We like to think that we know our children like the back of our hand, so when they start acting differently it can be obvious to any parent. What may not be as obvious is why these changes have occurred. It’s easy to think that it could just be your child adapting to a new school or going through puberty, but often there are underlying problems that are hard to recognize.
It’s easy to think that only teenagers can bully, but bullying can be from any age and range from physical to emotional abuse. Bullying in older teenagers often includes rumours about sexual and familial relationships and physical beatings to turn the school against one child, whereas bullying in small children can be pushing in the playground, excluding them from games and stealing toys.
Common signs of bullying to look out for include unexplained cuts and bruises, a sullen and withdrawn attitude, not wanting to go to school, a drop in grades, etc. It’s comforting to think that when your child is at home they’re away from the malicious comments, but cyberbullying is a huge issue. Posts online can reach many people in seconds, making rumours easy to spread and hard to escape. Some social media sites allow anonymous messages that people may be taking advantage of to send your child hateful or threatening messages outside of the school campus. It’s important to recognise that your child may be feeling unsafe, even in their own home.
Friendships are vital to children, young or old. But they are also very fragile. In older teens, if your child is being bullied and rumours are spread, your child’s friends may abandon them in an attempt to avoid being bullied themselves, or to not be seen with the ‘school weirdo’. In both older and younger children, your child’s friends may have found new friends and not want to know your child anymore, making them feel worthless and not good enough. Changes in your child’s attitude may not just be because of a friendship breakup but also because of bad friends.
Some red flags to identify a bad friends are behavioural problems like not abiding by rules set for your child. Notice if your child is acting differently; older teens may be staying out really late and drinking and or smoking to fit in with new friends. Try to be supportive during these tough times, but do not ignore warning signs.
Depression can be hard to notice, as not all children show the same symptoms and it can often be excused as simple hormonal issues due to puberty. In smaller children, instead of being sad and withdrawn, depression is often expressed through angry outbursts, which can be mistaken as tantrums whilst in teenagers, depression can be recognised by a change in appetite, social withdrawal, etc. Subtle changes you don’t notice can make depression hard to recognise, such as changes in sleep patterns and physical ailments like stomach aches, etc. It doesn’t have to be linked to family situations, but unstable family life – such as divorce – can take a toll on your child’s mental health, making them more prone to depression.
It can be easy to think that your child has a good life, good friends, and good grades, but you never know the underlying reasons to their attitude changes. Make sure that you pay close attention to your child, to recognise any serious underlying problems.