Cyberbullying | That First Sleepover | Supporting a Depressed Friend | & Acne Anxiety ☹️

Confronting middle school cyberbullying, facing the first sleepover, ways to support a depressed friend, and how to approach your tween's acne anxiety.



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“How we meet with and adapt to the changes and expectation in each new day and at each new stage in our lives determine the state of our mental health.”

SPRING 2011


Q:

"My daughter was devastated by some terrible things posted about her on Facebook. It took her months to get over it. It seems that cyber-bullying is becoming more and more common with our children. I am not sure what to do other than banning social networking from my children, but I am not even sure that they won't do it anyway. Do you have any advice on keeping our children safe from online bullies?"


Signed concerned parents.


A:

This issue of cyber-bullying is yet another new wrinkle in ways children can hurt each other. We all know that children are especially vulnerable and sensitive to their peer group, even more than to their immediate family. In fact, it seems that only 5% of kids would even tell their parents about an incident of C.B. For fear that they would overreact and take the computer away from them. Knowing the correct way to react and not react is very important.


I found a website called www.stopcyberbullying.org that is extremely helpful. It encourages parents to teach their children to STOP when they're being bullied. Don't answer back or respond in any way. BLOCK the person who is sending bullying messages and TELL your parents right away. Please go to this website and bone up on what to do, when to do it, and what you can do to be prepared. I had a friend who said to be recently that while we older adults have real choices about how much we want to participate in the cyber world, children don't have the same choices. If they want to be part of their world, and they do, they will have to develop skills with which to deal with the vagaries that cuber life can throw at them.



Q:

"I am getting ready to go in for some surgery for a few days in the hospital with a two-week recovery at home. I don't want my 8-year-old daughter to be scared of hospitals and this whole procedure. Do you have any suggestions on how we can help our daughter cope with that week?"


Signed 48-year-old mother.


A:

It is very wise of you to understand that your upcoming hospitalization can and will have longer-term effects on your daughter. Whether these effects are positive or negative will depend on how the experience unfolds. Knowing this, you will be able to help her understand where you are going - maybe a visit to the hospital lobby would be helpful - how long you'll be gone, and who will be taking care of her in your absence. Children are aware on a very deep level that their survival is dependent on your health and ability to care for them. Their terror is based on unconscious fears that are hardwired into their little psyches. This is completely normal and needs to be addressed as such.


Feel free to enlist the help of family and friends as well as any services the may be able to provide. I believe that to err on the side of too much information is better than too little. If you try to keep too much from her, she will simply provide her own explanation for what's going on, and you can be sure it will involve guilt in some way. Kids feel like they are the center of the universe and, therefore, they're to blame for everything, including the fact that you have to have surgery. She needs to know that she is loved and safe and that you will return as soon as possible. We live in this incredible age of electronic communication, and surely you will be able to call or text her frequently. Good luck with your surgery and get well soon!



Q:

"Does sunlight and vitamin D really help with depression?"


Signed curious.


A:

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin. Folks absorb twice as much vitamin D from the summer sun as from the sun in the winter. Vitamin D is essential in the production of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter in your brain. A deficiency of serotonin is thought to contribute to depression. That may be a simplistic explanation for why sunshine seems to life one's spirits. The use of sunblock is good for the prevention of skin cancer, but it interferes with the absorption of vitamin D. using a vitamin D supplement may be helpful, especially if you are suffering from a mild depression. So my suggestion is to exercise outdoors thereby delivering a double blow to your flagging spirits.



Q:

"Does sunlight and vitamin D really help with depression?"


Signed curious.


A:

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin. Folks absorb twice as much vitamin D from the summer sun as from the sun in the winter. Vitamin D is essential in the production of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter in your brain. A deficiency of serotonin is thought to contribute to depression. That may be a simplistic explanation for why sunshine seems to life one's spirits. The use of sunblock is good for the prevention of skin cancer, but it interferes with the absorption of vitamin D. using a vitamin D supplement may be helpful, especially if you are suffering from a mild depression. So my suggestion is to exercise outdoors thereby delivering a double blow to your flagging spirits.


SUMMER 2011


Q:

"My child is age six and getting to the age where the kids are asking to do sleepovers. Do you have any advice on preparing a child for overnights? I don't want him to be scared or homesick if I can avoid it."


