Bullying: A Proactive Approach for Parents

Excerpt from my recent article for The Five Moms Blog

The face of teen bullying has really changed over the years. It’s not restricted to the old image of a bully in the cafeteria or on the bus that calls you names to your face or picks a physical fight with you. It can be a group ignoring your child, avoiding them or acting like they are invisible. With social media, it’s even easier to bully via Facebook, texts, tweets, etc. Cyberbullies can be sneaky these days. They might hide their identity – sharing damaging photos of your child, leaving anonymous comments or targeting their victims in other indirect ways. For some teens, telling mom and dad that they are being bullied, doesn’t feel like an option. It makes it more real and they don’t know how their parents are going to respond, so they often decide to keep it to themselves.

Here are three pieces of advice:

  1. Practice assertiveness training techniques with your kids at home. It can be tied to a game, a healthy debate or a dinner conversation. Use bullying as the main topic and let the conversation naturally unfold. Starting with a question usually helps. “What does bullying look like these days?” Or, if your child wants a more private experience, encourage them to practice assertiveness in front of their bedroom mirror. Have them stare their reflection straight in the eyes as they speak. Give them some language if they don’t know what to say. Practicing NO is always a good start. “No, you can’t look at my homework.” “No, I’m not listening to you.” “No, I’m not doing that.” As they say it to the mirror, have them focus on their tone. Sometimes how you say something is even more powerful than the actual words you say. Then they can more comfortably transfer these techniques to an actual bullying situation.

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Triggers Leading to Adolescent low Self-Esteem

Triggers Leading to Adolescent low Self-Esteem

I see 5th and 6th grade as pivotal points in self-esteem development. Between the ages 10 and 12 puberty sets in, increased socializing between the sexes occur and in many cases, verbal teasing begins.  More defined social groups and cliques form where peers become a major influence on a child’s self-esteem. Think about it, adolescents spend more time in the classroom with peers than at home with family members.  This peer network can define approval or disapproval for actions and behaviors, similar to a  “mob mentality.”  Their influence on one another can impact future choices and actions based on past experiences.  During adolescence many core values and beliefs about self begin to take shape and the relationships that teens build have an influence on that development. Therefor, as adolescents get older, they will choose environments and situations that are inline with their beliefs about self.  In other word, if she feels good about herself, she picks healthy environments and supportive friends. If she feels poorly about herself, she makes bad choices. This is where low self-esteem takes shape. Here are a few triggers that can lead to adolescent low self-esteem.

  • Being criticized by peers (or an adult figure) for a prolonged period of time.
  • Being ignored, ridiculed, or bullied by peers.
  • The self-imposed expectation of perfection which cannot be sustained.
  • Forced group think conformity so individual needs and interests are denied.
  • Being identified as physically different by peers. Too tall, too short, too thin, different hair, braces, etc.
  • Having few trusts friends or community outlets  (sports team, church group, social clubs, etc.)

Teens and Body Image- Why we Don’t Always Like What we see in the Mirror

Body dysmorphic disorder is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a type of chronic mental illness where you can’t stop thinking about a flaw in your appearance — a flaw that is either minor or imagined. But to you, your appearance seems so shameful that you don’t want to be seen by anyone. So, let me say that again in teen language. You think some part of your body is so hideous that you need to hide it constantly, obsess about it, and stare at it all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, all teens are concerned with the way they look. That’s just part of being a teen. Now, don’t confuse being a “typical” teen with having body dysmorphia. When a teen struggles with body dysmorphia, s/he focuses in on one or two particular parts of their body and obsesses over that area specifically on a constant basis. Like, “My nose is so crooked, I can’t go out in public!” Or, “My feet are huge, I could never wear those shoes!”  Usually, in these cases your friends will not understand what you are talking about because they don’t see it.  This can cause you to feel even more alone because no one sees what you see when they look in the mirror.

I’ve encountered many teens who have shared with me stories of their own body dysmorphia. For example, some can rationally identify that their present weight isn’t considered clinically overweight; however, their brains still tell them that they are obese. Some will honestly look in the mirror and still see that young girl who was overweight, or had braces, bad acne or glasses (usually in 4th, 5th or sixth-grade.)

One factor that always seems to go along with body dysmorphia is name-calling or teasing.  You were probably sensitive to your weight, the braces or being taller than the rest of the class and a bullied honed in on that.  The experience was traumatizing and you were never able to let it go. Being so young, you wouldn’t have the tools to deal with those feelings and most kids don’t tell their parents either, which is a huge mistake. Parents can help you process the experience and give you advice or tools to deal with the teasing and to let it go. Unfortunately, many teens carry the painful scars from being teased into high school.  Although in present-day, they know that they are not overweight, those nicknames still stick in their heads. The trauma from being teased doesn’t just go away and when they look in the mirror they still see their overweight self from a painful time.

I’ve never agreed with the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” I’ve seen the opposite. Damaging name-calling that carries over to the teenage years.  Names that teens can’t get out of their heads and hear over and over like a broken record.  Some start to believe the name-calling and see themselves in a negative light.  Many teens have told me, that although they’ve lost the weight and the name-calling was years ago, they are still waiting for it to happen again. They walk down the halls in high school feeling like a fraud.  Scared that those names will come back to haunt them because maybe they deserve it. To me, that’s much more painful than breaking a bone because when you break a bone, you set it and it heals. For some of these teens, since the scars aren’t visible, no one else sees the pain, and they didn’t know how to release it to heal.  One thing is clear, if they don’t deal with the root of the problem the pain will remain and they will continue to be challenged every time they look in the mirror.