Is Your Child THE BULLY? 5 things every parent must do NOW!

Dear Blog,

Happy New Year…I only wish my heart was happy as I write these words this morning. The title of this blog literally pulled me up from bed, begging to be written, so here goes.

We see them on the news every day, we see them on social media every time we look at our handheld devices. Headlines: “X-year-old boy hangs himself, X year old girl found hanging in her closet” “X-year-old teen dies from self-inflicted injuries”. The headlines are not the problem though, read a few lines down and you will see them, the unmistakable words “after years or months or even weeks of being bullied” BEING BULLIED? by whom you ask yourself, then it never fails, the words, by his or her peers follows every time, and I am sick of it!

I am sick of the fact that small children are now more pre-occupied with bullying each other than playing in the sandbox or with their X-Box. Even when they do play in said sandbox or on the X-Box, they are bullying each other. They are teasing each other, they are making fun of each other, and not in a nice way, in the worst possible ways, saying the worst possible things to themselves. I often speak of how another 12-year-old child once told my then 12-year-old son “when God made you, He left you too long in the oven and you got burned” referring to his skin color. How does a 12-year-old come up with those words? Sadly, the vocabulary is now even worse, they have now progressed to calling names like “bitch” and “slut” and phrases like “go kill yourself”, and “die now” as in the case of McKenzie Adams, a 9-year-old child from Alabama who hung herself in her closet last December after months of bullying by other 9-year-olds. 9-year-olds? What do they know? How did they come up with so much meanness and hatred in their hearts and mouths and fingers? Where will a 9-year-old child find such racist statements as those that were repeatedly uttered to this poor little girl? Where are their parents when all of this is happening? Who are these people?

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As if that were not bad enough, just yesterday, the news broke about little Seven Bridges, a 10-year-old boy who not only had a medical condition that required him to wear a colostomy bag (and need multiple surgeries to live) about which he was repeatedly teased, he was allegedly called the N-word and “choked” on the bus by his “bus-buddy” for simply being himself. Where do I start? Who are these 10-year-olds and who are their parents and family members? What examples are we setting for them? How are we handling our home environments? Where are they learning this hatred from? What exactly is going on in our homes, in their heads, in their hearts?

It is easy to blame the teachers and counselors and the school system for not “checking the bullying at school”, but what about at home? What is happening there? Are we as parents now simply having children and leaving them to be raised by others? As a part of the village it takes to raise children, I must say, it is not my primary responsibility to raise yours for you, just as it is not yours to raise mine. We MUST as parents, stop and retrace our steps. We MUST accept our own responsibilities and accept the roles we are playing or not playing when it comes to raising our kids right. We MUST accept our own fair share of blame and then, maybe, we can seek to rectify. We MUST as a matter of urgency resist the urge to play the blame game. Enough already.

Earlier this week, the news broke about the suicide streak in Australian teen girls, a total of 5 girls aged 12-15 years have taken their lives since the beginning of this year, 2019. Blaming everything from child abuse and neglect, to sexual abuse, to poverty and even poor governance, nowhere does this article mention bullying, however, Rochelle Pryor’s last Facebook post clearly stated: “once I’m gone, the bullying and racism will stop”. This shows that even when reported, the news can sometimes be skewed, further compounding the problem and delaying any solutions.

As a pediatrician, child advocate and teen expert, the least I can do is join my voice with others trying to make a difference, to put an end to bullying by our children, at school, at home, at work, and wherever else it might be. Here are five (5) things every parent must do, today, now, in order to help in the fight to end suicide from bullying.

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TALK to yourself. Start at home. Check your life. It is the mirror through which your children look at life. How are you living it? What kind of language are you using when you refer to people of other races, or other convictions different from yours? Is there some domestic violence or abuse going on in the home? Is there name calling? Are you putting yourselves down in front of your children? Do you argue a lot? Should you be in counseling? Do you speak to your children about what they should not be doing or saying in school? Do you even know your children and who they hang out with at school or at play? We must realize that if our kids are the bullies, it might not all be their faults. They might be needing some love, we might be needing to change the way we are doing things at home. They might need counseling or therapy. I recommend we watch this 2006 movie about 5th graders called “how to eat fried worms“, it touches on bullying at home and some of its consequences.

