Battle Bullying

Bullying is a prevalent issue in schools today. With everything else going on, how do we help kids battle against bullying? In the article below, written by Clint Fletcher, and posted on The Meadows website, we learn more about helping kids cope.

Kids and teenagers are back in school, and that means homework, carpool, school lunches, football games … and bullying. The problem has gained more attention in recent years, but despite the spotlight, a significant portion of children and teens are still affected. According to the most recent School Crime Supplement by the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice, about 20% of American students between the ages 12 to 18 experience some form of bullying. On top of this, the latest Youth Behavior Assessment from the CDC states that 19% of high school students report being bullied within a one-year period of the survey.

Bullying can be physical, verbal, relational, or even online, and it isn’t always easy for parents to spot. But what causes it, what are the long-term effects, and what parents and kids can do to address the problem together in a healthy, positive way?

The “Why” Behind Bullying

The causes of bullying can be incredibly layered and complex, but they all share a similar theme: bullying is almost always behavior that is learned in response to stresses in the bully’s own world. While most bullies can give the appearance of having confidence, chances are strong that whatever they’re doing is driven by their own fears, insecurities, and issues.

Common causes for bullying:

  • Feeling powerless in their own lives
  • The need to be in control
  • Someone else is bullying them
  • Jealousy of the person they’re bullying
  • Lack of understanding or empathy
  • Looking for attention
  • Their family is dysfunctional
  • Bullying can be rewarding for them
  • They don’t care how others feel
  • They can’t regulate their emotions

(source: American Society For The Positive Care of Children)

The Bullies and the Bullied

We’ve established that bullying is still quite common in US schools, with roughly one in five students saying they’ve been bullied. But bullying doesn’t just affect the one being picked on. According to stopbullying.gov, more than 70% of young people say they’ve witnessed bullying in schools. In one large study, roughly 49% of children in grades 4-12 reported being bullied at least once a month, and 40.6% of students reported involvement in bullying. Out of that group, 23.2% were the kids being bullied, while approximately 30% of the students surveyed admitted to bullying others.

Bullying can take many forms. Name-calling tops the list at 44.2%, followed by teasing at 43.3%, spreading rumors or lies at 36.3%, and physical pushing/shoving at 32.4%. The most troubling stat of all might be that only 20-30% of students who are bullied tell an adult what’s going on. It’s not surprising that most bullying takes place in school, on school grounds, and on the school bus. Classrooms are the most common setting. Cyberbullying is also becoming more of an issue with 14.9% of high school students reporting online or text bullying within a 12-month period.

Lasting Mental Health Effects

It can be hard for researchers to draw a direct line from bullying to negative long-term effects, but one study suggests children who are victims of bullying are more likely to develop anxiety and depression disorders. They also may be at higher risk for health problems like colds, headaches, stomachaches, and sleeping problems. They may even be more likely to take up smoking. Kids who are bullied may also be more likely to self-harm or have suicidal thoughts in adolescence.

In another five-decade study looking into health outcomes of adults who were victims of bullying as kids, British researchers discovered that those who were frequently bullied were more likely to have poor social, health, and economic outcomes in life decades later.

Bullying’s side effects:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression/sadness
  • Higher risk of physical illness
  • Loneliness
  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Decreased academic achievement
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts

(source: stopbullying.gov and nih.gov)

How to Proactively Approach Bullying

You know the facts now, but what can you do about bullying? It all comes down to communication. According to experts, kids first need to understand what bullying is, why it’s wrong, and why they should come forward to an adult when it occurs. After that, the line of communication needs to remain open between parents and children. Check-in with your kids as often as you can. Listen, become familiar with their friends, and ask questions about school.

Being prepared is key. Strategize with your kids and develop a plan for how they should handle bullying if an adult isn’t near. Suggest they try to disarm the bully with humor, tell them to “stop” with confidence, grab a safe friend or peer nearby, or, if all else fails, simply walk away. Having a plan will make them feel more prepared.

