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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

What To Do If Your Child Is Being Sexually Harassed - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

How To Protect Your Children From Predators - By Chris Gearing

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why do we miss predators in our own back yard so often?

First of all, we often use a lot of denial to explain their behavior. We want to believe the lies and we fill in the blanks of information that a skilled liar carefully leaves out.

A person of conscience has difficulty translating the behavior of a predator, and the sociopath uses that advantage to make the normal person feel paranoid and even crazy.

Here are some signs that someone you know may be a predator:

1. Charm and smoothness that covers a cunning, deceptive self

2. Natural actors who are adapt at reading and using others

3. Constantly studies the motivations of other people in order to manipulate them

4. Enjoys dominating others and taking control

5. When confronted, will use anger or tears to manipulate accusers

The worst part is that many predators are unable to acknowledge their actions and what they have done to the child.

They also refuse to acknowledge the consequences of their decisions, even when the facts are right in front of them. The refusal to see their part in their own wrongdoing is what psychologists call “consistent irresponsibility.” If something goes wrong, it is always someone else's fault—the child, the community, whatever. Tragically, the predator never learns from what they have done.

Parents, here’s what you can do to protect your kids:

Believe Them: All to often, parents dismiss what their kids are saying as fantasy and don’t believe them. When it comes to this kind of behavior, always take it seriously and talk to your child about what happened.

Educate Them: The Penn State tragedy has started a national conversation that parents need to utilize to educate their children on self-protection. Our children are often the only ones “face to face” with the potential pedophile and we need to teach them how to use their own common sense and intuition to speak out and fight back. Learning about sexual predators and their characteristics will help you guide your children and protect them from the dangers in their lives. This is not meant to scare them but to educate and empower them.

Protect Them: Always know where your kids are and whom they are with. Whether it’s a family member, a family friend, or friend from school – make sure that you know the people your children are around and keep a record of where they are. If you feel uneasy about the person or the place you are leaving your child, listen to your intuition and get them out of there. As an adult, you know more of the signals and signs of potential predators and are much better at picking them out and protecting your children from them.

If you are worried that your child may have been a victim of a sexual predator, please contact a licensed psychologist for help. This kind of trauma can fundamentally change your child’s life and have lifelong devastating effects.

Sources:

"The Sociopath Next Door" by Martha Stout

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


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