Healing from Bullying, Assault and Abuse
Society has been paying a lot of attention to assaults perpetrated on children and teens, and our growing awareness about the extent of bullying, the dangers to teenagers caught up in abusive dating and online exploitation of children and teens is frightening, but necessary.
Many teachers, kids and parents are struggling to find effective ways to prevent and deal with these toxic and sometimes dangerous situations. If we are to help prevent and heal the damage done, we need to look deeper into what makes these kids vulnerable to assault and abuse.
In working with young crime victims and bullied kids and teens via the offices of two district attorneys, it is clear that in most cases, children and teens harmed or bullied at school, on the bus or by so-called friends are also experiencing neglect and abuse at home.
Many of these kids are traumatized by the mistreatment they have faced at home. It may be invisible in the sense that a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, social anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, behavioral problems and the like can obscure the fact that the child or teen has been harmed. They may walk around with an invisible bull’s-eye on their backs. Kids that are mistreated at home often learn it is wise not to look their abuser in the eye for fear of greater harm or retreat into submission rather than to protest or rebel.
Mistreatment also makes them emotionally needy and vulnerable—likely targets for others that detect their fear and submissive stance. This vulnerability helps us understand their susceptibility to bullying, predatory dating and exploitation.
A parent can identify possible harm to a child by noticing changes in mood, behavior, grades, spending habits and social activity. If a new “friend” raises suspicions, follow parental instincts and do some detective work. Secondly, if there is an unusual amount of secrecy about social media, it may be helpful to insist on an open media policy, giving parents access to the teen’s accounts.
Thirdly evaluate whether anyone at home is mistreating the child or teen. If that is the case, find a trusted counselor to help find a way out of this pattern.
Shifting gears and delving deeper instead of pathologizing kid’s behaviors by labeling them with psychiatric disorders can shed light on what is actually going on. Being aware that mistreatment at home makes them vulnerable to mistreatment outside the home is a powerful step in preventing this harm.
Therapy that addresses the dual trauma of harm from both inside and outside of the family not only provides healing for the child or teen, but can also be healing and transformative for the parents, as well.
Dr. Joan-Marie Lartin is a psychotherapist who provides neurofeedback training and individual, couples and family therapy, with offices in Carlisle and Gettysburg. For more information, call 717-961-0088 or visit JoanMarieLartin.com.