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Your bullied child has legal rights to protection and safety

Your bullied child has legal rights to protection and safety
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Violence and Bullying at School

Edith Castro Roldán, Oscar Manuel Luna Nieto

There was a time when school violence was virtually unheard of, but in recent years we have all heard the horror stories about bullying children. The statistics are alarming.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2013-14 school year 65% of public schools had recorded one or more violent bullying incidents. That year alone totaled about 757,000 incidents, which means there were about 15 crimes per 1,000 students during that school year alone. The schools record specific kinds of violent incidents and of those that occurred in 2013-14, 58% of public schools reported there had been at least one physical attack without a weapon or a fist fight. About 47% of the schools reported at least one threat of physical attack without a weapon.

The threat of violence in today’s schools is real.
Are you and your child prepared?

Now is the time to prepare yourself and your child for school violence and bullying. Know what steps you need to take and educate your child about the situations presented and how to respond to bullying or school violence. Remember, knowledge is essential in protecting your children and yourself from being a victim of school violence.  Parents and teachers have options for stopping bullying.

There are several kinds of bullying in today’s advanced world. While technology may be a great advancement, it also has its downfalls. While there was a time you may have thought of bullying as taking someone’s lunch money, calling them names, or pushing them around, there are many other kinds of bullying in our technologically advanced age.

What Happens at School Happens in Cyberspace

There are many kinds of bullying that can happen at school. While physical bullying, verbal bullying, and vandalism and theft still exist, cyberbullying has made the news in recent years. Using social media, the bully or bullies will maliciously harass a student. This can be done by making derogatory remarks, abusing and belittling another student, or posting photos that are unflattering or compromising.

There have been many reports of cyberbullying in the news recently. There have been many cases in which a cyberbullying victim has committed suicide or the bully was criminally charged. One of the more memorable cases involved a 13-year-old named Megan Meier who hanged herself after being bullied by someone she thought was a boy she befriended online.

It was later learned that the boy was actually a former female friend, her friend’s mother, and their employee. Criminal charges were filed against the mother, Lori Drew, and she was found guilty of three charges. Later she was acquitted by a U.S. District Judge. Since then, there have been several other cases.

The bully may also play the victim
so he or she can get by doing more harm.

Reactive bullies will continue to taunt, tease, push, or hit others until the victim strikes out so they can then present themselves as victims and place the blame on others. There are many kinds of school violence and there are many causes for today’s unpleasant and threatening atmosphere in school settings.

Causes of School Violence

  • Students have a greater access to weapons, such as guns and knives.
  • Cyberbullying is much more common because of Internet access, cell phones, and tablets. Social media’s popularity plays a major role as well.
  • The environmental impact and its role, such as school environment, the existence of gangs, school size, middle schools, the community environment, and the family environment. Putting your child or teen in a positive environment in the community and home can play a significant role in helping them to avoid the dangers of violence.

The Signs Your Child is Being Bullied

Edith Castro Roldán, Oscar Manuel Luna Nieto

Parents should always be on the look for signs that a child is being bullied. While you may like to believe that your child would openly tell you if he or she is being bullied, that is not the case. Most children are embarrassed or ashamed of being bullied even when it is not their fault. There are several things to watch for that may indicate your child is being picked on by others.

  • Unexplained injuries.
  • Destroyed or lost books, clothing, electronics, or jewelry.
  • Faking illness or complaining of headaches and stomach aches.
  • Changes in eating habits.
  • Frequent nightmares or difficulty sleeping.
  • Not wanting to go to school or declining grades.
  • Avoiding social situations or loss of friends.
  • Self-destructive behaviors or loss of self-esteem.

The Results of School Violence

Bullying and violence can cause all kinds of physical injuries as well as emotional damage. Students can suffer anything from cuts and bruises to broken bones to lost teeth and frighteningly, even gunshot wounds and death. Make sure you seek treatment for your child if he or she has been a victim of bullying.

Emotional damage can last for years
after the bullying has been put to a stop.

