On Bullying and Cyberbullying

My Child Is Being Bullied. What Should I Do?

There are more and more stories from children and media about bullying in the schools. Finding out that your child is being bullied is frightening and you may wonder how much to worry and what to do to help your child. Here are some basic tips on what we know about bullying and ways to handle situations involving your child and bullying.

What is bullying?

  • Spreading rumors
  • Making threats
  • Physical/verbal attacks
  • Excluding someone from a group on purpose
  • Can happen on-line – Cyberbullying

What effect does bullying have on children and teens?

  • Victims, bullies, and witnesses of bullying all experience mental health difficulties from the bullying
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor social functioning
  • Low grades
  • Poor attendance at school
  • Increase in suicide-related behavior

What do we know about children and suicide?

  • According to the CDC, for children ages 10-24, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death. It results in 4600 deaths each year. 45% of deaths are due to firearms. 40% are due to suffocation. 80% of deaths are males.
  • Involvement in bullying (as a victim or a bully) increases a child’s risk for suicidal thoughts or suicide attempt.
  • Factors that can further increase a bullied child’s risk for suicide are: family conflict, exposure to violence, substance abuse, lack of connectedness at school, lack of access to resources/support, emotional distress, disabilities/learning difficulties, sexual/gender identity differences.

What can parents do?

  • Help your child connect at their school. Enroll your child in clubs, sports, or activities at school. Find an adult at school the child likes and trusts.
  • Teach your child coping/life skills and problem-solving skills. Teach your child to speak to a bully in an assertive manner rather than angry manner.
  • Ask your child frequently about being bullied. Teach your child how to respond to bullying rather than be a passive victim. A child needs to be able to feel more power in the situation. Saying things like, “That’s not cool!” “Keep your hands to yourself” or “I don’t understand why you would say something like that” in a firm voice can be a good first response to bullying.
  • Seek help from a pediatrician, psychologist, or a school counselor if needed.
  • Make sure your school has anti-bullying policies and implements them.
  • Don’t allow your child to have social media accounts until your child is 14. Follow your child on all social media accounts to see any cyberbullying your child may be subjected to.
  • Be sure you know the online communities your child participates in. Review your child’s posts. It’s not an invasion of your child’s privacy. Use of computer, smart phone, or tablet should be a privilege and not a right at your home. Be upfront with your child that you will periodically check on all online activity. Watch out for your child’s secretive behavior on electronics.
  • Watch out for signs of bullying or cyberbullying. These are: depression, anxiety, anger, avoidance of friends, decline in grades, refusal to go to school.
  • Teach your child to never retaliate online or engage in a physical fight. Teach your child to speak to you about bullying. Anger shows weakness, which will encourage more bullying. Assertive and calm responses work better.
  • Save all evidence of bullying or cyberbullying, identify the bullies, and file a complaint with the school or a specific social media site. Contact the bully’s parents if possible via a letter, not in person.
  • Contact the police if there are threats of violence, harassing messages, hate or bias messages, sexual messages, or any other crimes involved against your child by a bully. You can also contact an attorney.

For more information, please contact your Pediatrician, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network http://www.nctsn.org/, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry http://www.aacap.org/, or Center for Disease Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/

Teaching Your Teen to Cope with Stress

According to recent American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey, our younger generation is increasingly more stressed. More than 1 in 4 teens and young adults say they do not feel they are doing enough to manage their stress, compared with about 1 in 10 older adults.

The APA’s survey also indicated that teens are more likely to report using passive rather than active coping strategies, which are not always as helpful. Teens rely mainly on taking a nap, listening to music, going online, eating and playing video games to cope with stress and depression. Below are some more active ways of coping which parents can easily discuss and teach to their children.

 Physical Activity

One in five teens and young adults report exercising less than once a week or not at all. Exercise is one of the most effective stress and anxiety relievers. Any of these activities are helpful: yoga, hiking, biking, walking, dancing, running, rock climbing, skateboarding. The best activity is one which involves a social component. Doesn’t need to be a team sport.

Get Enough Sleep

The recommended amount of sleep for teens is 8-10 hours, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2016 recommendations. However, Stress in America Survey found that most teens sleep on average only 7.4 hours. Lack of sleep is related to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression and decreased academic performance. Teens who don’t get enough sleep are 4 times as likely to develop depression as those who are well-rested. Optimum sleep hours for young people start at 11 pm and end at 8 am according to research.

 Resist Pressure

Teens are pressured more than ever to make so many choices, to know exactly who they are, to perform perfectly all the time, to achieve greater and greater. There is competition, social judgement, pressure from parents and teachers and society. Teach them they don’t have to be perfect, don’t have to get it right at any age, can always change their minds and their personality when they are older. What they do now will not determine their entire lives.

