Is it Sibling Rivalry? Or an “In-House” Bully?

When brothers Nate and Joel go at it at home, and there’s hitting and yelling, is it just to be expected?  Or is it time to step in?  Particularly when one child is always the aggressor,  the answer is “Yes.”  An article in the Chicago Tribune interviewed author and psychoanalyst Jeanne Safer about her work with patients who are carrying mental and emotional (sometimes even physical) scars from such childhood  bullying.  She says, “You’re bullied in your safe haven, in your bedroom, at the dinner table, in the backyard, when your friends come over.  This is a problem hiding in plain sight.”  The Tribune article cites a recent study that ties sibling aggression to “significantly worse” mental health in kids who experience this type of familial bullying.   One thing Safer says when urging parents to have a no tolerance policy, is that “Parents need to tell the abused child, ‘You do not have to tolerate this, and I will help you defend yourself.  I will get your brother or sister professional help, and I will not permit them to harm you.'”  Parents who tolerate abuse, thinking that kids will toughen up, or work it out, are setting up both of their kids to suffer later.  Your bullied child needs you to go to bat for him or her, and your child who bullies needs to learn now to change, rather than become an adult who continues to bully.

Dating Gone Bad

Just today, I asked a class of junior high students to stand up if they either knew someone who had dated a jerk, or had dated a jerk themselves.  EVERY student stood up.  By the time we see kids at the end of high school, there are a lot of cynical, bitter young men and women who don’t hold out much hope for finding someone kind and respectful to date.  So how can you help your teens recognize bad behavior…before they get themselves deep into a relationship?

From, the “Power Wheel”  provides an amazing and powerful tool you can use to help your son or daughter recognize various examples of bad behavior in relationships.  Each segment of the wheel has a video you can click on, where teens act out a story line which illustrates various abuses of power (such as intimidation, controlling behavior, isolation and exclusion, jealousy, etc.).  This could be especially helpful if you suspect your teen or a teen you know might be in an abusive or controlling relationship, or might be heading toward BEING that controlling, abusive dating partner.  Watching the videos together, and discussing them, would be a great talking tool as you prepare your teen to insist on and expect respect in his or her current or future relationships.

Molestation. It Could Happen.

This very serious topic came to the fore on two recent occasions.  First, a pastor friend of mine included in his blog these statistics:

  • The average child molester will molest fifty girls before being caught and convicted.
  • A child molester that seeks out boys will molest 150 boys before being caught and convicted and he will commit at least 280 sexual crimes in his lifetime.
  • The standard pedophile will commit 117 sexual crimes in their lifetime.
  • Most sexual abuse happens between the ages of 7 and 13.
  • There are over 491,720 registered sex offenders in the United States.
  • 80,000 to 100,000 of the above offenders are missing.
  • Molesters known by the family or victim are the most common abusers. The Acquaintance Molester accounts for 70-90% of reported cases.

Sadly, that last statistic points to a real problem:  family or acquaintance abuse.  One day, a young lady came up to one of our educators after class, and asked what to do if her father was making her have sex with him.  This is not the first time that our visit to a classroom has led a teen to reveal that a trusted family friend or relative was sexually abusing a child.  As sometimes happens, this teen had told another family member, but the response was insufficient, and she did not feel protected from the perpetrator.

Sometimes, the news is so shocking that a young lady (or young man) might even be met with suspicion and disbelief.  This should never be.  Let you sons and daughters know that they may hear about, or know someone who is facing molestation, and the information should NOT stay hidden, but that a trusted adult should be told.  More than that, if a teen is not believed, he or she should find another adult who WILL believe them.  We owe it to our children to be that trusted person who will fiercely protect their right to a safe environment.  And our teens need to hear from us that we are willing to be that person in their life, and even in the lives of their friends.

Teens who Self-Injure

If you have any contact with teens, you will eventually meet or hear about someone who has engaged in “cutting.”  Teens who harm their bodies are not suicidal, but are looking for a way to release painful emotions, according to an article on WebMD.  The article helps parents recognize warning signs, and gives advice on how to help teens who self-injure, quoting experts from SAFE Alternatives (based at Linden Oaks Hospital, in Naperville, IL).

I learned a few interesting things from the article.  Cutting is an accepted part of the “Goth” culture (but is not only done in that group), and is more common in girls than boys.  Wendy Lader, PhD, also states that “Very often, kids who self-harm have an eating disorder.  They may have a history of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse….Many are sensitive, perfectionists, overachievers. The self-injury begins as a defense against what’s going on in their family, in their lives. They have failed in one area of their lives, so this is a way to get control.”  This could hit any family, however, says Lader, who points out that “many kids who self-injure are simply ‘regular kids’ going through the adolescent struggle for self-identity”  Lader adds, “They’re experimenting.”

Teaching Teens to Recognize Abuse

Do you know if your daughter or son would recognize when a relationship is in danger of becoming abusive?  A personal story  I tell to teens is about the time I was physically abused by a boyfriend.  I had the good sense to break the relationship off at the first incident, but in retrospect, there were warning signs that the physical abuse was coming.  I saw my boyfriend lose control of his temper with his family, and he had already begun verbally abusing me before the incident of physical abuse.

February is Teen Dating and Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and I found myself wondering how we can prepare our sons and daughters to recognize unhealthy patterns in a relationship before it gets to the point of emotional or physical damage.  I found a wonderful document, written to and for teens, about the warning signs of potentially abusive relationships.  It’s put out by the American Psychological Association.  I would urge every parent to print this out, and ask their teen to read it and then discuss it together.  Every teen (guy or girl) will either be abused, or know someone who is.  Let’s equip them to be strong and courageous in insisting on being treated with respect, and be advocates and wise guides for their friends who may be suffering an abusive relationship.

Dating Violence Affects Many

Part of the story I tell teens in the classroom is that I experienced dating violence in my relationship with my “first love.”  Luckily, I recognized that physical aggression was a deal-breaker, and I broke the relationship off.

According to one study,  about 12 percent of teens reported being hurt by a teen they were dating, and 9 percent say they were forced to have sex.  The thing that stood out most to me in the article, is that more than half of parents have not talked to their teens about this issue.  I am actually encouraged that almost half have, of course, but think it’s a good idea to urge ALL parents to include this topic in their conversational “to do” list.  Besides talking to our kids, another bit of advice is to “encourage teens to double date to help prevent violence from occurring,” and  “know a date’s plans for the evening and the expected return time.”