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When to be worried: A growing child and drugs and alcohol


Finally spring is here and before we know it summer will arrive, something many Chicagoans look forward too. We get to enjoy the city at last, the beaches, festivals, block parties, and music fests. With these events and activities comes the prevalent drink of choice: alcohol.  As any Chicagoan is aware of, there is always a preponderance of underage drinking at these events. It almost seems that this is a common practice and accepted by many. Not only is alcohol common in summer celebrations but also drug use as well. What should a parent do? While marijuana becomes more and more accepted in the mainstream, parents are still concerned with the health and safety of their children. How should a parent address this with their children? At what point is there “a problem”?

Perhaps the most important thing to do as a parent is to communicate with your child. Communication, like in any relationship, is fundamental to a healthy partnership. Have you discussed drug use and drinking with your child? Have you been clear on your own views of drinking and drug use? Have you set clear rules for them? Also, importantly, do you feel you have created a space for your child to discuss this with you as well? In discussing drug use with your child I often describe it as a balancing act. On one hand you want to be able to establish clear rules and consequences, on the other you don’t want your child to fear having a conversation about it. Creating a safe place for your child to openly discuss the topic of drugs and alcohol with you is paramount; otherwise your child will find answers elsewhere.

While no one person can perfectly predict substance abuse, as parents there are always things to look for. Declining grades, dramatic shift in peer groups, isolation, and emotional turbulence are a few key factors to note. And of course, while these may be classic “teens being teens” actions, the extreme prevalence of all these factors could be a cause for concern.  Substance use in adolescents is detrimental to their health in both physical and psychological ways. The developmental time period for teens is at a critical point in developing into healthy adult. This is why it may be necessary that if you do see these warning signs, to discuss it even further with your child. Along with more open and honest conversation, treatment may be necessary.

Experimentation as a teenager is typically normal, finding new friend groups, venturing into new hobbies, finding new passions; drug use does not have to be one of them. Teens will always be curious about the unknown and the prohibited, it is their nature. However it does not have to necessarily venture in to illegal use. Therefore, communication and discussion is so necessary. This summer while your kids are outside living their lives make sure to talk with them about drugs and alcohol. Don’t be afraid to openly bring up this topic.  Make your rules clear, but also be open to hearing the questions and accept their most likely push back on the subject.   Remember there are resources available nearly everywhere online, and if you really are concerned, feel free to give your local treatment provider a call, just make sure they are trained in addiction treatment.

Self-Care Tips to Get You Through the Holidays


While the holiday season can be a time of connection and cheer for many, for others it can bring about additional stress and isolation. During the season of giving we often devote so much time to others that we forget to take care of ourselves. Reclaiming and incorporating time for yourself is an essential part of maintaining a healthy and balanced holiday season. Below are a few ways in which you can give to yourself this season:

  • Reflect: Throughout the year reflection is a key aspect of self-care, but moving it to the forefront is especially important during the holidays. Reflection can bring about renewal and change as you enter the new year, and for some can even bring closure. Meditation and journaling are ways in which you can reflect on what it most important during these times. Both provide emotional and physical benefits that aid in the mitigation of undesirable symptoms.
  • Rest: Another important aspect of everyday life, that is especially important during this busy time, is rest. By maintaining a routine, you allow yourself to remain recharged and refreshed during this season of rush.
  • Prioritize: In an effort to match the pace of the season, many people often find themselves playing catch up once the holidays have ended. Allow yourself time to create and stick to realistic goals, which can include scheduling and budgeting. This eliminates the burden of overspending and overexerting yourself.
  • Create: Instead of focusing on the hustle of the season, take advantage of the magic of the season by creating traditions that will last for many seasons to come.
  • Redefine: Many assume that giving requires spending. During the coming days, take time to reflect on the meaning of the holidays by redefining what it means to give. Giving your time to be in service of others is an easy and inexpensive way to lift spirits.