Reduce Time Spent On Social Media

Psychologist and pediatricians believe that increasing dependence on social media by teenagers is leading to increased rates of depression and anxiety, especially for girls, although boys are not immune. Girls are more likely to use social media and depend on it for communication, exposing them at greater rates to cyberbullying and preventing other healthier ways of social support. Girls are prone to comparing themselves to peers and defining their identify via others’ opinions, making them very vulnerable to depression after repeated exposures to social media.

There are estimates that the average teen spends 7.5 hours on social media on a typical day. That means your teen feels under pressure to be “clever, smart, popular” for the entire day, first at school and then on social media. It also means your teen is being judged and criticized all day long, exposing your teen to constant social pressure. A rumor spread on social media reaches thousands of people in a second.

It’s stressful, draining and damaging.

A recent Swedish study found that teens who spend a lot of time on the internet are as likely to become depressed and suicidal as teens who use drugs and skip school.

Don’t allow your teen on social media until age 14-15. Teach your teen to limit the number of friends they have on social media and limit how many social media apps they use. Follow your teen on social media to monitor their activity. Teach them to block all cyberbullies and only stay in groups that are fun, entertaining, social. Teach your teen no to use social media for mental health support or share their inner most secrets on social media.

Cut Down On Sugar And Eat More Foods That Give Energy

Your teen should always eat breakfast. Teach them to eat foods that are easy to digest but will give them energy: fruit, nuts, yogurt. Teach them to eat more protein and vegetables and less refined carbs and fast foods.

Meditate or Practice Mindfullness

Mindfullness refers to paying attention to life in the present. Being fully aware of your surroundings and what you are doing. Being in the moment and enjoying it fully, rather than constantly being distracted by electronics, social media, etc. When we don’t have the ability to be in the moment, anxiety can sneak up on us. People who are always distracted and always worry about the future, begin to struggle with chronic stress and anxiety.

Teach your teen to put away their phone at the dinner table or turn off your TV next time that your family is eating dinner. Just focus on eating your food and enjoying its flavors. Or next time your teen is watching a Netflix show, teach them to not Tweet about it or talk to friends about it at the same time. Just discuss fully tuning in to the show. It’s that simple.

Talk To Someone About Your Stress

Everyone is feeling more stressed out these day. It’s absolutely OK to talk about it. Teach your teen to talk to you and other family members about it, to talk to their friends, and, finally, ask to talk to a psychologist about it. There are also many books you can browse on the topic.

Book Spotlight: The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypole White

Book Summary:

Metal artist Katie Mack is living a lie. Nine years ago she ran away from her family in Raleigh, North Carolina, consumed by the irrational fear that she would harm Maisie, her newborn daughter. Over time she’s come to grips with the mental illness that nearly destroyed her, and now funnels her pain into her art. Despite longing for Maisie, Katie honors an agreement with the husband she left behind—to change her name and never return.

But when she and Maisie accidentally reunite, Katie can’t ignore the familiarity of her child’s compulsive behavior. Worse, Maisie worries obsessively about bad things happening to her pregnant stepmom. Katie has the power to help, but can she reconnect with the family she abandoned?

To protect Maisie, Katie must face the fears that drove her from home, accept the possibility of love, and risk exposing her heart-wrenching secret.

From the Author, Barbara Claypole White:

I write hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. My aim is to create characters who challenge stereotypes of invisible disabilities and navigate everyday life with extraordinary courage. All of them are inspired by my poet-musician son, who has battled OCD for nearly twenty years. OCD is a chronic, much misunderstood, illness. It terrorizes you with unwanted thoughts, relentless what-ifs, and crippling irrational fear. Like diabetes, OCD demands constant management. The difference is that no one cracks jokes about insulin shots.

 

Popular culture is quick to focus on either the quirkiness of OCD or compulsive behaviors such as hand washing. For many, however, the struggle is purely mental and easily hidden. This is often the case with postpartum OCD, which tends to manifest as intrusive, obsessive, horrific images of harming your baby. The heroine of my fifth novel, THE PROMISE BETWEEN US, is trapped in a private hell with such thoughts. Unable to escape the misbelief that she’s Norman Bates in dirty yoga pants, Katelyn abandons her baby to protect her, to keep her safe.

 

Many new parents and grandparents suffer with postpartum OCD in silence, too ashamed to seek help. I wish we could obliterate that shame; I wish we could celebrate the strength it takes to live with mental illness and the scars it leaves. In Japan cracked objects are mended with gold—to enhance the notion that damage brings history and beauty. Or, as Leonard Cohen suggested, cracks let in the light. Amen—to finding light and gold.

