Parents Can Help Prevent Bullying

By California State PTA Health & Community Concerns Commission


October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Bullying is a serious issue at home and in school, and parents and caring adults can play pivotal roles in creating healthy, safe school and community climates.

In a 2019 publication, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that one out of five students in the U.S. said they had been bullied. Researchers have also found that bullied students are more likely to take a weapon to school, get involved in physical fights, and suffer from anxiety and depression, health problems, and mental health problems. They also suffer academically (especially high-achieving black and Latinx students). Research suggests that schools where students report a more severe bullying climate score worse on standardized assessments than schools with a better climate.

Five Tips For Parents To Help Prevent Bullying
Parents and guardians are among a school’s best allies in bullying prevention:

  • Talk with and listen to your children every day. Ask questions about their school day, including experiences on the way to and from school, lunch, and recess. Ask about their peers. Children who feel comfortable sharing experiences with their parents before they are involved in bullying are more likely to involve them after.
  • Spend time at school, especially during recess. Schools can lack the resources to provide all students individualized attention during “free” time, like recess. Volunteer to coordinate games and activities that encourage children to interact with their peers. 
  • Set a good example. Children are observing when you get angry at a waiter, another driver, etc. Model effective communication techniques, especially when they are present. As Education.com puts it, “Any time you speak to another person in a mean or abusive way, you’re teaching your child that bullying is okay.”
  • Create healthy anti-bullying habits. Starting as young as possible, coach your children on both, what not to do (push, tease, and be mean to others) and what to do (be kind, empathize, and take turns). Also coach your child on what to do if someone is mean to him or to another (get an adult, tell the bully to stop, walk away and ignore the bully).
  • Make sure your child understands that bullying is not okay. Explicitly explain what it is and that it’s not normal or tolerable for them to bully, be bullied, or stand by and watch other kids be bullied.

Parents Can Help Stop Online Bullying As Well
Kids may not always recognize teasing as bullying. Some kids also may be too embarrassed or ashamed to talk to their parents about it.

That’s why it’s important to talk about online and digital behavior before your child starts interacting with others online and with devices, as this article from Common Sense Media suggests. 

Additional Resources

Click here to access the California State PTA’s bullying prevention resources, which include advice about preparing your kid for going online or getting a cell phone, and advice about what to do if you know he or she has been bullied online.

Click here to access National PTA bullying prevention resources and an informative podcast that includes strategies for supporting children who are bullied and offers advice to parents who have learned that their child is doing the bullying.

PACER provides innovative resources for students, parents, educators, and others related to bullying prevention, including a report on the latest statistics.

The Stopbullying.gov website also provides valuable information on bullying prevention.

Do you have more questions?  Email CommunityConcerns@capta.org

PTA leaders can spread hope and vital information to people affected by suicide

by Derby Pattengill, Vice President for Health and Community Concerns

Over the last year and a half, we have faced a pandemic, combined with a massive experiment in remote schooling, a racial justice movement stemming from police killings of Black Americans, as well as economic and political instability.  These events will have long-term effects on the mental health of students, teachers, school administrators and staff, parents, family members, friends, and acquaintances. We must make the time now to take care of ourselves and take care of each other.

Suicidal thoughts, much like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. In fact, suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. Suicidal thoughts, although common, should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues.

Even before 2020, our young people were particularly vulnerable to having such thoughts. National data indicated that while 4.8% of all adults had serious thoughts of suicide, the same was true for 18.8% of high school students and 11.8% of young adults aged 18 to 25. Perhaps most alarming, nearly half of lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students had serious thoughts of suicide. 


Did you know?

Individual Impact of Suicide:

  • 78% of all people who die by suicide are male.
  • Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4x more likely to die by suicide.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10–34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.
  • The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35% since 1999.
  • 46% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition.
  • While nearly half of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition, research shows that 90% experienced symptoms.

Community Impact of Suicide:

  • Some of the highest rates of suicide in the U.S. are among American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic white communities.
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are 4x more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth.
  • Transgender adults are nearly 12x more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for people held in local jails.

(Data from CDC, NIMH and other select sources.)


What Can I Do?

If you think a friend or family member is considering suicide, you might be afraid to bring up the subject.  Don’t be afraid.  

Talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life.  Talking about suicide will not give the person ideas about death.  The opposite is true–bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.  The truth is, we can all benefit from honest conversations about mental health conditions and suicide, because just one conversation can change a life.

Tell the person that you are worried about them.  Mention the warning signs you have noticed.  Ask the person if they are thinking about suicide.  If they say they are feeling hopeless or considering suicide, take them seriously.

Listen with empathy and provide support.  Express concern and reassure the person. Someone who is experiencing emotional pain or suicidal thoughts can feel isolated, even with family and friends around.

Get informed about mental health and suicide prevention. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) provides clear, helpful information on several topics:

If you need more information, referrals, or support, contact the NAMI HelpLine or visit www.SuicidePreventionLifeline.org

Know what to do in case of a crisis. 