In keeping with the holiday season, it is important to remember that self-care is key to achieving greater health, happiness, and prosperity. As stated by Calving Coolidge, “Holidays are not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of the Holidays.”

What is your parenting style?


Authoritarian Parenting

In this style of parenting, children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to follow such rules usually results in punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply reply, “Because I said so.”

 

Authoritative Parenting

Like authoritarian parents, those with an authoritative parenting style establish rules and guidelines that their children are expected to follow. However, this parenting style is much more democratic. Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions. When children fail to meet the expectations, these parents are more nurturing and forgiving rather than punishing. Baumrind suggests that these parents “monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative.”

 

Indulgent Parenting

Permissive parents, sometimes referred to as indulgent parents, have very few demands to make of their children. These parents rarely discipline their children because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. According to Baumrind, permissive parents “are more responsive than they are demanding. They are usually nontraditional and lenient. Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children. This style of parenting should be careful not to take on the status of a friend more than a parent.

 

Uninvolved Parenting

An uninvolved parenting style if characterized by few demands, low responsiveness and little communication. While these parents fulfill the child’s basic needs, they are generally detached from their child’s life. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect the needs of their children.

 

The Impact of Parenting Styles

What effect do these parenting styles have on child development outcomes?

  • Authoritarian parenting styles generally lead to children who are obedient and proficient, but they rank lower in happiness, social competence and self-esteem.
  • Authoritative parenting styles tend to result in children who are happy, capable and successful.
  • Permissive parenting often results in children who rank low in happiness and self-regulation. These children are more likely to experience problems with authority and trend to perform poorly in school.
  • Uninvolved parenting styles rank lowest across all life domains. These children tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem and are less competent than their peers.

Baumrind, D. (1989). Rearing competent children. In W. Damon (Ed.), Child development today and tomorrow (pp. 349-378). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.

Socially Obese? Keep social media use healthy.


In order to maintain health, the most commonly recommended actions are diet and exercise. It is widely known that choosing quality, whole foods over empty calorie, junk foods provide better nutritional intake to support a healthy body. Unfortunately, the American population is “the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in US history” (Brown, 2010, pg. 36). When considering how technology is revolutionizing our world, is it possible, that we have entered an age where we are now, also, socially obese? In other words, are we attempting to satisfy our need for love and belonging with frequent binge episodes of empty activity on social media platforms?

As a Millennial parent of a young child who is intrigued by texting, FaceTiming, and online games, I do my best to limit the use of technology, or at least ensure it is a positive and educational experience. It seems I get to observe her need to belong in this world by her desire for her own phone or app watch because others have them around her. I’m also aware of the glories of life without technology. This compelled me to find the best research on the topic of how technology is changing us.

Humanity has the longest period of childrearing of any species, and therefore, is wired to be social. Attachment theory would argue we feel more secure and confident in whom we are when attached to an attentive caregiver (Bowlby, 1969). Therefore, the technological development of social media to satisfy our need for connection is not unusual. Research has highlighted the positives of social media use. But, what are the bounds of healthy use? Is social media use like binging on junk food and is there a healthier replacement?

There are factors that make social media an easy go-to for social interaction and even addiction. For example, Dr. Susan Weinschenk, who is an expert on user experience in computer systems, outlines how social networking may activate the brain’s reward system on her blog (November 7, 2009). She identified the following factors:

  • Immediate gratification
  • Anticipatory thrill (anticipating reward is more rewarding than receiving the reward)
  • Endless amounts of small bits of information (little information can make us more curious, leading to endless browsing or rabbit trails over hours)
  • Unpredictability of rewards

Based on her research, it appears our brain jumps into an endless dopamine high when engaging social media. Berridge (1998) argues that dopamine is central to seeking pleasure and the opioid system causes us to experience pleasure. Therefore, it makes sense to me that when we browse, post, and game, hours fly by without notice due to the activation of both of these systems.

