Cruz, Chile (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You get a phone call at work from your daughter’s school. The Vice Principal would like to meet with you as soon as possible about a bullying incident involving your daughter. Your heart sinks as you promise to be there as soon as you can. You wonder if she is ok, worry about the long term ramifications she will face from being bullied, try to figure out what she is getting picked on for and think back over her whole life to see if there is something more you could have done to protect her.
It never crosses your mind that your daughter isn’t the one being bullied; she is the bully.
We as parents struggle to see anything but the best in our children and often it doesn’t seem possible that they could be the one hurting someone else. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t lie which means there are 2.1 million sets of parents out there who have a child who is a bully. Parents are essential to the prevention and elimination of this kind of behavior and that includes all parents, not just those of the children who are the victims. Parents of bullies may be the key to turning the tide against this pervasive crime being committed against and by our children everyday.
How Can You Tell if Your Child is a Bully?
The first thing parents need to do is come to terms with the fact that their child is engaging in behavior that is unhealthy for them and damaging to others. An adolescent that is bullying others is not necessarily a “bad kid” and being the parent of a bully doesn’t automatically mean that you are a bad parent. People engage in bullying behavior for a reason and the most important thing you can do to help your child is to uncover that reason.
If you are concerned that your child may be bullying others, there are some things you can look for. Bullies lack empathy and struggle feeling or finding sympathy for others. Bullies believe that aggression is a valuable tool for dealing with other people and often exhibit a belligerent attitude. Bullies like to be the leader, the one in charge, and the one who makes and enforces the rules. When they win, they like to lord it over those they beat and when they lose, it is everyone’s fault but their own. They are impulsive and may exhibit bullying behavior toward siblings. Bullying behavior includes any verbal, social, physical, or online action that is repetitive and intentionally harmful.
What Makes Children and Teens Bully Others?
The perception that every bully is a social outcast who is lashing out at others in an attempt to repair or elevate their own self-esteem is outdated. While this does describe some bullies, it also contributes to the idea that popular, socially-adept adolescents with intact families aren’t bullies, which is not the case. Teenagers bully others for a variety of reasons many of which start at home. If your child is being bullied or has been bullied by someone at home, they may model that behavior and bully others. Children who never learn or lack empathy may become bullies because they don’t take the feelings of the other person into account. Whatever the reason, adolescents need to be taught that this behavior is never acceptable.
How Does Bullying Affect the Bully?
Being bullied can have devastating, life-long affects, but being the bully can also cause long term problems. Children who bully others are more likely to struggle in school, to smoke, to drink, and to engage in criminal behavior into their adult years. When children bully others and experience no repercussions, it reinforces the idea that this behavior is acceptable and that being mean-spirited, dismissive, and degrading to other people can be a source of power. This is a dangerous lesson that underlines how important it is for parents to stand up, step in, and speak out.
How Can You Help Your Child?
Here are some things you can do to help your child see that bully behavior is not acceptable and encourage them to stop participating or engaging in things that are intentionally damaging to others.
- Treat the issue as seriously as it is. It isn’t a phase or something they will grow out of. You need to reinforce the idea that intentionally causing harm to others is never acceptable.
- Work with your child to uncover the reason for their behavior. It may be helpful to seek the services and expertise of a medical practitioner, counselor, or therapist. This is also a great time to connect with your child’s teachers, school counselor, or other school resource to talk about any problems or difficulty in school.
- Model the behavior you want your child to emulate. Be empathetic, show sympathy for others, don’t fly off the handle and lash out in anger.
- Help your child develop positive problem solving skills.
- Never allow bullying behavior to continue in your presence no matter who is doing the bullying.
- Talk to your child away from their peers; don’t bring up this or other sensitive topics in front of others.
- See the new documentary called Bully as a family and use it as a way to start and/or continue the conversation.
Monday, November 21st, 2011
In order to protect teenagers from sexual abuse, it is important that both parents and teens understand what constitutes sexual abuse. While it is broadly defined as abuse that can be considered sexual in nature, some acts, like date rape or sexual advances from an adult are generally considered by everyone to be forms of sexual abuse. But things like voyeurism, exposure to pornography, and exhibitionism that do not involve direct physical contact between a teen and a perpetrator are also forms of sexual abuse and can be as devastating s physical abuse to the victim.
Although most teenage sexual abuse is committed by an adult in a position of power, it is also important for teenagers to understand that the perpetrator doesn’t have to be an adult for sexual activity to be considered abuse. Teenagers need to be aware that being drunk, drugged, afraid, or otherwise incapacitated does not make sex consensual. Even if they don’t fight back, unwanted sexual advances and forced sexual activity is sexual abuse and is illegal.
Amongst teenagers, girls are more likely to be the victims of sexual abuse and 1 in 4 girls will have been sexually abused by the age of 18. The majority of teenage sexual abuse victims know their abuser. The most common type of abuser is a family member or someone who has close ties to the family. More than 50% of females who are raped in theU.S.are raped before they turn 18 and teenagers account for more than half of all reported sexual abuse in this country. Abuse victims have an increased risk of being abused again and teens between 16 and 19 are more than 3 times as likely as anyone else to be the victim of sexual abuse. The majority of sexual abuse against teenagers happens in their own homes. Teenagers also make up almost a quarter of sexual offenders.
While the report rate for sexual abuse across all ages is about 50%, this statistic drops to 31% amongst teenagers. Due in part to anxiety about the social stigma of being a victim and fears of retribution, many teens choose not to report their abuse in an attempt to forget it happened at all. Other factors like mediocre arrest rates, conviction rates below 20%, and short prison sentences may also deter victims from stepping forward.
It is very common for victims of teen sexual abuse to have changes in behavior and to exhibit the same symptoms as a teen who has survived a traumatic event. Common behaviors seen in victims of teen sexual abuse include:
- Increased anxiety and panic attacks
- Eating disorders
- Displaced anger
- Nightmares and difficulties sleeping
- Problems in school including acting out in class and rapidly falling grades
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and activities
- Self destructive behavior like cutting, using drugs, or promiscuity
- Poor hygiene or excessive bathing
- Running away
- Suicidal thoughts, talking about suicide, and attempting suicide
- Discussing sexual knowledge or language that is not age appropriate
Preventing Sexual Abuse
The best way to help prevent your teen from becoming the victim of sexual abuse is to arm them with information. Understanding what constitutes sexual abuse can help teens identify and avoid dangerous situations. Discussing the topic openly lets your teen know that if something does happen, they can come to you for understanding and support. Help your teen practice saying no and empower them to be the boss of their own body. Just as with smaller children, don’t force teenagers to hug or have physical contact with family members or any other person if it makes them uncomfortable. Give them the absolute right to say no if they do not want someone touching them and you will empower them to say no when it matters most.
How to Get Help
Sexual abuse is traumatic and can cause serious issues with sexuality, self esteem, trust, loyalty, and the development of healthy relationships. Teens who have been victims of sexual abuse may be struggling with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, cutting, and other self harm or self destructive behaviors. The first step is to find the right practitioner who can provide the treatment and support needed to overcome the effects of the abuse. Together with this professional, parents and friends can create a caring, understanding support system to aid in recovery.