 

Holiday Gift Guide For Parents

I always encourage parents to create Christmas for their own current family and not to allow it to be influenced as much by their childhood Christmases. By all means—keep your family traditions. Those may be wonderful and special. But don’t let these hold you back from making new ones with your spouse and children. For example, if your parents opened one gift on Christmas Eve and your kids love that, keep that tradition. And then, maybe add a new tradition of something your children would like to do on Christmas Eve that you’ve never done as a child.

The best thing a parent can teach their child is never to compare their family to other families in terms of material goods. These comparisons tend to start at an early age and not just at Christmas. Kids will talk about electronics, clothes, sporting goods they have or don’t have but other family does. By the time they reach teen years, this kind of talk is highly damaging to self-esteem and can cause anxiety and depression.

I very much encourage parents to teach kids that material goods don’t define a human being’s worth and that anyone who compares material goods is not a good friend to keep. According to Psychology Today, studies have shown that children who have FEWER material possessions but positive relationships with parents and peers demonstrate HIGHER self-esteem, LESS behavioral problems and can cope with stress better.

A good way to reinforce this concept around Christmas is to shop for presents for others and to donate clothes and toys to Goodwill, Salvation Army, and any other charity in your local area which is collecting new or used toys or items. Studies have found that people value gifts they buy for others more than gifts they receive and feel happier giving rather than receiving gifts.

Another good way to teach kids gratitude is by expressing appreciation for the things you have as a family rather than talking about things you don’t have. Teach your children that giving meaningful gifts is more important than expensive gifts.

Here are top 5 ways to give your children great gifts but make sure not to spoil them:

  1. Don’t fall into the trap of buying toys from “The Top 10 Hottest Holiday Toys.” Your child doesn’t need the latest electronic gadget. It will be forgotten by the end of January and replaced with their old favorite stuffed animal. You’ll just be stuck paying that credit card bill.
  2. Don’t teach your child that she gets all the things she asks from Santa for Christmas. I taught my children that Santa brings one toy from their list and the rest are surprises. Now that they no longer believe in Santa, they still know they can expect one of the items they ask for. And it’s usually something small but special. They value this one gift a great deal.
  3. Don’t overdo it with a number of gifts. Any parent who has done Christmas a few times can tell you that a kid’s eyes glaze over after about 2 gifts and then you have to beg them to open more. They don’t want more. That first gift they open is the only special one. So, buy 2-3 gifts and then maybe wrap a few items to put under the tree that are not toys but may be fun to open later, after some rest: some candy, stickers, a coloring book, a pack of crayons, playdough, treats to give to a pet.
  4. Make sure to buy gifts that have your child’s interests in mind. Don’t buy a musical instrument in the hope of turning your child into a musical prodigy. Don’t buy a bicycle if the street is covered in snow, just because you got one as a kid. Don’t buy dolls for a girl who loves to build with Legos or buy action figures for a boy who would rather have art supplies.
  5. Teach kids the lesson of giving at Christmas. Shop with them for gifts for others, teach them to wrap and make gifts special. Get them excited about keeping those gifts secret.

 

 

 

New Study on Teens’ Electronics Use

Studies show that U.S. teens spend an average of 8.5 hrs per day on their electronics. Unfortunately, developing adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, and risk-taking behavior. An area of the brain, called prefrontal cortex, which specializes in judgment, impulse control, and planning is still developing in adolescence.

A new study just published in Child Development demonstrates a correlation between late night cell phone use, disturbed sleep, increased risk of depression, risk-taking behavior, and low self-esteem. The study involved 1,1000 teens (ages 13 to16) and took place over 4 years.

This is not quite new information. Psychologists and physicians have known for a while that bright light from electronic screens can interfere with sleep cycles by tricking the brain into thinking that it is still daytime and decreasing production of melatonin. Additionally, the teens continue to think about texts and content of reading/video/audio material on devices and simply can’t relax enough to go to sleep.

Sleep deprivation has previously been demonstrated in research to be linked to depression, risk-taking behavior, poor self-esteem, poor attention, and obesity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged that teens get 8-10 hours of sleep every day.

Psychologists recommend the following for parents of teens:

  • Take TV, computer, tablets out of teen room permanently
  • Take cell phone out of the room at a time you both agree on (should be a time that would allow your teen to get at least 8 hrs of sleep)
  • If your teen insists on listening to music before going to sleep, buy a device that only plays music but doesn’t have a bright screen.
  • Charge all devices in the parents’ room
  • Use a regular alarm clock instead of a phone alarm clock