Back to School and How to Support Your Child

Back to School and How to Support Your Child

Back to School and How to Support Your Child

“Don’t try hard. to fit in, and certainly don’t try so hard to be different …just try hard to be you.”  ~Zendaya

Back to school time can bring on many mixed emotions for both students and parents. For many adolescents it can bring excitement, sadness and anger. For parents, the emotions can be quite similar especially if there are concerns about bullying or potential bullying. School should be an environment of learning, acceptance, safety and fun. Unfortunately for many students it can be a place of fear, anxiety and sadness.

As we prepare to send our youth back into the schoolyards and the classrooms there are ideas to keep in mind and discuss with our children about to help them start the school year on a solid footing.

  • Be a role model. Our children are watching whether they are toddlers or in high school. They learn from us and often pick up our behaviors. As caregivers we should be mindful of how we act toward others. This includes peers, other parents, friends, family members, co-workers, interactions in public (including online) and our partners and spouses.

  • Do not tolerate bullying in your family or in your home. Guide and teach siblings positive ways to manage difficult emotions and to not lash out at one another. If your child has challenging and mean interactions with friends while you are with them, interject and aid in resolving the interaction. If need be, separate the children and speak to the other parent.
  • Do not minimize bullying. If your child confides in you about being a bullying target, bullying others or witnessing bullying incidents, take the opportunity to listen with empathy. Do not brush it off. If your child is targeted, take the opportunity to come up with a plan together and let them know they did nothing wrong. If your student is a bystander or engaging in bullying activity educate your child as to how bullying negatively impacts the target and can hinder feelings of self-worth and belonging. Encourage your child to support targets of bullying by not tolerating it, speaking up, reporting it and offering encouragement to the bullying target.
  • Encourage your child to rely upon their friends. Talk to your child about enlisting friends to support one another. Children helping others offers the strongest defense against bullying behavior. Discussing and forming a pact can be a strong support system during the school day.
  • Encourage your child to tell an adult they are being bullied. Statistics tell us that only 20-30% of bullying targets report their abusers. Encourage your child to tell a trusted adult as quickly as possible.

It is also important to consider internet safety and how to deal with cyberbullying as well. It is an incredibly challenging problem and can happen anywhere, anyplace and at anytime. Cyberbullying spreads quickly and has the same negative effects on all involved as any other type of bullying. It should not be tolerated and be addressed quickly. Some advice to also keep in mind in regards to cyberbullying are:

  • Do not punish your child. If your child has been a target of cyberbullying do not threaten to take away their device or cut their online time. Doing this may make them not want to tell you about any bullying that happens in the future.
  • If there is online evidence, save it as screenshots. This becomes incredibly helpful if it is necessary to report the event.
  • Talk to your child about the experience and take the time to listen. Studies prove that having just one person listen and support a child who has been bullied helps them better handle the event in a healthy way.
  • Report the cyberbullying. Most social media platforms have a process for reporting bad behavior. If the cyberbullying involves a classmate, report it to the school. If the bullying involves threats of physical harm, consider reporting it to the police.
  • Take quick action. Whether your child is the target, a bystander or the perpetrator of cyberbullying, quick action should be taken. Bullying in any form is never okay. It is an opportunity talk about empathy and the harm caused by bullying. Discuss it with school officials or a counselor to gain additional help and ideas.

Taking the time to partner with our children during this time of transition is key. An open dialogue about new routines and expectations is always a good idea.  Stress and anxiety are common. Let your child know you are there to help them succeed and will be available when they feel anxious or need help.

If your child is being bullied and the school isn’t helping, please contact BRRC. We can help.

