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

Coach Sandusky's Interview With Bob Costas - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia discuss the Penn State scandal and Coach Sandusky's interview with Bob Costas - click here.

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 Talk To Your Child About 9/11 - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Watch Dr. Milton Gearing discuss how to talk to your children about 9/11 on CBS 11 - click here.

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

Cyber-Stalking - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss Cyberstalking and more on CBS 11 by clicking here.

Cyberstalking may be worse for your health than being stalked in person according to a just released study from the American Psychological Association. Almost a million adults, most of them women, are targets of cyberstalking each year leaving these women struggling with the trauma of stalking.

First - what is cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking is the hidden nightmare of the Internet. It is committed when the perpetrator makes a technologically based attack on another person via texting, Facebooking and email using mobile phones and computers. The ultimate goal is to harm that person using the distance and stealth of technology to get away with it. The motives are simple and vile—to wreck revenge on another person due to anger, revenge or the sheer pleasure they gain by controlling the fear of another person.

Here are the primary forms:

Harassment: Embarrassment and humiliation of the victim and/or the family to isolate the victim

Using Economic Control (ruining credit and stealing money out of bank accounts)

Threats and Lies to intimidate and bully

Tracking of the Victim via social media sites such as Facebook or using tracking devices such as a GPS.

The worst part is that cyberstalking is much more common than in-person stalking.

40% of women have experienced dating violence via social media, which includes harassing text messages and disturbing information about them posted on social media sites.

20% of online stalkers use social networking to stalk their victims.

34% of female college students and 14% of male students have broken into a romantic partner’s email.

Now this new study showed that cyberstalking, in comparison to in person stalking is more traumatic to women.

In person stalkers usually know their victims while around 50% of cyberstalkers are either acquaintances or complete strangers. The remainder of cyberstalkers however, are disturbed people we know.

The female victims were often left confused about why this was happening leaving them feeling even more unprotected. That vulnerability can begin to define their lives.

Cyberstalking victims experience more trauma because the harassment can last 24/7 and can occur anywhere, anytime, no matter whom you are with.

The harassment makes women feel socially anxious, physically vulnerable, lonely, and helpless. They suffer from a chronic hypervigilence and are always scanning their environment for who he is and what he might do next.

Here's what you can do if you're being cyberstalked:

First of all, refuse to be a victim. Too many of us allow the behavior of the bully to define how we think and feel about ourselves. Consider how pathetic he is. Refuse to stoop to his level.

Trust your Intuition: If you feel you are in danger, please listen to that inner voice. Do not hesitate but move quickly to a secure location.

Surround yourself with safe, dependable girlfriends who have your back. When you are in a social situation, your gal posse can be your eyes and ears against any potential intimidation.

Create a narrative in your own mind of what is happening and how empowered you remain irrespective of this behavior. You are not responsible for the choices of a criminal.

Educate yourself about your legal rights. Most states have some form or stalking law so access that information. Calm down, gear up with information and push through this adversity which is temporary.

The Death of Osama bin Laden - By Chris Gearing

Monday, May 02, 2011

Shortly before midnight last night, President Obama informed the nation that Osama bin Laden had been killed after a ten-year manhunt. Finally, a fatal blow had been dealt against Al Qaeda and terrorist organizations around the world. So what do these historic events mean for Americans going forward?

So, why is the death of Osama Bin Laden so significant to so many Americans?

Osama Bin Laden inflicted the greatest crime against this country in our history. But he also inflicted one of the greatest traumas in our history. There are several reasons why these atrocities have had such a long lasting and profound effect:

Nothing We Could Do: Traumatic reactions occur when actions don’t help—there was nothing we could do immediately to change the events. The lack of predictability was particularly damaging—what had we missed, why didn’t we see it coming? When you can’t fight back and you cannot escape (the events of 9/11 had already happened), your usual self-defense strategies become overwhelmed and disorganized. That’s when trauma gets a grip on your mind.

Trauma Lasts Longer: Trauma makes you feel powerless. However, when you have traumatic events that occur without warning, involve violent death and destruction and are engineered by a person who deliberately sets out to harm you, the trauma is more intense and more long lasting.

Intense Anxiety: If we cannot resolve the trauma by seeing justice done immediately, the body begins to encode the trauma. Physiological arousal increases—we are more anxious, on edge and agitated. Traumatized people feel like their nervous systems are still connected to the traumatic events.

Disconnection in Our Minds: Our minds begin to encode it too. We are affected in every area of our minds—our emotions, our thinking and our memory. Worst of all, trauma divides our mind—we feel but we can’t remember everything or we remember everything but we don’t have any emotions.

What would have happened to our country if Bin Laden had not been brought to justice?

He would have become more powerful in our own minds since he did not have to answer for his crimes. People who have been victimized need to see their victimizer held accountable. Without that, the perpetrator assumes an unfair advantage in our minds—he did the crime and got away with it. This can be extremely hard for everyone since we want to see our country as a just country with but one that insists that criminals face real consequences. His apprehension last night helped everyone breathe a huge sigh of relief and it will be very healing for the country.

Now, how will these events speed up the healing from the trauma from 9/11?

There are three broad stages or recovery that apply to both us as individuals and to the country as a whole:

New Sense of Safety: Seeing Bin Laden brought to justice gives all of us an incredible sense of safety and closure. This is a game changer because we can now begin to feel that our security is at least, somewhat in place again. We no longer have to think of this particular terrorist as free and plotting against us. We can embrace a feeling of renewed control and predictability.

Narrative of What Happened: Trauma recovery always involves coming to terms with the events, our part in them and creating a new outcome to those events.

Emergence as Victorious: Many Americans will feel safer now since we sent a clear message that terrorists will see justice, even if it takes us a decade to catch them. This is the final stage of trauma recovery—one of victory.

So here's the take away from yesterday's events:

Perseverance Leads to Achievement: This was a long battle to find a single man and sends a clear message to the Taliban. Our country was built by people who went the distance to achieve the goal and did not stop even if there was a setback. We persevered in the face of impossible odds and we did not back down. We hunted him down until we caught him. These events are a demonstration of pushing through until you win. Current generations that emphasize feeling good at the expense of achievement and hard work need to remember these core American values.

Seeking Justice: Most of all, Americans need to remember that our country seeks justice, even if it takes us a decade to achieve it. Once again, our military showed us why we are the best country in the world.

Why Women Commit Domestic Violence - By Chris Gearing

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Dangers of Texting In A New Relationship - By Chris Gearing

Friday, April 08, 2011

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