Kinds of Bullying

As previously mentioned, there are several kinds of bullying

  • Physical Bullying – hitting, punching, fist fights
  • Verbal Bullying – name calling, making fun of another, cursing
  • Reactive Bullying – picking on others to get a reaction and then playing the victim
  • Cyberbullying – done through social media or text message
  • Vandalism and Theft – damaging or stealing the property of others

Regardless of the kind of bullying that your child has suffered, you need to make sure he or she gets the help that is needed. Seek professional counseling or therapy to help him or her overcome the emotional and mental damage.

Why Don’t Children Ask for Help?

You have probably told your child to come to you with any problems, but when it comes to bullying most children don’t tell anyone. Bullying can make a child feel helpless and insecure. They may fear telling will make them look weaker or be viewed as a tattletale. There is also the fear of backlash from the bully and his or her friends.

Being bullied can be a humiliating experience.

Children probably don’t want adults to be made aware of what is being said about them because they may fear the adults may judge them or punish them, regardless of whether what is being said is true or not. Bullied children fear rejection of their peers as well, and they may already feel isolated and alone.

Eddie~S, Bully Free Zone, CC BY 2.0

Eddie~S, Bully Free Zone, CC BY 2.0

Ways to Prevent Bullying

There are ways to prevent bullying. Some of the more effective approaches include:

  • Establish a safe climate at home, in the community, and at school.
  • Learn how to be more engaged in your children’s school life. Building a positive school climate is detrimental in preventing bullying.
  • Assess bullying at your child’s school and understand how your child’s school stands in comparison to national bullying rates.
  • Talk with your child about their concerns, and be direct. They may think that getting parents involved may worsen the bullying, so be sure to reassure them that you’re there to help the situation.
  • Avoid being misdirected in bullying prevention and response strategies. Focus on your child!
  • Learn about bullying so you know what it is and what it is not. While many behaviors may be just as serious a bullying, some may require different responses than how you respond to bullying.
  • Speak with your children about bullying, and how they can stop it. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and exposing children to ways to address a bully in their life can be extremely effective. It also opens the doors of communication so that a child can feel comfortable discussing it.
  • Encourage your child to seek friends for help in opposing a bully – peer pressure can be effective in getting bullies to stop their behavior.

Being aware of the situation and the warning signs are essential in helping to prevent bullying. Be proactive so you can address bullying issues right away.

Your Child Has Rights!

No one wants their child to be a victim of bullying. There are several things you can do to help your child avoid bullying or bring an end to it. Here is some legal information you need to know, so if the situation does arise the proper action can be taken right away.

Schools have a duty of care. If the school breaches their duty of care, you may be able to get compensation for any therapy bills, medical or dental expenses, or reimbursement for any out-of-pocket costs resulting from the altercation.

By Andrevruas (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Teacher and administrator intervention. Teachers are required to do any reasonable action to protect their students’ welfare, health, and safety. Their legal responsibilities focus on three sources:

  • Common Law Duty of Care
  • Statutory Duty of Care
  • The Duty Arising from the Contract of Employment

If the teacher or administrator does not step in to stop the fight before it happens, or during the actual fight, then they can be sued for breaching their responsibilities for duty of care. Be familiar with the school’s protocol and policies as each state has different laws and regulations and each school has a different educational code. Educate yourself!

Understanding Parental Liability

Parents of bullies are criminally liable for negligence in not maintaining control of their children’s delinquent acts. Parental responsibility statutes indicate that parents are not held responsible for their children’s acts, but of inadequately controlling their children.

A lawsuit can only be filed against a government entity (school) in instances where there is actual negligence and not intentional misconduct. In order to sue the school system because your child was bullied, you will have to prove the school system’s negligence for not addressing the problem that they were made aware of previously.

There are some instances in which you cannot sue a public school. The Federal Tort Claims Act (28 U.S.C.§ 2674) explains how there are some instances in which a public school can’t be sued. As an example, you can’t sue because of a school system employee’s official misconduct, but there is a fine line between negligence and misconduct in some instances. To clarify the details, you should consult with an attorney.

