You may already be a member of the 911 Club, a community of parents who depend on emergency services for managing their mentally ill child. Our T-shirts are black and blue like bruises. Only people raising a mentally ill child or young adult join. Club rules are simple:
1. Focus on safety first.
2. Continually manage the trauma you and your family experience.
3. Accept that no one is guilty or a failure.
4. Ask others for emotional and physical help.
Every day, an emergency is just around the corner.
Parents with troubled children, no matter the age or diagnosis, are forced to make difficult decisions and take extreme actions… like calling 911. It’s not something they choose, and they’ll avoid it if possible. They are like any other parent with a severely disabled or physically ill child—they will do anything to help their child, but instead of wheelchairs or chemotherapy, they need emergency responders.
Ten things that parents of troubled children often do:
Call an ambulance
Call a crisis line repeatedly
Search a child’s room, especially if the child is a teenager or may be suicidal
Spy on their child: read their email, texts, social media or search histories, read their journals
File criminal charges or get a restraining order
Lock up common household items (matches, knives, scissors, fuel, chemicals, and anything conceivably dangerous in the wrong hands)
Participate in endless meetings, appointments, and therapy sessions. Complete dozens of forms and continually pursue financial or community mental health resources
Block out people who used to be friends, block their child from troubled friends
Never share stories with ‘normal’ people to avoid bombardment with uninformed and unsolicited opinions.
Parents can see an emergency coming, but can do little to prevent it.
All parents of troubled children have barriers to getting help, even when it’s blatantly obvious that the child needs it. Why? The aftermath of a recent high school shooting in Florida by provides details:
The tragedy has to happen first: “A neighbor warned the sheriff’s office …and begged them to intervene. She was told there was nothing deputies could do until Cruz actually did something.”
Mental health professionals don’t take history into account; and they are ignorant that children can behave well in their presence: “An investigator … spoke to Cruz, and advised that he was “not currently a threat to himself or others” and did not need to be committed.
Family and other eyewitnesses are ignored by the people and institutions they depend on. “Lynda Cruz’s cousin warned deputies Cruz had rifles and pleaded for them to “recover these weapons.”
Policymakers, mental health professionals, and emergency responders out there: fix this!
Part of the reason parents or family of the mentally ill person can’t get timely help is because of civil rights laws. To those in the mental health community, start talking about how to handle this. The present situation is unacceptable! Stop protecting an acknowledged dangerous person’s rights over those of innocent victims. It’s not OK. This is just like some gun advocates who think it’s more important to sell assault rifles to protect their personal rights over those of innocent victims.
An upsetting thing happened in my city about 10 years ago that could have been my story. A man took his grown son to the emergency room because the son had been insisting he was going to stab someone—he suffered from untreated schizophrenia. When there, the staff found no reason to hold the son despite his history of violence and his father’s testimony. The father pleaded with them to put his son in a 72-hour hold and they refused.
Within minutes, the son ran off into the surrounding neighborhood, and within an hour, had stolen a steak knife from a restaurant, and ran out and stabbed a man walking on the sidewalk. (The victim lived, fortunately.) The father told the reporter that he’d been trying every possible means to stop this from happening in the hours before the event. Getting the son to go with him to the ER was an extraordinary feat in and of itself. He was beside himself with frustration and sadness and anger. Now his son had aggravated assault and attempted homicide charges, and faced prison instead of a hospital.
U.K. needs to be a “999 Club”; Germany needs a “112” Club; a “110 Club” in China…
Inattention and distractibility are caused by many medical conditions and life situations. You child may not have ADHD or ADD if they didn’t show signs when they were young.
Children don’t just catch ADHD or ADD
If your child has a behavioral change you haven’t seen before, there may be an underlying medical or co-occurring mental disorder that’s causing ADHD symptoms… especially if they’re on ADHD-ADD medications which are not working well.
“It is vital not to mistake another medical or psychiatric condition as ADHD.”
— Richa Bhatia, MD, Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association
The medical conditions listed below produce ADHD and/or ADD symptoms such as slow processing speed, impulsive behavior, and limited attention and focus.
Epileptic seizures: some types cause a brief freeze in thinking–the child’s brain goes blank for a few moments (“absence seizures”)
Diseases of the brain: Lyme disease, HIV infection, parasitic and viral infections, brain tumors
Brain damage from head injury or toxins (e.g. narcotics)
Chemotherapy side-effects, “stupor”
Hypothyroidism. Too little thyroid hormone results in memory, attention, and concentration problems. It decreases blood flow in brain regions that mediate attention and executive functioning (the hippocampus and cerebral cortexes).
Hyperthyroidism. At the other extreme, too much thyroid hormone causes anxiety and tension, irritability and impatience, and hyperactivity and distraction.
Sleep apnea. A condition where a child stops breathing during sleep, for a few seconds to a few minutes several times per night. The following day, the child can’t pay attention, remember, or follow a sequence of steps. It also causes hyperactivity and belligerence.