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
  • If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
  • If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

Help the person create a safety plan. A safety plan is a written list of coping strategies and sources of support for people who are at high risk for suicide, and it can help guide them through a crisis and keep them safe.  Make sure the person you care about keeps the plan easily accessible in case they have thoughts of hurting themselves.

Share information about suicide prevention with your school community. Learn more at www.capta.org/suicide-prevention. This page offers tips for knowing the signs of suicide, how to find the words to talk about suicide, and highlights the advocacy work PTA has done on this topic on behalf of our members.   

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Sponsored by NAMI, it is a time to raise awareness on this stigmatized, and often taboo, topic. We can use this month to spread hope and vital information to people affected by suicide. It’s an ideal time to make sure that members of your community and your PTA have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and to seek help.

CONQUERING ANXIETY AS WE ALL HEAD BACK TO SCHOOL

by Mary Perry, California State PTA Board of Managers

All over California, the back-to-school ritual has begun. This year, of course, that ritual is so different. For many students and families, it’s the first time in more than a year that in-person school has even happened.

We hear a multitude of opinions about how to keep schools safe. Governor Newsom issued an executive order calling for universal vaccinations and/or Covid testing at every school. We also have a minority of people agitating against taking safety precautions at all – no vaccines, no masking, no social distancing.

Does it all have you feeling anxious and confused?

There are some great resources available to help you and others in your PTA conquer that anxiety. 

Thankfully, the California Department of Education, the California Department of Public Health, and the U.S. Education Department are all providing solid, research-based information that can guide your actions. And in every case they have created resources directed to parents that are clear, relevant, and informative. We are trying to collect many of those resources on our California State PTA Covid 19 page, but frankly it’s hard to keep up with all that is happening. So in this blog I just want to give you the latest.

Get Vaccinated
The California Department of Education is going all in on encouraging every school staff member, every parent, and every student age 12 and older to get vaccinated. On August 11, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond hosted this Facebook Live session to do just that. [link: https://www.facebook.com/CAEducation/videos/980031342834502/ ]  The main advice: make a date to vaccinate!

Research on COVID and Kids
One of the most informative (and comforting) pieces of information I’ve seen is from the California Department of Public Health. Dr. Naomi Bardach is the lead for the CA Safe Schools for All project and website. (The parent page is also available here in Spanish.) She recently summarized research that is giving health experts confidence about schools reopening. Her key points:

  • Children get COVID19 less often and are less ill than adults
  •  Children most often get COVID19 from a household adult, even when attending school
  •  Schools can operate safely and successfully when key safety measures – such as masks — are in place

Dr. Bardach also explained why kids in general are less likely to get Covid-19 or to get a serious case if they do become infected. Our bodies have these ACE2 receptors, which act like doorways to let the virus into our cells. Adults have developed a lot of these receptors but children have fewer, and the younger a child is the fewer receptors or doorways they have. The virus just doesn’t have as many places where it can enter a child’s body.

Return to School Roadmap
The US Education Department has created a Return to School Roadmap, with a web-page specifically for parents. Their Parent Checklist provides straightforward advice on how parents can make sure their kids are safe as school reopens. The key items on that list include:

  • Make a plan for eligible children to get vaccinated
  • Talk to your school about health and safety protocols
  • If your child isn’t eligible yet for a vaccine, talk with them about strategies to keep them safe at school
  • Make a plan to access safe transportation to and from school
  • Talk to your child’s teacher about your child’s needs

A crucial concern for kids and adults is the impact that the pandemic has had on our mental health, sense of security, and trust in the future. Those social and emotional issues, and what we all can do to address them, will be the subject of another article soon.

Until then, get informed, stay calm, and make a date to vaccinate!

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

The goal of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (#NEDAwareness) is to shine the spotlight on eating disorders by educating the public, spreading a message of hope, and putting lifesaving resources into the hands of those in need.

Every Body Has a Seat at the Table. In a field where marginalized communities continue to be underrepresented, conversations on raising awareness, challenging systemic biases, and sharing stories from all backgrounds and experiences are welcomed.

For more information and to build a movement to raise awareness and support those affected by eating disorders, visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-involved/nedawareness

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What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are mental health conditions marked by an obsession with food or body shape.  They can affect anyone but are most prevalent among young women.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders may be caused by several factors including genetics, brain biology, personality traits, and cultural ideals.

  • One factor is genetics. Twin and adoption studies involving twins who were separated at birth and adopted by different families provide some evidence that eating disorders may be hereditary. This type of research has generally shown that if one twin develops an eating disorder, the other has a 50% likelihood of developing one too.
  • Personality traits are another cause. In particular, neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity are three personality traits often linked to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder.
  • Other potential causes include perceived pressures to be thin, cultural preferences for thinness, and exposure to media promoting such ideals. Certain eating disorders appear to be mostly nonexistent in cultures that haven’t been exposed to Western ideals of thinness.
  • More recently, experts have proposed that differences in brain structure and biology may also play a role in the development of eating disorders.

