Sunday, November 26, 2017

Own your past and it can't haunt you

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

My past is always haunting me and no one is letting me change.

I live in a small town. My big family is full of wealthy alcoholics.

When I was in high school, I partied wildly and became Homecoming Queen. I thought I had it made when I married a high school football star.

Wrong-o! He was mean and abusive to me and our three kids. One time I fought back and the police came. One officer knew us from high school and told us to “knock it off.” I was embarrassed, so I never reported any more altercations — until the night my son got into an argument with his dad, who threw a beer at him. I called the police again.

My sister was over and took my husband’s side. It was a mess.

I got a divorce and custody.

Then I moved, went to nursing school and now work at a hospital. My kids are grown and we’re close. I’m a completely different person now, but I can’t stop thinking about it all.

My sister tells people how terrible I “really” am. She knows some of my new friends and they told me how she’s trashing me.

She’s relentless about trying to destroy me and I dread her visits. I can’t sleep thinking about how she’s ruining my new reputation.

Haunted by my past

Dear Haunted,

We have a saying: “If you own your past, your past can’t haunt you.” This may feel like a difficult thing to do, however, it’s freeing.

Develop simple statements like:

• “My family has alcoholism running through it, and my past was rocky, until I decided to change it for the better. I’m so happy I made that decision.” (This acknowledges that you make your own choices and you’re in control of your happiness.)

• “Everyone has skeletons in their past, so I had a nice long talk with mine. Now there’s nothing in my closet but nurse’s uniforms.” (With a sense of humor, you diffuse the ugliness in your past.)

• “Healthy relationships are what’s most important to me in life. I’ve had unhealthy ones in my past, and I’m glad I’ve learned to discern the difference.” (This lets your new friends know that you desire to choose honest, loving and caring relationships.)

To your sister: “I’m not a threat to you, and my past is not a threat to me. If you can’t treat me with respect, then don’t visit.”

Bullies who haunt people with their past haven’t learned what you know: You can own your past so it can’t own you.

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Bully revenge: does it work?

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,
I’ve been looking at your website and advice columns. I subscribe to your podcast and find it’s something useful I can do on the run.

I have two daughters in middle school. I received a text from another mother at their school, saying one of my daughters is bullying her girl.

I confronted my accused daughter. She admitted she’s been mean to the girl. She said she’s mad at how that girl is treating her sister. My daughters are close and protective.

My accused daughter said they’ve both been treated badly by this girl and her friends.

Was the girl just being cruel, or was she bullying my daughters?

My accused daughter seems to hide her hurt and pain by being mean back to the girl.

I’m at a loss on how she should handle the girl, because the girl was mean to her sister. I don’t want her striking back.

I want to be able to guide my daughters, but not take over for them. I don’t want the situation to get worse.

Advice would be welcome!

Need advice

Dear Mom,

Statistically, students (especially middle schoolers) feel adults respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage believing adult help is infrequent and ineffective.

So, well done Mom! You’re seeking help and taking action!

Responding to another parent who accuses your child of bullying or being “mean” is a tricky thing. You don’t want to inflame the situation by having a heated discussion about who is the aggressor.

Bullying means there is an aggressive, imbalanced, demonstration of power. It also means it’s continually and consistently harmful. Bullying includes threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone and excluding someone from a group.

It sounds like your daughter or daughters were, indeed, bullied. Mean behavior is usually a one-time action with less serious ramifications.

“Bully revenge” is not a successful option because the bully-victim (one who was bullied and then becomes a bully to get back at her perpetrator) will never “win.”

Revenge never settles “scores.” It becomes, instead, a constant war of hateful words and actions.

Parents, please:

• Avoid ignoring the situation or immediately trying to fix everything

• Speak with your spouse and then consult an objective adult, mediator, or professional

• Then speak with your kids as a family and separate facts and feelings – make a plan

• Take your plan to a trusted teacher or principal and incorporate their advice into your plan

It’s not about blaming and shaming someone; everyone is a stakeholder and everyone needs to make positive improvements.