TALK to your children. We are going to have to tackle these questions head-on. Ask them the question directly, “are you a bully at school, on the bus, at the playground, on the internet, in your group chat?” Explain in the simplest terms what you mean by those words. My youngest son was a member of a group chat where some name-calling was going on one time, I saw it when I looked through his phone. I addressed it, made him report it to the school authorities, and he lost his phone privileges. He had not participated in the name-calling, but he had said nothing in the child’s defense either. 70% of children are bystanders when bullying is going on. The child being picked on in the group chat has Tourette’s syndrome, a disability he cannot help. And my child’s behavior was not good enough for me. Ask your child if he or she is bullied, or if they are bystanders when bullying is going on. Ask them what they do if or when they observe bullying going on. Now, if your child is neither the victim nor the bystander, maybe he or she is the bully. Go through your child’s room and their things, see if they happen to have stuff that does not belong to them. This might be a sign.

TALK to their friends. This means we have to know their friends, and better yet, their friends’ parents. When my youngest son David, 14, had some issues with bullying at school, (he was having a hard time transitioning after his two brothers went off to college) one of his friends’ had told his mom, who in turn told me. He had taken someone else’s lunch and eaten it, and lied about it, among other things. Ask their friends directly if they are bullies, or if they know any bullies in the neighborhood, or if they themselves are bullies. We must be seen as part of the community when it comes to raising our children. I had to have a chit-chat with David’s friends a few weeks ago after I overheard him say to David, “if you don’t come out and play ball with me, then you are gay”. I was like, “what?” Apparently, the kid had wanted to play ball with him but David had made an excuse about having to finish up his homework and needed a rain check. After a little tet-a-tet with the young lad, we fist-bumped and I went along my way, content that at least for that moment, I had stopped that line of thinking.

TALK to the school. Yes, of course, the school is the extension of the home. After taking care of the home front, we must engage the school. Most of the parents of these children we read about had frequent engagements with their kids’ schools. We have to ensure that the school sees us as a present parent. You must be all about your child’s business. Get to know your child’s teachers, get to know the counselors. Get to know their coaches, their dance instructors, their tutors. Anyone who imparts any kind of knowledge on your child you should get to know. Believe me, that will make a huge difference in the end. Imagine your child was about to bully someone, the fact that they know – you know their teachers so well will put a bit of a hindrance on that tendency. Furthermore, the teachers will be your second set of eyes and ears when it comes to guidance and assistance with your child. Having an alliance with your child’s teacher can only be a good thing. Unfortunately, we hear lots of stories of how the schools in some cases claim they had no idea any bullying was going on. Like the case of 8-year-old Gabriel who was knocked out in the school bathroom by bullies a few days before he hung himself.

TALK to a healthcare provider. If you do find out that your child is the bully (and believe me, this happened to me) Talk to someone. Talk to someone right away. Get them counseling. That made a huge difference in my child. It helped us realize and understand the reasons behind his actions. There are licensed therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and pediatricians like me waiting to help you and your child. I understand that we never want to believe our children are capable of such horrific acts we read about in the news, but, they are. We have to change our mindset about that. We must do the needful and help them because the bully often resorts to that behavior as a result of their own inside pain and stress and trauma and insecurities. They too sometimes may have been a victim and as such, need some love and understanding and care. Let us remember that babies are born, innocent, then life happens. We do not of all things want to be the parent of the child who was in any way responsible for the death of another. So, pick up the phone, make that appointment and speak to a healthcare provider about your child, the bully, you’d be glad you did.

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BB

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4 Teen Girls

Dear Blog,

After a month-long hiatus from my Rideshare seat, I finally got to do some Uberizing this past weekend.

Oh, you didn’t think a doctor could be a Rideshare driver? Dude, I have heard about company executives doing just that, try it, you just might like it. You can thank me later.

