I hope everyone reading in the United States had a happy and healthy Thanksgiving Holiday last week! When I thought about what to write after taking the holiday week off, I contemplated the numerous discussions I had both in and out of the consulting room regarding people's varied feelings about being with family during the holidays. Families bring up powerful feelings and interpersonal dynamics. It's inevitable that old family dynamics are stirred up around the dinner table and that's what makes the holidays so difficult, our past is present...AGAIN. Sometimes the bullies of our childhood were not kids on the playground but our siblings, parents, and extended family members.
I am a huge admirer of the Ophelia Project and the work that they do. I received an email from them announcing the launch of their new blog! I was excited to hear about the blog because the content is of stories of student's experiences of relational aggression. The tag line to their blog is, "Because everyone deserves to feel safe and accepted." I conceptualize relational aggression as a different type of bullying. The Ophelia Project defines relational aggression as: ... behaviors that harm others by damaging, threatening to damage or manipulating one's relationships with his/her peers, or by injuring one's feelings of social acceptance. For example: Purposefully ignoring someone when angry (giving the "silent treatment") Spreading rumors about a disliked classmate Telling others not to play with a certain classmate as a means of retaliation.
It's easy to focus only on tragic stories related to bullying (i.e. Amanda Todd's death), giving parent more tips on how to keep their child safe or looking at how bullying has long term mental and physical health consequences. It's also important to recognize that people are stepping up and changing our bullying culture! Personally, after a harrowing week post-Sandy and still experiencing the effects of the devastating storm, it was refreshing to find something optimistic to blog about this week.
As I'm sure you know the Mid-East Atlantic Coast has been pummeled by Hurricane Sandy. I am based in New York City and it has been quite difficult to manage! I am blessed that my home is safe, and while my private practice office in Union Square remains in the dark , the Freedom Institute office is running with a skeleton (and DEDICATED) staff!
I hope to be fully up and running by...
I hope to be fully up and running by...
If I had to identify the biggest challenge for those of us who work with young people is helping students identify bullying behavior and coming up with solutions. Elsbeth Martindale, PsyD, has created a wonderful tool, How to Spot a Bully card deck. Dr. Martindale reached out to me (and was generous enough to send me a deck for my review). I was so impressed with How to Spot a Bully I wanted to share my thoughts with all of you.
You may have seen my post on the long term health risks related to bullying over the summer. A new study by Michael Murphy of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, has linked repeated experiences of teen rejection to a decrease in strength in one's immune system. The study focused on teen-aged girls and not surprisingly. While many students discuss bullying this type - social rejection or what I'd call relational aggression - is most commonly reported among girls; I often call it the Mean Girls mentality when working with teens. Repeated experiences of being targeted can keep a person's stress response system on high alert at all times. In this latest study, researchers point out that social rejection is particularly damaging:
I've tried to make a concerted effort not to write posts that only garner attention but try to use relevant newsworthy items to share a perspective on how to address and end bullying. When the news hit about Amanda Todd's death this past Friday, I initially did not want to blog about it. The cause of her death is still under investigation but it is suspected Amanda is yet another teenager who may have taken her life at the hands of bullies. To write about her death and YouTube video initially felt exploitative. Amanda's mother has been quoted stating she would like Amanda's video to be viewed and used as an anti-bulling teaching tool. Please note that the video can be triggering for some viewers who struggle with self harming behavior and please view the video with caution.
Through the school-based substance abuse prevention work we offer at Freedom Institute I constantly connect the dots between bullying and early substance use. How are two seemingly separate topics woven in together? Bullying behavior, like early substance use, can be viewed as a means for young people to gain social status, manage feelings, and indicate that a young person may need more parental attention. When I meet with students we discuss why young people may resort to either behavior (depending on the topic of the day) to get their emotional needs met. The we delineate together what other, healthier, ways young people can get these needs met to prevent resorting to behavior that can harm themselves or others. As is the case with early substance use, bullying prevention efforts focus on increasing the already current protective factors in a young person's life.
Did you know October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month? To kick off the month of education, advocacy, prevention and intervention please keep checking in on the blog. I'll try to keep up with the numerous events and news worthy stories out there - there are a lot!
The film "Bully" propelled this topic into the forefront of our nation's mind. Bullying can no longer be minimized, disregarded and ignored. The dialogue continues on how to best address this issue in school communities. More and more resources are available to help educators, students and families address this topic. My belief is that regardless of what programs a school community puts in place, intervention and prevention efforts must happen concurrently in order to minimize the proliferation of bullying.