Getting the Evidence for a Case

If your child has been injured in a violent act at school, you may have a case against the school system or the bully and his family. There are several steps to gathering evidence for a case:

  • Discovery, which includes deposition, interrogatories, request for admission, “subpoena duces tecum
  • Subpoena
  • Witness of the incident
  • Exhibits, such as evidence, records, reports, video, photographs
  • Damages – medical and dental bills, therapy costs, receipts

If your child has suffered school violence or bullying, you should consult with an attorney. School violence can cause personal injury that has lasting effects. Protect the rights of your child!

by the Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help

 

Personal Injury Law
Free evaluation

 


Sources:

https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=49
http://www.crf-usa.org/school-violence/causes-of-school-violence.html
http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/warning-signs/#bullied
http://americanspcc.org/bullying/schools/?gclid=CjwKEAjwrIa9BRD5_dvqqazMrFESJACdv27GeJ3suQOZda0rHDRSliByF3x6VxHg3GFRGH798o0uqhoCPCPw_wcB
http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/suing-government-negligence-FTCA-29705.html
https://nobullying.com/six-unforgettable-cyber-bullying-cases/

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Filed under Bullying, parent rights, parenting, suicide, teachers, troubled children

Helping your troubled teen after they turn 18

Helping your troubled teen after they turn 18
3 votes

Most young people aren’t ready for adulthood by 18 years of age, but your troubled teen is especially unprepared. By 18, their legal status instantly changes to “adult” and they are free to fail at life’s countless tests. Your hands are tied and you can’t keep your son or daughter safe from themselves any more.

Pace yourself for a marathon

Your job as parent is far from over.  Not surprisingly, parenting an 18+ year old will feel the same as when they were 17 years 11 months old.  They’ve been behind their peers for a long time–emotionally or socially or academically. You’ve done everything possible to get them ready for adulthood, but they simply aren’t!  For troubled teens, the teen years last into the mid-20’s or longer. And this is really scary; suicide rates across all age groups are highest for people aged 16-24.  It’s the period of greatest stress, whether the person is suicidal or not.

Many people with disorders aren’t able to take full responsibility for themselves until their early 30’s.

Over the past 16 years, I’ve asked this question of people with mental health disorders, their parents and siblings and children, and their friends:  “At what age did (you, your loved one) make the conscious choice to take responsibility for themselves: treatment, income or job, living on their own, choosing to associate with healthy people. I asked dozens and dozens of people. Their answer? Every single one told me they or their loved one didn’t turn things around until they were between the ages of 29 – 34.

True story: a co-worker once shared about his bipolar disorder and his years of substance abuse and hardships. I would never had guessed this grounded stable person had a troubled past. I asked when he turned his life around; it was 30. I asked what motivated him.  His answer? “I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I ran out of excuses. I hit rock bottom too many times.”

The questions to ponder are how much to sacrifice and how much to let go.  There needs to be a balance.

Parents have a tendency to rescue their adult son or daughter when a crisis befalls because  it’s so hard for the child to recover from set-backs.  But rescuing too much makes them more dependent on the parents (or adult siblings).  Pressuring a troubled teen to be an “adult” when they are not ready may lead to their dependence on others who might make their lives worse.  Or they’ll cope with drugs or alcohol, or risky choices, or give up.

I know of a couple in their 70’s who’d rescued their troubled 34-year-old daughter her entire life, and faced cutting her off because they couldn’t manage anymore.  They were heartbroken to let her go, painfully afraid she would become homeless or suicidal, and deeply regretful they unwittingly undermined her capacity for independence.  Don’t let this happen to you.

The first challenge is deciding where they’ll live.

As with any troubled teen, they must become independent eventually.  It may be a tough call for you:  bear the stress if they live with you? or worry when they leave your protection, possibly forever?  Ironically, your adult child must be better than ‘normal’ young people at managing life because they have so much more to worry about.  Besides the usual adult responsibilities, add self-monitoring for mental and emotional stability, taking meds or obtaining therapy, and disciplining themselves to stick with dozens of choices that support their well-being (diet, exercise, healthy friendships, education or work, financial stability…).

If your troubled teen of 18 must live at home full or part-time, change your rules and expectations. Rules can include a requirement for ongoing mental health care. Your troubled teen must transition to becoming your guest who stays at your invitation and a renter who contributes to the household and follows the landlord’s rules.  You’ll need discipline to step back and respect their privacy and (reasonable) choices and activities.  This may not be easy to achieve–you’ll make many compromises.

In the eyes of the law, you are not responsible for them anymore.

You really aren’t.  In fact, you have the right to banish your 18-year-old from your home and change the locks on the doors.  The parents who do this are usually in fear for their physical and emotional safety–not because they don’t care.  If this describes you, it’s understandable and forgivable if you feel forced into this step.  But know this, things change.  Your adult child will change; banishment is not forever.

There’s good news. Adults have more options for support.

Ironically, your troubled teen, by 18, will have more access to services than ever, and you’ll both get the support you’ve desperately needed.

  • In the U.S., people with mental health problems are protected from job/housing/educational discrimination by laws that protect the disabled.
  • insurers are required to provide mental health care on par with all other treatments and services.
  • Mental health advocacy groups support adults by offering support groups, referrals to safe housing or appropriate job opportunities, social connections with safe accepting peers, and legal and legislative advocacy.
  • Educational institutions have special departments solely for supporting students with disabilities, and that includes troubled young adults.

This is what your troubled teen needs to function after 18, listed in order of value:

  1. A constant, supportive family (that sets boundaries and asserts high-as-possible expectations)
  2. Support from peers and mentors or counselors
  3. A job or continuing education
  4. Ongoing mental health care
  5. A safe living situation

Adjust your expectations for how quickly they’ll progress.

Parents with ‘normal’ 18 year olds gradually revise their relationship with them, becoming a mentor and peer rather than a parent.  You can’t do that yet; your challenge is to flow between the role of parent, disciplinarian, social worker, and therapist until they are ready.

You can do this.  Stay patient.  Keep a bridge built.  They’ll eventually grow up.

–Margaret

 

Please rate this post and comment.  Your thoughts and experiences will help others who read this article.

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Filed under adult, mental illness, parent rights, parenting, suicide, teenagers, teens, troubled children

Your rights as the parent of a teen with a mental disorder

Your rights as the parent of a teen with a mental disorder
7 votes

Parents have more rights than they think.

In a previous blog article on the subject of parents rights, I described how parents can be shocked to learn that their troubled teenager has the right to refuse treatment, Teen rights versus parent rights when the teen has a mental disorder.

What if your teen refuses treatment?  As you know, they usually get worse. Tragically, if your teen experiences serious symptoms of the disorder for a long period, such as in schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, their brain loses cognitive function just as in Alzheimer’s disease.  A troubled teenager doesn’t have the rational thinking to make medical decisions.

If a teenager had any other illness besides a behavioral disorder, withholding treatment would be considered child abuse and grounds for removing the child from the home.

Laws in many countries err on the side of protecting a person’s civil rights, but a teenager is likely not ready to take the responsibility that goes along with these rights. An excellent site covering laws pertaining to Special Education Law is Wrightslaw. Click on “Topics from A to Z.”

  • For safety and health reasons, you have the right to search your teen’s room and remove or lock-up risky items like drugs, weapons, razors, pornography, or anything affecting health (rotten food, unclean garments, chemicals). Be careful: this can destroy trust if done inappropriately! Inform your teen only if you find and remove unsafe items but otherwise leave everything else alone! If you call the police regarding illegal items, and if your child is charged, their criminal record can be expunged by age 18.
  • You can set any curfew time you think appropriate, and you do not have to adhere to curfew times used by law enforcement. Suggestion: compare with other parents’ curfews. Your teen will more likely follow rules that his or her peers follow.
  • You can monitor everything in your home, and on your computer and phone. You can limit cell phone services, and get GPS tracking on the phone and in the car. Prevention is more effective if your teen is informed about this, and it prevents others from taking advantage of your child, too.
  • You can report your concerns to anyone: teachers, other parents, and the local police precinct.
  • You can search for your child by calling other parents or businesses, or visiting their friends’ homes, or searching public places where your child might be.
  • You can and should call the police if your child runs away, or if your child is being harbored by someone who wants to ‘protect’ them. It is illegal to harbor runaways and those who do are subject to criminal charges.
  • You can and should notify anyone who encourages your teen to run away, or who takes your teen with them without your permission, that this is custodial interference or kidnapping and subject to criminal charges.

You have the right to be involved in treatment

“Communication between providers and family members needs to be recognized as a clinical best practice.”*

  • You have the right to contact any mental health professional directly, and provide information relevant to your child, your family (e.g. marital conflict), and your family’s needs (e.g. bullied siblings). The professional can legally receive and document this information, but may not be able to discuss it with you.
  • You have the right to communicate freely and openly with a practitioner or teacher about anything you both already know—no confidentiality exists.
  • You have the right to schedule your own appointment with a professional without your teenager, and ask for information about how to get help for yourself and your family, and what kinds of help you may need.
  • You have the right to information about your child’s diagnosis and behavioral expectations, the course of your child’s treatment, and how you should interact with your child at home.
  • You have the right to a second opinion. And you have the right to change treatment or refuse treatment based on that second opinion.
  • You have to right to participate fully in medical decisions about your child. For example, you have the right to ask a doctor to stop or change medication or treatment that is creating behavior problems or side effects, which harm your ability to manage your teen.
  • You have the right to “information about the treatment plan, the safety plan, and progress toward goals of treatment.” *

“While confidentiality is a fundamental component of a therapeutic relationship, it is not an absolute.”*

“Medical professionals can talk freely to family and friends, unless the patient objects after being notified of the intended communication. No signed authorization is necessary.”

–Susan McAndrew, Deputy Director of Health Information Privacy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Teachers and mental health professionals have leeway with confidentiality.  Professionals often misunderstand the Health Information Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which defines what must be kept confidential. Many also misunderstand the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and state laws that govern confidentiality, so they tend to err on the side of confidentiality. However, the American Psychiatric Association states:

“Disclosures can sometimes be justified on the grounds that they are necessary to protect the patient. For instance, it is generally acceptable for a psychiatrist to warn a patient’s family or roommate when the patient is very depressed and has voiced suicidal thoughts”* or plans to harm others.

Professionals should provide explicit information about safety concerns: such as the warning signs of suicide; the need to adhere to medication and other treatment; an explanation of how your teen’s disorder can impair judgment; an explanation of reasons the teen must avoid substances like alcohol and drugs (including some over-the-counter drugs); and the need to remove the means for suicide, especially firearms, sharp objects, matches, chemicals, etc.

How doctors and therapists manage confidentiality

Their basic philosophy is to do what is in the best interest of their patient. For example, if the teen is in an abusive family situation or seeking care only on the condition of confidentiality, their privacy will be protected. “The default position is to maintain confidentiality unless the patient gives consent… However, [family members or friends] may need to be contacted to furnish historical information…” If the practitioner determines that the teen is (or is likely to become) harmful to him- or herself or to others, and will not consent, then they are… “justified in breaking confidentiality to the extent needed to address the safety of the patient and others.”  –The American Medical Association, 2001, “The Principles of Medical Ethics With Annotations Especially Applicable to Psychiatry.”

A good professional will be honest with your teen, and tell them that they will communicate with parents based on what they already know. They will also tell your child that suicide or violence risk will always be communicated to you and/or an emergency medical service. From everyone’s perspective “It is always better to defend an inappropriate disclosure than to defend a failure to disclose with bad outcome (e.g. injury or death).”

Giving a teenager with behavioral problems the rights to make critical medical decisions is too risky!

I hope that families and mental health advocates can someday agree on how to maintain civil rights without letting a person control their future when they are not in their right mind. Until then, work with the system as best you can. I find that teachers and practitioners do their best to help families despite the restrictive civil rights and confidentiality mandates. Good luck.

How am I doing? Please rate this article, thanks.  Margaret

* Reference“The Clinician Should Maintain a Confidential Relationship With the Child or Adolescent While Developing Collaborative Relationships With Parents, Medical Providers, Other Mental Health Professionals, and Appropriate School Personnel,” developed by Jerry Gabay JD and Stewart S. Newman MD. The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Oregon Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for their support of this effort.

