Tag Archives: Adolescents

Bullying and Teasing the Adolescent Years

Bullying. It has become a major concern in today’s society. Many of us have been teased, but bullying can be more serious. While teasing can be good­humored, playful, and friendly, it can also be mean spirited and hostile. Bullying is a repetitive conscious attempt to hurt another individual and can be physical, verbal, or relational. This article focuses on the roles of those involved in bullying situations, different forms of bullying, the warning signs and the effects of bullying, and how to help your child.

The Bully. The bully likes to feel strong, and superior. The bully enjoys having power over others and uses their power to hurt other people. In addition, Bullies “rationalize that their supposed superiority entitles them to hurt someone they hold in contempt, when in reality it is an excuse to put someone down so they can feel up.” (Coloroso, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander). For example, a bully might say, “He had it coming.”

The Bullied. The person who is the target of bullying (aka, victim). Those who are bullied come in all shapes and sizes, and there is not any one type of individual that is more or less likely to be bullied. The individual can be male, female, overweight, underweight, various skin colors, the most popular person, the least popular person, etc. What those who are bullied have in common is that they were targeted by a bully.

The Bystander. The supporting cast who aid and abet the bully through acts of omission and commission. “They can stand idly by or look away,or they can actively encourage the bully and become one of a bunch of bullies” (Coloroso).

Bullying takes on different forms among boys and girls. Among boys, bullying often occurs among friends or acquaintances. During bullying situations, there are often comments made about the bullied’s athletic ability or status, and the teasing comments are often intended to emasculate the individual. Bullying among boys is more likely to have a physical component. Bullying among girls is more likely to appear as Relational Aggression, occurs between friends, and the focus is often on appearance and possessions. Relational aggression is a more subtle form of aggression that uses relationships to damage or manipulate others through exclusion,ignoring, spreading rumors, verbal insults, teasing, eye rolling, taunting, and cyber­bullying.

When intervening with bullying situations, it is important to intervene with all parties involved including the bully, the bullied, and the bystander. Some ways to help the bully include: Reinforce that teasing and bullying are unacceptable; impose consequences for teasing or bullying; assess why the child is engaging in the behavior (for example is it being modeled at home? among peers?; empathy training; promote appreciation of differences; and praise positive behavior changes.

Some ways to help the bullied may include: listen and be empathetic; help the child understand the bully’s motivation; observe school or family interactions; teach your child coping strategies; and practice assertive communication skills. Coping strategies include positive self­talk, imagery, reframing, agree with the teaser, answer with compliment, and ignoring. The largest number of individuals in a bullying situations are bystanders. When helping bystanders: teach assertive communication; empathy training; promote appreciation of differences; praise positive behavior changes, and break the code of silence by encourage the witnesses to come forward when they see bullying.

Bullying has negative effects on a child’s life. It can cause problems with low self­esteem and depression. When dealing with the issue of bullying it is important to know the different warning sgns of bullying so that help and support could be given to a particular child. Warning signs include: frequent crying; unexplained injuries or bruises; lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry; frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness; changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating; difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares; declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school; sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations; a sudden change in the way a child talks about herself or himself; feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem; and self­destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.

Kids often don’t tell adults they’re bullied so you may have to voice your concerns. Watch the child’s reactions. Often what a child doesn’t say may be more telling. Tune into your child’s body language. Silence is often powerful. If you suspect bullying and your child won’t talk to you, then arrange a conference with a trusted adult who knows your child. If your child has more than one teacher you may need to meet with each educator or coach. Keep in mind that bullying usually does not happen in all school settings and in all classrooms. Meanwhile, keep an eye on your child. Children who are embarrassed or humiliated about being bullied are unlikely to discuss it with their parents or teachers and generally suffer in silence, withdraw and try to stay away from school. Stress to your child you are always available, are concerned and recognize bullying may be a problem. Emphasize that you believe your child and you are there to help. Please seek the help of a trained mental health professional if the signs continue, intensify, or your gut instinct tells you “something is not right with my child!”

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School Refusal

School Refusal may be a child’s response to anxiety over separation from parents, performance anxiety (ie; tests, speeches or presentations), social anxiety, or other situations causing stress at school or at home.

