Therapy That Works...

Why Are Some Kids Killers? - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss why some children kill on CBS 11 - click here.

What would drive an adolescent to kill someone?

Emotions are Contagious: In the heat of the moment a group of kids can turn into a vicious mob with little provocation. The negative influence of the group can override the good common sense of even a good child. In some cases, such as in this crime, the actions turn deadly very quickly.

Developing Brain: The adolescent brain is still developing and as a result, it is highly vulnerable to the influences of the crowd. The emotional centers of the brain are not fully connected to the logical analytical parts of our brain that tells us to “turn back” or “get out of there.” Instead, the emotional centers begin to fire, the bullying behavior begins, and the anger and taunting become contagious. The crowd of kids literally feeds off of the fear of the victim and things spiral out of control.

How common is this kind of crime?

We do know that teens tend to kill other teens. Here are the numbers:

Boys between the ages of twelve to nineteen commit one third of violent crimes.

Homicides are the second leading cause of death of this same age group.

Young males are FOUR TIMES more likely to be murdered than are females.

Eighty five percent of murdered teens are male and most were involved in some sort of physical fight that led to murder.

Are adolescent males more prone to this type of violence?

Anger is an Approved Emotion: Absolutely they are since anger is a socially approved emotion for young boys. You can’t be sad but you can be angry. Anger is also energizing. Anger feels empowering and it protects them momentarily from the shame and self-loathing so many of them experience. Group violence has become a ritualized outlet for boys to express their frustration.

Group Bullying Behavior is Rampant: This event that resulted in the death of a child is currently in the news, but bullying happens everyday to millions of children. Bullying behavior is almost always a group activity and it is rampant among males.

Violence is Normalized: In a group of adolescents, boys are normalizing and even glorifying the physical violence they exert against one another. They think that by pitting themselves against an adversary, they demonstrate their machismo, defend their honor, and show how tough they really are. It is a futile attempt to connect with each other and to give them an illusion of being tough, invincible and undefeatable.

What happens over time when a child engages in this kind of group bullying behavior?

Blood Sport: They become increasingly more violent because they become desensitized to violence and it becomes a sport. They have to “up the ante” to get the same thrill. Getting away with it this time means that you may get away with it next time. The violence tends to escalate to bond the group, provide a larger thrill, and display the power and domination of the bully.

Viral Violence: Violence is symptomatic of the basic problem American boys and men are experiencing. From early childhood, they are socialized to express themselves primarily through their actions and achievements instead of careful introspection and verbal expression.

Lack of Emotional Intelligence: Over time, many boys fail to develop the age appropriate emotional intelligence necessary to manage themselves effectively. They can’t communicate, they can’t recover from failure, and they sink into a scrambled, childlike view of the world on a dime. They become disconnected from what they feel and use a limited number of emotions to navigate their relationships and to make their decisions. This doesn’t just impact their friends in high school, but also future employment, family relationships, and basic beliefs about the world.

What are the warning signs if parents are concerned about their child?

Homicides are highly predictable if we pay attention to what we are observing. Learning to predict violence is the first step to preventing violence.

Here are the warning signs in teens:

  • Lack of Conscience
  • Angry Outbursts
  • Tendency to follow others no matter what
  • History of Oppositional Behaviors
  • Actual Threats—written or spoken
  • Past Acts of violence
  • Access to Weapons
  • Past Suicide Attempts
  • Family History of Violence or Bullying
  • Cruelty to animals

What pushes a teen over the edge into homicide?

A person arrives at a tipping point and decides to act violently when four conditions are met:

  • They feel justified
  • They perceive few or no alternatives
  • They believe that the consequences will be minimal
  • They believe that they have the ability to get away with it

What should parents know if they are worried about their children?

The worst mistake parents make is to ignore what they are seeing right in front of them. Intuition is the warning system built into our brains to allow us to predict violence and to avoid it.

Here are normal signals from your intuition:

  • Nagging Feelings and Persistent Thoughts
  • Black Humor—Jokes such as “He’s just going to shoot us all!”
  • Hunches and Gut Feelings
  • Hesitation and Suspicion
  • Uncontrollable Fear

Many adults prefer to view violence as a normal “rite of passage” through childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. Please educate yourself about child violence and train yourself to recognize it when you see it.

What Is Complex Trauma Syndrome? - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Dangerous Side of Cyberstalking - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Trauma of Cyberstalking - By Chris Gearing

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sexual Harassment In Your Child's School - By Chris Gearing

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sexual Harassment In Your Child's School - By Chris Gearing

Monday, November 07, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss sexual harassment in your child's school on CBS 11 - click here.

Being sexually harassed has become a way of life for millions of young teens. We knew that sexual harassment and bullying increased enormously in middle school but now we understand what form it takes. Attacking someone’s sexuality, attractiveness, appearance and relationships with the opposite sex is a devastating blow at any age. However, our appearance and sexuality are at their most vulnerable in this age range.

Having a bully repeatedly harass you about these things—that often you cannot change--can create longstanding beliefs that may linger for years. Kids struggle with questions about "how attractive am I really?" and "what kind of self confidence will carry me forward?" Such behavior can rearrange the beliefs of an otherwise normal child.

Such harassment can also lead to clinical depression. We know that depression strikes a full decade earlier in this generation of children compared to 50 years ago, and they tend to fall back into depression sometime during childhood a shocking 50% of the time. This study may explain in part, why our kids are getting depressed so early and so seriously.

Why has sexual harassment started to plague our kids at school?

Children in their middle school years naturally focus on their appearance and social status. However, they have never been more focused on their appearance and sexuality than they are today. Our kids live in the era of the adolescent celebrity culture and most of these celebrities are provocatively dressed with glamorous lifestyles that are highly misleading to an impressionable kid. Kids like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez present a slice of life that is just not possible.

I think that this study’s results highlight the enormous preoccupation with appearance and adequacy that starts much earlier in our children than it did a generation ago. The type of bullying and sexual harassment that we are now seeing is a direct reflection of the mixed messages our kids are getting.

Do boys and girls react differently to the sexual harassment?

This study indicates that girls suffer more. Girl were more frequently the victim with 52% of them reporting that they were harassed in person and 36% reporting online bullying. The girls were the recipient of being touched in an unwelcome way while their sexual orientation was raised as a question. We know that girls can descend into an internal dialogue that renders them helpless. They may not know what to do and as a result do nothing. While 34% of the boys were victims of in person harassment and 24% online harassment, the figures were still significant. Neither gender needs to hear this kind of bullying at school or anywhere else.

The effects of sexual harassment are devastating to a child's development.

The kids tend to get helpless. That is very typical of a bullied child—they do nothing, put their head down and perhaps the bully will go away. Indeed, the study reported that half of those who were harassed did nothing about it. Again, this kind of experience is very confusing. Most kids emerge out of childhood into early adolescence trusting that others will be nice to them. They do not start out believing that their peers will traumatize them. Sexual harassment is unexpected and there are no rehearsed strategies for dealing with it. They may be embarrassed to report it to their school counselors or parents.

The bigger question is how a child could even begin to harass others.

The research indicates that most kids use bullying and harassment to gain social status. Remember that this kind of behavior is often public and for the entertainment of others. The bullies know exactly what they are doing and it is intentional. Most of the time, these kids know exactly what they are doing is wrong.

Although some studies suggest that around 40% of them have some mild empathy, another 40% are indifferent to the suffering of their victims and 20% actively enjoy the intimidation and control.

The common denominator of all bullying and harassment is the intentional act to inflict pain on another person. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the Internet is ideal for such vicious behavior. Around 50% of online bullies report that they inflict such cruelty “for fun” and to “teach the target a lesson.” However, a study published in 2006 reported that 12% of teens were physically threatened online and 5% actually feared for their physical safety.

If you're worried about your child being sexually harassed, here are some things you can do:

First, Stop Denying: Many adults prefer to view this form of bullying as a normal “rite of passage” through childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are millions of kids who are being sexually harassed who are losing hope.

Bystanders Are Key: Research now argues that the bystanders of harassment and bullying are one of the vital keys to decreasing this growing problem. Our non harassed kids must learn to speak up, refuse to be an audience, label harassment publicly, and to go and get help when the situation is out of control.

Empower the Victims: Believe your child about harassment. This study is proving that this is a reality for young teens. Children who are sexually harassed are likely to withdraw, deny what is happening, and suffer these horrors in silence. Such behaviors “feed” the harasser’s control. We cannot allow that as parents. Start a conversation today with your child about this issue. She needs to be reassured that you will take this seriously and will intervene if you have to. Get your child training in social skills and communication. These skills are teachable and will help to protect her.

How To Prevent Female Committed Domestic Violence - By Chris Gearing

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Developmental Cost of Emotional Abuse - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Bullying Phenomenon - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Western Mother - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A recent best selling book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, illustrates how fundamental parenting strategies can be so violently misunderstood. Written by an Asian American Yale Law School professor, Amy Chua, the book argues that western mothers are undisciplined, over gratifying and only care about their children’s individuality. She predicts that most western children never reach their potential and live a directionless life of non-achievement.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Here are the myths perpetuated by the author followed by reality:

Myth: Parental Authority is Supreme

The premise is that children require micromanaging and constant direction that includes fear based parenting. Chua argues that kids are unable to grow without being controlled. The mother must be in the middle of their lives and has the final word, always.

Reality:

When kids are over-controlled by a parent, they learn to deny their own wisdom and intuition. Often, they become great achievers but are stunted emotionally. To survive a controlling parent, you learn to focus on the parent’s perceptions of you instead of your own thoughts. You miss the vital lessons of taking calculated risks in relationships, achievement etc. and then recalibrating your behavior based on what happiness.

Myth: All That Matters is Compliance

The child is an extension of the mother and must be commandeered into compliance. Nothing matters but the outcome and the child must blame only himself if the goal is not achieved.

Reality:

When you are over controlled, you over-emphasize how you are perceived by others. You pursue activities that will result in high achievement, praise and applause from others. However, you pay an enormous price for this. You don’t learn the basic tenants of emotional intelligence that can only be mastered by years of having a separate experience from your mother where you figure things out for yourself.

Myth: Nothing Matters More to Child’s Future than Achievement

Chua conjectures that all that matters in the world is achievement that in turn, honors the sacrifice of the parents. The parent’s duty is to financially facilitate opportunities that they choose for the child.

Reality:

Achievement creates self-esteem, but there are many valuable ways to define what achievement is. Emotional stability based on a well-developed and accurate view of yourself is invaluable in the world. Navigating the world without emotional stability is like sailing on a ship without a rudder and a compass--you could end up shipwrecked before you know it. Childhood should equip children with the following capabilities:

Failure: The ability to fail and bounce back from a setback

Self-management: A willingness to disappoint authority figures if you disagree with them

Decisiveness: Making the best call with the information you have even if you discover later you were incorrect

Understanding of Others: Emotional perceptiveness of others based on your own keen understanding of yourself

Self-confidence: Kids build an inner strength from thousands of experiences in which they made a decision on their own, self corrected and did better the next time.

Self-effectiveness: This is an essential part of managing in the world since it’s hard to assert yourself if you see yourself as ineffective and helpless.

Myth: Verbally Berating A Child Is Helpful

Chua argues that kids must be threatened to perform, which is the top goal in her parenting model. Calling a child, “lazy, cowardly, self indulgent and pathetic” somehow is motivating according to the author. She justifies her strategy by the achievements of her kids—if she hadn’t verbally assaulted them, she predicts they wouldn’t have achieved.

Reality:

There is no psychological research in the world that supports verbal humiliation, name-calling and threats as a viable parenting technique. The constant contempt of a parent out of control is damaging. The younger the child, the greater the emotional damage.

Myth: Parents Should Micromanage their Children’s Emotions

In Chua’s paradigm, there is minimal instruction in handling the inner dialogue in our heads that all children have. That inner dialogue doesn’t matter since it’s not something Chua is thinking.

Reality:

Longitudinal research shows that emotionally dismissed kids grow into adults who cannot articulate what they feel or how to manage it. They are often exquisitely sensitive to others, since they had to be that strong to survive in childhood. They tuck their feelings away and they dismiss their normal reactions. She insists that the child should meet the parents’ demands since they know better. Focusing on the parent handicaps the child’s need to measure his own reactions, learn to manage his own behavior and monitor his reactions.

Myth: No External Activities

This model of parenting rejects the usual features of Western childhood—weekend sleepovers, play dates, TV, video game, choosing their own extracurricular activities, and any grade less than an A. The child must conform, at all times, to the desires of the parent.

Reality:

Childhood is an extended practice arena for adulthood during which the child learns how to effectively communicate, to navigate conflict and to fail and bounce back. Parents need to provide the optimum environment for these skills by helping the child learn about himself and his own interest.

Myth: Western Mothers Are Slackers And Over-Indulge Their Children To Meet Their Own Needs.

Western mothers are relentlessly devoted to their children and buffer them against all forms of stress, adversity and failure.

Reality:

America has been the strongest country in the world for generations due, in part, to the work ethic and fortitude of American mothers.

We have taught our children how to fight against their fears, how to join with others against tyranny and how to accord all Americans the same civil liberties and rights. Such virtues require enormous courage and strength which are found in a people reared to define themselves as individuals, not as extensions of others. Obedience to authority at all costs, which Ms. Chua celebrates, can only get you so far. Our dedication to individuality, independence and creative thinking built this country and will continue to shape the world.


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