Parental Favoritism Creates Stress, Anxiety and Depression in Adolescents

It’s very early in the school year and one thing I’ve noticed is that more and more of the students that are getting referred to me for counseling aren’t the typical “bad apples” or “lost” kids, but kids who are good students, are never in trouble, yet are miserable.

How miserable? One cuts herself and thinks about suicide often. Another felt disappointed when she found out she wasn’t pregnant because she thought being pregnant would make her feel alive and purposeful. And one is so depressed that despite appearing to have everything a 17 year old high school girl could ask for, she mopes around campus with her head down.

What do all these students have in common besides being female? They all have a sibling that they are constantly being compared to. A seemingly perfect sibling who makes their accomplishments appear minor in comparison.

These are students, who compared to most other students on campus, are successful. They have mostly A’s and B’s and no disciplinary infractions, yet when compared to a sibling who is making straight A’s , serving as class president and maintaining a thriving social life, they feel inept, especially when their parents are the ones constantly drawing the comparisons.

These students, despite doing their best, are never recognized for it since their best pales in comparison to their sibling’s best. They are often left feeling as if they aren’t good enough and have a diminished sense of self, while the favored child can begin to feel a sense of being special and entitled, often making the less favored child feel even more diminished.

Adolescents tend to be even more sensitive to favoritism by parents than younger children, since they are trying to redefine themselves from being a child to being a young adult.

In doing this they often distance themselves from parents and even have created some tension as they struggle for independence, yet they still want the approval that came along with childhood, approval that the more favored child usually still gets and it can create resentment.

What makes parental favoritism especially harmful is when it is intentional and creates preferential treatment and superiority/inferiority between children.

The disfavored child may begin to believe that they are indeed not as deserving, as good or as smart as the favored child and that could lead to a life time of self-esteem and psychological issues as well as bitterness towards the parents and the other sibling.

So far the students I’m working with, besides complaining about the favoritism and anger towards their parents and sibling, show profound anxiety, depression, self-injurious behavior, low-self-esteem, anger, suicidal thoughts, decrease in self-efficacy and drug use.  And these are the “good” kids.

Imagine if they were kids with more disadvantaged backgrounds and more complex psychosocial issues. They could be drop outs, delinquents, heavy drug users, you name it.

There are many different ways parents can show favoritism, including showing inequitable pride, attention and approval to one child, to giving the favored child more freedom and rewards.

To the disfavored child, they often feel as if their parents care for and think less of them.  This can cause the disfavored child to dislike the favored child and that can come out in the form of resentment that can continue for life.

At times parental favoritism isn’t done on purpose. It is actually very easy to unintentionally start showing favoritism to one child over another.

Parents need to start recognizing, listening to and accepting when one child is claiming to be treated unfair so that they can analyze the situation.

While sometimes it may seem like the child claiming to be treated unfairly is just nagging, they are often trying to tell the parent that they want some attention or are feeling left out.

Parents should try avoiding comparing their children and should let each one know that they are highly valued for their own unique individuality and that they are all favorites because they are all unique.

The period of adolescence is hard enough, the last thing a child needs is to feel discriminated against within their own family unit.

Political Bullying: What Are We Modeling to Our Children?

As the political season heats up, I can’t help but to notice that the ads seem to get nastier and more personal, so much so that it takes me back to some of the countless meditations I’ve done with high school students and initially I couldn’t understand why, but then it hit me, these campaign ads are reminding me of bullying.

Just like a lot of the bullying that goes on around school campuses across the nation (and now across the internet via sites like Facebook and Twitter), these politicians are often attacking each others characters, credibility and other qualities.

Unlike the bullying I see on school campuses, this type of bullying is different, and yet similar. It’s different in that it is much more of a sophisticated type of bullying, but it’s similar in it’s purpose and even worse, it is bullying that is played out across the nation, on television screens several times a day for millions to see, often during the times our young and impressionable children are watching.

These kids may not care about either candidate, and they may not even realize what they are witnessing, yet they are being exposed, often several times a day,  to a form of bullying that they may subconsciously model, especially in situations where they want to make themselves look better than someone else, rather in their social circle, sports or even in running for high school level campaigns.

Two adults bullying each other may sound ridiculous, but that is exactly what politicians do all the time. John Mica, who won the Republican primary House District 7 acknowledged that during a brutal campaign, he was severely affected by the mean spirited ads and statements made not only about him, but his family and integrity.

Although many political analyst believe that negative campaigns are necessary as they tend to get more voters attention than positive campaigns (what does that say about our Nation), at the end of the day I am concerned about how much of that negativity and mean spirited attention truly affects us.