Mental health disorders with ADHD-like symptoms:
Anxiety disorders are common to most other mental health conditions, and create problems with concentration. The chronic stress from anxiety affects the brain regions responsible for memory and cognitive functions. If a child does not have a history of ADHD symptoms, than significant and pervasive anxiety may be the cause of inattention and distraction.
Abuse or trauma. Difficulty concentrating is one of the core symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and recent abuse or trauma can cause agitation, restlessness, and behavioral disturbance—symptoms that mimic ADHD.
Depression – Difficulty concentrating also is a criterion for major depressive disorder.
Bipolar disorder – ADHD symptoms are apparent in children with suspected bipolar disorder. Both disorders can cause distractibility, increased energy, and instant mood swings. (Some children are eventually diagnosed with both disorders.)
Drug abuse using marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, produce similar symptoms of ADHD because they affect the same brain regions affected by anxiety. MRI scans of the brain were taken of young children who were exposed to cocaine in the womb. The scans revealed frontal lobe malformations which predicted long-term problems with attention and impulse control.
Common stimulant foods and beverages with excess caffeine or sugar
Insomnia from medical conditions. Sleep plays a huge role in memory and attention. Sleep disorders (e.g., sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome) can produce chronic tiredness and significantly reduce attention, concentration, and cognitive functioning in children, adolescents, and adults.
Plain old lack of sleep in healthy children can cause inattention and reduce academic achievement. There are many causes of sleep loss: early school hours; screen time at least an hour before bed (because the blue light suppresses sleepiness); or allowing the use of technology in the bedroom at nighttime. What helps getting to sleep and staying asleep:
A cool, dark room
Thirty minutes of reading or drawing on paper before lights out.
Removing phones, laptops, or desktops from the bedroom at night.
Learning disorders: Children with an undiagnosed learning disorder often present with ADHD symptoms. An undiagnosed reading or mathematics disorder (dyslexia), or an autism spectrum disorder that’s not yet diagnosed, can have a significant impact on classroom behavior. The child might not be paying attention because of his (her) restricted ability to grasp the subject matter, or because they are frustrated and irritated with the struggle to keep up.
Caution: Teachers often report a student’s inattention and confused thinking to parents, and suggest a diagnosis of ADHD when the real problem may be lack of sleep or something else. It’s useful to hear classroom observations of your child, but teachers are not trained in mental health diagnosis—get a second opinion from a professional!
There was a time when bullying was not talked about or noticed. Being bullied was explained away as a right-of-passage. Finally, we hearing horror stories about bullied children, and speaking out as we remember our own awful experiences. The statistics are alarming.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2013-14 school year 65% of public schools had recorded one or more violent bullying incidents. That year alone totaled about 757,000 incidents, which means there were about 15 crimes per 1,000 students during that school year alone. The schools record specific kinds of violent incidents and of those that occurred in 2013-14, 58% of public schools reported there had been at least one physical attack without a weapon or a fist fight. About 47% of the schools reported at least one threat of physical attack without a weapon.
The threat of violence in today’s schools is real.
Are you and your child prepared?
Now is the time to prepare yourself and your child for school violence and bullying. Know what steps you need to take and educate your child about the situations presented and how to respond to bullying or school violence. Remember, knowledge is essential in protecting your children and yourself from being a victim of school violence. Parents and teachers have options for stopping bullying.
There are several kinds of bullying in today’s advanced world. While technology may be a great advancement, it also has its downfalls. While there was a time you may have thought of bullying as taking someone’s lunch money, calling them names, or pushing them around, there are many other kinds of bullying in our technologically advanced age.
What Happens at School Happens in Cyberspace
There are many kinds of bullying that can happen at school. While physical bullying, verbal bullying, and vandalism and theft still exist, cyberbullying has made the news in recent years. Using social media, the bully or bullies will maliciously harass a student. This can be done by making derogatory remarks, abusing and belittling another student, or posting photos that are unflattering or compromising.
There have been many reports of cyberbullying in the news recently. There have been many cases in which a cyberbullying victim has committed suicide or the bully was criminally charged. One of the more memorable cases involved a 13-year-old named Megan Meier who hanged herself after being bullied by someone she thought was a boy she befriended online.
It was later learned that the boy was actually a former female friend, her friend’s mother, and their employee. Criminal charges were filed against the mother, Lori Drew, and she was found guilty of three charges. Later she was acquitted by a U.S. District Judge. Since then, there have been several other cases.
The bully may also play the victim
so he or she can get by doing more harm.
Reactive bullies will continue to taunt, tease, push, or hit others until the victim strikes out so they can then present themselves as victims and place the blame on others. There are many kinds of school violence and there are many causes for today’s unpleasant and threatening atmosphere in school settings.
Causes of School Violence
Students have a greater access to weapons, such as guns and knives.
