Little eyes are watching….

bully-1(1).jpgAlbert Bandura’s social learning theory explains how people (children) learn from one another through ways of observation, imitation, and modeling. With that said, how do you think this election has affected our children? Their behaviors? Their thoughts and attitudes? And, how they perceive interactions with adults?

Commercials, ads, and billboards constantly show and advertise, over and over, this accepted bullying behavior. And, then crowds cheering it on passionately accepting this as a cultural norm. I think every year, we cringe when we know election time is coming because we hear advertisement after advertisement of one person putting down another. How does this set an example for our youth? What does this show them about government? Bullying is what gets you somewhere? I hope not. This particular election cycle seems to be nastier than ever before.  We are continuously seeing that the bickering spreads from the tv screen to social media and into the home. All the while our kids are watching…and learning.

Bullying has become even more complex over the past couple years in particular. Social media has played a huge role in this due to constant interactions among teens in and out of school. Bullying is not just in the halls at school, but displayed on the screens and homepages of multiple apps downloaded on student’s phones. It never stops. I’m sure we have all heard of one, or many, cases of teens going to lengths as suicide due to this bullying behavior.

Certain forms of child abuse (such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, severe neglect and lack of supervision, domestic violence in the home, drug exposure, etc.) create vulnerability for kids to either become bullies or become victims of bullying. For instance, some kids who are abused might learn that violence is the way to deal with problems, and therefore physically bully their peers at school.

According to the website www.stompoutbullying.org, 1 out of 4 kids is bullied and 42% of kids have been bullied while online.

Signs that a child is being bullied can include:

  • Withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Reluctance to go to school
  • Sudden drop in grades
  • Self-deprecating talk
  • Staying away from friends
  • Crying Episodes
  • Frequent complaints of headaches and/or stomach aches
  • Unexplained bruises

Children with disabilities may be at a higher risk of being bullied than other children.

In addition to the short-term signs of bullying, there are many long-term effects that need to be considered.  Kids who are bullied have fear instilled in them and over time may:

  • Lose all self-esteem
  • Suffer from severe depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses
  • Suffer from more physical health issues
  • Could turn to drug and alcohol use
  • Could start self-harming
  • Some kids are so tormented that they use suicide as an alternative. 

The above signs are signs of bullying but are also signs of other abuse as well. If your child displays any of these signs talk with them and talk with the school staff to learn more about what’s going on.  When talking with your child, don’t just ask if they’re being bullied.

In a study of 700 fifth grade students it was found in student self-reports that:

  • 14% are bullies
  • 12% are victims
  • 8% are both bullies & victims
  • 66% not involved in bullying

When groups were compared on the amount of victimization in other areas (i.e., outside of the school) they reported:

  • Bully-victims reported the most child maltreatment (44%), which included experiences with physical and psychological abuse and neglect.
  • Bully-victims also reported the highest rates of sexual victimization(32%), which included experiences with sexual harassment as well as sexual abuse, and included familial and non-familial perpetrators.
  • Bully-victims and bullies witnessed higher levels of victimization within their homes (domestic violence) and communities (witnessing attacks) than other youth (59% for bully-victims, 61% for bullies).

Most children are too embarrassed or are afraid to tell an adult about bullying. They may think that involving an adult will only make the problem worse. But you can prepare children by teaching them socialization skills, modeling friendly behavior, and telling them that you will always be there for them. Mention that if something bothers them, they can also talk to their teacher or with a school counselor.  Schools have done an amazing job with bullying education and prevention – with most schools now requiring suspension for bullying behaviors. It is never too early to begin these conversations.

If you do suspect a child is being abused or has been bullied, appropriate mental health treatment is strongly recommended.  The problem is that even though it is recommended and a much-needed service, it is becoming harder and harder to obtain. The most important thing that we can leave with you today to think about is that mental health should be one of our top priorities as a country. Technology has changed, and is changing, the way our brains work. We are becoming increasingly less interactive and more isolated as a whole. Those in need of mental health services often become frustrated because they aren’t able to get the services they need and give up.

We cannot begin to describe how difficult it has become to get the children we serve proper therapeutic treatment.  We strive to make sure that every child who is truly in need of mental health services can receive it free of charge and regardless of the requirements that insurance mandates. Mental Health Clinicians are being forced to jump through multiple hoops just to provide an evidence based treatment to a child who was proven to experience abuse.  Some clinicians have even stopped accepting specific insurances because the demands are too unreasonable. Throughout all of this, the ones who are suffering are the children…the ones who depend on us for help…the ones who are being taught these abusive behaviors because they are experiencing it firsthand themselves…the ones who have no options but those that we (as a nation) give them.

Brandi Reagan & Jenny Smith

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