Episode 39: Mental Preparedness for Teens

In this episode of The Family Couch, we talk with Jax Anderson,  a Licensed Professional Counselor in Wisconsin, about teens in relation to bullying and mental preparedness with peers.  She works with teenagers and their parents.  Teenagers present as her clients but ultimately she ends up working with the parents to learn about and understand their children.  

We jump right in and discuss how many parenting styles feed a bullying culture in America.  As parents we often expect children to listen and be respectful and follow the rules but then want them to be creative and think for themselves when they are out in the world.  We discuss that a better way is often to tell the child how you feel about what they are doing to model that behavior instead of the authoritative style.  Anderson mentions a quote from Dr. Dan Siegel, “Adolescents are adults in training.”

Anderson feels that bullying is timeless.  We hear about it more now than ever because of our constant access to information, as well as the fact that there is cyber bullying.  Sometimes light teasing or an unintentional comment may hurt someone’s feelings and they feel that they are being bullied.  Anderson likes to help people understand the difference between bullying or a moment when you are in a fight with a friend or someone looks at your the wrong way.  Bullying is persistent, consistent, intentional harassment to cause someone to feel bad.  A random miscommunication is not bullying.  Often these miscommunications are labeled as bullying.  Communication is more than verbal–it’s body language, tone of voice, etc.  These miscommunications are a perfect opportunity to discuss the art of communication.  Teenagers are not known for thinking before they speak, but we can encourage them to try to think before they speak about how the other person will feel.

We change gears and discuss how gender affects the judgement of feelings.  Anderson mentions that she will hear females say they feel more comfortable talking around their male friends as opposed to their female friends because the females are too judgemental.  Anderson says that boys seem to get over their arguments quicker and move on, whereas the girls tend to hold a grudge longer.  The girls often are comparing themselves to other girls and can be critical of others.  Anderson sees more strategic, manipulative bullying from the girls–passive aggressive behavior, or a look on their face, or an aspect of their body language.  Boys will often just call someone a name or trip someone in the hallway as an example.  Anderson feels that people who are targets of bullying would almost rather be targeted by a boy instead of a girl because often with boys’ bullying what you see is what you get.  

We discuss how Anderson helps teens navigate the emotional stress of being bullied.  She discusses the definition, the timelessness of it, how it’s evolved, etc.  Then she discusses empathy and actually having compassion for a bully.  She describes how bullies are not born that way and are often bullying because they were bullied someplace else.  Anderson is not trying to minimize what they are going through but to help them detach them.  Anderson then helps arm them with tools to help manage the bully and help them feel like they have some control over the situation.  We don’t have to feel sorry for the bully, but it’s good to discuss that the bullying is not about the target but about the bully themselves.  Kids are often told to ignore a bully, get a thicker skin, or tell an adult, but these strategies do not really work.  They put the target in a position of no control.  

We next discuss what parents can do to help.  Anderson suggests first just listening.  Often parents want to jump in and fix the problem, which is well-intended, but does not help.  Listening and validating feelings, then giving them permission to be assertive and stand up for themselves, is most helpful.  If as a parent you have not been able to assert yourself, it is difficult to teach your children.

We finally discuss how bullies can be helped.  Anderson suggests a lot of listening, validating and figuring what is going on that is causing them to take their frustration out on another person.  Often bullies go home and are bullied by someone in their family, so they have to learn how to manage that aspect of their life.  Anderson says it is important to find out what the need is that they are meeting by exerting dominance over another person.  They want to fill their tank by stealing from another’s.  Bullying is often very cyclical–a parent was bullied by someone else, and then they bully their child, and then the child becomes a bully.  They have to be taught to manage their feelings to be able to end the cycle.

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GUEST BIO:

Jax Anderson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of a mental health clinic–A Beautiful Journey, LLC.  She specializes in working with teens and their families but also works with adults in her practice to address mental health concerns.  She deems herself “The Psyko Therapist” in an effort to de-stigmatize and normalize the mental health therapy process using humor, honesty, authenticity, awareness and education.

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CONNECT WITH JAX ANDERSON:

WEBSITE: https://www.psykotherapist.com

YOUTUBE: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCduI5G5H7ecjKp_5cRrit_Q

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/2abeautifuljourney/

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