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

How Peer Support and Social Emotional Learning Reduce Bullying

How Peer Support and Social Emotional Learning Reduce Bullying

How Peer Support and Social Emotional Learning
Reduce Bullying

Many schools have signs on the walls in the school like, “no bullying zone” or “zero tolerance for bullying.” There is an anti-bullying week and most likely an assembly about how to stop bullying. Then, sadly, it’s done. The message stops, attention shifts away from bullying, and it is no longer a priority. It takes a commitment from schools and districts to stop bullying. A sign and an assembly are not enough. It takes training, commitment, time, energy, and a shift in culture to curb bullying. Even schools who do all those things well will still have bullying within their buildings. The commitment comes from seeing it through. It comes from investigating all bullying events, from having proper policies and procedures in place and adhering to them. It comes from having an open dialogue about bullying and a willingness to make school a safe place for all students.

“Experts agree that any anti-bullying program is only as strong as a school’s commitment to it. To get results, you have to put in the time.”

What Doesn’t Work, and Why:

The annual anti-bullying assembly: There are several reasons why this has very little or no impact. Students and staff can feel this is simply checking off a box without any real commitment to the problem. Creating a culture where bullying is less likely to thrive takes much more than a speaker, an assembly, and an hour of time.

The target and the aggressor “work it out”: This is wrong on so many levels and I will be as brief as possible. First, bullying always has an imbalance of power and having two children work it through when one party is more powerful will never work. We don’t ask adults who are targets of assault to “work it out” with the person who harmed them. We should NEVER ask that of our children.

Peer-led Anti-Bullying Efforts

Bullying is much more likely to be witnessed by students. The savvy child who engages in bullying acts is much more likely to torment their target(s) in the bathroom, hallway or on social media. Other students are often the ones around who witness bullying. Peers also have a greater impact on telling the bully to stop than an adult.

Peer-advocacy anti-bullying groups allow a group of students to look out for other students who may be bullied, excluded, or otherwise isolated by speaking up for them, advocating for them, and including them in activities.

Creating peer-advocates helps change the culture of schools. Research about bullying suggests that it is not generally driven by a few bad apples but rather by a culture that finds harassment and bullying acceptable. Peer groups where the students produced their own ideas and projects can show remarkable success. When children believe in their own ability to solve problems, they better understand when a problem needs adult help.

Arming socially influential and willing students with nonviolent communication and intervention skills has proven effective for schools and school cultures. Students who have been targeted for bullying report that supportive actions are the most helpful things a peer can do. Peer-advocates can spend time potential targets, talk with them and steer them away from a bad situation.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

Social and Emotional Learning is the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to: establish healthy identities; recognize and manage their emotions; demonstrate care and concern for others; establish positive relationships; and make responsible decisions. There is much research and information about SEL that I will not go into, however integrating the tenants of SEL into the academics and culture of schools has proven to reduce bullying. Bullying prevention that is integrated throughout the curriculum makes an impact. Novels and fictional characters can be explored for concepts around bullying, mental health, strength and resiliency.

The power of peers should never be underestimated. Students working together toward a kinder culture can move mountains. I passionately believe that buddy benches and a “no kid eats alone” rule in cafeterias save lives. Schools that couple student-led programs with appropriate social and emotional learning opportunities can shift cultures where bullying is less likely to exist, and it will be stopped much quicker. Parents and caregivers should feel empowered to ask their child’s school about bullying prevention, and if the answer isn’t sufficient, how they can help to create a safer environment for all students.

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

Understanding Bullying and the LGBTQI+

Understanding Bullying and the LGBTQI+

Understanding Bullying and the LGBTQI+ Community

And What YOU Can Do

45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

June is Pride Month.  Pride Month commemorate the Stonewall Riots also known as the Stonewall uprising that occurred in June 1969. When police invaded the Stonewall Inn, a famous LGBTQ spot on June 28, 1964, the public did not stand passively by. Many historians agree this was the spark that launched the LGBTQ rights movement in the United States. Pride month is a celebration when the world’s LGBTQI+ communities come together and celebrate the freedom to be themselves.  The month and the festivities are named “pride” due largely to a bisexual woman named Brenda Howard. Activist Brenda was nicknamed “mother of pride” and she organized the first parade to commemorate the Stonewall uprising.