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Filed under confidentiality, defiant children, discipline, oppositional defiant disorder, parent rights, parenting, teenagers

The 12 Commandments for Parents of Children with Behavioral Disorders

The 12 Commandments for Parents of Children with Behavioral Disorders
3 votes

Parents!  Want to know how to make it?  These commandments were written for parents with children with serious (physical) disabilities, but they apply to you too.

  1. Thou art thy child’s best and most consistent advocate.
  2. Thou hast valuable information about your child. Professionals need your input.
  3. Thou shalt put it in writing and keep a copy.
  4. Thou shalt not hesitate to contact a higher authority if you can’t get the help you need.
  5. Thou shalt keep records.
  6. Thou shalt seek out information on your child’s condition.
  7. Thou shalt have permission to be less than perfect.
  8. Thou shalt not become a martyr, thus, thou shalt take a break now and then.
  9. Thou shalt maintain a sense of humor.
  10. Thou shalt always remember to tell people when they are doing a good job.
  11. Thou shalt encourage thy child to make decisions, because one day, he or she will need to do so on their own.
  12. Thou shalt love thy child, even when they don’t seem lovable.

– – – – – – – This is a revised version of “The 12 Commandments…” published by the Pacer Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) for children with physical and medical disabilities. www.pacer.org.

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Filed under discipline, mental illness, parent rights, parenting, stress, troubled children, troubled children

For fathers who raise troubled kids

For fathers who raise troubled kids
2 votes

Where are the men?

Every year, I attend several conferences around the nation that focus on the families, children, and policies associated with children’s mental health.  The majority in attendance are women.  As part of my job, I also attend many meetings on children’s mental health in social services organizations and advocacy groups where, again, the majority in attendance are women (often 100%).  I’ve facilitated family support groups for 11 years, open to the public, mostly attended by woman:  bio mothers, adoptive mothers, girlfriends, stepmothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters involved in caring for a troubled child.  Anyone else notice this?

<At the end of this post are studies and articles on the many benefits caring men provide to troubled children and teens.>

We need the men.  I know they are out there.  I know they are engaged in raising a troubled child and probably alone with their concerns.  They are not just biological fathers, they are stepfathers, boyfriends, adoptive fathers, foster fathers, uncles, and brothers, but I’ll call them all “dads” here.

The recent national “Building on Family Strengths” conference in Portland, Oregon, had a presentation on the subject of dads helping dads.  It was the first time I attended a seminar where mostly men attended.  I asked the panel, founders of Washington Dads, www.wadads.org, “why hasn’t there been a gathering like this before?”  Apparently, panel members tried to find help and it wasn’t there, so they started a support organization for themselves.  They believe it’s the only one like it in the nation.

The messages – One panel member said men feel they are supposed to fix the problem, but they can’t and feel like failures.  Another said that “dads are often not the main caregivers, and perhaps they lack experience,” and after trying what they think will work, are at a loss when it doesn’t.  Another, “we want a quick fix, but a clear concrete fix will do… we want to know how to problem solve.”  That’s a big one, men fix things, they want to get together and hash out solutions.  “Men talk solutions right away instead of talking through emotions.”  They said men like rules or instructions such as Collaborative Problem Solving techniques, the use of technology, and carefully considered plans such as IEPs.

In general, moms tend to feel guilty, but dads tend to be resentful:

  • Of the public nature of the family’s problems
  • Of mom’s leniency towards the child
  • Of the over-the-top attention given to the child
  • Of the loss of quality relationships with all family members

“We’ve been down on our knees in pain for our kids, and we’ve been trying to bring them into society, and it’s a long road.”

Dad’s emotions are there but expressed very differently.  “Some men need to vent aggressively… blow a gasket, but only other men are OK with this.”  Some want to reveal things to each other they wouldn’t share with their wife or partner; “men need to bond without women present” and with personal face-to-face contact.  Men tend to have custody issues too, and often face challenges to their rights to visit their children or maintain relationships with them.

Gentlemen, trust me, moms want you to have support.  Form a group and get yourself some buddies.

Below are previously published articles on the influence of fathers on children’s mental health.  I could not find any articles about issues faced by many fathers, such as custody of the children, disagreements with mom, the influence of their decisions about treatment, or placement, or educational issues, or the need for support in tune with men’s particular cultural and social needs.