Unhealthy Social Media Use

There are several studies that clarify at what points social media use loses its benefit. Initially, it is well established that the hormone oxytocin is a bonding hormone, released during delivery of a newborn baby, and at moments of physical or social contact. When a study challenged teens with a stressful task and examined different avenues of receiving emotional support from their parents, oxytocin was implicated. The teens who did not reach out to their parents and those who texted their parents had no noticeable difference in their cortisol or oxytocin levels. The teens who sought support over the phone or face to face, had increased oxytocin and decreased cortisol levels (Seltzer, Prososki, Ziegler, & Pollak, as cited in Greenfield, 2015, p. 130). Therefore, hearing someone’s voice or seeing a person face-to-face was more effective in comforting. It appears that the convenience of technology did not benefit the teens in effectively decreasing stress and increasing bonding.

Moreover, excessive social media use is a concern due to the restricted form of communication that may lack tone of voice, body language, and other avenues of feeling emotionally connected. Those who spend excessive time on screens have more difficulty interpreting facial expressions (Engelberg & Sjöberg as cited in Greenfield, 2015, p. 135). Greenfield’s concern is that technology may encourage autistic-like traits, such as poor eye contact and poor reading of social cues, in an online user (McDowell; Waldman, Nicholson, & Adilov; Hertz-Picciotto & Delwiche; as cited in Greenfield, 2015, p. 136). Other researchers are attempting to clarify any relationship between internet use and lowering levels of empathy. Therefore, excessive use can be a barrier to developing social skills needed to facilitate bonding and attachment in the real world.

Another concern is that social media is replacing real life relationship maintenance. It appears that those who have social anxiety and believe it to be a better platform for self-disclosure are more likely to use social media to build relationships (Oldmeadow, Quinn, & Kowert; Trepte & Reinecke; as cited in Greenfield, 2015, pgs. 102 & 104). The amount of time spent on social media was not linked to having a larger offline network or feeling emotionally closer to offline network (Pollet, Roberts, & Dunbar, 2011 as cited in Greenfield, 2015, pgs. 133). It seems the excessive use of social media may be an act to avoid social anxiety than a tool to overcome it.

Additionally, the use of social media may not benefit self-image. Those with low self-esteem have more frequent posts about negative attributes which seems to lead others to “like” their comments less or reject the online identity altogether (Valkenburg, Peter, & Schouten as cited in Greenfield, 2015, pg. 120). Whereas, in real life, friends may have been able to see their other attributes and consider their negativity more tolerable. Given limited immediate feedback, social media also allows for narcissism to manifest which is linked to low self-esteem (Buffardi & Campbell as cited in Greenfield, 2015, pg. 117). Therefore, those with low self-esteem who rely on social media for connection may create a cycle of rejection and self-inefficacy in online relationships they rely on for intimacy.

Lastly, we advertise our best or “ideal self” on social media or develop a new identity altogether (Zhao, Grasmuck, & Martin as cited in Greenfield, 2015, pg. 117). For that reason, virtual reality continues to reflect less of actual reality. Consequently, we are exposed to the edited or imaginary version of a real person. Besides the scary implications of false identities online, social media provides us with an overwhelming number of personas to compare to ourselves. Therefore, perhaps the implications of our increased reliance on social media to meet our social and emotional needs is more complex than we think and possibly as nutritious as a junk food binge.

Healthy Recommendations

It is a relief to know that research has also identified the benefits of social media. Greenfield (2015) concluded from several studies, that it can be a beneficial avenue for maintaining relationships that were established offline. In order to be resilient from some of the drawbacks of social media use, I recommend that we:

  • Limit the time online to two hours or less each day
  • Develop social skills in offline relationships and work through social anxiety
  • Build face-to-face relationships while using social media to advance those connections
  • Work to limit online comparison, choose self-acceptance, and enhance self-esteem

It is my hope that, similar to other health-conscious trends such as yoga and organic eating, Americans would trend healthy Internet and social media use.


References

Berridge, K. C. & Robinson, T. E. (1998). What is the role of dopamine in reward: hedonic impact, reward learning, or incentive salience? Brain Research Reviews, 28, pp 309–369.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment. Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Loss. New York: Basic Books.

Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Greenfield, S. (2015). Mind change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains. New York: Random House.

Weinschenk, S. (November 7, 2009). 100 things you should know about people: #8 Dopamine makes us addicted to seeking information. Retrieved from https://www.blog.theteamw.com/2009/11/07/100-things-you-should-know-about-people-8-dopamine-makes-us-addicted-to-seeking-information/

Letting Go To Grow


Philippians 4:8

Finally, my sisters – whatever is true, whatever is honorable, what is right, what is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

  1. Position yourself in the future – get a positive view of the future will help you let go of a negative past. This is hard. Negative experiences just don’t fade away. Neuroscience of the brain indicates that we have an area of the brain that is called the episodic area. In this area we house events. We were created to remember so there are three things that will help with letting go of a negative past – (i) intentionally; (ii) create a vision board to assist you; (iii) set some steps. Learn to be present and stay in the present as you note your thoughts and feelings that connect you to what is good, what is lovely and what is of a good report.
  1. Discard the old – look around at your space, what reminds you of the thing, event, thought that you are trying to let go? Whatever it is start small and recreate. Redecorate a room, create piles that are keep, toss or transfer and then move forward with those things.
  1. Repair – acknowledge if what you are letting go of you played a part in the hurt, pain or disappointment. If you can, reach out to that person, have a face to face or write a letter expressing your part and your remorse. If you cannot reach out to that person, write an unmailable letter expressing your part and remorse.
  1. Rewrite your narrative – this allows you to take your power back. It places you in the position of victor and not victim. Therapist call this cognitive re-framing – God has given us the power to write our stories. Look at the loss as a release. An open door to create something new and refreshing.
  1. Forgive – discharge the debt, do what needs to be done to not have offense repeated (redefine the relationship); acknowledge the mess, the cost, the pain as well as the short and long term consequences of the offense, it is a process, not a one-time decision.

Why Do I Need a Therapist if I’ve Got Jesus?


I’ve often heard Christians ask, “Why do I need a therapist if I’ve got Jesus?” As a Christian, I can appreciate the sincerity of this question given that it echoes a number of Bible passages. For example, Philippians 4:6 reads, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” This verse is then followed by another which states, “God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Given the stock that is often placed into these verses, it isn’t difficult to understand why a Christian would believe that they have no need for a therapist given that the Bible instructs us to turn to God to get all of our needs met. Although I can appreciate this perspective, I don’t believe that Christianity and psychology are in opposition to one another. As a Christian therapist, I find that one’s faith and the practice of therapy or counseling can be integrated quite well, and within this article, I aim to discuss how these two world views can be married together.

Since ancient times, God has been known to work through people to bring about blessings, healing, and freedom. Moreover, throughout the Bible, it is written that God often used natural means (i.e. ordinary people) in order to manifest his supernatural purposes (Isaiah 6; Acts 9: 6). It is my belief that today, God continues to help people by using others, and that mental health professionals, especially Christian mental health professionals, can be used by God.

Personally, my work as a therapist has been profoundly impacted by my relationship with Jesus Christ. Time and time again, God has treated me with unconditional love and positive regard in spite of my poor choices, and such grace has been unbelievably transformative in my own life. Due to my experience of God’s transformative compassion and concern for me, I model my practice of therapy after the way in which God relates to me because I know how emotionally corrective such an experience can be. In the Book of Isaiah, Jesus is referred to as “Wonderful Counselor” and such a description speaks volumes to me as a therapist (Isaiah 9:6). Given that He is a Wonderful Counselor, and He speaks of setting an example for us (John 13:15), it is my belief that I am carrying out God’s work through my work as a therapist. Also, God calls us to “Bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2) which suggests that God understands that in order for people to get well, they need someone else, and at times, maybe even a therapist, to be a witness to their pain in order to bring about healing.

