Guest Post: “Save Our Children” The Bullying and Mental Health Factors

by | Jul 25, 2018 | Guest Posts, Opinion | 2 comments

In my last post we talked about our kids and how it’s our responsibility to step up and save our children… we also talked about how I believe it’s not a gun problem, it’s ultimately a failing and a lack of teaching/parenting one. But that’s not the whole story either, obviously. Complicated issues are never easy. So, what else does that leave?

In our discussion today we’ll talk about bullying and what our very own minds can do to us and how it factors into this equation. Before we can even begin to find a solution to any of these acts of hatred, there has to be a larger discussion; a more meaningful in-depth look into more than just gun control or general parenting.

We are all quick to look for an outside motivation to these acts of hatefulness, but without also looking inward we’re not likely to find all the answers. The problem is when everyone just wants a quick answer and a quick fix, we neglect looking into harder-to-solve issues, like mental health, which I believe is also at play here. The hatred and the intention to do harm to others like we’ve seen with these kids who shoot up schools is the result of so much more than my first post covered.

But, what exactly is a bully?
Bullying includes cyberbullying and means systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students or employees. It is further defined as unwanted and repeated written, verbal, or physical behavior, including any threatening, insulting, or dehumanizing gesture, by a student or adult, that is severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment; cause discomfort or humiliation; or unreasonably interfere with the individual’s school performance or participation; and may involve but is not limited to:  teasing, social exclusion, threat, Intimidation, Stalking, Physical violence, Theft, Sexual, religious, or racial harassment, Public or private humiliation, and Destruction of property.” Florida Department of Education

To be a bully, one would think that they must be an extremely heartless person; someone that enjoys inflicting hurt upon others over and over again for their own personal internal pleasures. It’s usually not that straight-forward, of course. When you talk to people about bullying most people automatically think that bullies do it to feel better or more powerful. But maybe, instead, we should consider another motivation – that their actions are stemmed from a previous experience that changed the way their brain told them to respond to outside stimuli.

Let’s look at “Max” (not a real child) by way of an example. As a young student, Max was the victim of a bully. Max tried to confront adults about his bully to get help, but the bully persisted with little or no help at all being offered to Max. Every day Max was dehumanized and told he had no good worth to offer this world – that he was “a waste of air.” Those around Max offered him unconditional love, care, support, and concern everyday, but his bullied-brain was already being rewired to believe what the bully was beating into his brain.

When I think of bullying like Max endured, the old rhyme, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me” comes to mind. But, when we look at the human brain and how words affect the signals and how our brain responds we discover how powerful those words really are. Our thoughts and the spoken words from others interact.  You see, most people can speak an average of 125-150 words per minute (wpm). But thoughts, on the other hand, run through our heads at an average rate of 1,200 – 1,500 wpm. All it takes is one person to essentially plant a seed in our brain and our minds do the rest – pounding that one simple word or phrase into our heads 1,200-1,500 times per minute essentially and unintentionally rewiring how we feel about ourselves and outside stimuli. According to Scott P. Edwards from The DANA Foundation “The Amygdala, [a small almond-shaped mass in our brains], is responsible for controlling the brains responses associated with fear, arousal, and emotional stimulation.” The circulation of negative thoughts in the Amygdala received during an unpleasurable experience results in a change. And for Max, the experience with his bully was profoundly detrimental to his mental health.
For Max, these seeds planted over time by his bully generated thoughts that pounded his brain and ultimately changed how Max perceives himself and the world around him. Max went from the nice, shy kid, to the angry-at-the-world teenager. Adults that interact with Max daily guess at what happened to the sweet boy they knew, “he was such a nice young man, now he’s always so angry and shut off from the world.”

As adults we have a tendency to blame those extraordinary behaviors on hormones or just “growing up”… but that’s not true of Max! Max was reprogrammed from the negative thoughts that circulated through the Amygdala at a rate of 1,200 wpm. In the years that follow, Max becomes a bully and so the cycle begins again with the ones that Max is now bullying, or worse.

Now, I’m positive we could have great conversations about the bully or the ones being bullied, however we must find a fix to end the violence we see in our schools every day. I mean, what will help our children, whether they are the bully or the one being bullied? Because we’re seeing now that the victims of bullies are lashing out in new ways by bringing guns and even bombs to school. A recent survey of more than 15,000 high school students found that victims of bullying are nearly twice as likely to carry guns and other weapons at school. According to the authors’ analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control’s 2011 Youth Risk Surveillance System Survey many students are bullied – 20 percent in a one-year period – however less than a fraction of them ever brings a gun to school with intent to kill.
Let’s look at the mass shooting from earlier this year in Parkland, Florida that involved Nikolas Cruz for example. Cruz, who was reportedly bullied himself, was often said to be moody and “seemed to delight in antagonizing others,” according to The Washington Post. He picked fights, stole people’s mail, threw rocks and vandalized property. Again, we can see the common thread among those that were bullied, but have now turned into the bully. The question then should be, “was his mental health ever addressed?” and “did he receive the therapy he needed to turn those negative thoughts around?” Broward County Mayor Beam Furr told CNN that Cruz did receive treatment at a mental health facility but that he hadn’t been back for more than a year before the school shooting. There are multiple sources that have reported Cruz was “depressed” and that instability of mental health continued to deteriorate until it’s culmination in the Parkland massacre.
According to a Newsweek article How We Talk about Bullying after School Shootings, Bullying affects an estimated 28 percent of 12-to 18-year-old U.S. students and is often linked to another commonly referenced reason behind school shootings: mental health disorders. Those who have been frequently bullied experience lasting ramifications, such as depression and anxiety. While these numbers may seem low for now, they are on the rise and will continue to grow if we don’t take a hard look at the root of this epidemic. We have a responsibility to our children to help protect them from becoming the next statistic!
As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure that our children are growing up to be healthy, productive citizens… and of course, that encompasses their entire health; both physical and mental.  We need to take on the responsibility of making sure our children have the mental health exercises needed to function in a healthy productive society. 

Schools are trying to tackle this epidemic in their own way by moving towards a more mental health-related core belief system. A new curriculum called The Leader in Me by Franklin Covey has been seen moving through schools that teach leadership and life skills to students. Students are being empowered to become a leader through setting and achieving personal goals, being able to resolve conflicts and solve problems, the ability to get along with peers from different cultural backgrounds, and becoming responsible young people.
Together if parents and educational facilities change the way we address mental health issues by providing our youth with the tools necessary to mold them into productive members of society, we’ll have successfully completed our requirements as parents and educators. We have to begin with the brain, either to train or to rewire it to receive the most impact. Is it a gun problem, or is it way deeper than that? My vote is, deeper… but what’s yours? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below – or better yet, join the discussion happening now in our chatroom!

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