Signed concerned parents.


A:

Here I am in the last part of my life and I still remember my first sleepover. I had been invited to spend the night with my best friend, Corrine, at her farm next to ours. During the evening I could see my family's farm houselights glowing across the fields and you can guess what happened next. My dad had to come pick me up. I was ashamed and embarrassed. That was in 1949, and sleepovers haven't changed much since then.


Sometimes negative experiences can have a positive effect. I eventually grew up to be an intrepid traveler and moved across the country as an adult. Although I think it was important that I went on the sleepover in the first place, it was equally important that my dad "rescued" me.


Sleepovers should be part of a continuum in a child's life. Play dates, having friends over to their house, practicing detachment from their nuclear family are all levels of separation and individuation. You can insist

your child in weathering this first experience by including a "transitional object", such as a favorite stuffed toy, in his backpack. You might also find out if the host family has any plans like dinner out or mini golf so that you can prepare your child a bit.


The other important issue is that of safety. Is the host's house safe? That's why it's important to know the parents of your child's friend. Are there guns in the house, dangerous dogs, or a swimming pool, for that matter? Familiarize yourself with the environment in which your child will be spending the night. There are rules at your house that should be followed at the host's house, such as no Internet access or violent movies.


If you decide to take the evening off, be sure your co-parents have your cell phone number. Your child should also feel free to call you in an emergency or to say goodnight but they should also be encouraged to be independent and to have fun on their own.



Q:

"My middle-school child is not doing well in school. He is very bright, has always done well in school and this year he is in the ninth grade. He studies all the time. His grades are falling, his teacher says he does not apply himself and that he is bright. He seems to have a lot of friends and is socially doing well. I am concerned about his state of mind and his academics. Could this be a psychological issue?"


Signed concerned mother.


A:

Sometimes I think that everything in life is a psychological issue. How we meet with and adapt to the changes and expectation in each new day and at each new stage in our lives determine the state of our mental health. Your son is now in the 9th grade, and things are rapidly changing for him psychologically as well as physically. Did you know that 9th grade is particularly hard on boys? Your son may have done well academically up to this point, but something is affecting his motivation and ability to do well. The 9th grade is pivotal to your son's future success.


I suggest that you have him tested, as he might be gifted and needs to be in different classes. He might need a change of school or one-on-one tutoring. contact the school counselor to see if he might have any suggestions. Arrange for psychological testing as well. It's good that you're seeing your son's problem so promptly and that you are concerned. Your nonjudgmental involvement is very important. You might do some research on the Internet about 9th grade boys.


Finally, have you thought about suggesting a part-time job doing something he really loves? Perhaps working in a music store or in a garage if he loves cars. Navigating through the 9th grade calls for study skills and personal maturity for which your son might need support.


FALL 2011


Q:

"Why do we cry?"


Signed 13-year-old.


A:

As babies we cry to communicate. We signal hunger, discomfort, and distress. Soon we cry to be held, rocked, and soothed. Most of us are quite aware of the emotional reasons for crying as adults. Sadness and grief can lead the list, closely followed by frustration and pain. Crying is often used to release tension and anxiety as well.

There are different kinds of tears depending on the reason we are crying. Sometimes it releases a buildup of stress hormones or toxins. It can also signal others that we are in distress. It's a very complicated mechanism that occurs in women more than men. That is probably influenced by the society in which we live. The average woman cries five times more often than the average man.

One thing I know for sure, crying helps. We feel better and are more able to deal with whatever made us cry in the first place.



Q:

"One of my best friends is suffering from depression. I have suggested antidepressants several times, but she won't do anything about it. It has gotten to the point where my family and I don't even want to be around her anymore. Any advice on this?"


Signed frustrated friend.


A:

Have I ever mentioned that moods are contagious? Being around a depressed person can be depressing. I know that your sense of friendship and loyalty dictates that you hang in there with her, but you need a plan. It's probably best that you don't suggest medications to another person. There are other ways to open the conversation. Suggest that she see her doctor or give her the name of a few therapists. Let them tackle the medication issue. Include telephone numbers with your suggestions. Make it as easy as possible for her. When someone is depressed, the smallest task can be daunting.

Patients who are new to my practice often tell me that the reason they finally decided to enter therapy was that they could no longer burden their friends. "My friends are becoming weary of my sadness."