In sum, I truly believe that Christianity and the practice of psychology can operate alongside one another, and when God says that He’ll meet all of our needs, one of the ways in which He may choose to do so is through directing us to experts whom He has gifted with the knowledge and wisdom to bring about healing in others. If you believe that you or a loved one could benefit from counseling services, please give us a call and we’ll be happy to serve you.

Demystifying Your Child’s Misbehavior


Understanding the misbehavior of children can be quite challenging at times, as their misconduct can present as a mystery to not only their parents, but the reasoning behind their misconduct is often unknown to the children themselves. Evidence of this can be seen when children say, “I don’t know” in response to their parents who ask them, “Why did you do that?” I want to help you answer this very question by explaining the hidden messages that often lie beneath your child’s misconduct, and lend you a few suggestions as to what to do when certain misbehavior occurs.

All people, including children, are driven by a desire to belong and feel significant within their relationships, especially within their family relationships (Dreikurs & Soltz, 1990; Nelson, 2006). As a result, children often misbehave because they want to feel important or belong, but they’re unaware that they’re doing this. Misbehavior occurs when children develop mistaken beliefs or incorrect ideas about how they can feel important or belong, and it’s often at the expense of other people’s feelings (Dreikurs & Soltz, 1990; Nelson, 2006). Most misbehavior falls into one of four categories known as the Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior, and they include the following: 1) Undue Attention; 2) Misguided Power; 3) Revenge, and 4) Assumed Inadequacy (Nelson, 2006).

The Mistaken Goal of Undue Attention suggests that some children unconsciously believe that they’re not significant or that they don’t belong unless they keep adults busy with them (Nelson, 2006). An example of this is when your child annoys or irritates you by making constant noise after you have told him or her to stop numerous times. Truthfully, the hidden message beneath your son or daughter’s behavior is that “I want you to notice me” or “Involve me usefully.” One of the ways that you can respond to this is by touching them gently and looking at them while nodding your head “no” without saying a word. This practice is known as acting without speaking. Another response is giving your child a task to do so that their need for attention can be satisfied by being acknowledged for completing a task that is of help to you. Additionally, you can plan individual time with your child so that they have something to look forward to, and they can thus receive uninterrupted attention from you (Nelson, 2006).

Next is the Mistaken Goal of Misguided Power, which means that some children hold the mistaken belief that they are not significant or that they don’t belong unless they prove to others that they are the boss and that no one can control them (Nelson, 2006). An example of this is when you may tell your child to put his or her shoes on, and he or she responds with “No” or they take a long time to carry out the task. In situations such as this, you are likely to feel angry or defeated. Often, the coded message behind such behavior is that “I want a choice.” You can direct this need for power in a positive direction by giving your child limited options (i.e. “I need you to put your shoes on. You can wear the red shoes or the blue shoes, which ones do you want to wear?”) (Nelson, 2006).

The third Mistaken Goal is that of Revenge (Nelson, 2006). This goal is likely at play when a child damages a parent’s property or calls a parent a hurtful name. The coded message is that “I’m hurting, and I want you to feel my hurt” or “I need you to validate my feelings.” In order to address a scenario like this, a useful intervention is to acknowledge the hurt feelings (i.e. “Okay, given that you called me that name, I can tell you’re angry with me. Tell me what’s going on.”). It’s important that you don’t retaliate or hurt your child more at that moment by punishing them, and that reflective listening is used (i.e. “Okay, I hear you, and I see why that upset you.”) (Nelson, 2006).

