In Bullying Experts, Expert Interviews

Russel Hyken Offers Advice on Bullying

Dr. Hyken Hyken earned a Ph. D in Psychology from Capella University, an Educational Specialist degree from Webster University, a Masters of Arts in Counseling from Saint Louis University, teaching certification from Washington University and a B.A. in Communications and a B.S. in Marketing from Saint Louis University. He is passionate about helping families during the tumultuous child-rearing years. He Talks to on Advice on Bullying.

The interview can also be found here and here.

Below is a transcript of the interview of Advice on Bullying: 

Dr Russell Hyken: My name is Dr Russell Hyken; I am a licensed professional counselor in the state of Missouri. Prior to going into private practice ten years ago, I was a high school administrator, high school counselor and high school English teacher so I spent my life hanging out with teenagers and as I always like to joke and say I got a lot of degrees, I got a PHD in psychology but really is that time hanging out in the high school where I learnt everything I know and when we talk about bullying I saw it on a daily basis. Currently I have a private license as I said in the state of Missouri and I do psychological educational testing, family therapy, interventions and help families find residential treatment for the troubled kids.

Ciaran Connolly: Very good, excellent and thank you for taking time out with us today to share your knowledge, it’s very much appreciated

RH:Thanks for having me

CC: Is bullying a bigger issue today as it was ten years ago?

RH: You know I think it is, but before we sort of get into if it is a bigger issue, let’s, sort of,  define what bullying is because I think sometimes we realize you know exactly what a bully is and sometimes we unintentionally bully. So let me turn my head here as I want to read a definition so I get it right word for word but Bullying is unwanted or aggressive acts among individuals of any age getting involved in real or perceived power imbalance and so that could be the kid in the schoolyard or the adult in the work place or the parent in the home so as I said unwanted power differential. So is bullying worse than it was ten years ago? I would say bullying is different and more intense than it was, bullying is harder to recognize now than it was, it used to be that you know a kid can come home with a bloody nose or a bruised eye. You know, something like that, now with social media and all of the access we have to technology, now maybe your child is being bullied and you don’t even know it.

CC: Wow, and do you see a difference on how it is happening? And that the social media, as you say, having a new layer of giving the bullies a new vehicle to use to pick up their victims?

RH: Most definitely and some of it is unintentional and some is very intentional and I think a lot of… a lot of, you know, sort of middle school years, preteen, early teen, they really don’t have the moral compass that even a teenager would have. So they put things out on facebook or instagram or whatever that is and they will say something negative about a kid not really realizing how much harm that’s doing and other kids jump in. The next thing, you know, you have somebody who is being bullied and then in reaction to that they are going to do a couple of things, they are going to become anxious and retreat or attack and now we have got bullies bullying bullies so it sort of escalates. (It is) really much different than it was.

CC: And you mentioned there about all the people jumping in on to a post that someone makes, does that label the group as all bullies? And if someone, I see in my stream in my social media, I can like a picture in ten seconds or two seconds even without even thinking so could I make a mistake and bully people without even realizing the consequences?

RH: Ya you said it a “like”, you know somebody posts a picture and a group says “that’s really a dumb picture you are wearing an ugly shirt”, that’s hurtful to a kid, you know, and then a bunch of his friends like it and I can’t stress the importance enough of adult care, until your kid is on their own and paying their own bills, as a parent you have a right to have all the access to their social media, all of their pass codes, and if you start doing that at a really young age, you know I have got a ten and a twelve year old  and we are very limited about what we let them do but there are certain things we feel if we don’t, they are not going to be part of it but they know that they give the pass codes up to us, we tell them to take stuff down. If you start that training, that’s training in a very early age then it is not an issue in a later age but we have the right to that and we should enforce it.

CC: Brilliant, I have had a conversation with some people who have brought up the exact same topic, the UN Charter on the Rights of a Child to privacy and in the same charter it talks about the rights of a child to a safe and secure life and it seems like, as parents, we have a responsibility to make sure our children safe and to protect them and part of that possibly is monitoring the social media, making sure they are safe online.