Cyberbullying is much more common because of Internet access, cell phones, and tablets. Social media’s popularity plays a major role as well.
The environmental impact and its role, such as school environment, the existence of gangs, school size, middle schools, the community environment, and the family environment. Putting your child or teen in a positive environment in the community and home can play a significant role in helping them to avoid the dangers of violence.
The Signs Your Child is Being Bullied
Parents should always be on the look for signs that a child is being bullied. While you may like to believe that your child would openly tell you if he or she is being bullied, that is not the case. Most children are embarrassed or ashamed of being bullied even when it is not their fault. There are several things to watch for that may indicate your child is being picked on by others.
Destroyed or lost books, clothing, electronics, or jewelry.
Faking illness or complaining of headaches and stomach aches.
Changes in eating habits.
Frequent nightmares or difficulty sleeping.
Not wanting to go to school or declining grades.
Avoiding social situations or loss of friends.
Self-destructive behaviors or loss of self-esteem.
The Results of School Violence
Bullying and violence can cause all kinds of physical injuries as well as emotional damage. Students can suffer anything from cuts and bruises to broken bones to lost teeth and frighteningly, even gunshot wounds and death. Make sure you seek treatment for your child if he or she has been a victim of bullying.
Emotional damage can last for years
after the bullying has been put to a stop.
Verbal Bullying – name calling, making fun of another, cursing
Reactive Bullying – picking on others to get a reaction and then playing the victim
Cyberbullying – done through social media or text message
Vandalism and Theft – damaging or stealing the property of others
Regardless of the kind of bullying that your child has suffered, you need to make sure he or she gets the help that is needed. Seek professional counseling or therapy to help him or her overcome the emotional and mental damage.
Why Don’t Children Ask for Help?
You have probably told your child to come to you with any problems, but when it comes to bullying most children don’t tell anyone. Bullying makes a child feel helpless and insecure. They may fear telling will make them look weaker or be viewed as a tattletale. There is also the fear of backlash from the bully and his or her friends.
Being bullied can be a humiliating experience.
Children probably don’t want adults to be made aware of what is being said about them because they may fear the adults may judge them or punish them, regardless of whether what is being said is true or not. Bullied children fear rejection of their peers as well, and they may already feel isolated and alone.
Ways to Prevent Bullying
There are ways to prevent bullying. Some of the more effective approaches include:
Establish a safe climate at home, in the community, and at school.
Learn how to be more engaged in your children’s school life. Building a positive school climate is detrimental in preventing bullying.
Assess bullying at your child’s school and understand how your child’s school stands in comparison to national bullying rates.
Talk with your child about their concerns, and be direct. They may think that getting parents involved may worsen the bullying, so be sure to reassure them that you’re there to help the situation.
Avoid being misdirected in bullying prevention and response strategies. Focus onyour child!
Learn about bullying so you know what it is and what it is not. While many behaviors may be just as serious a bullying, some may require different responses than how you respond to bullying.
Speak with your children about bullying, and how they can stop it. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and exposing children to ways to address a bully in their life can be extremely effective. It also opens the doors of communication so that a child can feel comfortable discussing it.
Encourage your child to seek friends for help in opposing a bully – peer pressure can be effective in getting bullies to stop their behavior.
Being aware of the situation and the warning signs are essential in helping to prevent bullying. Be proactive so you can address bullying issues right away.
Your Child Has Rights!
No one wants their child to be a victim of bullying. There are several things you can do to help your child avoid bullying or bring an end to it. Here is some legal information you need to know, so if the situation does arise the proper action can be taken right away.
Schools have a duty of care.If the school breaches their duty of care, you may be able to get compensation for any therapy bills, medical or dental expenses, or reimbursement for any out-of-pocket costs resulting from the altercation.
Teacher and administrator intervention. Teachers are required to do any reasonable action to protect their students’ welfare, health, and safety. Their legal responsibilities focus on three sources:
Common Law Duty of Care
Statutory Duty of Care
The Duty Arising from the Contract of Employment
If the teacher or administrator does not step in to stop the fight before it happens, or during the actual fight, then they can be sued for breaching their responsibilities for duty of care. Be familiar with the school’s protocol and policies as each state has different laws and regulations and each school has a different educational code. Educate yourself!
Parents of bullies are criminally liable for negligence in not maintaining control of their children’s delinquent acts. Parental responsibility statutes indicate that parents are not held responsible for their children’s acts, but of inadequately controlling their children.
A lawsuit can only be filed against a government entity (school) in instances where there is actual negligence and not intentional misconduct. In order to sue the school system because your child was bullied, you will have to prove the school system’s negligence for not addressing the problem that they were made aware of previously.
There are some instances in which you cannot sue a public school. The Federal Tort Claims Act (28 U.S.C.§ 2674) explains how there are some instances in which a public school can’t be sued. As an example, you can’t sue because of a school system employee’s official misconduct, but there is a fine line between negligence and misconduct in some instances. To clarify the details, you should consult with an attorney.
Getting the Evidence for a Case
If your child has been injured in a violent act at school, you may have a case against the school system or the bully and his family. There are several steps to gathering evidence for a case:
Discovery, which includes deposition, interrogatories, request for admission, “subpoena duces tecum”
Witness of the incident
Exhibits, such as evidence, records, reports, video, photographs
Damages – medical and dental bills, therapy costs, receipts
If your child has suffered school violence or bullying, you should consult with an attorney. School violence can cause personal injury that has lasting effects. Protect the rights of your child!
I’m a high school counselor, which means I work with parents every day. Because I’ve made a career out of my work with adolescents, I see what a parent might be seeing for the first time. This includes a long list of unfortunate life events.
Back when we were teenagers, there wasn’t a massive network of servers positioned strategically across the globe to capture and record, forever, the embarrassment of our adolescent choices.
As a parent, I have a lot of empathy for other parents. It’s not easy, especially when you’re going through something for the first time. My life, on the other hand, is a little bit like Groundhog Day. In a sense, I’ve never left high school. Every school year I see the same things. Different kids, but the same behavior: alcohol, drugs, tobacco, bullying, kids running away from home, pregnancy and something new: sexting.
Take an adolescent boy with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, which by definition means he is incapable of fully contemplating notions such as consequence; take this teenager raging with sex hormones and give him a tiny device that he will carry with him everywhere, a device capable of sending messages instantly to anybody, anywhere in the world, and install a camera in that device. What do you imagine might go wrong?
When you and I were adolescents, we were no less reckless, no less idiotic with our choices, no less eager to use our bodies as grownups. The difference is that our stupidity has been forgotten by history. Back when we were teenagers, there wasn’t a massive network of servers positioned strategically across the globe to capture and record, forever, the embarrassment of our adolescent choices. Sexting changes everything.
Over the last seventeen years in my work of mentoring adolescents and partnering with their parents, I’ve seen a lot of parenting styles. I’ve learned some important strategies in dealing with the situations teenagers present–strategies the average parent doesn’t have the time, through repetition, to learn. I feel confident telling you that there are some really good ideas out there. And some really bad ones, too.
Because I’m a writer, it occurred to me to write it down, what I’ve learned over the years. I’m a parent. I know it just as well as you do. We need a little grace in our lives.
Excerpt from SEXTING AT SCHOOL:
The police called the sexting child pornography. So I understood Nicole’s concern: she wanted to talk to me about her daughter. Jessica was fourteen and three years younger than her boyfriend. He had been distributing images of Jessica through his phone. Nicole was worried; she was scared, and understandably so.
Jessica still thought she was in love.
“He calls her a bitch,” Nicole told me. “I read the texts. He says horrible things to her.”
“And she still wants to be with him,” I said.
The pain I felt for her was communicated in my voice. As a teacher, I see the scenario every year, but Nicole was experiencing this for the first time. Jessica was her daughter. Not long ago she was her baby. I could only begin to imagine the suffering the situation provoked. Nicole was in no position to hear how common this was.
Why do girls throw themselves at boys who treat them badly?
In Jessica’s circumstance there was a tremendous amount of grief. She had barely processed the loss of her dad. He was killed in an accident over the summer.
“I can’t stop her from being with him. I’ve tried. I took away her phone. I grounded her. She sneaks out of the house. I drop her off at school, and she ditches to be with him.” The mascara was now running beneath Nicole’s cheekbones, “Last night, she told me that she wished it was me who was dead. He was waiting for her out front. I saw her get into his car.”
“I can’t imagine what that’s like,” I told her. “I’m sorry.”
“Unless I physically restrain her, she will find a way to get back to him.”
I allowed for a long silence, as I thought there might be more Nicole needed to say.
“What did I do? What did I do wrong?”
I didn’t answer her question. And I didn’t dismiss it. I sat with her in it.
* * * * *
My role with Nicole is not all that different from my role with Jessica. It doesn’t matter whether you’re fourteen or forty, what you need is for someone to listen. What you need is for someone to understand.
Jessica and I talked later the same day.
“She went through my phone,” Jessica was angry. “She read my texts.”
I let her know that I understood her frustration.
“She won’t let me leave the house.”
“She’s trying to keep me from him.”
“Have you told her that you love him?”
“She hates him. She doesn’t want me to see him.”
“Why does she hate him?”
At this Jessica paused. We had already talked about the pictures. She had told me stories about the boy. The way he had flaunted his sexual conquests. He was in my English class, and I had seen it firsthand: there were countless other girls.
After a long silence, she answered my question, “She thinks he’s not good for me. Is he?”
It was ground we had already covered. In past conversations Jessica told me that she respects her mom for trying to protect her. I handed Jessica a box of tissues. She wiped the tears and told me, “No. He’s really, really mean.”