These students show extreme distress about attending school. When your child is refusing to go to school, do not call your child in “sick,” rather let the school know that your child is refusing to attend. When a school is aware that a child is struggling, the school can help intervene and support parents in getting their children to school and support children during their school day.

Some factors that contribute to school refusal or separation anxiety may include the child having difficulty with managing feelings of discomfort, experiencing disappointment, applying conflict resolution skills, and/or communicating needs effectively. When we are anxious or uncomfortable our fight or flight system gets activated by the perception of threat/danger. The perceived fear is greater than the actual threat/danger and everyday occurrences become overwhelming. These behaviors interfere with daily functioning. Maladaptive coping (avoidance) techniques are utilized by the individual, and he/she looks for ways out of the situation, thus he/she does not get to change his/her perception of the situation. Maladaptive coping skills are based on the misappraisal of the threat and the intention is to avoid fear stimulus or the danger it signals. The coping patterns develop as a way to create immediate relief and avoid experience of discomfort. Though these coping patterns provide short term relief, over time the individuals use of avoidance increases, thus making it more difficult for the individual to attend school.

To manage feelings of discomfort, the child should work on distress tolerance. Society has created situations in which every child wins, and with the lack of the “win­lose” in games, kids are not learning to tolerate loss. As a result, children lack crisis survival strategies, have underdeveloped skills to manage feelings such as disappointment, anger, and sadness, and have difficulty applying coping strategies to stressors. When children experience difficulty with emotional regulation, they have difficulty managing emotions, lack self soothing techniques, and have poor impulse control.

Common characteristics or functions of school refusal behavior include: avoidance of negative affect including somatic complaints, depression, and general anxiety; escape from evaluative or social situations including social phobia, OCD, and perfectionism; attention seeking behaviors like separation anxiety or sympathy from family; and a pursuit of tangible reinforcers like video games, internet, and sleep. What might a parent notice with the various functions of school refusal behavior? When a child is avoiding negative affect traits he will exhibit anxiety symptoms, have difficulty advocating for himself, and have an inability to self sooth. Also present are depressive symptoms and low tolerance for managing distress, which commonly presents with a lot of somatic complaints like migraines and stomach aches. If you recognize your child is avoiding negative affect, your response to a child with somatic complaints could be, “Yes, you might be sick, but let’s practice your ways to manage the physical symptoms.” The focus is not on whether or not your child is actually sick, but rather how they can manage those feelings.

When the function of the school refusal is escaping from evaluative or social situations, you will notice your child isolating himself and/or decreasing the number of social activities, as this child will have difficulty managing social situations. Perfectionism and fear of failure occur, and your child will struggle such things as earning a B on a test. In addition, this child will demonstrate absolute or black and white thinking. Furthermore, the child who is escaping evaluative or social situations will perseverate and experience obsessive thoughts.

The child who exhibits attention seeking behavior traits as a function of school refusal is often seeking reassurance from parent(s). Often these children experience separation anxiety. Your role as a parent is not to take on the performance for your child, nor do you need to talk about everything. When you do, then things can get worse for the child. Your response to your child is that they can manage school. The best interventions include structure and routine, clear expectations, altered use of language with the child, and making school attendance not optional. This is a time for purposeful parenting. Purposeful parenting is reactive attachment. We all get emotionally reactive at times, but know that purposeful parenting needs to be the focus. The goal for the child is to be independent, and this is how the parent can help the child be independent and manage. Rather than reassuring your child that everything is going to be ok, it is better to say to your child, “Your day may not be ok, but you can manage it.” The goal is not for your child to be happy, rather to be healthy.

The pursuit of tangible reinforcers is another function of school refusal. Students who exhibit these traits often demonstrate poor sleep patterns; they stay u late and sleep during the day. These individuals have access to privileges without meeting home or schoo expectations. In addition, these students lack motivation to attend school, struggle with limits and resist authority. Furthermore, these individuals possibly abuse substances and or internet/gaming addictions. The parental response is that everything is earned, and everybody in the family has a responsibility. Note, though, that when limits are set, behavior escalates very rapidly because the child may not have had limits or the ability to develop these skills.

Depending on the individual, school refusal may involve significant levels of anxiety and depression that will need to be assessed by a mental health professional who will tailor interventions based on your child’s needs. The goal of therapy is to help the student restructure his thoughts and actions into an adaptive framework to allow for a rapid return to school.