The last Mistaken Goal is Assumed Inadequacy (Nelson, 2006). This goal is often present when a child stops putting forth effort into his or school work or says, “I just can’t do it.” The truth is that they’re often afraid of failing, so they simply forgo trying. The coded message behind their behavior is that “I need you not to give up on me.” These children are the most discouraged, and they need regular encouragement. In order to help your child if he or she presents this way, it is important that tasks are broken down into small achievable steps and that you acknowledge them for their effort and hard work. Additionally, it’s important that all criticism stops, and that you focus on your child’s strengths and not their weaknesses. For example, if a child has brought home all ‘F’s in the past, and he or she turns one of those ‘F’s into a ‘C’, it’s important that this is recognized by saying something like, “Oh my goodness, you brought that F up to a C! I’m so proud of you! This is a testament to how hard you’ve worked. Keep working hard and I know the other grades will improve too.”

In conclusion, I hope that I’ve been able to make your child’s misbehavior a lot less mysterious. It’s important to remember that when you catch your child exhibiting any of the characteristics that were described, the coded messages behind the behavior are often nobler than the surface behavior may lead you to believe. If you keep this in mind, it’ll help you to keep your anger in check and also to help you to get back to enjoying your children again.


Dreikurs, R. & Soltz, V. (1990). Children: The challenge. Plume: New York, NY.

Nelson, J. (2006). Positive discipline. Ballantine Books: New York, NY.

What Just Happened?: Making Sense of My Seemingly Random Reactions


Marie was feeling productive at work when she received a phone call from her mother. As soon as she saw the caller ID, she felt irritable and dismissed the call. For the rest of the day, she struggled to return her focus to her work or get anything accomplished.

Brenda was enjoying her time out to dinner at a nice restaurant with her boyfriend, Jude. However, she wanted to run out of the restaurant when Jude took his phone out of his pocket and started doing something on it. For the rest of dinner, she just answered his questions with one-word answers and couldn’t wait to get home so she could go to sleep.

Tiffani was fully engaged in the conversation at her 11:00 business meeting, which she found to be fascinating. When the colleague sitting next to her raised his hand to interrupt the discussion, she flinched and had trouble participating in the remainder of the meeting.

 

What do these women have in common?

Although at first glance, these women may seem to be drastically different from one another, when we take a moment to investigate their histories, we find similarities in their reactions in each situation. Each of these women’s reactions makes sense. Each of these women’s trauma response was triggered by the circumstances of their environments and made it difficult for her to fully engage in the present moment.

Marie grew up in a home where she never knew what she would experience when she walked in the door. Some days, her mother would be waiting to greet her with a smile and interest in what happened at school. Other days, her mother would be drunk on the couch, waiting for Marie to return from school so she could take care of her mother’s every need.

Brenda’s first marriage started off great, but after a year, her husband didn’t seem to even know she existed, that was, until he wanted something from her sexually and he could not be deterred. Brenda felt unwanted and cast-off and wasn’t surprised the day he filed for divorce because he found a “better woman.” It took a long time to feel ready to date again, but finally, she was willing to try again.

Tiffani’s step-father was scary and mean. She would hide in her closet to stay away from him when he was angry, praying that he wouldn’t find her because she was afraid that this time, he would hit her so hard she might die.

 

What is a trauma response and why does it happen?

Our brains automatically respond to dangerous, stressful, and traumatic situations by prioritizing reactions that will keep us safe; this is a very good thing, as it helps us to survive. When a person experiences these dangerous, stressful, or chaotic situations time and again, his/her brain gets really good at quickly prioritizing this survival response. Sometimes, the brain is so good at doing this, the survival response becomes the automatic and occurs even when the person is in a completely safe situation. This triggered reaction is a trauma response and it makes sense. Marie’s trauma reaction was triggered because her brain knows that sometimes when she talks to her mom, she isn’t safe. Brenda’s trauma reaction was triggered because she felt unwanted by her boyfriend when he started using his phone; she had been here before and it was not safe. Tiffani’s trauma reaction was triggered because her brain knows that sometimes, when someone near you raises his/her arm, it is to hit her. Although each of these women may not understand why she reacted in the way she did, each response makes sense in light of her past experiences and makes it difficult for her to fully engage in the present moment.

