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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, 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: and

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:

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.

Distraction Free Parenting in 2020

Almost everyone seems to have a technology goal for 2020 and for a lot of parents it is to be on their devices less and be engaged in parenting more. Screenagers recently published the following article to help encourage parents to be more mindful of parenting while distracted on a device.

Last night I felt a serious pang of remorse. My son Chase called me from college. Frankly, I assumed it was a quick check-in or perhaps an ask of some sort. I was editing footage at the time, and well I kept editing while we talked. Over the course of the call, I realized he had called to really have a solid conversation. But by the time I realized it the call was soon ending.

When we hung up, I had a pit in my stomach. I realized I was only half listening. And, on top of that, it was pretty obvious I was not fully present by the tone of my voice, the cadence of my responses. It was strange but all on its own my mind started playing back to me my exact half-hearted responses and my delayed “yeahs.” 

I miss him, and I’m kicking myself for not having pushed aside the computer mouse and focusing totally on him. I wanted to call him right back to apologize. That tends to be my usual response when I wished I had spoken or acted differently.  

Instead, I thought I would just sit with the remorse and use it as a teacher when I start doing that again. If I could take back time, I would have pushed my chair back from my editing system, put my feet up on the desk, and indulged in the interchange.

Now, that said, I am not one to go around saying we have to drop everything all the time for our kids, that we can’t be distracted ever, and that we always have to model great screen time. The truth is, as adults, our work (navigating our homes, our workplaces, our projects, etc.) is often on screens, so our use will very often be different than our kids.

But of course, we can also work on modeling certain things as best we can, like rather than be half present to try and say things like “I am on a tight deadline can I call you back later tonight.” Or, “Hey, so glad you called, let me put my computer to sleep so I can be undistracted.” I wish I had said that second line to Chase when he called …. next time.   

An international survey of over 6,000 youth aged 8 to 13 found that 32% reported feeling “unimportant” when parents used their cell phones during meals, conversations, or family time. 

Meanwhile, of course, we adults (parents, teachers, family) can feel dissed when the young people we are with are staring at a device and ignoring us or doing the 50/50 like I was doing with my son. In Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, there’s a funny moment when an elementary school boy tells us how he doesn’t want to come down to dinner when his mom calls him because he is too engaged in his game. He says:

“When you click on a game, you can’t take your eyes off the screen. When your mom calls you for dinner, and you’re like, ‘one second,’ and then she keeps on calling and calling you, but you just don’t go. You just keep playing because it’s so interesting. More interesting than you having dinner or helping your mom.”

Not long ago, I listened to this really good episode of the podcast, Like A Sponge, which looked at screen time and youth. One segment of the episode really got under my skin. A preschool teacher, Tara, tells the show’s host that during the first week of preschool, she has always asked a parent or other care provider to be present for a couple of hours the first week of school. She asks them to show engagement to help their children begin their journey into schooling.

Tara says that in the past, parents would really engage. But over the past five years, something changed. Now, most of the parents sit near their kids and focus on their cellphones or laptops instead. Tara’s concern was that, “They [the parents] weren’t engaging with each other or the teachers” and that the parents’ disengagement was signaling to the toddlers that school is not interesting.

That image is so sad to me. And yet, of course, there are other ways to think about the situation. One could argue that perhaps this is what is ideal for the kids—to have parents doing their own thing so that children get a message that this is their new place. They need to discover the play-objects and friends, and their parent is close in case they need them. 

I worry that the signal to the toddlers is more negative than positive. It would be ideal to have studies that looked at how those toddlers did at the school a few months later compared to toddlers at the same school before parents were on phones during that first week. 

2019 Tech-Free Gift Guide

It’s a magical time of year and shopping is in full swing. Tech gifts are always popular – but what else could we fill stockings with? Screenagers shared the following article with some non-tech gift ideas.

This time of year, everyone is busy running around trying to find the perfect gift. What people don’t realize is you often don’t need to go to a store to find it. Giving experiences can have a longer-lasting and greater impact than giving the latest toy, gadget, or piece of clothing. Experiences promote connectivity, togetherness, and lifetime memories, whereas, the latest and greatest thing has a shelf life, which is usually six months to a year until the next greatest thing comes out. 

  1. The gift of spending time with your kids and other loved ones is one of my favorite things to give, especially when it involves laughter. We have a little improv theater near our house, and I am going to give three tickets to the theater for each of my teens so they can plan a trip with friends or me to see a show. This also works with movie tickets, concerts, a play, a dance show, and more.  
  2. In my town, we also have a beading store that offers one-time lessons on simple beading techniques. I have been considering a certain class as a gift this year (since Tessa reads my TTTs, I don’t want to give away too much). What’s great is that whenever my teens have taken this or other types of community classes, they meet all sorts of new people, often interesting and creative adults. 
  3. For kids as young as 5 to say 11, another cool thing is to create gift classes that you and a friend both decide to do. So, for example, I could teach a fun international music and dance evening. Or make sushi. It is easy, at a minimum, you just need rice, seaweed, a veggie-such as avocado, and soy sauce. Or, my friend could teach them macrame. To add to these experiences, we could offer physical gifts with each class, such as a gift card for new music, or some yarn for macrame.
  4. I am a huge fan of improv. In addition to gifting tickets to a show I mentioned above, why not gift everyone a family improv night. I truly think that the world would be an exponentially better place if all kids ages 5 to 18 did some improv classes every year. It is all about working together while being creative and silly and getting past our ego. Wrap this book of improv games with a card inviting everyone to a family improv night. 
  5. Give the family some games and a calendar with dates marked for family game night. Openly commit to playing a certain number of times over the next two months, rather than just during the holidays. This works very well for younger kids who are so eager to have game playing partners. 
  6. Giving the gift of spreading compassion or connecting with family far away is a nice one. A woman in our office gave her kids stationary and some cool stamps so they could write to their grandparents in another state. 
  7. One of my favorite things to do is help others. I like to give my children gifts that enable them the opportunity to help others too. One year I gave my daughter $50 to do a micro-loan on Kiva. Since then, we have used the return of the loan to donate to others.
  8. When my son was 11, I got him a cookbook called Get Cooking, authored by a teen from England named Sam Stern. Even though we keep moving every two years, I have made sure to keep this book. I highly recommend getting a cookbook and making food together. Another idea is making your own cookbook together full of family recipes. You can handwrite the ones your kids love and then make some of them together. Leave extra blank pages to add more over the years. My film partner, Lisa’s husband, received one of these from his aunt when he graduated from college, and he uses it regularly.

If you buy gifts, make unwrapping fun. Put wrapped boxes inside bigger boxes, so they have to unwrap all of them to get to the present. If you get a newspaper look for a comic strip page that you can use to wrap the inner boxes. Another fun experience is making it a scavenger hunt. Hide gifts around the house and write clues. Your kids will have to figure out where the gifts are, based on the information you give. One of the women in our office has done this with her kids since they were small. Now teens, they still love the experience of figuring out and finding their gifts. 

One last thing I wanted to leave you with is what people shared with me on Facebook about the non-tech gifts they are giving this year:

  • AK: Glow in the dark capture the flag game
  • PW: A Carolina Hurricanes hockey game for the whole family ?
  • MO: Hover boards and RC cars to get them outside, clothes and books, craft supplies
  • KD: Books and board games. (And a trip to TN for a family reunion)!
  • VN: Tickets to see Hamilton.
  • DP: An actual book. Where you can dog-ear the pages, write meaningful notes in the margins and smell the ink and paper. ?
  • FP: Books! Certainly.
  • JF: Ski trip and NBA tickets!
  • AG: Passport subscription box
  • LH: Can jam is a great outdoor Game so is spike ball
  • ARL: Books, journals, art supplies, kiwi crate subscriptions, National Geographic kids monthly subscription, outdoor toys, Legos, model rocket, bath fizzy making book and gift card for supplies.
  • KD: Things to get them moving and outside: Disc golf supplies (discs, backpack, target), skimboard, bike lights, pogo ball.
  • TP: Camera lens for her to continue her wildlife photography passion not using her phone!
  • CM: Color changing glue for slime and puzzles!
  • MB: Lego’s, Basketballs, crepe pan
  • LN: Cooking classes
  • PJ: Puzzles
  • KO: Books, board games, shoes, sweaters, art supplies (all straight from her Christmas list).
  • LG: Snowshoes!
  • SN: Gift cards to places they like and clothing stores. Experiences…
  • CA: My 17-year-old asked for Pictionary!!!
  • AP: Art supplies clothes maybe gift card or cash…toys for my lil ones ?
  • AG: Legos and board games galore!
  • JK: Board games, books, dart board, hiking boots.
  • MM: A Bed tent, wallet w gift cards to places he likes for a treat (like local sandwich shop), bathtub crayons and art supplies, consumable and unique stocking treats, school logo fleece, PJs, electric smores maker
  • LM: New bikes, experience gift (six flags) & clothes
  • LL: Art supplies, journals, clothes. The only tech under the tree if from husband to father-in-law for his tv
  • JD: Want, need, wear, read. I use this every year.
  • HB: Tickets to the aquarium, Uno-attack game, Pokémon cards
  • AS: Passes or a membership to an amusement park, zoo, museum, science center, etc. Tickets to a sports game or concert. Enrollment in an activity, lesson or class they’ll love.
  • MM: Scuba gear, puzzles, clothes, Eureka crates, pet toys and treats.
  • SJ: A live theatre outing. Hiking backpack Dive mask and snorkel 
  • SW: Balance Boards (and books and board games)
  • CS: Board games 
  • NS: indoor/outdoor tennis table
  • RM: Pinwheel for my younger son ?
  • ES: Tickets to see Cirque, the Harlem Globetrotters, and a museum exhibit. Also a family hiking 
  • NM: Books, sports equipment, and supplies for other hobbies including wood whittling, drawing, and sewing. Plus tickets to a fun event for us to enjoy altogether instead of a bunch of things.
  • SM: Books and board games. One allows for quiet time adventures, the other conversation, and competitiveness. I teach art, so that’s a given.
  • AH: Our family is going to see Waitress in San Jose. I’m also trying to promote secondhand shopping with my teens. Only one of four is interested now. So, I’m trying to think of cool secondhand gifts. Musical instruments are all I’ve thought of so far. 
  • AH: Earth-friendly stocking stuffers suggestions: coupons for sitting shotgun in the car, controlling the radio in the car, breakfast of choice, chore-free weekend, etc. ??

Four Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

The holidays are in full swing, which bring both happiness and occasionally stress and anxiety. The Help Group’s Advance LA work gives advice on how to reduce holiday stress below.

November brings the start of holiday fun and excitement! But despite the joys of the season, many people find themselves feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the holiday season’s extra activities, social and familial demands, and general stress.

Most of us try to load up our already busy schedules while worrying about attending to our normal duties. With all of these higher expectations on us, it is easy to feel robbed of what should be a holiday season filled with joy, love, and wonder. So what to do?

Here are some strategies for decreasing feelings of holiday stress and increasing your enjoyment of the holiday season:

1. Practice Planning And Organizational Skills:

  • Create a to-do list: The phrase, “ink it when you think it” is a great motto. Write down the thoughts that are causing you stress so you can review them at a later time when you are feeling calm. Keep a pen and pad of paper nearby!
  • Check your to-do list at the beginning of each day. Arrange items in the order of priority. This will give a sense of control over your day and also keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

2. Create Reminders To Help You Stay On-task With Your Calendar

  • Write important dates on a calendar that you frequently check.
  • Make a daily schedule. This helps you plan your day.
  • Make post-it note reminders and put them up near your bathroom mirror or front door.
  • Alarms (alarm clock or phone/computer alarm) can be helpful to jog your memory.

3. Create A Plan of Attack To Use Every Time You Need To Complete A Big Task Such As Making Plane Reservations or Party Planning:

  • Figure out what you need to do.
  • Plan how and when you will do it
  • Figure out how much time is needed to complete the task
  • Treat yourself when you finish the task!

3. Know Your Productivity Cycle

  • It’s important to pay attention to your own productivity cycle.
  • Ask yourself ‘What’s my most productive time of the day?’ Then, schedule that time of day for working on your most important tasks or activities.

Above all, remind yourself to practice self-care! Schedule in down-time in your schedule so that you have time to relax and unwind.

And if you do feel that your level of stress is draining away the fun of the holidays, reach out to a trusted friend, family member or life coach. Talking with someone is a great way to relieve anxiety and stress. And remember, it takes strength to ask for help when you need it.

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