– – – – – – –

Involvement of nonresident fathers may protect low-income teens from delinquency January/February 2007 issue of the journal Child Development

Many American children live without their biological fathers. A substantial proportion of fathers who live apart from their children have lost touch with them and therefore don’t provide consistent parenting. A new study has found that when nonresident fathers are involved with their adolescent children, the youths are less likely to take part in delinquent behavior such as drug and alcohol use, violence, property crime, and school problems such as truancy and cheating.

The study, by researchers at Boston College, is published in the January/February 2007 issue of the journal Child Development. The research was funded, in part, by the W.T. Grant Foundation, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation, Administration on Developmental Disabilities, Administration for Children and Families, Social Security Administration, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Researchers looked at a representative sample of 647 youths who were 10 to 14 years old at the start of the study and their families over a 16-month period, gathering information from the adolescents and their mothers. The families were primarily African-American and Hispanic, and most lived in poverty.

Taking into consideration adolescents’ demographic and family characteristics, the researchers found that when nonresident fathers were involved with their children, adolescents reported lower levels of delinquency, particularly among youth who showed an early tendency toward such behavior.

They also found that adolescent delinquency did not lead fathers to change their involvement over the long-term. But in the short-term, as teens engaged in more problem behaviors, fathers increased their involvement, suggesting that nonresident fathers may be getting more involved in an effort to stem their children’s delinquency. This finding was most prevalent in African-American families and contrasts with the pattern in two-parent, middle-class, white families, where parents often pull away and become less involved in the face of adolescent delinquency.

“Nonresident fathers in low-income, minority families appear to be an important protective factor for adolescents,” said Rebekah Levine Coley, professor of applied development and educational psychology at Boston College and the study’s lead author. “Greater involvement from fathers may help adolescents develop self control and self competence, and may decrease the opportunities adolescents have to engage in problem behaviors.”

– – – – – – –

Early Father Involvement Moderates Biobehavioral Susceptibility to Mental Health Problems in Middle Childhood

Boyce, W. Thomas; Essex, Marilyn J.; Alkon, Abbey; Goldsmith, H. Hill; Kraemer, Helena C.; Kupfer, David J.;  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, v45 n12 p1510-1520 Dec 2006

[my summary in everyday English:  When fathers are engaged in nurturing and parenting a child from infancy, the child develops healthy responses to social situations when they reach the middle childhood years ~age 9.  The father’s engagement actually improves brain function on the emotional level and reduces activity in the stress area of the brain.  If a father is not involved, the child is at a high risk of behavioral problems.  Also, if a mother is depressed in their child’s early years, the child is at an ever higher risk of behavioral problems.]

Objective:  To study how early father involvement and children’s biobehavioral sensitivity to social contexts interactively predict mental health symptoms in middle childhood. Method: Fathers’ involvement in infant care and maternal symptoms of depression were prospectively ascertained in a community-based study of child health and development in Madison and Milwaukee, WI. In a subsample of 120 children, behavioral, autonomic, and adrenocortical reactivity to standardized challenges were measured as indicators of biobehavioral sensitivity to social context during a 4-hour home assessment in 1998, when the children were 7 years of age. Mental health symptoms were evaluated at age 9 years using parent, child, and teacher reports. Results: Early father involvement and children’s biobehavioral sensitivity to context significantly and interactively predicted symptom severity. Among children experiencing low father involvement in infancy, behavioral, autonomic, and adrenocortical reactivity became risk factors for later mental health symptoms. The highest symptom severity scores were found for children with high autonomic reactivity that, as infants, had experienced low father involvement and mothers with symptoms of depression. Conclusions: Among children experiencing minimal paternal care taking in infancy, heightened biobehavioral sensitivity to social contexts may be an important predisposing factor for the emergence of mental health symptoms in middle childhood. Such predispositions may be exacerbated by the presence of maternal depression.