 

What can I do if I experience things like this?

First and foremost, seek support from safe and trustworthy people. Talking through your current and past experiences with a family member or friend who has consistently been safe and caring can help you express these things so you don’t have to hold them inside or on your own. Many individuals find it helpful to participate in therapy in order to have a safe place to discuss these reactions and the situations that have caused them and work towards growth and healing.

Secondly, take care of yourself when these reactions occur – maybe you need to take a break to go for a walk, grab a coffee, or take some deep breaths. Do something little and easy to help calm your brain and your body down so that you can re-engage in the present moment. Be kind to yourself by reminding yourself that this reaction was helpful for your survival at one point in time and makes sense in the current situation – there is nothing inherently wrong with your reaction and you can do something to help yourself through it.

If you would like to begin receiving professional services for reactions such as those described above, our office has therapists who have specialized training to provide services to individuals who have experienced trauma. Please click here to request an appointment.

 


*These stories are fictional and were created with the intent to illustrate triggered responses as a result of traumatic experiences in order to increase awareness, offer knowledge, and provide support for those who may be experiencing similar reactions.

Cyber-bullying: What it is, what to do, and how to prevent it


Any form of bullying can hurt a person’s self-esteem due to feeling not deserving of love and belonging (Brown, 2010). In the Bible, Joseph, a favored son, was bullied by his brothers out of jealousy because of the dreams God had given him. Goliath was a bully who taunted others and used power and stature to intimidate. Although these are examples of traditional bullying that occurred in the Bible, a different type of bullying has emerged in modern society called cyber-bullying.

What is cyber-bullying and why does it matter?

Cyber-bullying is when someone uses an electronic device to “threaten, harass, tease, or embarrass another person” (Greenfield, 2015, p. 144). With the development of the Internet and social media, we are now connected to others 24/7. Depending on the age group, 20-40% of young people have been cyber-bullied (Tokunaga as cited in Greenfield, p. 144). This is concerning because, unlike traditional bullying, the victim is unable to experience relief by not being around the bully. The online identity that is viewed as a “tethered self” (Turkle, 2012, p. 155) can be verbally abused by large amounts of people constantly. In 2012, a survey of US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, showed 44% of suicides from the previous 15 months were due to cyber-bullying (LeBlanc, 2012 as found in Greenfield, p. 144).

What makes cyber-bullying so prevalent?

Anonymity seems to offer people permission to experiment with a new identity on the Internet (Suler as cited in Greenfield, p. 113). Moreover, for Digital Natives, time spent online is significant, creating more opportunities for impulsive, even harmful, choices in online interactions (Whitson, 2014). Research shows that starting at age 11, kids create a different online identity that is more rude, sexy, adventurous, or risky (Kidscape as cited in Greenfield, p. 121). Additionally, the Internet can lack typical social consequences that deter traditional bullying such as the victim’s facial expression and body language, social disapproval, and the fear of getting caught, which seem to make even those who have never bullied more likely to bully online (Greenfield; Whitson). This may contribute to ideas that cyber-bullying is not wrong since research shows cyberbullies have less remorse than traditional bullies (Greenfield, p. 146). It also speaks to the “diffusion and dilution of responsibility” of online activity (Robson & Witenberg as cited in Greenfield, p. 146). For example, who will catch the bully, how will they prove the online activity was done by that person, and what are the consequences? Thankfully, schools and the legal system are improving in navigating and litigating this difficult arena.

What makes it so dangerous?

As mentioned before, the permanency and continuity of cyber-hate appears to offer no solstice for the victim. Bullies attack something about a person that can confuse the victim, troubling the view that one is valued and effective in the world. This feeling of being wrong or not good enough can bring about anxiety and depressive symptoms. The victim may feel more insecure or ashamed, begin to isolate from others, and even believe the perspective that bullies have amplified and declared as truth about the victim (see Brown, 2010). The viral nature of cyber-bullying can lead victims to make poor conclusions about their worth and identity (Whitson, 2014, p. 68). When feeling down, a youth can believe they are not worthy of love and belonging, even doubting the love received from family and friends because of the perceived overwhelming online evidence of what others believe to be true about the victim. The hopeless feeling of being unable to stop it, change it, or challenge it can lead a person to thoughts or acts of suicide. If you have been cyber-bullied, seek additional support to work through difficult emotions, find belief in yourself as a person who is worthy of love and belonging, and develop a resilient identity that is valued and that you define.

