Bullying: The real truth about social media

Schools take zero tolerance for bullying

New Braintree, MA I first looked at bullying in 2013 when I had transitioned from a high school where I practiced for 2 years. Bullying has been recognized as a significant factor in social development in terms of the negative impact that has been shown on victims of this repetitive intimidation and harassment.  The underlying dynamic results from an imbalance of power among peers that has been linked to risk of adolescent suicide.  Schools here in Massachusetts are taking a zero tolerance for bullying. Arguably, school districts across America have developed programs to combat bullies and reign them back into the social main stream but modern day bullying goes far beyond the playground. Some school districts offer mediation for bullies and victims with mixed results.  When I served as a school psychologist in 2010, members of faculty were surveyed regularly by the principal about students they feared were being bullied and those who were doing the bullying but little was done to intervene.

Bullying has been an issue for children throughout time. I was bullied in grade 4.  Now, with much dependence on social media and text messaging the problem of bullying has grown and is more powerful than ever.  Students were once free from intimidation and the impact of bullying once they returned home.  They could relax and allow the day’s torment to wash away.  But with intimidating text messages and social media posts being sent and received almost 24 hours a day the true impact of bullying and the stress of being bullied can be a round the clock threat and humiliation.

15-year old Phoebe Prince killed herself after weeks of intense, humiliating rumors and threats that psychologically wore her down.  “The investigation revealed relentless activity directed toward Phoebe designed to humiliate her and to make it impossible for her to remain at school,” District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said according to New York Daily News in 2010.  Phoebe and her family moved to South Hadley, MA from Ireland.  Almost as soon as she arrived in South Hadley she was preyed upon by the older boys and relentlessly humiliated by the girls in the form of text messages, physical taunts, and covert threats that arrived on her cell phone around the clock.  Several months into this relentless torment Phoebe hanged herself at home.  The social media humiliation became too much.  This 15-year old Irish teen could not tolerate the vicious rumors, threats, and hostility simply because she was different.  She was new.

By outward appearance the school did what they could but the system failed miserably – as it has with too many other children.  Phoebe could not get away from the lies and rumors being cast by other students her age.  Phoebe’s parents never knew the truth of the impact of social media on their child’s suicide.  Most of us don’t know what impact a subtle post and running thread can have on an uncertain mind.  Fear and intimidation may slowly rob the sense of self we each need to be productive and to thrive.   In the moments as she planned for and prepared her final delivery, Phoebe was entirely alone with her anguish.  No person should die this way.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/phoebe-prince-south-hadley-high-school-new-girl-driven-suicide-teenage-cyber-bullies-article-1.165911#ixzz2frrmWV3j

“No player shou…

“No player should return to play on the same day he was injured, and no player should return to play without an individualized return-to-play care plan supervised by a brain injury specialist” Michael Sefton, Ph.D.

It is now well known that rest is the key to recovery following a sports-related concussion.  Post-injury testing is available at the Concussion Assessment and Management Program that may bring to light subtle neurocognitive signs of lingering concussion.  Athletes should be symptom free for 7-10 days prior to beginning a return-to-play plan.  Contact Dr. Sefton for assistance with managing return to play, return to school and return to work when recovering from concussion.

“Fear and intimidation…

“Fear and intimidation may slowly rob the sense of self we each need to be productive and to thrive.” Michael Sefton, Ph.D.

The impact of bullying can not be measured in a single blog.  People carry the scars of bullying with them long into adulthood.  There must be a place in society for all children and families.  The price of becoming marginalized – shunted out of a social milieu – becomes like an encapulated tumor for human development.  It robs the organism of its vitality until death occurs.

“In the end…

“In the end, there is a subset of human beings who behave as they alone choose to behave, without regard for the feelings of others and without regard for the harm they do and the chaos they leave behind.” Michael Sefton, Ph.D.

Writing on topics of human behavior like domestic violence and recent mass shootings.  MIchael Sefton makes an effort to present a view of human behavior some people avoid.

Active shooter evoke images of horror – fear

DC shooting scene taken off news channel

Right now in Washington DC, Metropolitan police officers are searching for the motive to today’s shooting onslaught that took place at a heavily guarded Naval facility in the southeast section of the nation’s capitol.  Arguably, Washington DC has the highest per capita number of law enforcement officers in the country.  Between federal law enforcement agencies like ATF, FBI, National Park police, Capitol police, and the full complement of highly trained Metropolitan officers, the city is well guarded.  Or so we thought.