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Devoted dad key to reducing risky teen behavior – Moms help, but an involved father has twice the influence, new study finds  [EXCERPT],  By Linda Carroll, June 5, 2009

Teenagers whose fathers are more involved in their lives are less likely to engage in risky sexual activities such as unprotected intercourse, according to a new study.  The more attentive the dad — and the more he knows about his teenage child’s friends — the bigger the impact on the teen’s sexual behavior, the researchers found.  While an involved mother can also help stave off a teen’s activity, dads have twice the influence.

“Maybe there’s something different about the way fathers and adolescents interact,” said the study’s lead author Rebekah Levine Coley, an associate professor at Boston College. “It could be because it’s less expected for fathers to be so involved, so it packs more punch when they are.”

Dad’s positive effect
Parental knowledge of a teen’s friends and activities was rated on a five point scale.  When it came to the dads, each point higher in parental knowledge translated into a 7 percent lower rate of sexual activity in the teen.  For the moms, one point higher in knowledge translated to only a 3 percent lower rate.  The impact of family time overall was even more striking. One additional family activity per week predicted a 9 percent drop in sexual activity.

Child development experts said the study was carefully done and important. “It’s praiseworthy by any measure,” said Alan E. Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University.

Why would dads have a more powerful influence?

“Dads vary markedly in their roles as caretakers from not there at all to really helping moms,” Kazdin said. “The greater impact of dads might be that moms are more of a constant and when dads are there their impact is magnified.”  Also, Kazdin said “when dads are involved with families, the stress on the mom is usually reduced because of the diffusion of child-rearing or the support for the mom.”

In other words, dad’s positive effect on mom makes life better for the child, Kazdin explains.

The study underscores the importance of parental engagement overall, said Patrick Tolan, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois in Chicago.  “For one thing, the more time you spend with them, they’re going to get your values and they’re more likely to think things through rather than acting impulsively.”

Coley hopes that the study will encourage both moms and dads to keep trying to connect with their teenage children, even as their kids are pushing them away.  “…it’s normal for teens to want to pull away from the family, [but] that doesn’t mean they don’t want to engage at all,”

Linda Carroll is a health and science writer living in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Health magazine and SmartMoney.

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The Father-Daughter Relationship During the Teen Years – Ways to strengthen the bond  [EXCERPT],  by Linda Nielsen

According to recent research and my own 30 years of experience as a psychologist, most fathers and teenage daughters never get to know one another as well, or spend as much time together, or talk as comfortably to one another, as mothers and daughters.  Why is this bad news?  Because a father has as much or more impact as a mother does on their daughter’s school achievement, future job and income, relationships with men, self-confidence, and mental health.

When I ask young adult daughters why they aren’t as comfortable sharing personal things or getting to know their fathers as they are with their mothers, most make negative comments about men.

  • “Because he’s a man, he doesn’t want to talk about serious or personal things.”
  • “Because men aren’t capable of being as sensitive or as understanding as women.”
  • “Because fathers aren’t interested in getting to know their daughters very well.”

If a daughter grows up with these kinds of negative assumptions about fathers, she will not give her father the same opportunities she gives her mother to develop a comfortable, meaningful relationship. As parents, we strengthen father-daughter relationships by teaching our daughters how to give their fathers the opportunities to be understanding, communicative and personal.

Creating more father-daughter time alone – Regardless of a daughter’s age, the most important thing we can do is to make sure fathers and daughters spend more time alone with one another.  Since most fathers and daughters haven’t spent much time together without other people around, they might feel a little uncomfortable at first.  If so, they can start by taking turns participating in activities that each enjoys.  One idea:  The father could choose 15 or 20 of his favorite photographs from various times of his life — as a little boy, a teenager or a young man — and then use the pictures to tell his daughter stories about his life.  The key to the success of this father-daughter time is that they alone are sharing this experience.

Staying involved during dad’s absence – Teenage daughters and fathers can strengthen their relationship during dad’s absence through e-mails, letters, pictures and a touch of silliness.  Before dad departs, for one example, father and daughter can talk about how much their relationship means to each of them and agree to write or e-mail at least twice a week.

Linda Nielsen is a psychology professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Her most recent book is Embracing your Father: How to Create the Relationship You Always Wanted With Your Dad. For more information on father-daughter relationships visit www.wfu.edu/~nielsen/.

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