As the campaign season continues to play out and ads are likely to get even more cruel, don’t just turn a blind eye to your child sitting there as it interrupts their television show. You may want to change the channel, or better yet, use it as a teaching and bonding opportunity to discuss with your child anything from bullying, the state of the Nation, the economy, to your political views. After all, they are likely getting all that anyway from watching the campaign ads, just that the information they are getting is likely tainted and smeared in figure pointing and character bashing.

Acting Out in School as a Way of Hiding a Learning Disability

There are variety of reasons kids act out in school, but they all usually act out to either hide something or as a way of expressing something they don’t know how to express in a more appropriate manner.

Earlier this week I sat in on an executive board meeting with various members of the Department of Juvenile Justice in the state of Florida and was reminded of Dexter Manley’s incredible story. 

Dexter Manley was an American professional football player who liked to give back to his inner-city community. Often he would go to various schools and speak to children about the importance of an education. Well one day after he had gotten through giving an inspiring speech to a group of elementary school kids, he was asked to read to them from an elementary level book. Dexter tried to get out of the situation, but he was cornered and eventually broke down crying. He had been hiding a secret that he was terrified would be exposed. He couldn’t read. Here was a man who had not only graduated from high school, but had also went to college and yet wasn’t able to read beyond a second grade reading level.

In elementary school Dexter realized in the second grade he had learning issues (poor auditory memory) and was often teased by other students. In return he started acting out in class, becoming a “troubled student” and even once pushed one of his teachers against the wall. He was passed on from class to class and grade to grade until he eventually graduated high school with only a second grade reading level. He had become a master at hiding his learning disability so well that he made it through college and much of his adult life without even his children and wife knowing he could barely read or write, but it all started in elementary school where he learned that acting out in class got him out of having to reveal that he was having trouble reading, writing or understanding material his peers were grasping. 

That got me to thinking about the many “troubled” teens I work with and I noticed before that most of them also had failing grades and very poor reading and writing skills, but I had been under the impression that it was mostly due to their lack of participation in class, lack of concentration, attention and motivation. It wasn’t until recently that I started realizing that many of them act out to hide the fact that they are suffering from one learning disability or the other. Now when I am referred a kid by a teacher or guidance counselor for “behavior issues” I also check their academics and their grades usually are very poor. Eventually I usually learn that their reading and writing skills are also extremely poor and I say “eventually” because it is usually hard to get them to write or read anything, they are usually master manipulators and will either change the subject, get angry or deviant. One kid in particular walked around with a stack of books, about five books checked out from the library in her arms at all times. I always thought she was an avid reader, but one day when I called her in my office and she came with her books, I asked her about each book and realized she hadn’t read any of them. When I tried to coach her into reading one to me, she struggled through a line or two and then became very angry and deviant. She stopped reading. She could barely read and she was a 17 year old high school junior.

Although I believe the practice of just passing troubled kids through school to get rid of them is less common today in the age of standardized testing, I am all too aware of many recent and not so recent high school graduates who read and write on elementary grade levels and seem to have slipped through the cracks of our educational system. Often times teachers send me kids they have kicked out of their class for “acting out”, and these kids are usually failing that class and have learned very quickly that if they act out, they will either get left alone or removed from the situation they don’t want to be in anyway. Up until recently, the real situation wasn’t getting dealt with as I had ignored the possible learning issues going on and went straight to trying to solve the cognitive and behavioral problems as I’ve been trained to do. 

Without help, these kids who manage to skate through high school will find that functioning in the real world is much harder. Many of the manipulation, distracting and defense mechanisms that worked in high school will not work in society and may actually get them hurt, arrested or worse. Unlike Dexter Manley who was a star football player and had the athletic talent and financial resources to hide his issues (at least for awhile), most of these young people will be unable to get or keep jobs and will most likely turn to drugs, alcohol, and criminal activities as ways of trying to cope. Ignoring the problem now will only cost everyone more later when these young people are carjacking us, or we are using our tax payers money to feed them in jail.  

If you have or are a parent of a child with a learning disability I would love to hear from you.

If you are a parent and have a child that is acting out and also struggling in school, it would be a good idea to have him or her tested for a learning disability. I think often learning disabilities go undiagnosed because parents are unwilling to have their kids tested. No one wants to have a child with a learning disability, but having that disability identified and attended to will allow that child to learn how to adjust and succeed. Not giving your child that opportunity out of fear of labeling could be detrimental to his/her future.

To read more about Dexter Manley you can click on this link http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1077/is_n12_v44/ai_8010811/?tag=content;col1