Tag Archives: Bullying

5 Best Ways to Help Teens Survive School Anxiety

Between getting up before the sun even rises and just thinking about homework, all teenagers feel at least a tinge of anxiety when the school year begins. Overachievers might find themselves biting their cuticles. Underachievers might dread the teachers who will ridicule them for not trying. Social butterflies might obsess over a pimple, their hair, and their clothing. For all of them, there’s the general fear of ridicule or failure but often they fear both.

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Sometimes they don’t even feel the anxiety until they’re actually walking through the hallway.

On the fourth day of school last week, a girl was walking through the hall to get to her next class. She was alone and minding her own business. Her hair was parted in the middle like most of the girls. Her head was down just enough to allow the hair to cloak her and then a boy stomped at her. 

“You’re ugly. Get out of here!” he yelled as he lunged forward.

With students now staring at her, she kept walking, faster this time, not looking back at his friends laughing and patting him on the back. 

Some students watched and some even shook their heads but no one said anything. They, too, kept walking, grateful that it wasn’t them.

Photo by Hailey Reed on Unsplash

You know she cried at some point. She might’ve had to choke back the tears until the end of the day or she cried in the bathroom if she wasn’t too scared to go there, but she hurt a lot.

And, that hurt lasts. Teenagers carry it around with them. 

Support is Key

So, as parents and educators, what do you do when they experience this kind of pain? The worst thing we could do is to call attention to the incident, but we can care for the teenager by offering support in multiple ways.

  1. Open your eyes.
    Teenagers will hide things from you so you need to keep your eyes open in more ways than one. When you pick them up from school or talk to them later in the day, make sure you look at their body language. If they’re always hanging their head or feeling sad, they probably need to talk even if they claim nothing’s wrong. If they lash out at you for no reason, they definitely need to talk. Give them some space, then approach them when they appear calmer.
  2. Make them talk.
    This is often difficult given that they usually have mastered the art of hibernation, in their rooms, doors often locked in the name of privacy. You’ll have to entice them with food, excursions to their favorite places, and even ask them for help with anything from understanding how to use a new app or finding something you lost in the house. Experiment with their changing interests and get them talking. Don’t let them isolate themselves even more than they already may have done.
  3. Listen to them.
    No matter how tempting it might be to tell them like it is, just listen. And, don’t respond with a fake remark about being positive when you know that you wouldn’t feel positive if you were in that situation. Sometimes you just need to say you’re so sorry for this and that you’re here to listen. Sometimes you need to offer a shoulder to cry on and ask if they want advice before you give it because it’s so easy to lose them if they think you’re not being genuine.
  4. Accept them.
    Teenagers are looking for acceptance in more ways than one. When they see that a parent accepts them fully, especially their flaws, they will feel loved and hopeful. This works for bad behavior and bad grades alike. You haven’t seen love in their eyes until you’ve seen them look at you after you tell them the bad grade doesn’t matter or that the curse word hurled your way is forgotten. 
  5. Be their Rock.
    Yes, another word for this is patience. You will need to be patient. Another way of putting this is to say that you need to be their rock. You have to stay steady and be there to cushion their fall. They will fall time and time again and you will need to help them up, brush them off, then send them off… again. 

Logically, this all makes sense and you’re probably even patting yourself on the back for already practicing the majority of these suggestions. However, you must think longterm. It’s exhausting to care for children in general and it’s a different exhausting to care for a teen. Much of the time, both parents are working and often enough there’s more than one child to deal within the household. So, your persistence and resilience come into play when considering how to handle your relationship with your child.

Photo by Gift Habeshaw

Bottom line, if you relentlessly follow these five points, teenagers will feel safe and loved enough to eventually find a glimmer of hope even when their anxiety feels unbearable. That girl had to go to school the next day no matter how painful it was. Knowing that she was loved would make it somewhat easier. And, how did she know she was loved? At least one parent or guardian followed through with some or all of the above–over and over again.

If you feel that any situation or problem isn’t improving no matter how hard you try, it’s very important to seek help. Depending on the severity of the situation, contact the school counselor, the school administration, and/or any authority who may be able to help. All of us have been teenagers and all of us have experienced difficulties, so no one should ever be afraid to seek help, especially a parent experiencing hardship with a child.

Useful Resources:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Understood.org

Nationally Certified School Psychologist Izzy Kalman

Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D.

Back to School: Conversations with Kids about Safety and Speaking Up

Preparing for the start of the school year seems even more somber this year than others. Back to school mayhem has begun in some parts of the country. Florida just had its tax-free weekend and parents were no less aggressive about stocking up on supplies. But, all of us, at some point, looked at a pencil pouch among our stacks of spiral notebooks while snagging glue sticks on the way to check out and wondered if our children would really be safe.
None of us needs to watch the news in order to understand the anxiety that many children, parents, and educators feel when thinking about the start of a new school year after the horrific violence so many students experienced last school year.
And, yet, it’s there, coming straight toward us.
Anxiety Looms
The opinions and arguments about who ignored what in the recent school shootings riddle the news and the Internet. In hindsight, anyone would have done more if they knew there would be this kind of violence targeting schools.
I know, when thinking of my own students this coming school year, I just want them to feel safe with me. To just tell them this would be pointless. They won’t be able to look at me and think, Yeah, this teacher’s tough. She can deal with a school shooting, no problem.
I certainly pride myself on being a strict teacher simply because I can’t stand it when kids bully each other; however, my demeanor isn’t at all tough even if you stuck me in a security guard uniform. Then again, I don’t know that many people, let alone school children, have much confidence in security guards at this point.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to dialogue and taking the time to actually, yes, literally, really, genuinely care. Enough teachers and educators just don’t care and the students know it. The fact is that teachers are human and have an extremely stressful job.
Ensuring SafetyTalkSchool
Here’s the thing, any school worth its salt will be putting together several plans to maintain a secure environment as well as other important safety precautions.
But, dialogue, conversations between the administration, teachers, parents, and students will create a powerful bond and help everyone deal with their concerns and outright fears instead of hiding them.
CBS News addresses dealing with students’ concerns in How to Talk to Kids about School Violence.

Reminding students that they do have control over what happens to them and that they are in a safe environment in general gives them a sense of peace in the midst of an already stressful circumstance.
Many schools encouraged student Walkouts last school year, giving students a much needed voice at a time when so many were left speechless not just because of the violence inflicted on students but the repeat violence. Just watching the news and listening to the fears of the students involved in the shootings caused students across the country to worry about their own safety.
Speak Up
Students know that they are returning not just to schoolwork and homework but also to gossip, bullying, and social interaction that some love but most have a hard time dealing with in one way or another.
They need to talk to someone about their worries, so it’s important to ask questions as teachers and parents and then to listen and reassure them that there’s no reason to believe that their school will be attacked. However, if there is a reason to believe that, then students need to be encouraged to speak up.
They especially need to feel safe when speaking up. So many students don’t want to “tattle” or “rat out” other students because they are the ones who have to deal with the insidious ways bullies operate.
Watch Out for Bullying
Students experience bullying in various degrees and forms on a daily basis and often don’t speak up about it for fear of being bullied even more afterward.
A former teacher, school counselor, and school administrator wrote a good piece titled Bullying: What Schools, Parents, and Students Can Do for the Huffington Post.
Often enough, students handle the bullying themselves thinking of how much worse it would be if they were to ask teachers or administration for help.
But, students need to know when to get help. That’s something they need to be allowed to figure out for themselves.
That’s why there needs to be multiple conversations every day between teacher and student and student and parent and student and student and school counselor and student and administrator and student and right back to teacher.
And, it shouldn’t stop there. The whole of our communities need to look and listen. Ignoring problems often makes them worse.
Conversations 
Conversations need to happen often and need to be ongoing and available. The teachers are asking students how they are, if they got sleep, why they didn’t do the homework, why were they late? That’s just the basics.
There will be rules, oh so many rules. There is and will be security. Then, there’s life.
Students may not roll their eyes to your face, but they’ll definitely do it behind your back and then some if they think you’re anything less than genuine.
In other words, they aren’t stupid enough to think that if they simply tell on a bully that, poof, they’ll find themselves in a magical world of unicorns who fly them away to a cloud city with no guns and only sparkly do-gooders. For the most part, they wouldn’t even want that.
So, when you strike up that conversation, be ready to talk about everything… oh yeah, and be ready to talk about nothing at all, especially if it’s a tween or teen.
Then, try again tomorrow.

International Day of the Girl

Today my daughter spoke to a group of middle schoolers about bullying. She had originally created an anti-bullying campaign for the elementary students at her school. When the principal of the middle school saw the posters and asked her to speak to the middle schoolers, this ten-year-old girl spoke passionately about standing up for yourself and doing what’s right.

Afterward, students came to her to thank her for speaking out.

Bully Buster
By Daisy Maldonado

All children should be able to do this.

International Day of the Girl.

Back to School, Back to Bullies

Back to school bullies conjure up all sorts of images. I still remember my first beating, girl-style. I still cringe when near a school cafeteria–that loud clatter of trays, sharp voices stinging my ears, and the mean girls.

The Art of Punching with Words

You remember don’t you? She walks up to you in the lunchroom, her pretty teeth flashing from beneath a sweet smile, a bow in her hair. You think, “Wow, I’m so lucky. She’s trying to make friends with me.” You smile back.

But, there’s nothing nice about her smile. She’s only practicing her punch. She plans to use you to make herself more powerful.

Girls punch each other with words.

Masked Teaser Supervillain
Artwork by Daisy Maldonado

“Hi,” she pauses, ”Look, I don’t want to hurt your feelings or anything, but your food smells. Please stay away. Why don’t you move to the other table. Thanks.”

Her question is a command.

She says it all in an even tone with a slight whine on the “Thanks.”

She’s clearly mastered the art of punching with words. Her victim usually bows her head and moves away, sitting alone at another table for the remainder of the school year.

Girl power packs a deeper punch.

Bully Buster Superhero
Artwork by Daisy Maldonado

With all the girl power in the forefront of the news and media, no one seems to get to the core of a very real divide among women and girls. Mean girls still rule the roost.

My daughter learned this first-hand last year.

My daughter had grown taller than the rest of the fourth graders. She preferred boy shorts instead of skirts and tiaras. Oh yeah, and she liked to eat.

All this of course made her an easy target for mean girls.

They started surreptitiously.

In the mornings, they pointed out a flaw, which wasn’t really a flaw. “I like your ponytail.” Then POW, “Oh my god, look. You have a bump in your hair. Let me fix it for you.”

Then they fumbled with her hair until she marched off to the bathroom and ripped her ponytail out of her hair. She then let her hair hang walking with her head down becoming the monster they wanted her to be.

Bullies love lunchrooms.

Gossip Girl Supervillain
Artwork by Daisy Maldonado

Her worst nightmare lived in the lunchroom. When she unpacked her lunch, a chicken sandwich, they held their noses and slid away from her. “Your lunch smells. I can’t stand it. Go to the other table,” they whined.

Those few sharp words effectively damaged her self-esteem and isolated her at the same time. She didn’t want to be around them, and she definitely didn’t want to eat.

I felt so frustrated when we’d get home and she’d be starving, gorging down any morsel in sight.

But, later, in that quiet space right before bed, she told me why she did that. She said she was afraid they’d make fun of her again.

I then became her shoulder to cry on with bits of advice along the way.

Punch back.

Bully Buster Advice
Artwork by Daisy Maldonado

So, this year, she plans to fight back with her anti-bullying campaign. She created a poster depicting a bully-busting superhero resembling wonder woman.

Most likely, she’ll become an even bigger target because she’s fighting back in a loud and clear way.

They will talk. And, they will do it with those same spiteful yet artful words.

You know what I’m talking about. Look around you, the gossip of mean girls still streams over the Internet, the television, the news. Everybody listens and often enough everybody follows. Why do you think so many girls and women attempt the daunting task of wearing skinny jeans?

But, this time, my daughter will be better prepared to deal with the backlash of a bully backed into a corner. She’ll know what it feels like to take a punch and she’ll be practicing how to bounce back.

And, me, I’ll be there to catch her when she falls or at least pick her up, brush her off, and give her a shoulder to cry on.