The active shooter call is one that no officer ever wants to get.  It requires fast action, teamwork, and herculean bravery like no other call.   The “active shooter” refers to just that – ongoing, systematic slaughter of innocent civilians with the specific purpose of violence and murder.  These events start and end quickly averaging only 7-10 minutes before the shooter is dead.  Usually killed by his own hand but not before the execution or injury to scores of men, women and children.   Most police officers have taken the active shooter training programs that evolved after the Columbine HS shooting.  Since then, officers are trained to “move to contact” – go find the bad guy – do not to wait for special weapons teams as the former response zeitgeist once required.  Many behavioral scientists believe shooters give off clues before they act on their violent plans.

The active shooter has become an all too frequent happenstance that we cannot ignore.  In a blog published in April, 2013 information became apparent about Jared Loughner’s change in mental status and growing detachment from others (Sefton, 4-24-13).  People suspected that Loughner was becoming a danger to himself and others.  Unfortunately, there was no in-depth assessment of his mental status before he went on the bloody rampage.  Loughner plead guilty to the Tuscon shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and killing or wounding 18 others.  He is serving 111 years in prison.


The repeated exposure to horrific events  such as the DC Navy base shooting and too many others raise the risk of making toxic our collective conscience toward the images and horror and loss of life.  People feel denuded and afraid when they hear about shooting events such as these but something more needs to be done.  What drives these individuals?  In the coming weeks or months more information about the apparent shooter will become known.  Behavioral experts will make assumptions about his motive and the underpinnings of the violent onslaught.  “The psychological autopsy is a detailed analysis of the pre-incident emotional comportment and behavior of the violent decedent although this is rarely done” according to Michael Sefton.   More of these studies should be undertaken to establish high risk conditions that may create stopping and containment points for derailment of action and greater understanding of those with a proclivity toward terminal violence – such as what happened today.

What is certain is the need for each of us to be more aware of our surroundings and to those who might do us harm.  When confronted with evil it is incumbant upon each of us to think and take aggressive action that may save your own life and the lives of others.

“Falling in with the wrong crowd”

Children need consistent, firm limits with allowance for individual choices that are unique to them, according to author Michael Sefton

In recent weeks there have been a host of noteworthy arrests of juveniles who committed crimes out of bordom including the beating of a 88 year old veteran who was murdered.  How can this happen?  In past generations, when teenage children were bored they play baseball, listened to music, or rode thier bikes.  Some believe adolescents are not equipped to deal with bordom and cannot tolerate having nothing to do.   Some say this is linked to a need for “instant gratification” and hunger for stimulation triggered by computer video games.  That is the subject of on-going debate.  People ask “where are the parents of these children?”

In Spokane, WA police have charged two 16-year old boys with first degree murder for the killing of Delbert Belton, a WW-II veteran.  People have said “there is nothing to do around here in the summer” according to an NBC News report.  The Spokane police chief has called for youth programs to help mentor adolescents and provide appropriate role models.  The uncle of Kenan Adams-Kinard, 16, believed his nephew had fallen in with the wrong crowd and now needed to be responsible for his actions.  Adams-Kenard is charged as an adult with murder.  In Fort Worth, TX, a 13-year old boy was arrested in June for murdering a 5-year old boy who was found bludgeoned to death.   And in Logan, Iowa, a 17 year old boy living in foster care is alleged to have murdered a 5-year old with whom he lived.  That child was found in a nearby ravine.  The motives in each of these cases are not readily apparent.

Michael Sefton, Ph.D., author of The Evil that Kid’s Do suggests that a greater partnership between parents and the community is needed to provide for the emotional needs of teens.  “Gangs and childhood violence result from a dearth of emotional resources and connection to others often compounded by exposure to domestic violence and child abuse” according to Sefton.  Families need greater support than ever but many are living in the fringes.  In The Evil that Kid’s Do, Dr. Sefton identified mentors, treatment for drug dependence, gang intervention, community religion, and keeping guns away from teenagers as possible action for keeping adolescents from becoming bored, angry, and marginalized.  It is true that children who are bored often become frustrated and look for things to do.  But healthy children fill in those blanks with prosocial activity – while angry, marginalized kid’s choose activity based upon underlying drives, tolerance and attachment.

As a police officer we are asked to come to juvenile court to present evidence and testimony in cases we bring forth.  Some are cases of intact families with good support and others may be single parent families and still others are foster families.  Would it surprise you if I said any of these family systems might have perfectly delightful children uninvolved in crime or delinquent behavior.  We see so many of these kinds of families.  In the same way, any of these family systems may produce a dangerous felon or drug dependent addict.  It takes more than an intact family to raise self-confident, curious children who attend school with an appetite for learning.  It takes a parental dyad that sets appropriate limits and model empathy, kindness, and social skills.  Children need to learn what is right and wrong and what behavior will be accepted as they develop.  All human beings make mistakes and should be taught how to succeed and shown forgiveness.