I listened to her cry for several minutes. I was thinking about her father. I knew the man well. I liked him. I was thinking about her mother. I was thinking about my own daughter. It was true for all of us. What we need is empathy.
“I’m sorry,” I told her. She questioned me with her eyes.
So I answered it, “I’m sorry you’re so alone.”
Jessica’s whole body shook when she sobbed.
* * * * *
The last time Nicole was in my office she asked me if she should return Jessica’s phone. We had a similar conversation the day she asked me if she should call the police.
“What do you think?”
“I think Jessica needs to figure this out for herself. I’ve tried to protect her, but I can’t. I just can’t protect her from everything.”
“Does that mean you’ll give it back?”
“No. She’s not ready for that.”
“I don’t know the answers to the particulars,” I told Nicole, “but I know this. You’re a good mom. Jessica needs you right now. She needs you to be confident in your role.”
I saw the tears washing through the mascara, gave Nicole the box of tissues, and kept on going.
This is universal: the teenager wants desperately to have her independence, and she is terrified of it.
“Jessica loves you, and she knows that you love her. Jessica is not aware of the fact that she is conflicted about this. She’s just a kid. As much as she pushes you away, she wants you to be strong, to love her.”
* * * * *
I talked to Jessica again a week later.
“Do you still see him?” I asked.
She was embarrassed, “Yeah.”
“Is he good to you?”
“How about last night?”
She hesitated then said, “Last night he left me in a parking lot. I had to borrow a phone and call my mom to come pick me up.”
“Why’d he leave you?”
“To hook up with someone else.”
“Will you see him again?”
“I have a vision for you,” I said.
Jessica smiled, like she had heard lines like that from me before.
But that didn’t deter me. I have an advantage over most parents of teenagers: I’ve made a career out of the adolescent. Their behavior can be alarming, infuriating and even demoralizing, but after seventeen years of guiding teenagers as they come of age, I have established proven routines.
I have a pretty good idea of how many repetitions it will take, of how many times I’ll have to say it before Jessica can even make sense of the words, of how many more times I’ll have to repeat it before she begins to adopt the language as her own.
So I told her again, “In my vision of your future, you will love yourself too much to let a boy treat you badly.”
* * * * *
The story above is a composite of a dozen mothers and a dozen daughters I’ve work with over the years. In my FREE e-book, I analyze that narrative–elucidating what I believe to be the important parenting considerations.
Find out more at: SEXTING AT SCHOOL, a FREE download at Goodreads.com, or if you’re feeling generous, you can buy it for $0.99 at Amazon.com.
About Benjamin Dancer:
Benjamin is a high school counselor at Jefferson County Open School where he has made a career out of mentoring young people as they come of age. He wrote the novels PATRIARCH RUN, IN SIGHT OF THE SUN and FIDELITY. He also writes about parenting and education. You can learn more at:
Most of us have bullied someone and have been bullied at some time in our lives. We have an aggressive trait that helps us stand up to a threat. We are emboldened to fight when we fear for ourselves or family, or simply when we’re “not going to take this anymore!” Mature people don’t do this without cause, but children and teens lack maturity and can engage in bullying throughout their school years. (Even the nicest children can bully another person.) Victims of bullying usually don’t have the power and skills to prevent it or to protect themselves.
“This is a huge problem in the schools… it’s particularly common in grades 6 through 10, when as many as 30 percent of students report they’ve had moderate or frequent involvement in bullying.”
–Dr. Joyce Nolan Harrison, assistant professor of psychiatry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Bullying occurs when others aren’t paying attention… or when there is an audience In schools, bullies target victims where and when authorities can’t see, isolated but in crowds: hallways, the school lunch room, the playground or gym, and the bathroom or dressing room, not in plain sight of others who might report an incident. Or they have an audience that supports the bully or ignores the situation and doesn’t want to get involved… or tell.
Bullies target those they consider “weak” or simply “different” What makes a target child “weak” could be so many things. Bullies seize on anything: a physical, emotional, or mental vulnerability–children with learning disabilities or autism spectrum disorders are often targets. But any “different” child is at risk: a child from another culture is different, a boy who seems effeminate or a girl who seems masculine. The list of reasons children are bullied is so long that it is impossible to proactively avoid attracting the attention of a motivated bully or bullies: physical features, small stature, younger age, shy or meek personalities, bad fashion sense (or perfect fashion sense), even being a Straight “A” student is cause for being victimized. A child’s family member might be perceived as an embarrassment that elicits bullying (a brother is in prison, a father lost his job). Or a child might be a member of a group that’s hated by the parents, who teach their child to hate the group. Some victims are chosen simply because they are at the wrong place at the wrong time:
A teen walks his usual route home from school. He is reasonably well liked but doesn’t stand out. Ahead are three troublesome youth he doesn’t know. No one is around. He’s still at a distance, but starts to feel uncomfortable. They stand side-by-side on the walk ahead of him and stare.
