We have heard a lot about the negative effects of the COVID lockdown on our children’s mental health; and that is definitely a concern we need to address. However, negative effects were not uniformly reported. Some studies suggested positive effects of the lockdown on our children’s mental health. This lack of consistency aroused the curiosity of Emma Soneson, a PhD student and Gates Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge. She and her colleagues collected data from over 17,000 students (age 8- to 18-years-old) participating in a large, school-based survey called the OxWell Student Survey. For this study, the students completed questionnaires about their experiences around the pandemic, school, home, life, and relationships at the end of the first lockdown. Based on their answers, the students fell into three categories, each continuing about one third of the participating students:
- Those whose well-being improved during the lockdown
- Those who experienced no change in well-being during the lockdown
- Those who experienced a deterioration in well-being during the lockdown
What was different for these three groups? The answer to that question may give us good information about how to promote our children’s well-being in general, pandemic or not. So what’s different?
- Nearly half of those reporting improved well-being also reported feeling less lonely or left out. 41% reported improved relationships with friends (as opposed to 26% in the no change group and 27% in the deterioration group).
- Over half [53%] of those reporting improved well-being cited getting along better with family members, as opposed to 26% in the no change group and 21% in the deterioration group).
- Those who reported greater well-being also noted a decrease in being bullied. In fact, 92% of those reporting improved well-being noted a decrease in being bullied, compared to only 83% in the no change and 81% deterioration group. Interestingly, that’s a lot of people saying bullying decreased in their life during the lockdown.
- Another factor involved sleep. 49% of those who reported improved well-being reported sleeping more (compared to 30% in the no change group and 19% in the deterioration group).
- Those who reported greater well-being were also those who remained in school every day
or nearly every day versus attending once or twice. (In many areas, those with special educational needs or those whose parents feared their child falling behind through cyber school remained in school.) Some factor contributing to this group noting greater well-being may include more flexibility to tailor teaching styles to meet different learning styles, smaller classrooms, more focused attention from teachers, later waking times since the schools often had later start times, and more freedom during the school day.
Overall, this provides important information about ways in which we can promote our children’s overall well-being. Here are some ideas.
- Provide places for your children to engage in healthy peer relationships. This may include various clubs, sports, activities, churches, or even having their friends to your house. Provide an environment that can promote positive peer relationships.
- Spend time with your children. Build a strong relationship with your child. Engage them in fun activities, not just work. Invest in their interests. Share your interests with them. Enjoy your time together.
- Develop healthy sleep hygiene in your home. Model healthy sleep and so model for your child. Put limits on social media and cellphone usage so it does not interfere with sleep. Develop healthy bedtime routines.
- Watch for bullying. If your child is a victim of bullying, address it immediately. Go to the school to talk with the school staff about your child’s experience of bullying. Develop a plan to help decrease bullying. Build your child’s self-image so they can stand against bullying. If it continues, take your child out of the situation in which they are being bullied and find another place, a safe place, for them to learn.
Hopefully we are moving past this pandemic. There are, however, things we can learn and implement even after the pandemic is past. These four practices can improve our children’s sense of well-being even after the pandemic.
A recent study from the University of California—Davis explored teens who bully and who they bully. The study followed 3,000 eighth, ninth, and tenth grade students over the course of a school year. They discovered that teens who bullied often bullied their friends not strangers or those of lower social status. In fact, they uncovered five interesting patterns.
- Teens who were friends in the fall but not in the spring were three times more likely to bully or victimize each other in the spring.
- Teens who remained friends for the entire year, however, were four times more likely to bully one another in the spring. Interestingly, teens bullied those who remained their friend more often than those who did not remain friends with them.
- Teens who had overlapping friendships were “roughly three times” more likely to bully one another than those who did not have overlapping friendships.
- Teens who share the same bullies or the same victims are more than twice as likely to bully each other.
- Finally, being bullied by a friend is painful. It is associated with a significant increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The researchers believe that this information suggests that bullying behavior comes with social rewards. It leads to an increase in social status. In other words, teens were climbing the social ladder of adolescence by bullying their friends. Teens get caught up in popularity. They base their self-concept on the popularity of their social media posts and their popularity at school. They seem to equate popular with acceptance and will do almost anything to get accepted…even if it means bullying a friend to move up the ladder of acceptance in the popular crowd.
With this in mind, what can a parent do to help decrease bullying?
- Develop a secure relationship with your child. Spend time with your child. Let them know that you love and accept them. Learn about their interests. Support and encourage their dreams. As you develop a strong relationship with your teen, they will feel less pull to “need” the status of popularity among their peers.
- Involve your children and teens in groups that encourage teamwork. Rather than competing for popularity, teamwork encourages teens to cooperate and work together for a common goal, to encourage one another and support one another’s growth for the good of the team.
- Involve your children and teens in groups that encourage community and service. This might include church groups, scouting groups, or service groups. These groups can teach your teen to work with others in serving and accomplishing goals rather than competing to be more popular than the other guy. Teens can also learn to accept and appreciate one another’s gifts in working toward a common goal while volunteering in the community.
