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.

Why Do Women Suffer More From Anxiety and Depression Than Men?

Dr. Amen and his team in California just released results from a SPECT imaging study conducted on thousands of men and women. The participants were scanned at baseline (not doing a task) and during a concentration task. The scans analyzed 128 brain regions.

The study revealed that women’s brain activity was high in 65 brain regions at baseline, while men’s brain activity was only high in 9. During the concentration task, women’s brains were activated in 48 regions, while men’s brains showed increased activity in only 22 regions.

According to the study authors, in women, brain activity was significantly higher in the region associated with impulse control and decision-making and the regions which play a role in emotions, mood, and anxiety.

The authors believe that this study may shed some light as to why women suffer double the rates of mood and anxiety disorders and double the rates of Alzheimer’s.

For complete information on the study, see Article on Dr. Amen’s study

Book Spotlight: All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg.

Sonja+Yoerg+8x10

This is a fantastic author and I am lucky to be able to spotlight her book for you. It was an Editor’s Pick by the Historical Novel Society and it was named THE BEST BOOK EVER SET IN VERMONT by Travel & Leisure magazine. The author tackles the very difficult subject of Schizophrenia, and in 1972. It is an intricately crafted story of mental illness, magic and misfortune across three generations.

“I’m asked often why so many writers live in a state as small as Vermont, and why so many books are set here. The answer is partly the landscape, but mostly it’s the people. And in All the Best People, Sonja Yoerg has captured the magic and the madness that makes the Green Mountains a microcosm for so much of rural America. Her people are real people, authentic and quirky and troubled. I cared for them all.” — Chris Bohjalian, NYT bestselling author of The Flight Attendant

Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying, ordinary life. She cares for her children, balances the books for the family’s auto shop and laughs when her husband slow dances her across the kitchen floor. Her tragic childhood might have happened to someone else.
But now her mind is playing tricks on her. The accounts won’t reconcile and the murmuring she hears isn’t the television. She ought to seek help, but she’s terrified of being locked away in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole hides her symptoms, withdraws from her family and unwittingly sets her eleven-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning and power: in Tarot cards, in omens from a nearby river and in a mysterious blue glass box belonging to her grandmother.

An exploration of the power of courage and love to overcome a damning legacy,  “All the Best People” celebrates the search for identity and grace in the most ordinary lives.

Buy this book here

Book Spotlight: Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL, is a complex and engrossing cross-cultural family drama that tackles big issues: in addition to themes of immigration, identity, and parenthood, it takes a 360-degree look at mental illness. The story follows the life of Lucia, a vibrant young Chinese-American woman with schizophrenia, as well as the lives of Lucia’s protective older sister, her Swiss doctor husband, a charismatic Israeli shopkeeper, and the young, undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant who fathers Lucia’s child. 
The author was gracious to participate in a Q&A with me.
Q: Your novel deals with what it’s like to have a mental illness, as well as what it’s like to love someone with a mental illness. Why this approach?
A: An illness like schizophrenia affects everyone in its wake. In recent years, we’ve seen more and more narratives about these illnesses, but they are usually memoirs told from one person’s point of view, and most often in the context of white, middle-class families. I wanted to portray mental illness from several different perspectives, and to place the illness squarely in the context of people’s lives. Lives are chaotic and messy, and I wanted to explore the conflicts these illnesses can amplify in families – in this case, a cobbled-together, unconventional family of immigrants from diverse ethnic/cultural backgrounds, but a family that is trying its hardest to love each other nonetheless.
 
Q: Have you had personal experience with mental illness?
A: Yes, I’ve seen members of my own family struggle with this illness. I’ve seen psychotic episodes up close, those breaks from reality where people may become convinced the TV is sending them secret messages, or the FBI has planted a bug in their head. It sounds silly, almost, but when it’s someone you love, and they can’t be swayed, and you’re watching them transform before your eyes into someone you don’t understand anymore — it feels both terrifying and incomprehensible. It can also be extremely difficult to know what to do – if your loved one lacks insight (the clinical term is “anosognosia”) and doesn’t acknowledge that they’re ill, it’s almost impossible to find help for them. 
 I’ve also dealt with the mental health care system, and am familiar with how frustrating it can be to finally get your loved one to a hospital, only to have them turned away because they’re not “an imminent danger.” So often, in dealing with these illnesses, family members end up feeling powerless and paralyzed.
 
Q: Lucia, the protagonist, is a fascinating character. She’s radiant, impulsive, quirky, yearning. What was writing her character like?
A: Lucia was tricky to write – yes, she has an illness, which surfaces from time to time, but she’s also still so much herself, brilliant and perceptive and full of dreams and passions. I wanted readers to relate to her as a modern woman – someone yearning for love, family, career, a sense of belonging – and to also learn something about her illness, and be able to sympathize. But at the same time her illness could not entirely let her off the hook for her actions and choices. She had to be a nuanced, fully three-dimensional character, with both strengths and flaws. And the reader would have to decide for themselves what they might’ve done in her position, or in the position of one of her family members. That was my goal for her, and the book – to have readers disagree over what each character should’ve done. 
 
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?  
A: I hope they’ll gain a sense of the issues surrounding schizophrenia, which is perhaps still the most severe and stigmatized of all the mental illnesses, but one deserving of just as much compassion. We shouldn’t need celebrities to tell us it’s okay to struggle before we accept that as the truth. I also hope people see that these illnesses are only one component of a person’s life, and can relate to the humanity at the core of each of my many characters – as sisters, mothers, husbands, lovers, as modern women, as flawed human beings who yearn for love and belonging. Finding empathy for people in situations unlike our own – I think that’s a hugely important reason to read fiction.
You can buy this incredible book at a bookstore near you or on Amazon