What would a street-wise kid do?
He crosses the street without breaking stride, but also watches them—they have to know he sees them. If he pretended to ignore them it could inflame their anger. They start taunting. Meanwhile, the teen has been thinking of ways to protect himself just in case: there’s a store is nearby or within running distance, there’s a neighbor who’s usually at home. If he has a phone, he pulls it out and is ready to dial 911. He stays alert and looks confident, and they eventually drop the effort and let him move on.
Bullies punish kids who try to stop the bullying
Those who “snitch.” Victims who ask for help are often targeted by the bully more intensely, and often joined by associates who simply jump the bandwagon (curious behavior described as “the madness of crowds”). The culture of tweens and teens has low tolerance for those who tell on others. Those who join the bullying episode against the victim can do it without thinking, or perhaps they feel empowered to vent anger on someone, or just want to fit in.
Those who try to stop them. A heroic bystander steps in to stop a bullying episode and becomes the target themselves.
Those who want to leave the bullying group. Some kids have second thoughts and feel uncomfortable about the bullying and try to leave, but they can’t. Leaving attracts intense, relentless bullying for “voting with their feet”—this is a hallmark of gang behavior
Sadly, some children appear to “set themselves up” for bullying. This victim is a child with a fatalistic attitude and low self-esteem, who doesn’t recognize when others take advantage of them. They feel they must endure and don’t take steps to protect themselves out of excessive fear of drawing retribution. These are the kind of children who can become victims of physical or emotional domestic violence as adults.
If your child is a victim, be aware that they live between a rock and a hard place. Be careful that your involvement doesn’t make things worse for them
Armor your child with multiple skills There is no one way to handle every bully situation so flexibility is key. Together, develop a list of multiple options:
Ask friends to accompany them
Go to a place where people are and find an adult to help. Walk the other way, walk down different hall, walk to other side of street, use a different bathroom.
Request loudly “LEAVE ME ALONE” when there’s an audience to witness the bullying, such as on a bus or standing in line.
Use body language to project a firm stance. This can be the way your child stands or the loudness of their voice when the bully is present to show confidence, alertness, and empowerment.
Let your child know you take them seriously and will do something about it. Give them emotional support.
Let your child know you will back them up by working with the school.
Use the situation as a learning opportunity to help your child develop a backbone and inner strength. Even with your support, this will not be easy for your child to handle. Be a model of strength and resolve rather than of vengeance or anger.
Consider mental health issues that might be making things worse for your child: ADHD, ODD, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, chaos and stress at home, PTSD, substance abuse, and others.
“Help the bullied kids find each other. If there are a bunch of them together, they can stand the bully down. They don’t have to beat the bully up. They just have to say, ‘Why are you treating my friend this way?’ The bully will often move on… Parents can appropriately take matters into their own hands. You need to enlist the help of all the other parents of bullied children… Parents have to work as a group. One parent is a pain in the [butt]. A group of parents can be an educational experience for school authorities.” –William Pollack, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Don’t tell your child to “let it go, ”or “it’s no big deal,” or “it happens, deal with it.”
Don’t tell your child to be tough. What does “tough” mean? What do you want them to do?
Don’t punish or dismiss a child who complains too much, or blame him/her for setting themselves up and asking for it. Ironically, a victim is sometimes treated as the problem child.
Don’t bully your child at home! Are you doing this? Think. Your child learns to accept the inevitability of bullying because he or she is accustomed to it at home.
How things can go wrong: A boy is in the shower after PE class and gets slapped on the butt most days. He is too proud/embarrassed to tell his parents, or he tells and they react poorly. Perhaps he’s blamed for not standing up for himself, or a parent shows up outraged at school and yells at the bully or school staff. Now the boy’s parent is the problem and may be suspected of bullying their child. Or school staff overreact with swift punitive actions to the bully. Time passes and the bully starts up again bit by bit, only much more subtly. The boy is afraid to report it again because the encounters are more secretive. The bully denies his behavior and recruits others to advocate for him. They jump on the bandwagon because they don’t know the history, and the boy doesn’t want to tell everyone he is being sexually harassed. It’s a vicious cycle.
Teachers and schools
“You can’t learn if you’re being bullied, if every day you’re frightened of how you’re going to be treated.” –William Pollack, cited above
Teachers, pay attention to signs that there’s a skilled, secretive bully at the school.
Notice who others avoid.
Notice a child coming into the class who’s upset and ask them about it later, promise you’ll protect their anonymity if you can get them to reveal a bully, but don’t pressure them.
Observe the problem kid and their subtle interactions with others.
Allow a victim(s) to have distance from bully, permission to use a different bathroom, to have their desk placed farther apart, to have a locker farther apart, or even a different class if possible.
Inform the parents of your concerns in addition to the principle and school counselor.
