By Brenda Corderman
As a parent, you want to know right away if someone is harming your child, right? Of course. Any good parent would. And, if you were asked whether you could tell if your child is depressed or not, just by being around them, you’d probably say, “Yes, of course. I know my child.” However, if we were to ask your child or teen whether their parents could tell if they are or were depressed or being bullied, they may disagree with you.
They may say they didn’t tell you they were bullied or depressed because…
~ they didn’t want you to get upset or angry.
~ they were embarrassed or scared they would be in trouble.
~ they thought it must be their fault.
~ they worried that you’d tell the school and they’d be embarrassed.
~ they were afraid the bully would beat them up for telling.
~ they worried that the bullying would get worse or never end.
This is the world our kids live in. They’re told to keep quiet, sit still, be good, and not speak unless spoken to. But, good manners and obedience don’t guarantee they won’t be hurt. Actually, good kids, smart kids, and caring and obedient kids, are often the bully’s targets. This is why many kids shed their real selves by the time they reach middle school.
Around campus, pre-teens and teens quickly learn they have to quash their thoughts and feelings, and hide their true selves, in order to fit in. The problem is, the more they hide themselves, the more they take on other people’s questionable beliefs and lose who they genuinely are. That can only last so long, and often, results in depression.
The children and teens who have the courage to be their unique selves, with their quirkiness, their different style, their silly jokes, and love of school (which is often very uncool), the more they are at risk for being bullied. It can feel like a no-win!
Bullies will find any reason to bully someone. And when your child has become his/her target, it can be so scary for them. Bullying can create fearfulness on campus, in class, and on the walk home. It can interrupt your child’s learning, concentration, ability to take in and process new information, their ability to participate in sports and social events with others, and change the way they think about themselves.
Bullying can cause a sensitive, caring child to second-guess themselves, criticize themselves, turn their anger in on themselves, and, sometimes, spiral to a place of despair.
This sounds very bleak, doesn’t it? Well, that’s why we at Kennedy’s Voice want parents to look for signs and symptoms that something is going on with their kids. Often, by the time a child or teen is seen by a school counselor or a therapist, they’re already depressed. We’ve heard from adults who, despite being badly affected by it, never told anyone they were bullied.
We want you to help be our eyes and ears. To start with, this is what depression looks like in children and teens:
Children are more likely to show symptoms of somatic complaints, especially stomach aches. They may regress to using clinging behaviors, not wanting to separate from mom or dad, not wanting to go to school without them there, starting to have bad dreams, and wanting to sleep with their parents.
They can start wetting their bed. (This often shows they’re in distress. Don’t be angry with them or punish them. They’re not wetting on purpose. It’s not their fault. Give them a couple of clean towels to sleep on until they get helped through this scary place.) They can start overeating or refusing food. Severe changes in your child’s diet and sleep are the number one warning signs they’re stressed and may be depressed.
Teen girls get stress-related stomachaches too, but also tend to get headaches and migraines. Depending on their personality and mood, their signs can range from crying and withdrawing to talking back and being agitated about mostly everything. Teen girls tend to turn their anger of being bullied onto themselves and crave relief through cutting or burning their bodies.
They stop eating or over-eat, as their bodies are one thing they believe they can control. Teen girls are increasingly binge-drinking alcohol, smoking pot, taking drugs, ditching class, and sexually acting-out. When they ditch class or walk alone, they are at-risk for being manipulated and abused by older men who prey on wounded children and teens.
Boys get headaches and stomach pains, too. Teen boys and adolescents are also starting to show eating disorder behaviors. They also cut and burn themselves, and bang their heads and fists. Teen boys tend to process their feelings in a physical manner. They may start to pick on or beat up their younger sibling, challenge their dads, get into a fight at school, or talk back to people in authority.
They may start drinking alcohol, smoke cigarettes or pot, or use other drugs to escape. Teen boys may show social withdrawal, antisocial behavior, and chronic feelings of boredom. They may begin ditching classes and not doing their homework. Bullying can change a straight A student who never missed class to one getting D’s and F’s, almost overnight.
While these changes are sometimes common in non-depressed children and teens, the symptoms are transient and last about 4-6 weeks. Major depression can set in if the symptoms last 2 or more months. But, don’t wait 2 months to talk with your child or teen. Follow your gut.
If you notice these changes in your child or teen, talk to them.
~ the inability to sleep, or sleeping a lot (and not feeling refreshed)
~ loss of appetite, or overeating
~ difficulty concentrating on tasks
~ marked forgetfulness
~ easily overwhelmed
~ tearfulness, hopelessness, helplessness
~ a reduced energy level
~ isolation and loneliness
~ thoughts of suicide.
(If your child is having strong suicidal thoughts and is devising a plan to end their life, please call 911.)
Bring your child to see a family therapist or one that specializes in children and teens as soon as you can. School counselors can be helpful, but cannot provide the intensive, immediate therapy your child will need to turns things around.
Depression is highly-treatable. Treatment includes talk therapy, journaling, confidence-building, and tools to keep them safe. If the depression is severe and therapy-resistant, an evaluation by a psychiatrist may be in order to see if medication may help to reduce or alleviate their suicidal and severe depressive symptoms. A therapist that specializes in counseling teens and children knows how psychologically devastating bullying can be.
At Kennedy’s Voice, we help empower kids and teens to stand up, speak up and report bullying to a trusted adult at school and to a safe parent or guardian. We’re doing all we can to stop bullying in its tracks. As a parent, we encourage you to keep an eye on your child’s moods and behaviors. Notice if there are any symptoms mentioned above. Be a part of our efforts to give kids a safe place at school. Don’t hesitate reaching out to us. We care.
For more information about Kennedy’s Voice, follow them on Instagram and Facebook. If you would like to help or volunteer with Kennedy’s Voice, please contact Sierra Phelps at firstname.lastname@example.org, Bonnie Palacio at email@example.com, Kandie Phelps at firstname.lastname@example.org or Scott Snyder at email@example.com.
About Brenda Corderman
Brenda Corderman, MA, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Brea, CA. She is a member of Kennedy’s Voice and an advocate against bullying. For more information, visit her website at www.brendacorderman.com.