Neuroticism: Defined as a tendency toward anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and other negative feelings.

Perfectionism: Defined as the need to be or appear to be perfect, or even to believe that it’s possible to achieve perfection. It is typically viewed as a positive trait rather than a flaw

Impulsivity: Defined as a tendency to act on a whim, displaying behavior characterized by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences.

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/common-eating-disorders

Common Types of Eating Disorders and their Symptoms

Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia nervosa may limit their food intake or compensate for it through various purging behaviors. They have an intense fear of gaining weight, even when severely underweight.  Many people with anorexia are often preoccupied with constant thoughts about food, and some may obsessively collect recipes or hoard food.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health condition characterized by obsessions which lead to compulsive behaviors. People often double check to make sure they’ve locked the front door or always wear their lucky socks on game days.  OCD goes beyond double checking something or practicing a game day ritual.  Someone diagnosed with OCD feels compelled to act out certain rituals repeatedly, even if they don’t want to — and even if it complicates their life unnecessarily.

Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia nervosa eat large amounts of food in short periods of time, then purge. They fear gaining weight despite being at a normal weight.  Bulimia tends to develop during adolescence and early adulthood and appears to be less common among men than women.

Binge Eating Disorder

People with binge eating disorder regularly and uncontrollably consume large amounts of food in short periods of time.  Unlike people with other eating disorders, they do not purge.

Binge eating disorder is believed to be one of the most common eating disorders, especially in the United States.  It typically begins during adolescence and early adulthood, although it can develop later on.  Individuals with this disorder have symptoms similar to those of bulimia or the binge eating subtype of anorexia.

Pica

Individuals with pica tend to crave and eat non-food substances. This disorder may particularly affect children, pregnant women, and individuals with mental disabilities.  Individuals with pica crave non-food substances, such as ice, dirt, soil, chalk, soap, paper, hair, cloth, wool, pebbles, laundry detergent, or cornstarch.  Individuals with pica may be at an increased risk of poisoning, infections, gut injuries, and nutritional deficiencies.  Depending on the substances ingested, pica may be fatal.

Rumination Disorder

Rumination disorder can affect people at all stages of life.  People with the condition generally regurgitate the food they’ve recently swallowed.  Then, they chew it again and either swallow it or spit it out.  This disorder can develop during infancy, childhood, or adulthood. In infants, it tends to develop between 3–12 months of age and often disappears on its own. Children and adults with the condition usually require therapy to resolve it.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder that causes people to undereat.  This is either due to a lack of interest in food or an intense distaste for how certain foods look, smell, or taste.   Although ARFID generally develops during infancy or early childhood, it can persist into adulthood. What’s more, it’s equally common among men and women. Individuals with this disorder experience disturbed eating either due to a lack of interest in eating or distaste for certain smells, tastes, colors, textures, or temperatures.

Purging disorder

Individuals with purging disorder often use purging behaviors, such as vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, or excessive exercising, to control their weight or shape. However, they do not binge.

 Night eating syndrome

Individuals with this syndrome frequently eat excessively, often after awakening from sleep.

For more information on eating disorders:

https://www.healthline.com/health/ocd/social-signs#ocpd-vs-ocd

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/eating-disorders/what-are-eating-disorders

Advice on Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle – During COVID-19, and Year-Round

Although we’ve all learned a lot over the last eight months about how to stay healthy in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, we wanted to take this opportunity to remind you of the importance of maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle year round.

Exercise Regularly. Keep your families’ bodies moving! Encourage your children to exercise. Staying physically fit can boost endorphins and help you feel more optimistic while sheltering in place. There are plenty of exercises and activities you can all do from the comfort of your own home, or out together as a family, while still maintaining social distancing:

  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Workout videos
  • Dancing
  • Video game workouts

Eat Healthy. Fuel your body with healthy foods. Moving our bodies is only half the battle when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. Provide your family’s immune systems with food that will fight back, especially since the Coronavirus is still a big risk:

  • Citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C and help increase white blood cells, which are key in fighting infections.
  • Red bell peppers contain almost 3 times the amount of vitamin C of an orange.
  • Garlic adds flavor to your food and has valuable immune-boosting properties thanks to its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.
  • Yogurt has live and active cultures that help stimulate the immune system. Plus it’s also packed with vitamin D which helps fight diseases.

Be Mindful of Mental Health.

  • Find ways to interact with others while complying with social distancing rules. Lack of everyday social interaction can take a toll on our mental health.
  • Check in with your children with regard to their mental health on a daily basis, and be proactive about managing emotions.
  • Schedule online meet-ups with friends and family members on a regular basis.
  • Make sure your family is maintaining hobbies that they enjoy. An idle mind has the potential to wander to a negative space, so have your children fill that time with something they love to do. Then, better yet, have them teach you about it!
  • Staying educated about your family’s health is a lifelong process.

For more information, visit:

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