Dr. Lulu’s Rideshare began as some sort of a dare. My eldest son at Stanford was spending so much money on Rideshares at school, that I was like, “son, with all this money you are spending on Uber and Lyft you should probably be driving Uber to help your mama out when you come home on your vacations”. He agreed in theory, but in the end, since he was too young to sign up, he said, “mom, you are over 21, why don’t you sign up?” you love to meet people, and you love talking. One thing led to the other, and I found myself driving Uber/Lyft, and totally LOVING it! The “funnest” part has been the facial expressions I get from most people when I tell them what my “day job” is. It is so different, yet similar, to my life in a white coat. I ask questions, I listen to stories and I give feedback. And with all the talk about physician burn out, this has indeed been a much-needed stress reliever for me personally, I can go incognito, or I can go as myself, but in the end, it is has been about the people and their stories.

So, buckle up and enjoy the ride… my Uber tales.

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After class that Friday (I am currently getting my executive MBA at UTSA), I picked up a family headed to the Alamodome for the UTSA vs Texas State game, go RUNNERS! As it turned out, they were from out of town and were going to watch their first ever live college football game! I was delighted simply to be their preferred mode of transportation. Their excitement was palpable. And in the 18-20 minutes, it took for the ride, I got to listen and learn from one of them basically breaking down the game of football to all of us; from interceptions to fumbles, to 6-point touchdowns to Hail Marys and field goals, and everything in between. I gladly shared that my sons played instruments in their respective high school marching bands, so I have heard those words often thrown around, but never really knew their meanings. I thanked them for the free lesson. First clients for the day… that, went well.

Next, were about 3 short trips around the downtown area, mostly to the game or to hotels around town… I was so glad to finally pick up clients headed out of the downtown area… all those one-way streets, road closures, and human traffic can give a girl a slight headache. The passengers, 2 girls both dressed in black skimpies, destination, Still Golden, a bar on Broadway Street. They appeared irritated and annoyed about something. They spoke in Spanish to each other in short sentences. They were either not in the mood for banter, or had had enough for the day, I was only too happy to leave the downtown area, so I was totally cool with their demeanor. After one wrong exit, and a U-turn, I eventually made it to their destination, they got out and said their thank yous. I kind of sensed that wrong turn did not help their moods too much, but oh well, it was all good by me. Next, I picked up a very happy group of middle-agers going only 1 1/2 miles up the road but didn’t wish to walk. I said, “hop in, and I will gladly take you”. During our short but interesting convo, they were very content to encourage me and my side-hustle and blessed my day with their presence. The main lady has just moved to San Antonio and is wishing to learn as much about the town as she can. We exchanged similar stories about raising teens in midlife and memories. Her, two boys and a girl, are about the same age as my tres hijos. Driving down Broadway, I mentioned that the Witte museum was actually around the corner from their destination. As soon as I said that, we drove up to it, and I pointed it out, to which she eagerly exclaimed… “I have been meaning to go there and visit!”, and I laughed aloud at her reaction as I responded, “so now you know exactly where it is, you should”. We bade each other a joyous farewell, and I drove on.

Next, I went back to the apartments across from Still Golden to pick up a young millennial couple heading up to the Japanese Tea Gardens. Ironically, I had observed the male of the pair earlier while dropping off the girls in black. He was walking back to his apartment building, his little dog trotting behind him. I don’t know why I singled him out in my people watching exercise, but I did. He was dressed in a well-ironed or maybe wrinkle-free white collar shirt, turn up blue jeans and a pair of loafers. He looked fresh and clean. Something about him reminded me of my eldest son…was it the turn-up jeans, the little dog he was walking or just the air of LGBT about him? I will never know, but when I picked him and his woman up, I shrugged and let the thoughts go. They informed me that the annual San Antonio Jazz Alive festival was going on at Travis park downtown. I exclaimed and offered that my eldest son and his Jazzy friends the “Four O’clock Five” had performed there only 2 years ago, I had noticed evidence of activity at the park earlier while driving through the streets of downtown, but did not know what was going on. This mention of music playing by my son sparked off keen interest from Mr. White-collar-shirt.. He eagerly asked me what instrument my son plays, and that led to a lively discussion about Flutes, Trumpets, rival football games between Brandeis high school and O’Connor high school, state competitions, marching band competitions as well as the Battle of the Band competitions in San Antonio etc. He joyfully shared that he had played the Tuba at Reagan high school. I smile and ask him if he still plays, sadly he said he hasn’t “in a while”, and I encourage him to start again. In hindsight, I guess it was the musical-instrument-playingness of him that I had sensed earlier while he walked his dog…