Focus your behavioral interventions on the bully (not the victims)
Avoid diagnosing the situation. You are not the expert. You don’t know why a bully is a bully, or why a victim is a victim, or anything about their parents. Ensure a school counselor is involved in any discussion about how to manage a bully problem in the school.
Avoid jumping to conclusions! Your actions can unintentionally undermine or harm either the child or their parents. You don’t know until you know.
“Bullies are like the lion looking for a deer that’s left the herd,” says Patrick Tolan, director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois. “They try to single out the weakest kid. The best way to stop this is to work on increasing inclusion by helping the bullied kids with social skills.”
Bullies are usually bullied themselves (see another article Bullies like their victims, are also at risk). Only very small percentage are sociopathic, or who are intrinsically cruel and without empathy, perhaps 1 in a 100. How do you tell? If someone sets a clear boundary with punitive consequences, the disturbed bully will relentlessly target a victim regardless of how much trouble they get in.
I wish to personally thank Barry Diggs, probation and parole officer for the Oregon Youth Authority, for his insights into bullying behavior, which helped me develop this article. Margaret
If you have helped a child effectively cope with bullying, please share your story in the Comments below so others can learn from your story.
Bullying Linked to Violence at Home April 2011
Bullying is pervasive among middle school and high school students in Massachusetts and may be linked to family violence, a new study finds. In a survey of 5,807 middle-school and high-school students from almost 138 Massachusetts public schools, researchers from the Massachusetts Department of Health and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that those involved in bullying in any way are more likely to contemplate suicide and engage in self-harm compared to other students. Those involved in bullying were also more likely to have certain risk factors, including suffering abuse from a family member or witnessing violence at home, compared to people who were neither bullies nor victims.
Cyberbullying (this is a superb and comprehensive article by an expert on cyberbullying)
Survey: Half of High Schoolers Report Bullying or Teasing Someone “Ethics of American Youth Survey”, Josephson Institute of Ethics
Half of U.S. high schoolers say they have bullied or teased someone at least once in the past year, a new survey finds. The study also found that nearly half say they have been bullied during that time. The study surveyed 43,321 teens ages 15 to 18, from 78 public and 22 private schools. It found 50 percent had “bullied, teased or taunted someone at least once,” and 47 percent had been “bullied, teased or taunted in a way that seriously upset me at least once.” The survey asked about bullying in the past 12 months: 52% of students have hit someone in anger. 28% (37% of boys, 19% of girls) say it’s OK to hit or threaten a person who angers them. “There’s a tremendous amount of anger out there,” Michael Josephson says. (Founder of the Institute of Ethics)
Victims of Cyberbullying More Likely to Suffer Depression than Perpetrators: ScienceDaily, September 2010
Young victims of cyber bullying, which occurs online or through cell phones, are more likely to suffer from depression than their tormentors, a new study finds. Researchers at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child and Human Health Development in the US looked at survey results on bullying behavior and signs of depression in 7,313 students in grades six through 10. Victims reported higher depression than cyber bullies or bully-victims, which was not found in any other form of bullying. Researchers say it unclear whether depressed kids have lower self-esteem and so are more easily bullied or the other way around.
Cyberbullying Teens and Victims More Likely to Have Psychiatric Troubles Archives of General Psychiatry, July 2010
Teens who cyberbully others through the Internet or cell phones are more likely to have both physical and psychiatric problems, and their victims are at heightened risk for behavioral difficulties, a new study finds. Researchers collected data on 2,215 Finnish teens 13 to 16 years old. The survey found that teens who were victims of cyberbullying were more likely to come from broken homes and have emotional, concentration and behavior problems. In addition, they were prone to headaches, abdominal pain, sleeping problems and not feeling safe at school, the researchers found. Cyberbullies were also more prone to suffer from emotional and behavior problems, according to the survey.
Bullying And Being Bullied Linked To Suicide In Children International Journal of Adolescent Medical Health; July 2008
Being a victim or perpetrator of school bullying, the most common type of school violence, has been frequently associated with a broad spectrum of behavioral, emotional, and social problems. According to international studies, bullying is common, and affects up to 54 percent of children. Researchers at Yale School of Medicine reviewed studies from 13 different countries and found signs of a connection between bullying, being bullied. and suicide in children. Suicide is third leading cause of mortality in children and adolescents. Lead author of this report, Young-Shin Kim, M.D. said “the perpetrators who are the bullies also have an increased risk for suicidal behaviors.”
Kids with ADHD more likely to bully Linda Carroll, MSNBC, reporting on the Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, February 2008
A new study shows that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are almost four times as likely as others to be bullies. And, in an intriguing corollary, the children with ADHD symptoms were almost 10 times as likely as others to have been regular targets of bullies prior to the onset of those symptoms.
