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Interview: Bullying In the Family

Bullying and The Family

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Támara Hill, M.S., LPC-I is a therapist specializing in child and adolescent behavioural and mood disorders including trauma. She works with families to help them understand their options that will help their kids utilize their strengths in the home, school, and community. As an internationally quoted therapist and media contributor, Tamara aims to empower families from various walks of life to gain further knowledge and rediscover authentic living. She talks to us about Bullying In the Family!

Bullying In the Family

Is bullying as big an issue today as it was say 10 years ago?

I’m not sure there is a correct answer to this question. I think this would depend on who you talk to. Research suggests that children and adolescents today experience more bullying than ever before and this bullying is more sophisticated than ever before. One of the reasons why bullying has taken such a drastic turn is the implementation of technology. Technology is the world’s masterpiece and has added both positive and negative components to our lives. With technology, kids engage in a lot of “social media bullying.”

However, a lot of people are unaware of the various ways in which kid’s bully, so it can look like bullying is not a big issue, but the reality is that it is. Bullying has gotten so bad that various advocacy groups are beginning to push state laws to crack down on frequent bullying.

According to stopbullying.gov: “bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is repeated or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

Over 3.2 million kids are victims of bullying every year, with about 160,000 teens skipping school daily to avoid it. A fact that shocks many families is that about 75%, according to dosomething.org, of school shootings include harassment and bullying. Sadly, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among 15-24 year old ones. Kids, teens, and young adults who experience bullying, often also experience depression and anxiety, which can lead to thoughts of suicide. Bullying is a very serious issue and I’m afraid society isn’t as plugged in to the reality of the effects of bullying as they should be. A small segment of people still believe bullying is not serious and that kids should “fight it out” and “develop a backbone.” This type of thinking impedes our progress as a society.

Do you see a difference in how bullying happens today – for example social media, mobile phones?

Yes, definitely. Bullying has taken a drastic turn and now includes avenues parents sometimes have very limited access to. For example, a mother who has a 16 year old son will most likely not have his password and username for Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, or a chat room. Sadly, this mother may not know that her son is being harassed on these social media sites and has no one to help him. Kids have become way more sophisticated with technology than we are often aware of.

With current media coverage on Bullying and Cyber Bullying is the situation improving? How do people Bully others today?

I’m afraid it isn’t improving as much as we’d like it to. Of course, we’ve gotten more media coverage on bullying than ever before and many advocacy groups, petitions, and school districts discuss and attempt to address bullying. But unfortunately, the real change will only come when laws begin to affect the bully or perpetrator and when parents are held responsible for the violent and humiliating behaviour of their children. I’m of the firm belief that if parents are held to higher standards by the law in matters of bullying, that many would do more to prevent it, derail it, and ultimately stop it. Sadly, kids are bullied in various ways today, but there are four prominent types of bullying:

o             Cyber (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc.)

o             Verbal (name calling, taunting, inappropriate statements, etc.)

o             Social (attempting to destroy someone’s reputation, rumours, ostracising)

o             Physical (hitting, kicking, scratching, biting, etc.)

What are the warning signs a parent should look out for – to try and identify if their child is being bullied?

Many loving and protective parents ask me this question and I find that there is no cut and dry way to determine if your child is being bullied. Some kids are just really good at covering it up, while in other cases parents are not as plugged in as they should be. But I encourage many families, parents, and caregivers to consider the temperament and behaviour of their child and look for any abrupt changes. It is important to screen for the following signs of bullying:

o             Irritability, angry outbursts

o             Dropping grades

o             Refusal to go to school (especially if school was never a problem in the past)

o             Avoidance of parent(s) after school

o             Torn or ripped clothing

o             Unexplained marks, bruises, scratches, or injuries

o             Anxiety and depression

o             Talk of suicide

o             Questions on how to protect oneself

o             Lack of appetite after school (especially if this was never a problem in the past)

o             Unexplained nausea or morning sickness

In many cases, children can experience all of the above without ever having been bullied. But it is important to consider these things if your child begins exhibiting these signs without any logical explanation as to why.

How to deal with a bullied child?

In your opinion, how should a parent approach Bullying with their children to ensure they understand how wrong it is?

Parents often find it difficult to address the issue of bullying, especially if it is happening at school and not in one’s neighbourhood. Sadly, many parents and families feel either intimidated by the school system and would rather not address bullying or simply don’t know what to do to stop it. In other cases, if the bully is your child, it can be even more difficult to discuss this issue. But many parents can start the discussion by speaking about the physical and emotional effects of bullying on victims and the consequences kids can receive.