There are many wonderful resources out there to help combat bullying. Be Strong is a fantastic app for smartphones with a student-led approach to bullying for all ages. They have a student state representative program, eight-week resilience program, and one-touch buttons to a suicide lifeline, text line, and trusted friends alert.

More helpful bullying resources:

Stopbullying.gov

Becauseofyou.org

Kidpower.org

Theevolveproject.org

Gender Differences in Teen Depression

As if the teen years aren’t hard enough – kids face a myriad of different emotions. Our friends at R&A Therapeutic Partners wrote the article below describing the challenges faced when teens have depression and the difference between the genders.

The teenage years can be challenging. Between physical changes in the body, intense peer pressure, and an increased sense of social anxiety, teenagers often have difficulties finding their place. Many want to fit in while others want to stand out, even rebel. Teen depression is also becoming an alarmingly frequent trait of those transition years. Recent research has found that the rate of depression is increasing and that there are distinct gender differences in teen depression.

Transition Years

The teen years are a natural transition from being a child to growing into an adult. While women of all ages tend to be more aware of their appearance than men, particularly in terms of how others see them, most young people start to develop a heightened sense of socialization as they enter their teenage years. As children, their clothing choices and hairstyles were not as important to them. As teenagers, their entire social life may depend on those factors, at least in their own eyes.

Increase in Depression 

In recent years, the rate of depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts has increased dramatically. Research shows that in the late 2010s more adolescents experienced serious psychological distress, including major depression and suicidal thoughts, than in the mid-2000s. in fact, the rates of major depressive episodes increased 52% from 2005 to 2017, from 8.7% to 13.2% of young people aged 12 to 17.

Gender Differences

Girls experience almost twice the rate of depression that boys do, beginning as young as age 12. One study of self-inflicted wounds leading to emergency room visits indicated a significant difference in the increased rate of suicide attempts between young males and females. Self-inflicted wounds are a strong risk factor for suicide. While the rates for teenage boys remained constant from 2001 to 2015, the number of emergency room visits for teenage girls due to self-inflicted wounds increased 8.4% yearly between 2009 and 2015.

The difference in depression rates could be attributed to the differences in the rate of physical changes between boys and girls. Puberty typically starts earlier, and hormonal changes tend to be more evident in young girls. Teenage girls are also inclined to be more concerned with how others perceive them. While these differences in gender explain the overall differences in depression rates, other factors may be involved in the recent increase for female teenagers.

Social Media

The rise in depression rates among teenagers also coincides with the rise in popularity of the smartphone. Today’s teenagers have not known a world of social interaction that doesn’t include social media. Both young men and women spend a significant amount of time on their smartphones now. The use of smartphones and social media appears to correlate with the increase in depression rates among teenagers. However, it seems to have impacted teenage girls more than boys.

One reason for this may be that girls spend more time socializing on their smartphones, including texting and interacting on social media. Boys also text and use social media somewhat, but tend to use their smartphones more for playing games. Since teen girls are more focused on what others think of them than boys, the increased use of social media can increase that level of anxiety and, subsequently, the rates of depression.

An association has been found between moderate or heavy digital media use and the increased rate of mental health issues and worsened psychological well-being for teenage girls. One study found that the rate of depression also aligns with the amount of time spent on social media. In that study, girls who spent six hours or more on social media were significantly more unhappy than those who spent only 30 minutes a day on social media. The differences for boys were less noticeable.


Psychotherapy for Teens

The teenage years are full of pressures, from family, friends, and school. The increased usage of social media has increased the social pressure, which appears to affect teenage girls more than boys. When teenagers of both genders are not able to manage the stressors they face in real life and in the virtual world, therapy can help. Psychotherapy has been found to be effective for treating depressed teens, those who have turned to substance abuse, and those who are engaging in self-destructive behavior.

If you have a loved one struggling with depression, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.