A study followed 577 children for a year. After collecting data on bullies and victims and identifying those children ADHD, there was a corollary between ADHD and bullying. Study co-author Dr. Anders Hjern, a professor in pediatric epidemiology at the University of Uppsala in Stockholm said “These kids might be making life miserable for their fellow students. Or it might turn out that the attention problems they’re exhibiting could be related to the stress of being bullied.”
Unfortunately, treating ADHD won’t remedy the bullying because drugs for the condition impact a child’s ability to focus, but not the aggression that leads to bullying, says Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry and director of the Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic at Yale University, and president of the American Psychological Association.
Bullying Tied to Sleep Problems Sleep Medicine, June 2011
Children who are aggressive and disruptive in class are more likely to have sleep-disordered breathing than well-behaved children, according to new research. Conduct problems, parent-reported bullying, and school disciplinary problems were all associated with higher scores on a measure of sleep-related breathing disorders, according to researchers. The study collected data from parents on each child’s sleep habits and asked both parents and teachers to assess behavioral concerns. The findings suggest that bullying may be prevented by paying attention to some of the unique health issues associated with aggressive behavior.
As parents of troubled children, we already know that our child’s disorder or behavior will not work in most classrooms. Teachers don’t need to tell us this or explain why our child needs to change in order to learn–we already stay up at night worrying how our child or teen will make it in the world. Most parents have tried everything: we’ve looked for other educational options (which almost never exist or we don’t qualify), we’ve asked or pleaded for help, we’ve read books and scoured the internet for advice… When nothing works, some parents and caregivers just give up and try to muddle through.
When it comes to working with teachers, it feels like you can’t win for losing
Those parents who’ve tried everything become deeply frustrated and take it out on school staff. This reaction makes sense when you’ve been there like I have. I probably looked bad at meetings, angry, stressed, anxious, and confused—and that’s how I was treated. I could sense teachers assumed I was this way all the time and thus the cause of my child’s disorder.
Those parents who give up don’t show up. They can’t face another school meeting to listen to the litany of their child’s problems, feeling nagged with advice given in a tone of impatience, never getting help, hope, or heard. Not showing up also makes perfect sense. Who wants another downer? It’s best to stay home and conserve precious emotional energy. These parents look apathetic and neglectful at best–I personally know a couple who’ve given up. I’ve heard school staff wondering aloud if these parents were using drugs, abusive, or criminally neglectful. I personally knew they weren’t.
Teachers have the same paradoxical attitudes held by the public at large when it comes to troubled children. They may try to be neutral when they work with parents, but underlying attitudes and feelings still come out:
We sympathize but you’re still to blame;
You can change things if you want to, but you don’t really care;
We know what your child needs, you don’t.
I truly believe teachers care about children and teens which is why they are teachers. Their professional education centers on children’s development and learning, but not on the intricacies and psychology of family relationships or children’s mental health! Their qualifications and license are for giving their students a quality education, not for doing social work with families. Even if teachers recognize that families struggle with their child, there is still a sense that the cause of a student’s lack of achievement “sits squarely on the shoulders of parents” who simply “don’t care.” *
* Taliaferro, JD; DeCuir-Gunby, J; Allen-Eckard, K (2009). ‘I can see parents being reluctant’: Perceptions of parental involvement using child and family teams in schools. Child & Family Social Work, 14, 278-288
> Find out more about this research at the Research and Training Center http://www.rtc.pdx.edu/ – “School Staff Perceptions of Parental Involvement,” August 2009, Issue #164 <
Mixed messages from schools
Teachers and schools give mixed signals to families, on the one hand encouraging parents to work with their child’s teacher, and on the other hand becoming “offended when… parents would take the side of their children or question a teacher’s assessment.” * When it comes to mental health, teachers simply aren’t trained to recognize or diagnose disorders.
Parents with troubled kids in school have additional responsibilities, but their energy and time reserves are the lowest: they have Child and Family Team (CFT) meetings to attend; Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings; waivers, Releases of Information (ROIs); and many communication attempts to follow through on each of these.
Teachers need to believe in the ability of parents to contribute to their child’s well being and understand parents’ need for support when children have mental or emotional disorders. And “…schools must change practices so that information can be shared with a socially just approach. Schools must meet families where they are rather than embracing misperceptions and stereotypes…” *
Let’s change this situation, and here’s how you can help
If you are a teacher, parent, or other education advocate, there’s a program available from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to develop understanding and partnership between schools and parents with troubled children. It’s called Parents and Teachers as Allies.
This is an in-service mental health education program designed for teachers, administrators, school health professionals, families, and others in the school community. The curriculum focuses on helping everyone better understand the early warning signs of mental illnesses in children and adolescents and how best to intervene, and how best schools can communicate with families about mental health-related concerns.
The program is also designed to target schools in urban, suburban, rural, and culturally-diverse communities. The toolkit is being developed to be culturally sensitive and will include a Spanish language version.
For more information about this program, please contact: Bianca Ruffin, Program Assistant, Child & Adolescent Action Center, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: 703.516.0698