For parents of the victim, I encourage families in this position to do the following at home and in the school district:

Bullying In the Family: the situation at Home

o Discuss it openly: Kids need adults who do not fear the topic of bullying. A lot of parents would rather not deal with this issue because it’s so complicated and often pulls adults into “mini confrontations.” But the goal is to help our children feel heard, understood, and protected so we must discuss this, ask questions, and encourage our kids to be open about it with us.

o Role play: I do this a lot with my students and clients in therapy. It can be very helpful to role play with kids a bullying scenario and how to respond positively. You are providing practice.

o Encourage them to include an adult right away: Many kids refuse to tell an adult for fear or getting in trouble, not being believed, or understood. You can help your child feel more comfortable by developing a list of people to write down that your child feels comfortable talking to about the bullying.

o Become your child’s advocate: Write letters to parents, school districts, Principals, advisory boards, and advocacy groups about the bullying. You can have your child or teen also write a letter. Each time the bullying occurs, make sure you document it.

o Teach youngsters to recognize poor peer relationships: It’s often difficult for children and even teens to recognize when they are being bullied. Bullying is so insidious today and many parents have to closely monitor their child’s entourage.

Bullying In the Family: At School

o Find a way to encourage broad (mandatory) education on the psychological/emotional effects of bullying. Many schools are now offering classes, seminars, and events around bullying prevention.

o Ensure that schools issue consequences for the bullying behaviours and follow up with school administrators when necessary by letter, email, or phone.

o Encourage your school district to consider incorporating aids to ride the bus with kids to and from school daily.

If a child has been Bullied – what is the best advice for them?

Kids need to know that it is often not their fault for being bullied. Many kids have tough lives, mental and behavioural health problems, and difficulty with social/interpersonal relationships. This often has nothing to do with the child being bullied, but much to do with the bully.

Kids also need to know that bullying often stems from a person’s inability to control their internal instabilities (self-esteem, temperament, inferiority, frustration tolerance, emotion regulation, etc.). Our job as adults, parents, educators, motivators, therapists, etc. is to teach kids how to move beyond what the bully intends to do to them. The best way to defeat an enemy is to reverse the response they intended for you to have. For example, most bullies thrive on responses such as crying, anger, fear, and physical fights. If a child can use their coping skills and avoid these kinds of responses to the bully, they ultimately win. The bully has no more power.

 On the Long Run

Is there likely to be long term effects on children who are Bullied?

Yes, absolutely. The long-term effects often include:

  • Lowered self esteem
  • Anxiety and depression/other mental health problems
  • Difficulty learning
  • High blood pressure
  • PTSD in some cases
  • Self-injurious behaviours

What is the impact for family live – on parents and brothers and sisters of someone who has been bullied?

Siblings often experience as much emotional and psychological distress as the sibling being bullied. It is important that siblings are also spoken to about the bullying, allowed to ask questions, and given an opportunity to speak out about it. Siblings can also write letters to their school districts or Principals.

Are parents and teachers dealing with bullied victims or bullies in the right way?

I would have to say no. Advocacy is great in its place, but the only way to move past advocacy into action is to actually implement consequences for bullying. It is my belief that children and adolescents who frequently bully or receive repeated suspensions from school, should be court-ordered into therapy or behavioural management classes to learn more effective ways of engaging with peers. Many kids who bully have their own emotional and psychological problems including problems at home that contribute to their behaviour. If kids are court-ordered by a judge or legal authority to receive treatment for their behaviour, this may not only serve as a deterrent for others who bully, but also the child would receive much needed care and attention. We have to start implementing lasting changes within our society in order to progress in this area as we so desire.

Have you knowledge of any severe cases and consequences of Bullying? 

  •  There are lots of cases involving bullying all over the world. In fact, an incident occurring in 2012 involving a Canadian victim of an alleged rape committed suicide because her peers posted inappropriate details of the rape on social media.
  •  Earlier this year, April 2013, a Texas college was shocked when their classmate entered the room and began stabbing, with a razor-type knife, 14 of his fellow classmates. It was alleged that he was bullied for a hearing deficit.

Many cases of this nature often entail bullying. Let’s not forget about the Virginia Tech shooting which involved Seung-Hui Cho, who was alleged to have been bullied.

Any current trends (with Bullying In the Family) we should be aware of?

I think the most important current trends would be social media. We must be aware of what our kids are doing on their ipads, nooks, computers, phones, and other devices. Today, it is not absurd to see a 5-year-old with an ipad or cell phone that gives them access to social media. The more sophisticated our technology, the younger the audience. So we must stay privy to what they are doing and who they are connecting with.

If you want to learn more from Tamara Hill, you can follow her on Pinterest, Twitter, her blog or contact her directly via her email ([email protected])

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