What Food Sensitivities Might Mean in the Grand Scheme of Things

This morning, I saw a post in my Facebook feed about yesterday’s article by Rachel Rabkin Peachman in Motherlode (NY Times) titled “Picky Eating in Children Linked to Anxiety, Depression and A.D.H.D.”  This was not the only article that was motivated by yesterday’s Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics article titled “Psychological and Psychosocial Impairment in Preschoolers With Selective Eating” in which Nancy Zucker, Ph.D., eating disorders specialist, and associate professor, psychology and neuroscience, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C. shares her findings.  There was also a Medline Plus article yesterday titled “Severe ‘Picky Eating’ May Point to Mental health Issues in Kids” and Wall Street Journal article by Sumanthi Reddy titled “What Picky Eating Might Mean for Children Later.” I know this isn’t about postpartum depression (PPD), but as I’ve said before, PPD has its roots earlier in life, which is why I choose to blog about and spread awareness about those roots.  I also want to tackle feelings of guilt and shame felt by mothers over things like picky eaters and food sensitivities. For example, a kid may have food sensitivities that are biological in nature, so there is absolutely zero reason for a mother to feel guilt/shame over the situation.  Sure, you should do what you can to introduce new foods slowly over time (remember, do all things in moderation and you can’t go wrong), but forcing a child to eat something when he is hell bent against it will not help matters one bit.  The approach of “If a child refuses to eat, don’t give him anything to eat and send him to his room; he’ll eat whatever you give him if he is hungry enough” is not the way to go at all, IMO. Dr. Zucker has also indicated that having kids eat processed foods (like chicken nuggets….either the frozen variety or the McDonald’s variety) should not alarm or cause parents to feel guilt/shame, since consistency in texture and taste is important to a child who might be tentative/uncertain overall and especially when it comes to eating.  Some experience sensory overload and become overwhelmed easily when it comes to taking in everything via their senses of smell, vision, hearing….and taste.   These kids have difficulty processing all the stimuli around them and go on sensory overload.  Chicken nuggets aren’t like broccoli.  They’re not bitter little tree lookalikes with little “leaves” and mushy in some cases, hard to chew in other cases, depending on how they are cooked or how fresh they are. In the Medline article, Dr. Zucker states:

They have a stronger sensitivity to the world outside and to how their body feels. That sets them up to have more vivid experiences — more intense food experiences, more intense emotional experiences. None of that is pathological, but it could be a vulnerability for later problems.

You may want to ask yourself whether you are a picky eater (and if so, whether you are also hypersensitive to smell, noise, visual cues and oral textures).  Here are the results of my self examination:

  • Picky eater?  check (for my daughter, not sure if I was once a picky eater, but I don’t believe I am that picky.  I won’t eat everything, and I think that’s absolutely normal)
  • Hypersensitive to smell? check for me (I can smell things that have caused people to liken me to a canine)
  • Hypersensitive to noise? check (I can hear things that have caused people to liken me to a canine; high-pitched grinding of subways to a halt, subtle background noises at work that all my co-workers don’t hear/tune out yet are highly distracting and irritating to me)
  • Hypersensitive to visual cues? check (for my daughter; whereas, I have extremely myopic vision, so I can’t say this applies to me; my sense of smell and hearing more than make up my lack of vision)
  • Hypersensitive to oral textures? check (for my daughter; I’m not sure if I was like this as a kid)

While a distaste for broccoli is not indicative of an issue since it’s fairly common for kids to refuse to eat it (it’s like beer and some other drinks and foods that take a few tries before you acquire a taste for it), when food aversions and smells becomes too overwhelming for a child as to prevent him from being able to tolerate eating out altogether, that’s when you know you have a case of extreme sensitivity for which parents should seek professional help (as the study has found a greater likelihood of depression or social anxiety later in life).  When a child has a limited number of foods he/she likes and can tolerate being exposed to other foods without any issues, that’s when there is a moderate sensitivity to food.  Moderately picky eaters usually broaden their palate over time, much like my daughter is doing slowly but surely, much to my relief!  Some children have a limited diet due to physical reasons such as acid reflux, which is not easy to figure out when a baby experiences this (from drinking milk and then after an intro to solid foods).  It’s not like the baby can tell you that she has acid reflux or feels sick drinking or eating certain things.  Hence, the trial and error and much anxiety and concern that ensue….not fun in the least! From the Motherlode article:

[Picky] eaters are not simply stubborn or tyrannical children whose parents have given in to their culinary whims. Rather, the research reveals that picky eaters have a heightened sensitivity to the world that is innate. “Their sensory experience is more intense in the areas of taste, texture and visual cues. And their internal experience may be more intense, so they have stronger feelings,” said Dr. Zucker, who is also director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders. “They’re sensitive kids who may be anxious or a little depressed; so cutting up fruits into funny shapes is not going to do the trick for these kids.”

Also:

“It is a reminder that food is not a stand-alone issue and that it plays a role in the big picture of development,” said Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and co-author of “Food Fights: Winning the nutritional challenges of parenthood armed with insight, humor, and a bottle of ketchup.” “How kids behave around food relates to how they interact with the world in general. It doesn’t surprise me that some kids who are really tentative around food might be really tentative in life.”

I am so glad the research was performed and results shared across major news outlets like the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. and subsequently shared all over social media.  The information is very critical and can make a hugely beneficial impact to parents struggling with their kids’ tastes for food know when to get help versus when to chalk up as something kids will grow out of as their palates broaden and become “more sophisticated.”  Per the Motherlode article, approximately 20% of children are picky eaters, so you can see it’s a fairly common challenge faced by parents.  And per Dr. Zucker, there is a correlation between picky eating and mental health challenges down the road, like depression and/or anxiety.

This Loss Could Be Any Parent’s Loss

I just posted the next paragraph on my Facebook timeline, but I wanted the post to reach more people, as this loss could have been any other parent’s loss.  Although it has nothing to do with postpartum depression (PPD), remember that I do occasionally post about teenage matters, including teen angst, self confidence and depression arising from a combination of environmental and biological factors.  How good or bad a teen’s experiences are, how well they are able to communicate about/share what they are thinking/feeling (with anyone, not just with our parents), and how well they are educated PRIOR TO adolescence on what to expect concerning our physical AND emotional changes that come with adolescence….these are all KEY in helping teens get through any challenges they face.  Here is where I want to quote an excerpt from my book: “Knowledge is power. That is one of my most favorite sayings, simply because it makes so much sense. Knowledge, which has a tremendous normalizing effect, is key in keeping fear at bay, since fear typically rules in the presence of the unknown.”

A fellow alum’s 8th grader, Cayman Naib, from the Philly area had gone missing last Wed night. I do not know his mother, but I have been having a very hard time processing this young boy’s sudden taking of his own life.  [And so here I am, blogging to let my feelings out]. It is so important to be alert and sensitive to our kids’ emotions, especially as they grow older and enter their teens. We’re all adults, we’ve been there. But I believe today is much different than when any of us grew up. It seems there is more pressure than ever before academically, athletically, socially, etc. Being a teen is a time that is filled with much turmoil that we may or may not even realize what our kids are actually thinking, as they may not understand their feelings and feel unable to share them with us. Impulse and emotional roller coasters reign. Such difficulty in controlling emotional impulses (with depression possibly mixed in) can cause a young individual who doesn’t know any better to feel like it won’t get better and they just want to end their pain the quickest way possible. So, please, talk to your children and make sure they understand what emotional changes may accompany physical ones once adolescence comes.

Like so many that have been following this story, I was praying for a different outcome.  My heart breaks not just because this is a loss suffered by a fellow alum.  My heart breaks knowing that this is a tragedy that would easily have happened to any parent with a young teen.  My heart breaks remembering how many times I myself had contemplated running away from my problems as a teenager because I didn’t know how to cope with them, I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to that would understand what I was going through, and I felt like I just wanted to end it all (but thankfully never did).  Tragedies like this make me want to dedicate the rest of my life to preventing other kids from wanting to (and succeeding at) taking their own lives.

If you are a teenager and reading this, please know that:

YOU MATTER
YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS
YOUR LIFE IS FILLED WITH SO MUCH PROMISE
I DIDN’T FEEL THAT WAY AS A TEEN
BUT I’M TELLING YOU NOW THAT LIFE IS WORTH LIVING
PLEASE STAY STRONG

All It Takes Is One Day

A few months ago I had somewhat of a falling out with a friend due to a meme that he posted on Facebook.  If it were just the meme, that would be one thing.  But it was my comment and his ensuing attacks on my comment that were biting (WHY????) and completely lacking in empathy that completely turned me off.  The meme had a “Just snap out of it” tone.  It implied that depression should not be used as a cop out or excuse to not succeed.  I can’t post that meme here to help illustrate why it elicited my perturbed and upset reaction, because I don’t recall what exactly the meme said and I wasn’t about to look through months of feeds of this person’s just to find it.  If it were just the one meme, then I might have just passed up on it.  But it’s a number of things that led up to it.  You see, there was history to this.

Have you ever had FB “friends” post things that pop up on your FB feed that grate on your nerves because they reflect just how disparate your ways of thinking really are?  Well, this person’s posts made me ponder how we could be friends if we had such different mindsets (e.g., extreme right versus moderate left, women’s reproductive rights, mental health).  After a while, I started noticing a trend from his occasional far-off-the-cliff remarks, which really made me think he was a troll (yes, that’s how bad it sometimes got).  His remarks showed just how unable he was to be empathic.   I have tried to explain on numerous occasions my viewpoint that is from a person who has experienced postpartum depression (PPD) to this person (just as I’ve had to explain to others with similar mindsets as this individual).  But it just was not sinking in.  There was no getting it.  It was like trying to get water out of a rock.  At some point, you just have to call it quits.  And so I did.

The friendship is still there.  I just can’t handle the posts anymore.  So, that person is no longer in my Close Friends feed, which I’ve had to resort to, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts.  I’m sure others have been in the same position.  We all have to pick and choose our battles….prioritize in order to get by each day.  There are some FB “friends” who have filtered my posts out since a couple years ago.  A couple years ago, I was posting things way more frequently than I am now, and they were about a variety of things (e.g., PPD, bullying, politics, rape, women’s reproductive rights)….essentially, negative news (that is REALITY…what happens out there in the real world that people have a hard time acknowledging) that people go out of their way on a daily basis to avoid because that is their self preservation tactic.  Hey, I get it.  After all, that’s what I’m doing now with this one individual.  I don’t have all of my FB “friends” in my Close Friends feed because they either never, ever post anything on FB or they never, ever interact with me (so what’s the point, right?).  Again, priorities.

With this experience, I understand the road before us to educate people on and de-stigmatize depression and other mental health-related matters is EXTREMELY DAUNTING.  While there is a very large number of individuals that are active on social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc.), speakers who travel the world, and book authors who try to take on this daunting task each day, we still need to make sure we reach everyone–whether they are fighting a battle with depression or other mood disorder, or whether they are like my hard-headed friend who just fails to get it.  Everyone is NOT getting the message.   IGNORANCE AND STIGMA are to blame for that.  The biggest challenge by far in terms of reaching everyone is the fact that there will always be people who hear about experiences and continue to be unable to get it…..either willfully or because they want to but are unable to.   The former group will NEVER change their mindsets because they think they know it all; that everyone has the ability to SNAP OUT OF IT; that depression is a choice when in reality it is far from a choice.  The latter group is because they have no idea what it’s like to be depressed (like I was before I had PPD) and would like to understand but fail to be able to.  I have many friends who fall in this latter category.

Well, this is why if I had the ability to wish something to happen and make it happen, I wish that everyone would experience what it’s like to be depressed (not blue or sad, but truly depressed) one day.  ALL IT TAKES IS ONE DAY. It is only then that everyone will truly get it.

Writing is Good for You

My first blog post of the year is motivated by an article that appeared in my Facebook feed yesterday titled Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write, by Rachel Grate.  I have been fortunate enough to experience the benefits of writing, so I just wanted to emphasize the importance of writing as a means of therapy and for greater mental and physical well-being.

Growing up, I hated to write papers. It was probably because I hated the books assigned to us for reading and having to write papers for every single one of them—all in short order and on a non-stop basis. Reading these books and writing papers on them had no meaning for me. Sorry to offend the book lovers out there, but just being candid here about how I felt about my school assignments. Back then, I didn’t believe there was any benefit from doing all this.  Especially since I sucked at writing papers. I lacked the patience to read books back then, and I still lack patience today.  I started writing/journaling my thoughts pretty much for the first time, ever, after my daughter was born. And let me tell you….if it weren’t for writing my book and blogging, I would NOT be where I am today—a much healthier and happier person overall!

Well, regardless of whether you write like a JK Rowling or some other well-known novelist, writing can provide both psychological and physical health benefits. Studies, some of which are mentioned in Ms. Tate’s article, have shown that expressive writing can improve mood, reduce stress, reduce the occurrence of illnesses, lower blood pressure, and even promote recovery from illnesses or the healing of physical wounds faster. When there is an improvement of mood and reduction in stress, it makes sense that one is usually able to sleep better.

One study found that blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to the effect from running or listening to music.

I do realize the ability to sleep better with less stress is a general statement and that there are, in fact, exceptions.  Depression is one example in which medication may be needed to combat insomnia. I’ve been there. I know.  And it’s NO mind over matter thing.  It’s neurochemical.

Expressive writing is when you write about something that is causing stress in your life….from difficulties at work, at home, in your marriage, as a new mom or as a teen having friendship or bullying trouble in school……to emotional traumas such as a current and/or past abusive situation, coping with a mental health disorder, etc. Writing my book and most of my blog posts that were motivated by anger involved extracting all my thoughts from my head and putting them down on paper. This process–what I refer to as regurgitation, rumination, digestion and then transformation of thoughts into words that appear online in my blog or on paper in my book—enabled me to fully process my emotions. To this day, I continue to find great relief in getting my thoughts out on Facebook and/or my blog (depends on what is causing me grief) whenever I am annoyed or upset about something that happened 1) during my commute to/from work, 2) at work, 3) in the news, or 4) online. I have said this previously that every time I get my words out, I feel lighter….like a heavy weight is being lifted off my back.

Instead of obsessing unhealthily over an event, [one] can focus on moving forward. By doing so, stress levels go down and health correspondingly goes up.

As I stated in my interview with Dr. Walker Karraa over two years ago, the process of writing my book helped transform me into a different person…a much healthier person both mentally and physically. I experienced a metaphorsis, thanks in huge part, to writing.

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but ever since 2-3 years ago, which is right around the time I published my book that took me since 2005 to write, I have experienced fewer illnesses. I used to get sick many times throughout the year, without fail, especially in the winter where I would fall victim to frequent colds, the flu, and chronic bronchitis (since I am very superstitious, I am going to knock on wood now as I say all this). Are we supposed to experience fewer illnesses as we get older? Maybe so, but for me it makes an awful lot of sense that there is a direct correlation between levels of happiness and your state of health.  Especially when the scientists and their research show a correlation between happiness and stronger immune systems (and levels of inflammation).

So, if you are reading this post and don’t typically write, then you may want to consider picking up the pen (or putting fingers to keyboard) and writing more starting this year.  You won’t regret it!

Let’s Face It, Your Kids Can’t Avoid Bullies and Mean Kids – But You Can Help Them Develop Problem Solving Skills

*** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events ***

I am so tired of feeling devastated, seeing the constant posts of children taking their own lives.  Reading about teen suicides that seem to be occurring more and more frequently is truly heartbreaking.

There’s 11 year old Michael Morones who was bullied (and is now in a persistent vegetative state from hanging himself) for being a My Little Pony fan.  Every time I see his beautiful face on my Facebook feed, I just want to break down and cry.

Then there’s Ashley Payton who was driven to bullycide on February 5, 2014,  just shy of her 16th birthday.  A girl who was so beautiful and yet was convinced she wasn’t.  Self esteem issues seemingly at play here, as is at the heart of all too many other teen-related issues like eating disorders (anorexia/bulimia), cutting, drugs, and depression….just to name a few.

And finally, there’s the article in the Clarion Ledger dated April 12, 2014 titled “Anti-bullying Laws Fail to Stem Youth Suicide” by Emily Le Coz, which is what motivated me to write this post today.  The article reveals frightening statistics of the numbers of youth suicides each year and how bullying is most often cited as the root of the epidemic, despite anti-bullying laws in place in most states.  The article mentions 15-year-old Lyndsey Taylor Aust, bullied for merely having acnie, was but one of THREE suicides in her school within ONE MONTH period (this is what is referred to as a “contagion effect”).

Sure, schools have some form of anti-bullying policy in place, but I have yet to hear about a school that has an effective one.  For one thing, instead of an environment of transparency in schools, you have one that is controlled by fear that stems from the stigma of depression and suicide. Instead of transparency and a culture that TRULY cares about the welfare of students, schools fear doing anything to change the negative culture, hence the sweeping of depression, suicide and bullying under the rug.  There is a price to pay for such willful ignorance.  Look at what happened at Scott County Central High School in Mississippi….three suicides in ONE MONTH.

The fact of the matter is our children are feeling hopeless and helpless enough to end their own precious lives.  There have been arguments that bullying is not necessarily the sole and direct cause of all youth suicides.  That it might just be “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Well, there is ABSOLUTELY a correlation between victims of bullying and suicidal thoughts and attempts, according to a study published in the March 2014 edition of JAMA Pediatrics.  You can also review the booklet posted over on the CDC website titled The Relationship Between Bullying & Suicide.  Both parents and educators should familiarize themselves with this information.

If there are self esteem issues that are leading toward changes in behavior/sleep/eating, depression should be looked at and treated. In a number of recent cases I’ve read about recently, I noticed that parents indicated there was absolutely no sign whatsoever that anything was out of the ordinary.  Their children seemed like their happy, normal selves.  I don’t know any of these families’ situations, but there is a greater tendency to bully or be bullied in the following situations in which a stable support system is lacking:

  1. Greater numbers of single parents than ever before
  2. Dual-career parents who are busy working long hours at full-time jobs and spending less time at home with the kids and providing positive behavior role modeling, interaction, and simply listening opportunities
  3. Risk factors for depression and other mental health issues, like eating disorders, self esteem issues, family history of mental illness, extreme poverty, emotional/physical abuse, lack of nurturing, etc.

I am not in any way blaming any parents whose children took their own lives.  I’m imploring ALL parents to be more in tune with their children. If there is an underlying mental health issue, then PLEASE get help for them.  If you see that there are changes in demeanor, behavior, diet, and sleep, please observe, talk to and listen….REALLY LISTEN TO WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY AND REALLY OBSERVE THEIR BEHAVIOR AND MANNERISMS CLOSELY.  If they refuse to open up to you, please try to get them a neutral third party–someone experienced with teen issues and depression, like a family counselor–to talk to them.  Put aside any feelings of shame or fear from the stigma of mental illness.

If you are of the camp of parents who believes the best way your children will learn to adapt to and survive in this world is by doing it with very little to no guidance from you, I implore you to put aside any feelings you may have that, since you toughed it up and lasted through mean kids and got through tough times in school, your child can too.  Don’t think for one second that what you went through growing up back in the 60s, 70s or 80s is the same as growing up today in the 21st century when kids are heavy users of social media and can be cyberbullied day and night via texting, Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, and online forums in which teens “hang out” in an often anonymous fashion.  Anonymity affords cyberbullies/trolls access to an easy–albeit even more cowardly than in-person bullying–means to harass, intimidate and taunt in a public forum, and gives others to join in/gang up to make an emotionally vulnerable young individual miserable.  And put aside the belief that it’s impossible for them to ever have any mental health issues because “depression just doesn’t happen to anyone in my household; I wouldn’t allow them to be weak like that.”

In these cases–since we all know that middle and high schools are a breeding ground for kids undergoing hormone changes who, as part of the socialization process that goes with growing up, try to assert themselves in inappropriate ways–we need to ensure our children are prepared.  I’m  not saying we need to be like the helicopter parents that are so oft criticized in parenting articles, and solve all our kids’ problems so we can keep them out of harm’s way.  No, not at all.  I’m saying that we need to provide guidance to our children.  After all, that’s what parents do.  We use our own experiences and wisdom gained from living and learning….and from our own parents.  From the time our children are toddlers, we teach/coach/guide our children to feed themselves, go potty themselves, talk, stand up, walk, change themselves, brush their teeth, behave appropriate/use inside voices in public spaces…and so on.

I can’t help but view a school as one huge boxing ring within which kids are forced to demonstrate their survival skills.  Because school ends up being where kids spend most of their time every day of the school year, it’s not unreasonable for me to say that every school district should help kids with training on how to cope with mean kids.  In fact, I fervently believe schools should be mandated to add to their curriculum–for first grade all the way through twelfth grade–a year long training on social skills.

It’s one thing that schools observe a Week of Kindness every October.  That’s only five days out of a 183-day school year.   Schools will generally have a mission that includes words like emotional wellness, appreciation of diversity, fostering respect.  But let’s face it, since we can’t even get the majority of schools in this country to deal with bullying effectively, the responsibility for teaching our kids coping skills rests on parents.

It is inevitable that there are mean kids in every school.  What we need to focus on is how to provide our children with guidance on how to cope with mean kids.  It is crucial that parents teach their children to adapt to and survive in this world by nurturing, guidance, and simply being there for them.  Providing guidance is not the same thing as making things easier for our kids and fixing all their issues so down the road they have no problem solving skills of their own. I’m talking about helping our children develop skills they need to fix their own problems. Self esteem is a huge issue for all too many teens. Not every teen is going to know how to let mean behavior slide like it took me years to learn how to do myself.

Resources I would like to recommend for both parents and educators (I am early in my research, so more to come in future blog posts):

Being Thankful and Paying it Forward

The inspiration for today’s post came just in the nick of time for Thanksgiving.

Have you stopped to appreciate any of the gifts surrounding you?  I know some people who regularly ask themselves and share openly with others the 3 things that happened that day for which they were most grateful.  Gratitude is an important component of self care.  Gratitude is important for good health and well being, in general.

First, I’d like to share the 5 things my daughter is thankful for in this picture (I’m so proud of her work):

syd_thankful

My daughter’s gratitude turkey

As for me, I am thankful for many things on the list of 60 (link above), but the 4 things I am most thankful for are:

  1. I’m employed and I actually like my job (except when people yell at me for no good reason other than they’re lacking in self control and emotional intelligence, and that I think I deserve a lot more recognition for my efforts than I actually receive).
  2. My family.
  3. My postpartum depression (PPD) and my bullying experience during my lonely, friendless junior and high school days.
  4. My ability to be highly empathic.

Wow, my teenage and 20-something self would think I’ve lost my mind for saying I’m thankful for both my PPD and bullying experiences.  No, I haven’t lost my mind.  My PPD and bullying experiences allowed me to cultivate the EMPATHY that I’ve always possessed but didn’t always realize I had.  Because by experiencing these negative events firsthand, I can say that I TRULY understand.  I KNOW what it’s like to be excluded, gossiped about, and made fun of.  I KNOW what it’s like to be blindsided by a sudden darkness at a time that should be so happy (my first few months as a mother).

EmpathyWas I born with empathy?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I have a ton of it.  That, and after all these years, I can finally say I possess a high EQ (emotional intelligence).  Emotional intelligence is something you need to have if you want to succeed at work.  And I sure know quite a number of people who could use a greater dose of it.  Because these very same people cause my blood pressure to go up needlessly.  I keep my behavior in check and move along.  Previously, a conflict would have set me back, preventing me from being productive and making me dwell on the situation for days….basically causing me a great deal of angst.

In my recent blog post, I mentioned the two Facebook groups I belong to, in which I try to provide online support to teens and moms on a daily basis.  So, I won’t go into more detail on them now.  I just wanted to mention, since the spirit of this blog post is about being thankful, that I am thankful I have the ability to see things from someone who has had PPD and from someone who has been bullied.  That is why I have become so passionate in these two areas.

What frustrates me are conversations I have about bullying and PPD that go around in perpetual circles, like the conversation I tried to have with someone yesterday.  I cannot get certain people to truly see what it is like to be bullied or to feel hopeless to the point of wanting to end the suffering….permanently.   For every scenario I come up with — whether it be a child who is being relentlessly pursued online and being verbally tormented or stalked in person and physically attacked — these individuals will come up with a “Well, I would tell my child to avoid such situations.”  Okay…..but you can only avoid cyberbullying and physical/verbal bullying in school to a certain and all too limited extent by “unplugging” (staying off social media, not have smart phones with texting capability) and avoiding bullies in school (what about being ambushed in the bathroom or merely walking down the hall to get from one class to the next or standing at your locker?).  When kids want to bully, they can be vicious and persistent…and they WILL find ways to get around your avoidance of them.  There are some real sociopathic kids out there (take the case of the 2 girls in Lakeland, Florida, who bullied Rebecca Sedwick to death this past September).   True, as a parent, you can arm your children with approaches to minimize the likelihood of your being a target of bullying.  You can get your child involved in activities and friends–not just classmates but friends from activities outside of school like through Church, Brownies, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts,  Boy Scouts, sports, dance, gymnastics, music, martial arts — to give him/her the opportunity to make friends outside of school, give him/her a sense of camaraderie and fellowship with others who share similar interests, as well as build self confidence and identify what he/she likes to do and is good at doing.

ISL_I will always be there for you But if your child does in fact get bullied, then you sure as heck need to come up with ways to provide SUPPORT, SUPPORT, SUPPORT.  As a parent, that’s the FIRST thing you need to do.  Support would include things like thinking about strategies, finding resources/support groups (like Stand for the Silent), documenting incidents, and finding the right places to go to to report a situation and obtain results.  All too many school officials cover up incidents, turn a blind eye, and let bullying situations get out of hand just so they don’t have to deal with it.  There is absolutely NO EXCUSE for any of that.

So, for the people who don’t understand the impact bullying can have on a child and the impact depression can have on anyone–both young and old–and why all too many feel so desperate as to end their lives, I suggest you take the time to read some of the stories that get posted on social media and in the news.  Read about Rebecca Sedwick’s case and Grace McComas’ case, join the closed Facebook group Stand for the Silent and hear firsthand about the desperation, isolation, hopelessness that some teens feel.  All too many are at the end of their rope.  And it breaks my heart.  I want to do so much more for these young folks who have so many more years ahead of them to really learn about life, learn from their experiences, and really enjoy all that life has to offer — like the arts (music, literature, motion pictures, photography), sports, nature, traveling, and even helping and making a difference for others.  With the exception of sports (ha!), all these things make me see how I was given a gift of life and I sure as heck want to appreciate all the days I’ve got left.  I’ve got my bucket list, do you?

Unfortunately, not everyone is going to have the desire to pay it forward.  Their attitude is the following when it comes to situations like bullying and PPD:

Well, I suffered.  They can suffer much in the same way I suffered, without help or support, and feeling lonely, helpless and the end of my rope.  If I survived, they can too.  If they can’t, well then I guess we’ll call it fate.

Then, specifically for bullying:

It is, after all, a rite of passage….this thing called bullying.  Parents nowadays are overprotecting their children, and as a consequence, their children will be sheltered from valuable life experiences that are supposed to begin when they are young.  If they can’t deal with bullying, then how will they ever survive a day in the life of an adult?

gratitude

I would like to end this post with this as food for thought:

What are YOU thankful for?  Have you experienced PPD or some other life-changing event, and come out of it feeling thankful for the experience and determined to turn the event into a positive by helping others get through similar events?  Please think about it.  There are many people out there in need of support.  Would you have wanted to receive support when you were in your darkest moments?  If yes, then I think you’ll find, just as I’m finding, that paying it forward will give you a great amount of pleasure knowing you are making a difference for someone else.  In fact, you could be saving a life.

Thank you for reading this blog post.  And have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

A Must Read: Emily Bazelon’s “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy”

Well, I am at a point in which I’ve got so many ideas, but not enough time to post anything.  Until, that is, I spotted in my Facebook news feed this morning the New York Times article by John Schwartz titled “Words That Hurt and Kill: Lessons for Society From Bullying and Its Psychic Toll” about Emily Bazelon’s book titled “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.”

As the title of this book suggests, the author touches on bullying–a far-from-new-phenomenon–and the importance of empathy,  defeating the culture of bullying by acknowledging its complexity, and encouraging bystanders to be upstanders (those who stand up for victims).  Laws alone will NOT prevent bullying from occurring.  I hear all the time the lament that “Well, I don’t understand why everyone is making a big deal out of bullying.  Bullying has been around forever.  I grew up with bullying.  My parents grew up with bullying.  Back then, we just dealt with it.  Nowadays, kids don’t seem to want or know how to deal with it.  Instead, they’re copping out by killing themselves.”

Well, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, don’t forget that we are now in the age of social media.  Back when I was a kid, there was NO social media.   Heck, there weren’t even cell phones.  With text messaging, Youtube videos, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole host of sites you don’t even want to know about but are popular among teens, the impact of bullying can be extremely devastating to a young person who hasn’t mastered coping, self care and real-world survival skills, may be lacking in self esteem,  and may not get much in the way of support and encouragement from family members and friends.  The bar has been raised in terms of the extent of cruelty that individuals are capable of carrying out because these are no longer face to face confrontations.  Take, for example, trolls.  We have all witnessed at least one troll in action in our interactions online.  Usually, it’s in the form of a nonsensical and completely outrageous and completely off-tangent remark that is filled with hate.  You wouldn’t normally see these comments spoken to someone in person, right?    Yes, it’s so much easier to be cruel online than it is in person.

In terms of the in-person bullying, the isolation tactics and backstabbing of cliquey girls, the racist remarks, the physical intimidation tactics, the verbal intimidation tactics….these still occur in school.  If schools and home life are anything like what I experienced back when I was a teenager–i.e., lack of school counselor support and awareness on the part of school staff, lack of support at home, lack of upstanders, lack of empathy–these behaviors (with or without the social media) can result in a very detrimental experience for the bullied child.  I believe depression rates are higher now than they’ve ever been before.  Maybe because more people are speaking up about their experiences and with the aid of social media, news and information on bullying incidents are much more accessible to everyone than ever before, there is the perception that depression rates are higher.  At the same time, access to mental healthcare services in this country is still so sadly lacking.  And then you have the extreme situations, like Columbine and Virginia Tech, in which the bullied exact their revenge.  I don’t remember incidents like those growing up.  Nope, I don’t.

Ms. Bazelon touches on some points that I have previously touched upon:

  • Some individuals are more resilient (via a combination of genetics and environmental factors) and will tend to come out of bullying and cyberbullying incidents much less scathed than those who are more susceptible to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.  It would be nice if we can figure out just which students fall into each bucket to increase the likelihood of preventing situations from developing and/or getting out of hand.
  • It was only in the past decade that states put the first anti-bullying laws in place, in the aftermath of Columbine, Phoebe Prince’s bullycide (MA), Tyler Clementi’s bullycide (NJ).
  • There seems to be a tendency to label non-bullying behaviors as bullying.  In other words, people are using the word “bullying” so much that this overuse is diluting true acts of bullying.  We need to stop overusing the word because it is not helping matters.

Ms. Bazelon is clearly objective in her presentation of situations she writes about in her book, even as far as showing what I refer to as a neutral take for the sake of presenting the science behind teenage behavior (i.e., the part of the brain that manages impulsiveness and judgment, referred to as the frontal lobe, is not fully developed as of yet) and why the punishment of teenagers is meted out in juvenile rather than adult terms.  Though that is far from an excuse for certain atrocious behaviors that bullying can all too often entail (and believe me, when I read about some of these bullying cases, I wish for every last person that has anything to do with a child’s bullycide to be punished to the FULLEST extent of the law), as they become adults and as long as they are provided counseling (instead of jail time), bullies can see the error of their ways and shed their bullying selves completely.  Some bullies have even gone as far as becoming anti-bullying activists with a mission to speak to schools around the country.

This book needs to be read by not just middle and high school staff, but by all parents.  I fervently believe as many people as possible should read it so there is a widespread understand of the culture of bullying, how to prevent it, how to support the victims, and how to inspire bystanders to become upstanders.

The article leave us with this nugget to chew on as we look at the road before us.  A road in which we need minds to come together to figure out how we need to handle bullying, given all the complexities Ms. Bazelon mentions in her book:

“Ultimately, Ms. Bazelon wisely warns us, we still have to try to let kids be kids.  [Otherwise] ‘We risk raising kids who don’t know how to solve problems on their own, withstand adversity or bounce back from the harsh trials life inevitably brings.’ And so, she says with a sigh: ‘It’s a tricky balance to strike, the line between protecting kids and policing them. But we have to keep trying to find it.’”

Please click here and here to previous blog posts for more links on previous posts relating to teen angst, depression, and bullying…and why I write about it so much on this postpartum depression blog.