 

LGBTQI+ youth = lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, intersex, nonbinary or otherwise gender non-conforming

It probably comes as no surprise to most people that those who identify themselves in the LGBTQI+ community are a greater risk of being bullied than almost any other subset of youth.  In 2019, stopbullying.gov reports that nationwide more U.S. high-school students who self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual report having been bullied on school property (32%) and cyberbullied (26.6%) in the past year than their straight peers (17.1% and 14.1% respectively.) Also reported was that more LGB student (13.5%) than straight students (7.5%) reported not going to school because of safety concerns.

 

“We must recognize that LGBTQ young people face stressors simply for being who they are that their peers never have to worry about.” ~ Amit Paley (he/him) CEO and ED of The Trevor Project

The Trevor Project published the 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health recently. I highly encourage taking looking through it. The study points to the harms, stressors and mental health challenges that this community faces much more than those who identify as straight. It points to a crisis we have in our country and how these young people are struggling with suicide, depression, anxiety, access to mental health care, physical harm, and discrimination.  There are two items I want to note since they are directly related to bullying and harassment. The first is 36% of LGBTQ youth reported that they have been physically threatened or harmed due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity. Secondly, 65% of LGBTQ youth reported that they have experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

 

“Recent political attacks aimed at transgender and nonbinary youth have not only threatened their access to health care, support systems and affirming spaces at school they’ve also negatively impacted their mental health.” ~Dr.Jonah DeChants (he/him) Research Scientist, The Trevor Project 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

As humans, all of us like to feel safe, accepted and cared for. It is up to us, the adults, to lead the charge to create safe environments for LGBTQ+ youth. These environments need to exist in home, schools and any community where youth are part of.

Stopbullying.gov offers the following ideas for building these environments. We can all play a role in preventing bullying and helping LGBTQ+ youth feel physically and emotionally safe.

  • Encourage respect for ALL students.
  • Prohibit bullying, harassment, and violence against ALL students.
  • Schools should engage in social-emotional learning activities. This will help foster peer-relationships and empathy among students.
  • Create and identify safe spaces where LGBTQI+ can receive support.
  • Encourage and help organize student-led school clubs that promote a safe and welcoming environment. (Schools MUST allow these clubs if they have other “non-curricular” clubs or groups at the school.)
  • Ensure heath education materials include HIV, other STD/STI and pregnancy information that is relevant to LGBTQI+ youth.
  • Use inclusive language and avoid making assumptions. Use of gender-neutral pronouns like “they/them” instead of “he/she” or “him/her.”
  • School administrators and teachers should use a student’s chosen name and pronoun.
  • School staff should be trained to create safe and supportive school environments for all students, including LGBTQI+ youth.
  • The school should have resources and access to community-based providers who are experienced in youth health services including medical, counseling, social and psychological services and HIV/STI testing,

The 2022 Trevor Project National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health stresses the importance of access to affirming homes and schools for our youth. The report states “LGBTQ youth who lived in an accepting community, had access to LGBTQ affirming spaces and/or felt high social support from family and friends reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide in the past year.”

 

“LGBTQ youth reported lower rates of attempting suicide when they felt more supported by their friends and family.” 

The role that parents, caregivers and caring adults have in a young person’s life can provide the love, acceptance and stability that our LGBTQ youth need in these very challenging times. The five most common ways that LGBTQ youth reported feeling supported by their parents or caregivers are:

  • Been welcoming to their LGBTQ friends or partners (62%)
  • Talked with them respectively about the LGBTQ identity (48%)
  • Used their name and pronouns correctly (47%)
  • Supported their gender expression (45%)
  • Educated themselves about LGBTQ people and issues (35%)

Just one supportive person in a LGBTQI+ person’s life can be difference between suicide and life. It is important to support our youth at home and at school. You can be that person for someone. Happy pride month!

 

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

Teen Mental Health

Teen Mental Health

Teen Mental Health
We Need to Talk About it

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As a parent of two children and an Executive Director of a charity that combats bullying, I am deeply passionate about mental health and specifically about adolescent mental health.  I am now trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid and am grateful to have participated in the “We Got This” Youth Mental Health Summit in Denver this month.

The stressors and anxiety our teens are under has never been greater and it is taking the ultimate toll. Over the past three years, Colorado’s teen suicide rates have risen 58%, making Colorado the sixth-worst state for teen suicides according to a study by the United Health Foundation. (This is nearly double the national growth rate!)  Furthermore, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States—starting with children at age 10 all the way up to adults at age 33. Mental health goes beyond suicide. The World Health Organization in November 2021 announced these key facts:

  • Globally, one in seven 10-19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder, accounting for 13% of the global burden of disease in this age group.
  • Depression, anxiety and behavioral disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.
  • Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15–19-year-olds.
  • The consequences of failing to address adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.

These figures are alarming! Our youth are crying out for help.

I often speak about how we as parents and caregivers are required to outfit ourselves in a superhero cape when it comes to taking care of our kiddos. In bullying, it is up to us as adults to stand up for children who are targets of bullying. It requires us to stand tall, become brave and take some deep breaths and methodically advocate for our kids. The superhero, all hands-on deck mentality applies for children burdened with mental illness as well. It should not come as a surprise that children who are relentlessly bullied very often experience depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal ideation. 

What follows are some wonderful pointers I heard from The Liv Project in their presentation entitled “Fearless Communication and Parenting – Pushing Past Stigma to Support Those You Love.” (Make sure you read about the Liv Project as our featured Champion of the Month below.)  Honey Beuf, Executive Director of The Liv Project offered this insight when helping our teens and youth with mental health concerns:

  1. If you as a parent sense something is wrong, then it probably is.
  2. Pay attention to changes in behavior. (Mood, sleeping behavior, eating, grades, change in friends, no friends, etc.)
  3. Be on the lookout for children having a lack of interest in things that used to interest them.
  4. It is not your problem to solve, but rather an opportunity for you as a parent or caregiver to listen, express empathy, love them no matter what, and really listen to all that they are willing to share.
  5. Take the opportunity to place suicide numbers in their phone.
  6. Know that talking about suicide does NOT make someone commit suicide. Being able to talk about those feeling will bring a sense of relief.
  7. Almost everyone has a crisis. They need your help.
  8. Ask your child how they are feeling emotionally rather than “how was your day?”

Parents and family members play a pivotal role in helping children navigate depression, anxiety and stress. It is worth our energy and time to ask ourselves some questions and model positive behavior:

  • Am I normalizing talk about mental health? 
  • Do I ask others for help? 
  • Do I offer an environment that is judgement-free and caring? 
  • How do I de-stress? 
  • Am I open about my own mental health struggles?
  • Do I make time to listen?
  • Do I lecture or do I listen?
  • Do I empathize or do I problem solve?
  • Do I use social media to boost my self-esteem, or does it make me anxious? 

Helping our youth with their mental health struggles is a partnership. It requires patience, understanding, deep care and love. It isn’t an easy walk and necessitates us to keep that superhero cape firmly attached around our neck. It requires an empathetic ear and some self-reflection too. The journey is laborious AND it is most certainly worth it.

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

Bullying Targets

Bullying Targets

Bullying Targets

Truths and Myths About Bullying Targets

One out of every five (20.2%) students report being bullied.
41% of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they think the bullying would happen again.
– National Center for Educational Statistics, 2019

The bullying problem isn’t going away.  Our organization has been overwhelmed this year speaking with parents and caregivers of bullying targets. We are advising families in the Denver-metropolitan area and across the state. We have been able to offer advice to families outside of Colorado as well. The reasons why a child is bullied are varied and wide. Almost any child can become a target of bullying however there are certain populations of students whose characteristics increase their chance of becoming a target of a bully. It is important to note that a child who is targeted should not try to change those characteristics as bullying is about a wrong choice made by the child who is the aggressor.

Very Well Family identifies groups of children most likely to be bullied as the following:

  • Successful, intelligent, determined and/or creative children – Kids who are good at what they do, or are successful oftentimes will get bullied. Children in this category become targets because the bully may feel insecure or jealous. Jealousy may arise from the attention children receive for their talents or determination, or jealousy may arise from the abilities these children possess.
  • Vulnerable children – Young people who are introverted, anxious or submissive may find themselves more likely to be bullied than their peers. Children who bully are careful at selecting whom to target and will oftentimes find those who are less likely to fight back. Research shows that children suffering from depression or stress-related conditions are more likely to be bullied and it will make those conditions worse.
  • Children who isolate – Many targets of bullying will have fewer friends than their peers. Research shows that if a child has at least one friend, the chances of them being bullied reduces. Parents and teachers can help isolating children by assisting them to develop social skills and friendships. Peers can aid these children by befriending them and asking them to join them in activities.
  • Popular kids – Adolescents who are well-liked or popular may be bullied because they pose a threat to the child who is bullying them. Children in this category often experience relational bullying where the aggressor is attempting to spread rumors, shun or discredit them.
  • Youth who have a distinctive physical appearance – Almost any physical characteristic that is unique can attract the attention of bullies. The best way to combat this type of bullying is to take away the audience. Children who are upstanders can make a powerful impact with this type of bully.
  • Kids who have an illness or disability – Children who are on the spectrum, have ADHD, dyslexia, Down syndrome or any other condition that sets them apart can fall prey to bullying. Also in this category are children who have food allergies, asthma or other ailments. The best deterrent to this type of bullying is a school culture where this type of mind-set is frowned upon.
  • Adolescents who have different sexual orientation or gender identity than traditional models – Some of the most brutal bullying has happened due to a child’s sexual orientation. This type of bullying left unabated can result in hate crimes. A school environment who offers strong support networks for LGBTQ+ children can reduce this type of bullying and provide a safe haven.
  • Religious or cultural beliefs – There is rise to this type of bullying when specific cultures or religious bodies make the news in a negative way. This type of bullying generally stems from a lack of understanding and tolerance.
  • Children of a differing race – Here again, children are bullied because they look different from their peers. This also stems from a lack of understanding and tolerance.

Children who are bullying targets need to be reminded that they are not to blame. Characteristics of individuals are exploited by bullies and used to cause harm. No child ever deserves to be bullied.

There are many myths about bullying. It is important to learn about these falsehoods and understand why they are untrue. Bullying can create trauma for the target, and the following assertions can further increase the pain for children.

The following are statements about bullying that are indeed untrue and hurtful:

  • Bullying is just a stage or a normal part of life. Bullying is not normal and acceptance of it gives the bullies more power.
  • Bullying will make kids tougher. Research has shown it often has the opposite effect and will lower a child’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Bullying often creates anxiety and fear for a child.
  • People are born bullies. Bullying is a learned behavior and can be changed. As human beings, we do not come into this world with hatred and scorn.
  • Some people deserve to be bullied. No one ever deserves to be hurt or harmed by bullying.
  • Reporting a bully will make it worse. Notifying caring adults in charge will allow them to take appropriate measures to stop the bullying. Statistics state that only 25-50% of bullying targets will talk to an adult about the bullying.
  • Bullying is easy to recognize. Physical bullying, if done where an adult is present can be easy to recognize. Bullying that is much more difficult to recognize is relational bullying such as shunning, gossip, starting rumors, and leaving peers out on purpose.
  • Ignoring bullying will make it go away. Ignoring a bullying situation or being a bystander will make the situation worse. This sends a message that the behavior is acceptable and can further emotionally torment the bullying target.

Knowing that certain populations of children are more likely to be targets of bullying is important information. As adults we can be vigilant, observant and ask questions of our youth. Also of importance is to dispel myths about bullying. It is not a normal or organic behavior. It is a not a character-building exercise or a right of passage. For many adolescents, bullying leaves long-lasting scars and paves the way into anxiety, depression and a multitude of mental and emotional turmoil. It is not time to turn away from bullying targets, but rather listen, comfort and act. Our youth is counting on us now more than ever.

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center