RH: Alright, you know, when you tell parents this, like don’t spontaneously attack your kid and say “show me what’s on your facebook”, what I always tell families “Give your kids some advance notice” like “you know what? it’s Tuesday, Wednesday on Friday  and sometime over the week I’m going to  look at your facebook page and make sure I’m comfortable with it”, so now your child has a chance to clean that up. If you do that on a regular basis it becomes sort of tedious for them to go through their posts and clean it up so they will just start to naturally act appropriately going on, I know in some points my parents will now “look at this” so I’m not saying (or posting) that. It is all about trust and collaboration and teaching good skills and good parenting skills by that…. By doing it like that, you are good modelling for them (by saying) “hey you know what we trust you but we also going to monitor” and they will do the same when they have kids.

CC: Brilliant and this sort of conversation and starting early, how the parents should approach bullying or making sure a child is safe with social media and all these issues?

RH: You know, in all the context of bullying you have different conversations with different age children. You know, with an eight year old who might accidentally bully a kid isn’t really getting it on the level that a sixteen year old or fifteen years old is going to get it. So you have to be more concrete with that younger kid, you know the question of how would you feel if somebody told you “you re fat or ugly” or, you know, that maybe you know “you play basketball and that’s dumb” or “you really should be playing soccer or football” or you know “basketball players are stupid” how would you feel if somebody called your favorite things dumb or stupid? So with younger kids it is more concrete but with the older kid as they are getting aged (older) it is more of a philosophical piece of that and ask sort of questions that deal with, you know, “how are you seeing bullying going on? what’s that impact? How do you feel when that happens?” I think with the younger kids you just have to be more concrete and black and white.

CC: Excellent, and if a child is being bullied what advice you should give to them? What (are) your first words of encouragement? How do you approach that something with them?

RH: Empathy is number one, you know, really just sort of empathize with your kid and say “I get it ,you know, that you feel really really bad” and talk about some basic strategies, when you get different ages (get) different strategies so with the younger kid I’m going to say “Hey if you are in the playground kind of make sure that you shout out to the teacher so you are not getting bullied” you know with an older kid you might want to say “It is time for you revamp your social circles if you have been bullied within the context of the kids that you hang out with”, you know, little kids and even grade school kids really aren’t so aware of it but starting to notice each other’s differences and we want them to be individuals but with older kids hopefully with the older kids they have different extracurricular activity, different interests may be you know.. your group over here where you are doing something is not treating you nicely, may be you have another where you feel alright so maybe, you know, your team isn’t going well so go hang out more with kids that work on the newspaper or whatever it looks like for your child so with the older kids it’s, you know, develop lots of different peer groups. I always encourage families, you know, it’s great if your kid has a best friend but they need to be experiencing different activities and different venues so push the sports, push the arts, you know, push different things so they can find groups where they are comfortable and so on, so if one group is not going well you just go to the other one.

CC: Brilliant and have you witnessed long term effects on children who have been bullied?

RH: Yes, and that’s a really great point. When it happens, (the brain) when you are bullied, you know if you are constantly worried about being bullied there are chemicals in your brain that get heightened and get, sort of, going and flowing, so now instead of “hey I’m on the playground having a good time or I’m in the classroom doing what I’m supposed to”, Now  “I’m constantly scanning the environment going (thinking) when am I getting bullied next so your stress hormones are amping (levels going up) up, within the context of stress hormones amping up it can naturally do some anxiety. So you can see long term anxiety effects or depression but you can see mental health issues because kids that are bullied are always in that heightened state of arousal and because of that they don’t relax and so many will act differently; some will internalize and become depressed and anxious, some will externalize and may be act out, some will become bullies but it can certainly impact them throughout the rest of their lives and if the bullying gets really bad and not dealt with ,you will have issues as an adult.

CC: Going back to something you have said at the start when read the definition, you mentioned parents and workplace. Is it possible that, even though of course parents have paternal love for the child, that they might inadvertently or on purpose bully the child? Or even a child might try to bully a parent?

RH: Well, yes both ways. Let’s start, you know…. I think…, I hope that I have never been guilty of this but as a parent we sometimes say or, do things that we don’t really think mean anything and if you are doing it on occasion or as one incident or if you do it and apologize you are fine. So a good example might be nick naming your child, you know, if you have a child who is overweight you have a cute nick name for him “chunky monkey” or whatever or an ADHD child who you call “wiggles” or however that is, it seems really cute and endearing ,you know, but how is your child really feeling about that? Then the other question is maybe your child likes the attention but doesn’t know how to state to you “I don’t like that label” and somebody else picks up on it and that can be to some degree, Bullying. And it can be done very innocently a lot of times and this is where I worry that I find that I’m guilty and with both my boys close in age, do I say to one child “if you practiced like your brother practiced you will be a lot better” or “if you studied like your brother studied” this kind of that child having that comparison or what is called “favorite child syndrome”, or “you favor my brother more than you favor me.”

We don’t do it out of any harm, we think it is going to be motivating, and so I think it’s the frequency of the context of how you do it, so I always talk with parents, make sure when you kind of talk to your kids like that, that you are doing it in an appropriate context and that you are not over doing it but it is really natural, it really is to do that so I think of that it can be that sort of unintentional bullying but then there are parents that truly mean to their children, you know, they say to their child ,using overweight (argument) it is just an easy one to use for an example , I’m not saying it happens to every overweight child but it is just like “you are overweight, you need to eat less” and the tone isn’t appropriate, it is not a caring tone or what that parent need to do is say “listen, we are going to work on your weight together and we are all going to eat healthier, we are going to take family bike rides or nature walks on the weekend” you know, it’s not so much beating the child up and being aggressive about it, it’s coming up with a plan that feels really good and to make it part of the family, sort of, lifestyle.

So those are the parents that do it, they think they are doing their child well by telling him/her that but they are not, they are creating negative self esteem, eating may be a defense mechanism it is not good to hide their food, the lines to communications aren’t going to be opened so you know bullying can really lead into a lot of other issues not just those bullying issues, health issues, family system issues, all kinds of these stuff.

CC: And you seem to refer back to parents a lot, when you are presented with a new case do you find that you have to work with parents and children equally? Does it take both sides to find a solution to any problem?

RH: I would say generally yes, you are working with (both) equally, probably not. Once again, it gets back to the age thing, you know, I’m a family system trained therapist so I got a lot of families clearly behind me, I find with the younger kids that I do want to spend more time with the parents because a lot of times it’s helping them take their parenting style and wrap it around the situation. With the older kids I tend to want to work with the kids more because they are more responsible for their own fate or their own responses, but the parents are the support back and I think for a teenager to work in isolation. So a kid comes and sees me, that’s been bullied at school, for him to work in isolation and not include his parents, I think it is a painful process even if there are some family relational issues going on. That kid needs to know he can talk to his parents and the parents are going to respond with empathy and caring and things like that, you know if the bullying is really bad I don’t care how old the child is, eight or fifteen grade school or secondary school, the parents should step in and say (it). And there is a proper way to do that, you know, so no matter what the age is, if the bullying becomes excessive you need to bring it to the attention of the school in a very subtle way initially and see how they respond to you, contact the grade level teacher, the principal, the school counselor, (and say) “I think the child is experiencing some bullying, can you keep an eye on him?” and document your meetings, you know, send an email and then if nothing changes it might be time for a face to face meeting and at that point you need to find out what is the school’s bullying policy, you know, why it is not being caught? What they are doing? Is this symptomatic of my child or is there a bully who’s bullying a lot of kids and so I think the school has accountability and that’s well but you just don’t go aggressively after the school and get pushed back it’s… there (has to be) collaboration with you, you know, you may not feel like it, we don’t have the same goals, the school, the therapist, the family, we are all here to help the kids, you know, we are growth promoting people and that’s what we are doing.

CC: Very good and you have produced a practical parenting guide to help parents understand and to deal with the children, I guess as parents we don’t get a manual, we don’t get instructions, it’s a trial by error and sadly we often make a lot of mistakes along the way but you have produced a guide, would you be able to tell us about that?

RH: Yes, and a little bit about philosophy behind  the guide, because you said we produce errors, parents are supposed to make mistakes alright, because when you make a mistake you get to fix it and it’s how you fix it that is the key thing. We all and you know what, and my family life, with my wife, with my kids, with the business, I might do occasional, little mistakes every now and again alright, you know, how to deal with that mistake? And that’s really the sort of the theme of the book is that you know I ,sort of, to have it, it’s called The Parent Play Book, More discussions and Fewer Arguments, just sort of encouraging the communication and to own your mistakes and when you do have problems with your family members or anybody there is a pretty specific way to handle it and, you know, you shouldn’t attack people spontaneously whether your kids, your coworkers, if you have a problem you know (say) “Son, I want to talk to you about why you are not doing so well in English right now” “Why don’t you think about it and will talk after dinner tonight” so we have time to think about it or “We’ll talk about it tomorrow”, you know, and then kind of go to a strategy problem solving methodology. In the book that I wrote I only spent a few pages talking about that and the reason why? It is because you have to sort of tweak that to your situation and the rest of the book, it is just sort of everyday events so, you know, my child is texting too much, how do I deal with it? My one child doesn’t get along with the other child, how do I promote that bond? I caught just sort of everyday (events) …. And actually kind of fun problems that we all encounter, it’s not a book of “the kid is depressed or he has a serious problem” it’s more like I’m a parent and I need a tip, you know how would I handle it and so you can find that book if so look inside or on Amazon it’s out there I’d appreciate if you mentioned it.

