Back to Blog Home >>
Of all the challenges children face when growing into adulthood, perhaps none is as devastating as when your child is the victim of bullying.
As much as parents want to protect their kids from the humiliation and shame of being bullied, it’s a heartbreaking fact that victims often hide the truth
from those who could help.
In our fifth episode of Your Teen’s Health
podcast series, our own Senior Medical Director, Carmella Sebastian, M.D., tells parents signs to look for – and what to do - when a child is being bullied.
No matter what age your child may be, their health and well-being is important to Florida Blue
. We hope you find this podcast series helpful in equipping you with the facts, advice and websites you need to help keep your teen healthy and thriving! Be sure to check back soon for our sixth and final episode of Your Teen’s Health on teen safety and social media.
The complete transcription of the podcast begins here:
[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to Florida Blue Radio, where we explore health care topics important to you. Whether you own a business, are a health practitioner, or are an individual interested in how health care is evolving experts from across Florida Blue will keep you in the know.
In today's session, we begin our series on teen health with Florida Blue's Senior Medical Director, Doctor Carmella Sebastian. Doctor Sebastian will share information on the most common health issues concerning our teens, and empower parents with ways to talk to their teens about them. Our host is Kate Warnock, Social Business Strategist at Florida Blue. Now, here's Kate.
My name is Kate Warnock, and I'm so glad to continue our series today on teen health with Senior Medical Director at Florida Blue, Doctor Carmella Sebastian. Welcome, Doctor Sebastian.
Thank you, Kate. Great to be here.
Well, so today we continue our conversation, Doctor Sebastian, this time with a topic that I think so many parents can really relate to, and that's bullying. And I know that that's certainly not an issue that's limited to teenagers, but I think it's particularly troublesome for this age group. So, hopefully with our conversation today we can help parents know how do they help someone that they know, whether it's their own child, they're child's friend, who might be a victim of bullying. Or, even on the other hand, if they think that their child might be the bully. What do we do to help address the situation to make sure that we're helping to keep our teens healthy. So with that, Doctor Sebastian, tell us about bullying, and what we should be on the lookout for.
Well bullying is repeated aggressive behavior. It can be physical, verbal, or relational. And usually, when it comes to boys, you'll find more physical threats and actions. Girls are more likely to engage in verbal, or relationship bullying, but the results of either are the same. Remember, in the old days we used to say sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me. The fact is that names will hurt you the same, and I think we've seen that now time and time again in the media. That children and young teens are very much hurt by the words, as well as any kind of physical assault.
The child in both cases may feel hurt, angry, afraid, helpless, hopeless, isolated, which is something that I think parents can understand, and try to intervene with. They can feel ashamed, and even guilty that somehow this is all their fault. And we know we've heard in the media about some children who actually are pushed to feeling suicidal.
Their physical health is likely to suffer, and you'll see a lot of changes. You just have to keep your eye on it, but you'll see mental health issues such as depression come to the surface. Anxiety, low self esteem, or even then later in life the onset of post traumatic stress disorder with someone who's been bullied.
It's just heartbreaking to think that something that we associate with our returning military might actually be something that our own children might be feeling from something that is as damaging as a bullying episode.
Absolutely. you think about these years. You know, I remember I was very awkward. I had childhood obesity when I was younger. Of course I was bullied, and it is such a horrible thing to go through. But, thank God, I had my parents, who were tremendous allies and always told me, for every time somebody said you're fat, you're stupid you're dumb, or whatever, they told me you're beautiful, you're thin, you can be anything you want to be. So I had this, and who was I going to listen to? These idiots who were causing me pain, or my parents. So I listened to my parents, thank God. But not everybody is lucky enough to be in that situation, and you've got to keep your eyes open.
I remember trying to hide some of it as I was growing up and being bullied. It might not be that obvious to a parent, or a teacher. So you really have to look for some of the signs. If you're seeing your children start to miss, or skip, or drop out of school that's a sign. I mean, a lot of kids, even though they don't particularly like to study, they like the social part of being in school. But if they're being bullied they'll try to avoid that, so they'll start skipping school.
Most of the bullying is going to occur away from adults, because these kids are not going to bully when they're in front of adults and get in trouble. So they're going to do it when kids are alone in hallways, on the way home from school. And bullies are very, very good at hiding their behavior from adults, and covering up the evidence. So, you really have to watch out for it.
So, Doctor Sebastian, if we know how detrimental this can be, and you're telling us you really have to know your child. You have to know what signs to look for. What is it, once you know that your child has been a victim of bullying, how can a parent help?
Well first of all watch very closely, and watch the behaviors, and changes. The first thing you want to do is before sixth grade, because a lot of stuff starts happening in sixth grade, before sixth grade you want to sit down. You want to talk to your kids about bullying. Not only just about coming to you if someone is threatening them, or acting very mean to them, but also the opposite. To be kind, to show courtesy, and that makes it harder for a bully to be a bully if your child is kind, and surrounds themselves with like people. Because they will protect each other.
You know, Doctor Sebastian, let me share with you, too, I did have that conversation with my children, and I made it very personal for them. They have a favorite uncle, and he had been teased mercilessly, certainly bullied, in his middle school years. And I let them know that their uncle would come home, and be so unhappy, and not want to go outside, and be with anybody because he didn't think he was worth anything. And they were shocked. They could not believe it. Because what they see in him today is just someone who is funny, and loving, and supportive. So, I let them know that there this happens to people that we care about every single day, and that it's not right to stand by and see someone else be a victim.
Right, absolutely. And that's something we develop as we go through middle school, and then into high school. But, I will tell you that I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said I was known for my sense of humor. But part of my sense of humor, although most of it came from my parents and genetics, part of it was my defense mechanism. Because if I was laughing at myself, and you know a lot of comedians will say this, if I'm laughing at myself then I have control.
So that's something to watch out for, too. If you start to see your child say negative things about themselves, or put themselves down, but even in a joking manner, not a good sign. Not a good sign. So be supportive. Listen to their feelings without judgment. Don't jump in with an I'm going to fix this, or any criticism, or any blame.
I mean, we have a 17-year-old who just got her first quote unquote real job. She's worked for a couple of years for babysitting, and things like that. But now she's working, and she's in a place where she has had a bullying situation. And my husband, the first thing he said when it happened was, get in the car, we're going to go down and beat the crap out of that guy.
And, I would have been right behind him.
A dad's response for sure.
Yeah, that's exactly what a father would say. And then we calmed down, and we said, you know what, she's going to have to deal with this her whole life. Because this doesn't stop. This is where you learn the techniques. And what we said was, you see this guy, and he's picking on you, and telling you you're not doing something right. You be super, super nice. My father used to always say that, too. You can get a lot more with honey than with vinegar, a lot more flies. So you be super, super nice. It really disarms the bully. They don't know what to do about that because usually they've been bullied themselves, either at home, or in the workplace, or someplace else. You be very, very nice to him. And then you make sure that you go to his boss, and report what exactly has been going on. But in a nice way, such as what can I do differently, because it seems that we have an issue here.
So those are things you want to do. Make sure you be supportive, and listen to a child's feelings. The one other thing is we have kids that are going to school with cellular phones, with money in their pockets, with iPods. For God's sake, we didn't have anything when we were going to school. I mean, we had nothing worth stealing. But now, the kid is going there, there's bait for people who are going to take advantage of them. You know, the nice purse that my 17-year-old has, no, do not take the nice purse to school. Are you crazy? You're wearing a big sign on your back saying please steal this from me. I mean it's not that they can't enjoy those things, but be smart about it.
If a child is telling you, listen I'm being bullied, make sure that the teachers, the coaches, the counselors at school know that something's happening, and take an active part in it. Because no child should have to be alone in it. And avoid isolation, like you were talking about your brother. Make sure that there's kids around the child who's being bullied. Kids with friends are better equipped to handle it, and the children will rally together against a bully.
So, you can find different friends through social circles, youth or religious groups or clubs, that type of thing. There's a wonderful guide out there, helpguide.org. It's a not for profit, and there's a lot of good information out there about bullying.
Well that's wonderful. We'll make sure that we include that in our program notes. So with that, Doctor Sebastian, thank you so much. This has been a wonderful conversation in an area that I'm sure many parents have already had to deal with, and hopefully with today's talk, and advice and tips, they'll be able to feel more empowered in helping their child become empowered through this as well. So, thank you so much.
And we're going to pick up next on topic that I think will be very related to this bullying conversation, and that's the use of social media and our teen. So with that, thank you again for your time today, and we'll talk to you soon.
Great. Thank you.
You have been listening to Florida Blue Radio, recorded at our Jacksonville headquarters. For notes from today's program, visit our blog at floridablue.com. Be sure to leave us a comment there with your ideas, or suggestions for future programs. Until next time, here's to you in your pursuit of health.