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Driving people to and from their various destinations always gives me a mix of emotions, but every now and then, I pick up the occasional unlikely ally… like the older couple that I picked up from the airport. They offered that they haven’t been to San Antonio “in a while” and are here for what they described as a “long weekend”. I enjoyed watching the excited energy with which they entered my car, they made some nice comments about its cleanliness and nice smell and thanked me for picking them up. During our very light-hearted discusses, it came to light that the lady works as an assistant program director of a family practice residency program in Virginia. When I explained that I am a not only a Pediatrician, but I lived in Northern Virginia during my residency training at Howard University, she excitedly wanted to hear more about me. I smiled and shared a very truncated version of my story to date, she was so happy that I am following my passion and not letting anything stand in my way, that she promised to get her program director to invite me to speak to their residents about physician burnout and of course, depression and suicide in young adults. Wow! I smiled widely, looked up to the heavens, offered a wink, and whispered: “thank you”.

I believe the highlight of my night, however, was the young teen couple I picked up to take home from the game. Though San Antonio dwellers, the young girl, and her beau attend Texas State University at San Marcos. They were leaving early because according to her, the game was “pretty much over, and UTSA was pounding Texas State. She, however, cheered up when I asked her about school, and she, in turn, asked me if I had any children. I informed her that I have two in college, and one in middle school. She probed further. Wanting to know what high schools they had attended, and what schools they attended. My responses started an avalanche of excited exclamations from the two of us! She, a junior was glad to know my eldest is also a junior. However, her joy settled in when she realized he not only attended Brandeis high school, but he is at Stanford where her very best friend also attends school! She exclaimed that she was on her way to visit with him in October for her annual game day visit. I told her I might even know the kid a few moments later, it turns out I described her friend to the tee! This tickled her pink as she declared that was him! Right there in the car, she texted him and told him all about it!! Teens, what a breath of fresh air. I ended the trip by giving her young heart a hug and wishing her all the very best in life.

My last clients were 4 teenagers that had requested UbeX, all girls. I figured their ages were between16 and 19 years. One of them is in college, the other three are in high school. I enjoyed listening to their excited banter about who was coming to the party, who wasn’t, how they planned to crash another party after the first party and so on. Luckily, their destination was at The Dominion, a huge neighborhood on my side of town, home to some of the San Antonio Spurs players, their coach, and a host of other crème-de-la-crop. Prices of some of the homes begin in double-digit millions. One of the girls complimented me on my car, another complimented me on my hairpins, both made me smile, and renewed my faith in the younger generation of women. We somehow started talking about the need for us women to always uplift each other, and naturally, that was a golden opportunity for me to talk about teen depression and teen suicide. I ended up making them promise me they would always be kind to each other. We arrive at the neighborhood gates, and I discover, none of them had their IDs… what? I shook my head and smiled. Luckily, the security detail at the gate noticed my Air Force Veteran plate and shared that she had been in the Navy. We bumped fists, I gave her a knowing wink, identified myself as the Uber driver, showed her my ID, she thanked me for my service to this country, and the gates opened up. Phew!

Hopefully, you have a smile on your face, as you finish reading this piece. Hopefully, now that you know a little more about Rideshare driving, you agree with me that, indeed, life is always about the stories, the faces, the beating hearts, the people…

 

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BB

“Be proud of who you are and not ashamed of how someone else sees you”

 

PS : Happy to announce that my blog was featured on the Top 40 Women Lifestyle Blogs in 2018, check it out here