Q:

"My daughter is 15 years old, and she says she wants to change her legal name; first, middle, and last names. She says she hates her names. I am (of course), not very crazy about this idea and have told her she can wait until she is 18 to decide this. My concern is this. Could this be a sign that she is not happy with herself? Should I be worried?"


Signed concerned parent.


A:

After taking an informal survey among my friends, I have discovered that many people wanted to change their names as teenagers. They didn't like their given names and wanted new ones, such as "Jaz" or "Sunny." Teenagers go through times of not liking themselves or their families, and it can be a time of experimentation and self-expression. We hope that these experiments don't cause permanent change, such as getting a tattoo or changing your name legally. She could choose a nickname and request that her friends and family use it. I've done that for friends of mine who want me to call them by their given names, not their nicknames. "Betty" wanted to be called "Elizabeth" again.


But I don't want to dismiss your concern over whether this behavior might signal deeper issues. Wait and watch for other signs in addition to this desire for a name change. We are all increasingly sensitive to early signs of unhappiness in our children as well as in ourselves. We've come to understand the wisdom of early recognition and treatment and hopefully successful resolution of the problems at hand.


WINTER 2011


Q:

"Is there any significant data on a child's state of mind depending on whether they are the oldest child, middle child, or youngest child? Does it really make a difference?"

Signed curious.


A:

I need to disclose that I am a firstborn. Firstborns are more likely to believe the mythology of birth order differences. We're said to be more intelligent, conscientious, and have more of the necessary characteristics to become leaders of countries and corporations. The idea of birth order differences is a good example of soft research and even softer science. I suspect all firstborns are behind it all.


The differences lie within each individual family, in which one child receives the most attention, the better education and even the best food. The size of the family has an effect on differences between children. In a smaller family, there are more available resources to go around.


Your child's state of mind can be affected by many things. The firstborn is dethroned by the arrival of a second child. This will affect the child's later life, but the effect can be ameliorated by how the parents handle the situation. Someone compared the study of birth order differences with astrology. There are many elements other than birth order that affect our life paths. Your parenting skills and your child's particular strengths have a far greater influence on a health self-image than birth order.



Q:

"They say learning a second language is good for your brain. I know children learn languages faster than adults do, but does that help children's brains develop better?"


Signed parent of a 3-year-old.


A:

This week at my monthly professional lunch, I learned that one of the participants is multilingual. When I questioned her about it, she told me that having learned a second language at a young age, the third was easier and the fourth even more so. Just as exercising your child's body increases their physical abilities, so, too, does exercising your child's brain. Children who learn a second language at a young age have enhanced spatial relations and problem solving skills as well as higher SAT scores, according to various sources. When your child learns a second language early, the brain is trained to be more flexible and more able to multitask and focus.


Beyond those advantages, I feel that in the world your child will occupy as an adult, being multilingual will assure him a more participatory place in society. Our country is becoming more diverse, and I often wish I could speak the language of those around me. Giving your child a second language will be good for our society as well as for him personally.



Q:

"My 14-year-old daughter is constantly picking at her face. It is getting to be a problem with her acne, and we try telling her to keep her hands off. She is also eating very little and wants to exercise all the time. She also complains that she is tired. Do we need to see a therapist?"


Signed concerned parents.


A:

Your awareness and quick response to your daughter's symptoms is to be commended. You have also seen the possible connection between the compulsive behaviors your daughter is exhibiting. All this has happened when she is at an age when help is the most beneficial.


It is difficult being an adolescent in any generation, but it appears to be increasingly difficult in the present climate of teenage demand for ultimate perfection. Children going through the transition to adulthood are often disappointed in their appearance. They find the imperfections of their bodies unbearable. This disappointment can manifest in the behaviors you are describing in your daughter.

Yes, therapy is a good idea. In addition to that, perhaps you could address some of the underlying problems of a more positive body image and socialization. Instead of exercise, could your daughter participate in a team sport? Have her see a dermatologist she likes, one who has an understanding of the psychological effects of acne.


She needs to be approached with positive, affirmative comments rather than criticism or admonitions. Find her passion, an outside interest that can be encouraged. Her negative self-image is fueling her behaviors and should be address in positive ways.



-Romona Scholder, M.A., RNCS, Psychotherapist

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