What do we do about it?

If cyber-bullied…

  1. Tell an adult
  2. Disengage from it, don’t add to it
  3. Block harassers and log off
  4. Use privacy settings
  5. Take screen shots
  6. Do something to stop it with help of adults
  7. Empathize with victims

How do we prevent it?

  1. Keep person-to-person connections strong
  2. Educate kids about Netiquette
  3. Monitor kids online
  4. Write an online agreement for family
  5. Take breaks from tech and view it as a privilege
  6. Adults hold kids accountable for online behavior

The previous two step-by-step guides can be found in the chapter on cyber-bullying in the book 8 Keys to End Bullying referenced below. For more information on overcoming bullying and understanding the impact of digital technology on our world, view the references used for this article.


Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Greenfield, S. (2015). Mind change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains. New York: Random House.

Turkle, S. (2012). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.

Whitson, S. (2014). Key 4: Deal directly with cyberbullying. A chapter from 8 keys to end bullying: Strategies for parents and schools (pp. 66 -95). New York: Norton & Co.

 

 

Back-to-School Season


This time of Back-to-school season can cause a variety of different emotions. After a long summer of relaxation, fun in the sun, and little responsibility, children can have a hard time adapting to the level of structure that learning requires. However, going back to school does not have to be a dreaded experience for parents or children. Below are some tips for back to school preparation that can help.

  1. Highlight the benefits of school: Discussing the possibility of new achievements, and past academic successes can be a source of encouragement and excitement for the upcoming school year. This can also stop the complaining and negativity about starting school as summer begins to come to an end.
  2. Reestablish routines: The summer tends to be a lax season and this could mean bed times tend to get pushed back and schedules are not as busy. Reestablishing a bedtime routine that ensures restorative sleep will support physical health, emotional and psychological well-being. We all know the feeling and are far too familiar with the consequences of a restless night, which includes: headaches, stomach discomfort, confusion, and grumpiness. However, research links poor or inadequate sleep with children to reduced neurobehavioral functioning and cognitive problems that ultimately impact a child’s ability to perform in school. Due to the importance of sleep, it is imperative that good sleep patterns are exercised at home. The National Sleep Foundation recommends school aged children should sleep nine to eleven hours per night. Establish a bed time that allows for enough sleep, be consistent every night, turn off screens at least 30 minutes before bed, and create a routine before bed that prepares the child for bed time. Getting used to a routine takes time, so start at least a week before the big day.
  3. Prepare for the unknown: Starting something new can trigger uneasiness and even fear. If your child is attending a new school, schedule a tour prior to the beginning of the school year. Being exposed to the new environment will ease fears, provide a chance to ask questions, and help to feel more prepared to tackle their first day. If your child is attending the same school, chances are your child will have a new teacher and this too can be difficult for children. If the school offers meet and greets, take advantage of this opportunity to familiarize yourselves with the teacher’s style and expectations. If your child’s school does not offer meet and greets, do your research by reaching out to other parents who may have worked with this teacher in the past or by sending an email to introduce yourself and ask questions.
  4. Organize school supplies: Involve your child in the organization process. This can build excitement about a new school year and also help them to practice this valuable life skill.
  5. Ask questions and be available: Check in with your child about how he or she is feeling about going back to school. Validate his or her emotions by showing your concern. Share a time in your life where starting something new was difficult for you and express to your child how you managed and coped. Your disclosure can both serve as encouragement and better align you with your child at the same time.

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago