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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.

Bullying and Children - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, August 18, 2011

As school begins in North Texas, many parents are concerned about the effects of potential childhood bullying on their child. Psychologists report that bullying has become a serious mental health issue for millions of American families with up to 30% of students reporting their involvement in bullying as either the bully, the victim or bystander. The devastating consequences of bullying can be deadly with 2/3 of school shooters report being chronically bullied in school.

Here are the specific characteristics of bullying:

Intentional Harm: Bullying in childhood is an aggressive form of intimidation that marginalizes the best of children while deeply scarring them psychologically. It is a repeated attempt to harm and to emphasize a humiliating imbalance of power and influence.

Bullying Begins Early: Research reports that almost 34% of elementary school students reported being frequently bullied at school.

Middle School Peaks: Bullying increases during transition periods such as moving from elementary to middle school. This behavior peaks in middle school.

Group Bullying: Bullying is usually a group activity. Studies show that a single child does not usually victimize kids. Bullying involves both active and passive participation by a group. The kids adopt a mob mentality as they team together to ridicule or emotionally torture another child.

Why would a child begin to bully others?

Giving What They Have Gotten: Bullies are usually kids who have been bullied somewhere along the way. Moving in and out of the two roles (bullies to victims and visa versa) seems to be the most typical pattern.

Children in Pain: They are often victims of bullying at home and have parents who have problems with anger. They identify with the aggressor and inflict pain to establish internal self-control. However, lots of kids have difficult parents and don’t go out in the world hurting others. Bullies are choosing their heinous behavior out of their own pain. These kids are in deep psychological trouble.

Bullies Know Difference Between Right and Wrong: The research about these kids suggests that these kids know exactly what they are doing. They understand the differences between right and wrong and commit the act anyway. They will lie, steal and cheat to avoid punishment and are sneaky around others.

Conscience in Some Kids: 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.

What about the new trend of cyber bullying?

Anonymous Bullies: The common denominator of all bullying is the intentional act to inflict pain on another person. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the Internet is ideal for such vicious behavior. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2006, one third of students are targets at some point.

Cyber Bullying Turns Dangerous: Most of the time, cyber bullying involves gossip and rude comments that do not express direct intent to harm. 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.

We all know that bullying is terrible, but did you know that it could have long term effects on your child?

Three Victims: Words are weapons and psychological harm is as severe as a broken bone. Bullying involves three victims—the bully, the recipient of the bullying and the witnesses to such cruelty. Victims report more internal problems such as depression and anxiety while bullies have more conduct problems, anger and alienation from school and the community. Witnesses become desensitized to the suffering of others. The long-term effects of bullying for all groups can be severe with protracted trauma, depression and resentment stretching into the adult years.

Increased Suicidal Ideation: Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found a significant connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide in a review of 37 studies from 13 countries. Bullying victims were much more likely to think about suicide.

Parents, here's what you can do about this problem:

Stop Denying: Many adults prefer to view bullying as a normal “rite of passage” through childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are millions of victims who no longer believe that adults are going to protect them and they suffer in silence.

Bystanders Are Key: Research now argues that the bystanders of bullying are one of the vital keys to decreasing this growing problem. Teaching non-bullied kids to speak up, to refuse to be an audience, to label bullying publicly and to go and get help when the situation is out of control are essential steps for parents and teachers.

Empower the Victims: Believe your child about bullying. Victims are renowned for responding ineffectively through withdrawal, denial, silence and passivity. Such behaviors “feed” the bully’s control. We need to develop the victim’s talents, social skills, physical coordination and assertive abilities. He needs to be reassured that adults will take his complaints seriously and that he must report harassment. These are teachable skills and they increase self-confidence exponentially.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics

Bullying and Teasing: Social Power in Children’s Groups, Gayle Macklem, Kluwer Academic/ Plenum Publishers, New York, 2003.Cowie and Wallace (2006)

Patchin, J.W., and Hinduja, S (2006)

"Bullies move beyond the schoolyard: A preliminary look at cyber bullying." Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 4, 148-169. Swearer, S., Espeleage, D. Napolitano,S. Bullying: Prevention and Intervention, 2009

Vossekuil, B., Fein, R.A., Reddy, M., Borum, R and Modzeleski, W (2002) The final report and findings of the safe school initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States. Washington, D.C: U.S. Secret Services and U.S. Department of Education

How To Help Your Anxious Child - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia discuss school anxiety on CBS 11 by clicking here.

Anxiety about the new school year is a normal reaction for many children at this time of year. But what happens when your child’s anxiety becomes excessive? Keeping up with assignments, complying with teacher directives and even attending school can be difficult for some kids who are over anxious.

So, why are our children so anxious?

Anxiety is like an oversensitive alarm system. In children anxiety should be temporary and fleeting. Being temporary fearful is a normal part of handling change and stress that comes with new beginnings. Children have a great ability to internalize the comfort of their parents. However, the fear becomes an anxiety disorder when it begins to dominate the child’s thinking, emotions and behaviors. It becomes a behavioral problem when it interferes with the child’s ability to function effectively in the school setting.

The essential feature of anxiety is fear of a targeted danger and the avoidance of that perceived danger. Once the fear takes command of the mind, it builds in intensity.

The child will experience an increased heart rate, his breathing becoming shallow and quick and he may experience acute sweating.

Ironically the anxiety seems to create what the person fears the most. With children, a fear of school or of separating from home can magnify and actually produce the negative experience. Catastrophic thinking begins to dominate his mind. Anxiety is at the most basic level self-fulfilling.

One in eight children suffer from anxiety. Anxious children are at a higher risk of compromised school performance, social awkwardness and behavioral difficulties at home and in the classroom. The tragic part of childhood anxiety that the child is often unable to tell us what is bothering him. All he knows is that he sees the world as a scary place and cannot find a safe place to hide.

The most common type of anxiety at this time of year is separation anxiety:

Separation Anxiety

Normal Anxiety in the Young: Between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, separation anxiety is a normal response to separation from the mother. The child lacks an internal image of the mother and feels adrift when she is physically absent. However, by the time the child is school age, the cognitive apparatus is in place to hold the mother in permanent memory even when she is physically absent.

Returns with a Vengeance: Separation anxiety can return with a vengeance between the ages of seven and nine. The child shows an inability to separate smoothly from the primary caretaker and fails to calm down once the parent leaves. We see this anxiety at camp, on over night sleepovers and then when school begins.

Constant Worrying: The child will articulate enormous worry about something happening to the parents or a great calamity traumatizing everyone when separated. The child cannot calm and soothe himself. He cannot differentiate between realistic and unrealistic fears.

What should you do if your child is too anxious to go to school?

Things can get very serious very quickly. School refusal is most common between the ages of 5 to 6 and then again at ten and eleven. However, it can occur at various other times when there is a dramatic transition (going to middle school, high school, college). It is the ultimate expression of a child engrossed in anxiety. Physical complaints before school are common but they soon resolve if the child is allowed to remain home with the parent. Again, the child cannot tell us why he is fearful, only that school is seen as a frightening arena. There is usually a series of changes in the family that precipitates the school refusal but the child rarely sees the connection between his anxiety and the changes in his life.

Another rampant form of anxiety in kids is social anxiety:

Children often develop social anxiety especially if there has been any type of bullying in the past. He becomes hyper-vigilant with other children and fearful of embarrassment or ridicule. The child seeks to narrow his world and to withdraw from the social environment to avoid a problem.

Unfortunately, social anxiety seems to continue into adulthood and has deep roots in childhood with 15 million adults suffering from this disorder throughout the life cycle. It typically begins at age 13 and most of us suffer with it an average of ten years before we seek help.

Here's what you can do if you are concerned that your child is suffering from anxiety:

Seek to Understand: First of all, remember that your child may not be able to fully tell you why he feels fearful so be patient with him. Begin to build a mental map of your child’s life. Where does he go, whom does he like or dislike and which teacher is his favorite? Creating this map requires time and effort but it is essential if you are going to help your child overcome anxiety.

Emotionally Relating is the Ballgame: Remember that the basis of your power and influence with your child is how well you emotionally relate to your child. If you maintain an empathic, cherishing relationship, you will have an enormous ability to engage the child in exploring his anxiety.

Engage in Emotional Coaching:

1.) Engage the child in exploring his anxiety.

2.) Recognize the emotion as an avenue to conversation and problem solving. Remind him that he is bigger than the problem.

3.) Listen empathetically and validate the child’s feelings. Do not dismiss or discourage him from saying what he feels.

4.) Help your child label emotions—scared, afraid or nervous.

5.) Set limits while helping your child problem solve the anxiety. Parents often forget about this last step. Feelings are often not accurate interpretations of reality so make sure that your child is coached to face his anxiety and to continue going to school while learning how his thoughts inaccurately create the anxious feelings.

Seeking Professional Help: If parental intervention does not get the job done, find a good psychologist who can evaluate your child’s anxiety and teach him skills to calm and focus away from the anxiety and to replace negative thinking patterns and behaviors with positive ones. A great psychologist will teach you how to coach your child in the home and at school in resolving his anxiety.

Resources:

Anxiety Disorders and Phobias by Aaron T. Beck, M.D.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Ph.D.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America - www.adaa.org

Friends With Benefits - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss "friends with benefits" relationships on CBS 11 by clicking here.

The new movie, "Friends with Benefits," with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis once again asks the age-old question of whether you can really have sex with a friend and not develop an emotional attachment. Most importantly, if you can, is it really good for you?

So, can you really have a sexual relationship with no strings attached?

“Friends with benefits” arrangements are possible but they can come with a very high emotional price for both genders. Basically, you are practicing the art of emotional disconnection while sharing your body with someone. You have physical intimacy without emotional intimacy. You don’t experience the responsibilities or the benefits of a true relationship. Unfortunately, the bill will come due when someone gets attached and/or hurt. Our minds are hardwired to connect and to attach so it will happen whether you intend for it to or not.

The real take away is that “friends with benefits” relating prevents you from realizing the benefits of true intimate relationship that only comes when you share yourself deeply with someone, both physically and emotionally. There is just no substitute for loving someone completely for a very long time.

So if it's so bad for us, why is this trend increasing?

We are seeing more people in their twenties and thirties struggling with the fundamentals of relating. I believe that as the digital age has defined our communication, we are struggling more than ever with how to be vulnerable with someone else, whom to trust, how to communicate etc. I think that the “friends with benefits” arrangement is a way of giving up. You seek physical intimacy with a safe, platonic companion and there is less risk of really being close. You avoid all the drama that can comes with being in love. However, you learn and achieve nothing.

Here's why some people prefer a "friends with benefits" arrangement:

It’s All About Me: An attractive person becomes an acquisition. They view the opposite sex as a way of increasing their social status. As a result, sexual encounters become a sport.

Badly Hurt in Love: They have been badly hurt in love. They prefer the comforting or pleasurable parts of sex but are phobic of developing a deeper enduring bond with another person.

Tough Family Background: They often grew up with parents who were highly self-centered, dismissive or absent emotionally, or outright critical. As a result, they do not view relationships as resources but as a game or even as a burden. In fact, getting too close can make some people more anxious.

So, are there gender differences when it comes to sex with no strings?

Like it or not, a woman’s sexual response is highly related to her emotional reactions. But there are chemical reasons why this occurs. During sex, a woman’s body produces lots of oxytocin (the cuddle chemical), a powerful hormone that builds emotional connection. After sex we want to gaze into his eyes, talk and deepen our emotional affection for our partner. That’s why friends with benefit arrangements can be so damaging for women. We may tell ourselves not to feel this way, but we get attached despite our best efforts not to. We are psychologically and physiologically wired to connect and attach.

Specifically, for men:

A man’s body produces minimal oxytocin and he is usually physically and emotionally spent after sex allowing him to distance from the women. He wants to just lie there and recover-- not a great relationship enhancing strategy.

However, there is some good news. There is a whole generation of men who have had close relationships with their mothers who have had more power in the family and thus more emotional influence on their sons. More men are entering dating wanting to attach and connect with their partners.

Just like females, they will find themselves thinking about their partner as a person, not as a simple sex object. They will appreciate their partners, adore them and love spending time with them. In other words, these guys are relating substantively to the women in their lives.

Here are my tips about "friends with benefits" arrangements:

Don’t be surprised if your plans to resist attachment fail miserably. Sharing yourself physically just introduces an entirely different set of chemicals and emotional reactions that frankly, have a life of their own. He or she may just be classified as your friend now but in the end, you may fall in love despite your best attempts not to.

Score Keeping In Relationships - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Scorekeeping is common in even the best of marriages. Is there any value to keeping track of what your partner has done in the past or can scorekeeping become destructive over the long haul?

Why do couples like to keep score in marriage?

Scorekeeping is a symptom of a marriage in distress. When you begin to debate the “who did what last” things can get heated and you can find yourself squaring off regularly with the person you pledged to love for “better or worse.” An atmosphere of division and contempt replaces marital collaboration.

Here's how scorekeeping begins:

Too Exhausted: Most of us are too tired and too emotionally stretched to be objective about the words and actions of each partner.

Magnify Our Contributions: We begin to magnify everything we do in the relationship and discount what he or she does.

Blaming Gives Us Control: Blaming the other person gives us a momentary feeling of control over our stress. However, chronically assigning blame and expressing disappointment can mortally wound a marriage over time.

Marital Accountant: Destructive scorekeeping draws the marital battle lines and each partner becomes a marital “accountant.”

So, how does scorekeeping affect a marriage over time?

Anger is Normal: We know that negative emotions in marriage are normal. If you feel criticized, you’ll respond in anger and visa versa. Score keeping gets a foothold in the marriage when couples remain resentful and fail to truly patch things up after conflict. Telling your partner they need to do better all the time is a contemptuous thing to do.

Partner is the Problem: When there is tension in a marriage, we tend to perceive our partner’s personality as the problem. Scorekeeping begins when you are tense and angry with a partner who is perceived as either taking advantage or neglecting the marriage.

Are there times in the marriage when couples are more likely to score keep?

Dramatic Change: Usually there is a huge change that has taken place in the marriage, like a new job, a new baby, or a relocation. Change that reshuffles schedules is especially likely to lead to score keeping. Time and energy become resources that are fought over.

Baby Makes Three: Prior to children, most couples seem to divide things up pretty easily and without a lot of conflict. If they have huge conflict over the division of labor early in the marriage, the relationship often ends by the five-year mark. However, two thirds of new parents experience a significant drop in marital satisfaction within the first year. Most of the conflict is around score keeping.

Women and Housework: With eighty percent of women now working full-time, the pace of work is relentless! But fifty eight percent of American women are convinced that the division of labor at home is unfair to them. Only eleven percent of men feel similarly. This is when score keeping becomes really prominent. Exhausted, overworked, financially stressed partners love to keep score and point the finger at her spouse.

Here's what you can do to stop score keeping today.

Ask for a Truce: Approach your partner by saying, “we can do better as a team.” Ask him to join with you in solving a problem and avoid blaming.

Be Accountable: Recognize you’re scorekeeping. Avoid sarcasm, labels and contemptuous body language.

Talk it Out: Share What You are Seeing as Objectively as you can. Air your complaints without criticizing or making your spouse the problem.

Set Reasonable Expectations and Plan: Scorekeeping will disappear when we begin to work as a team. Prioritize the tasks, follow through, and remember that changing a bad habit takes at least thirty days!

The Health Benefits of Giving To Others - By Chris Gearing

Friday, April 22, 2011

Regretting Lost Loves - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ever wish you could have a “do over?” Many of us wish we had made better decisions in life but a new study reveals that Americans have the greatest number of regrets about romance.

So, what exactly is regret and why do we have so many regrets about our love life?

Regrets are those beliefs that we could and should have done better in a certain situation. We torture ourselves endlessly with recalling, reviewing and criticizing ourselves for not making a better play. We beat ourselves up for not getting it right the first time.

I’m not surprised that most Americans cite their love life as the biggest area of regret since relationships often only seem clear when we are out of them! That twenty twenty hindsight is often hard won and without it, we often make disastrous mistakes in love that costs us in profound ways—time, money, sleep, our dignity and shear suffering when we’re with the wrong person. Most of us make decisions about partners with our emotional brains and not with our analytical minds leaving us vulnerable to the partner who is adorable but terrible for us. Once the charm wears off, it is easy to see our bad choices.

Do men and women regret different things?

They both flag relationships as their top area of regret but I do believe that women are more likely to ruminate about their lives then men are. We love picking ourselves to death over our bad choices. Forty four percent of us regret a past relationship decision with only 19% of men sharing the same sentiment. A woman has twice the emotional memory in her brain as a man and she remembers every detail of the relationship or encounter. Women are built for relating, remembering and regretting!

On the other hand, a man is more likely to define himself through status and power. Work is where most men direct their regret with thirty four percent of men regretting their career decisions. Twenty seven percent of women reported similar regrets.

Are we more likely to regret things we’ve done or haven’t done?

We tend to regret both the things we’ve done and the things we didn’t do. But our missed opportunities are the ones that stay with us. We are haunted for many years by what might have been, whom we might have loved and what kindnesses we might have extended to another person.

When people regret their past relationship decisions, they are often haunted by the relationship that never completely came together or that ended prematurely—for whatever reason. Especially when there is lost potential, many people, especially men, seem to hold on to the dreams of what might have been. In fact, they may have gained a new appreciation for that person and how they felt when they were with them. That silent regret may never be shared with another person but they often feel that they should have fought harder to keep the relationship or to tell her how he felt.

Here's how you can avoid feeling regret?

In every decision, you need to consider what you will regret in the long run. I call it the ten-year rule.

Here are three points to keep in mind:

Years from Now: Will you be proud of the decision you made ten years from now or will you regard your decision as immature, ill advised or even self-indulgent?

Value Based Decisions: Decisions we make reflect our goals. Make sure that you keep your goals in mind when you make a major decision. For example, is being a great dad more important than that promotion?

Avoid Temporary Temptations: Yielding to short-term temptations that are bad for you can lead to a lifetime of regret. The bottom line is to make the best choice at the time and to make each experience count.

What can we do if we have a regret we can’t get over?

Practice Self-Compassion: Remember to practice self-compassion when you review your life’s decisions. Part of being effective is remembering that the right decision is often unclear at the time we are making it. All you can do is to make the best decision with what you know to be true or accurate at the time. Everyone falls short and everyone makes an occasional bad call. But the true measure of a life is how you handle your failures, not how you handle the applause when you win at life.

Forgive Yourself: Forgiving yourself is the key to overcoming regret. Seventy percent of us walk around with guilt and regret our entire lives. Be honest with yourself, learn from your misfires, forgive yourself for your shortcomings and move on. Life is to be lived in the moment, not in the thousand regrets that rob us of today.

The Developmental Cost of Emotional Abuse - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is Humiliation A Proper Punishment? - By Chris Gearing

Monday, April 11, 2011

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