- On a slightly different note, keep your marriage strong. At least one study reveal that teens who see their parents as loving toward one another are less likely to engage in cyberbullying. Invest in your marriage.
By implementing these three tips, you lessen the chance of your child becoming a bully to “climb the social ladder” of peer relationships. They’ll be kinder. They’ll be happier. And so will you.
Cell phones and social media have become common place for our teens. Although social media can serve a positive purpose, it also comes with multiple challenges. One challenge relates to cyberbullying, or online behavior involving harassment, insults, threats, or the spreading of rumors. Over half the teen’s in the U.S. have experienced cyberbullying. If you have two teens in your home, there is a good chance that at least one of them has experienced cyberbullying. That’s the bad news. The good news? You can help reduce the risk that your teen will engage in cyberbullying and become a cyberbully by focusing on one particular relationship, your relationship with your spouse!
A study published this year (2020) in the International Journal of Bullying Prevention suggests that your relationship with your spouse may impact whether your teen engages in cyberbullying. This study utilized data from the World Health Organization’s Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Survey. Specifically, they looked at data from 12,642 pre-teens and teens (age 11 to 15 years) surveyed in 2009-2010. These teens were asked about their bullying behaviors and their perceptions of certain characteristics of their family, characteristics like relationship quality and investment. Questions included whether parents were loving. The study revealed that those who said their parents were “almost never” loving were 6 times more likely to engage in high levels of cyberbullying than those who said their parents were “almost always” loving. In other words, those teens who perceived their parents as loving were less likely to engage in cyberbullying. So, if you want to contribute to less cyberbullying and reduce the risk of your child becoming a cyberbully, let your teen see a loving relationship between you and your spouse. Here are some hints to keep your relationship with your spouse strong and loving.
- Spend time with your spouse. Your children need to see you enjoying time with your spouse. Sit together when watching TV. Go for walks together. Enjoy a date night. Laugh together.
- Show your spouse physical affection. Your children may be grossed out when you share a hug or a kiss, but they will know you love one another. Hold hands. Sit arm in arm. Share physical affection.
- Express gratitude. Make it a habit to thank your spouse for things they do for the family, for the children, for the home, for you. Thank them for earning money to support the family. Thank them for cleaning the kitchen, making the bed, doing the laundry, cooking dinner. There are a thousand things a day for which you can thank your spouse. Express gratitude.
- Praise your spouse in your children’s presence. Recognize when your spouse does something well and acknowledge it verbally. Compliment them on how nice they look. Acknowledge their hair cut. Let them know you think they are a good cook, a hard worker, a sensitive and considerate friend. Admire your spouse’s positive qualities in the presence of your teens.
- Work together around the house. Let your children and teens know that you and your spouse are a teen. You both contribute to the household chores and tasks. You help each other out. You and your spouse are a team caring for your home and family.
- Flirt with your spouse. I know, your children and teens will be totally grossed out by this but do a little flirting anyway. Let them see how much you truly adore your spouse.
These behaviors will communicate the love you and your spouse share. Your teens will hear it loud and clear. And, even more, they will reduce the risk of your teen engaging in cyberbullying.
I know it’s a bit of a risk to say, but bullies and their victims have some similarities. At least that’s what a recent study completed by researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg suggests. The researchers obtained data from the World Health Organization who had interviewed approximately 3,000 adolescents from various countries. Specifically, the researchers used data from the United States (an individualistic society), Greece (a collectivist society), and Germany (which is between individualistic and collectivistic). In each of these countries, both victims of bullying and the perpetrators of bullying had several things in common.
- They were both more likely to use alcohol and tobacco.
- They were both more likely to have somatic complaints like stomach pain, back pain, and headaches.
- They were both more likely to suffer from depression.
- They both exhibited social difficulties. For instance, they both described difficulty talking to friends or peers and they both described feeling a lack of support in their social environment.
I find it
fascinating that these two groups suffer similar pain. Why do I bring this up
to families? Because families can help reduce bullying by giving their children
the emotional resources both groups need to live healthier, “bully-free
lives.” Here are a few of those resources.
- Develop a positive relationship with your children. Guide and discipline your children in love and grace (Do You Parent with a Club or a Staff?). Don’t bully them into obedience. Remember, relationships rule.
- Teach your children healthy social skills. Skills like politeness and respect for others carry great power. Model and practice politeness in your family.
- Teach your children healthy emotional management skills. Learning “emotional intelligence” is crucial for anyone’s success. So, teach your children to label their emotions and use the energy aroused by their emotion to address healthy priorities in a healthy, respectful manner. (Here are 6 Tips to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend. )
- Provide opportunities for your children to learn kindness If You Really Want Happy Kids, kindness is essential. Nurture kindness in your children by practicing kindness IN your family and AS a family. Volunteer together.
- Create a home environment filled with gratitude, encouragement, and honor. Honor one another enough to verbalize gratitude and encouragement to each family member every day. Doing so will help each person develop a mindset of looking for things they are grateful for in others. As you show gratitude and encouragement, your children will follow suit.
things you can do to prevent bullying. It may not end bullying completely But,
if enough families develop the habits described above, we might just change