CC: No worries. So in the book, it is a parental guide on how to talk to teens? How to work with the child on trying to limit the internet access?

RH: Everyday situations, well it is nice as it is written in 3, 4 page chapters so if the situation comes up I will be using it in my practice while I give, you know, a copy to the kid and a copy to the parents and (Say) “both of you read this chapter and let’s talk about it”. It’s just… it’s very practical stuff and in all honesty I think you know I got lots of degrees, lots of degrees but it is common sense stuff and a lot of times what happens is the parent and I are totally on the same page or the kid and I are on the same page but because of the emotional buttons that our loved ones know how to push with us the message get clouded. And so we all have to realize, you know, what I may say that I needed to do this but I’m angry and my child is angry because twenty minutes earlier I told him “You have to clean up your room before you can go out” we have stuff transitioning so how you can recognize those issues more through? so I really packed these stuff, a lot of information about bullying in there, peer to peer bullying, how girls are different then boys? How boys bully? how parents may accidentally bully? It is not a book focused on bullying but you know what? bullying is a big part of adolescent lives right now and as adults; work place bullying, it happens but you can’t do anything about it because you got a paycheck but you can, so there is a lot of talk about that in there as well.

CC: Brilliant, very good and I guess with children now it is very important that they are seeing this popular in the school that they are socially accepted, followers and if they post something that they have it liked and shared to be socially accepted. How can we explain to our children that this isn’t the end of the world that the social proof isn’t the *Inaudible*

RH: Yes, so I think it’s sort of how we get the kids to know how to develop that compass, that (this) may be not a nice thing to “like”, so that might be a good place to start or a lot of times I will say like ,you know, most kids seem to get along really well with their grandparents, what would your grandparents think about that post, you know, trying to get it down into that path. How do you feel about it? And, you know, and then you even say you know “How do you feel about that person that posted?” that’s a deeper conversation to have with him, you know, it might occur in older kids but it’s like when kids start to engage in those behaviors and you ask them “How do you really feel about it ?” you know, Bobby did something really bad “Did you perceive that as bad?”, a natural conversation. The other thing with kids I think sometimes we do lose sight of it with our busy lives, is that we need to take time to have conversations, we don’t always want to talk about serious stuff so, you know, when I’m trying to help parents once or twice a week each parent should spend some alone time with the kid and it can be short it can be stopping at the donut store on the way to school for ten minutes, you don’t have to talk about serious stuff but if a child knows once or twice a week he is going to get some alone time with their parent, he will start to bring up the serious stuff and that’s what you want, that connection, you are your parent you know. The parents are the guides to the kid’s future, you really have to take that seriously, provide those opportunities and if we don’t provide those opportunities then they are not going to come to us and, it doesn’t matter, maybe your relationship has been rocky you don’t need to say to you child “Listen, we are going to get coffee twice a week” it’s more like, on the way to school “Hey, I’m hungry this morning let’s stop at McDonalds and we are going to have breakfast real quick” you can do it very covertly, you know, and I encourage that especially with the older kids.

CC:Excellent, some excellent advices and if anyone listening to this video, watching it  or reading the text of it wants to connect with you or to find out more about you writings, where can we send them?

RH:Probably the easiest place to find me is my website and that is I have got a great blog in there that’s listed by topic, I have got so much writing on there. I have done a lot of writings for publications and you can find those writings, I do frequently television news interviews for local TV and some national, all that information is on there and it’s great, it’s quick, short. That’s

I’m also on twitter heavily on twitter and that’s

You can find me on facebook

I’m all over the internet so if you just typed Russell Hyken I will pop up, I guarantee 20 pages of stuff, all good info.

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