This will encourage healthy relationships that include civility: consideration, care, and courtesy.

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Unique, just like everyone else

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

Our son went into high school and suddenly he is hanging out with kids who do drugs and drink. He said he doesn’t.

He dresses in wild ways. Like shredded jeans, which I threw away.

He came home with green hair one day.

His father and I had a conversation with him about his new friends and the way they have made him change. We also brought up his rather disappointing report card.

He got angry at us and said we don’t appreciate his “uniqueness.” His dad told him he wasn’t unique, he was just like everyone else he’s been hanging around with. He glared at his dad and flipped his hands through his greasy green hair. His dad said, “What’s unique about having bad grades?”

Our son said we don’t know how special he is and said he was treated badly by most of his teachers too, just because he’s different.

How do we make him change back to the way he was? He was actually unique in having eclectic interests, such as art and science. He won awards in science fairs. He was a Boy Scout and he also played in a garage band. What happened?

Confused parents

Dear Confused,

Many teens, including your son, may feel powerful and less vulnerable when they use uniqueness as a cop-out. Your son may feel he can avoid consequences by declaring he’s so unique that he (unlike his new friends) can resist using drugs or alcohol.

However, fashion is different than drugs. Resist throwing away his clothing. Show him you are reasonable.

Experience shows that sooner, rather than later, he will likely feel he is so unique that he can do drugs and drink alcohol and not experience the bad consequences that will inevitably follow.

The reality of his choices will lead to the same results as his friends’, such as bad grades and getting into trouble with authority.

He, unfortunately, chose a common reaction — victimhood. He’s claiming social injustice because he is so unique that you and the whole world can’t understand him. That’s his justification for not taking responsibility for not studying or following directives.

Decide not to engage in arguments over his perceived uniqueness. He will figure out that victimhood doesn’t work as he matures.

Give him boundaries like the following:

• He will be well groomed every day

• He will do given assignments at school

• He’s responsible for asking you if he may go places, and where he’ll be

• Help him develop his real, unique talents which will express his individuality

Finally, no one “makes” anyone change — everyone has choices.

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Bullying and school attacks

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

My next door neighbor’s daughter is in my daughter’s classes at school. They used to be friends until high school.

The girl told our Homecoming-queen daughter she was jealous of her last year. Our daughter didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing. The girl accused our daughter of being “just like everyone else who was mean to her.” Our daughter said she was sorry the girl was being treated badly.

Her mom, our neighbor, called us and said our daughter was bullying their daughter and could we please do something about it before their daughter retaliated against all the kids who hurt her.

We took that as a threat and called the police. We were surprised that the police found weapons and home-made explosives under the girl’s bed. They also found a journal talking about our daughter and how she didn’t stand up for her and that she was going to “get it.” Also named in her journal were fourteen other students, some teachers, and “the whole school.”

They arrested the girl. She was put into a psychiatric ward and released a month later. Needless to say, the mom and the daughter don’t talk with us anymore.

We’re nervous that the girl could do something else. What should we do?

Mom of dangerous neighbors

Dear Mom,

This serious situation warrants continuous caution, although authorities are very aware now and your neighbor is probably facing charges.

Besides being vigilant with your neighbors, stay in touch with the police and school. Let them know about any communication that may seem threatening and aggressive.

Keep journals and document everything. Help your daughter to feel free from the worry of harm.

Showing fear to the girl next door will empower her. Say hello to your neighbors, but don’t engage in conversations.

Applaud your daughter for having the confidence to report the girl next door. You handled the situation as best as possible.

There is a chance that the girl has changed for the better and any mental illness is addressed.
More than half of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the victim. Taking action and not standing by helps convince other students to do the same.

Recent U.S. statistics show:
70.6 percent of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools.
70.4 percent of school staff members have witnessed bullying.
62 percent of students witnessed bullying two or more times in the last 30 days.
41 percent see bullying once a week or more.
And finally, when bystanders intervene, bullying usually stops within 10 seconds.

Certainly, get professional help for your family.

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri