Second Half of Yesterday's Interview
Clinical Psychologist Mary Weatherford, Ph.D Talks About Peer Issues, & How They are Handled at Shriners Hospital For Children.
This is the second in a two-part series dealing with peer issues among children. The discussion started yesterday in Moms Talk Q&A.
Q. Do parents really know what their teenagers are doing when they hit the pre-teen and teen years?
This is where that involvement is so important. Your kid comes home, you ask how was your day-and you get an answer like “fine.”
This is where it takes a special skill of the parent to know the friends, the families of the friends they are hanging out with and keep in contact with teachers and begin to read between the lines. The challenges become more difficult in adolescent and middle years.
Q. Are there differences between little boys and little girls, dealing with peer issues?
They say girls tend to be more affiliative or social. Those relationships seem to be genetic. They seem like they are wired. They say girls tend to bully more about what we’d say are social issues. Boys bullying tends to be more physical.
Q. How much research is there with bullying?
Thankfully, there is a good bit of research going into it. The long term effects can be very severe and very concerning. We have to get out on top of the heartaches and damages early to stop bullying.
Q, How do children survive in an adult world if they lack parental guidance and counseling? If they come from single parent homes?
I's very hard for that single parent who desperately wants to be there. As long as there are other figures who can step in and provide those guidelines. It can be a loving grand parent or an aunt or uncle. Someone the child looks up to for help. That can be incredibly helpful. Parental guidelines and reference points are just so very important. Kids tend to go towards the only clear voice they hear. If its a negative peer group, you are in trouble.
Q. Are gangs in schools a big problem in schools?
Yes, a gang is a very interesting social network of itself. What kids want is to find their place on the social hierarchy. Kids need acceptance belonging and security. If everything else is gone and a gang is there, that’s a social hierarchy. I’m always amazed here at Shriners how the relationships develop. Here’s its difficult to find a social hierarchy because of their different lifetime circumstances. They come to Shriners and all of a sudden there’s a social hierarchy they just understand. Its very amazing how powerfully and quickly they become attached here. I work with families a lot to prepare for them to return to the real world where’s there not always the right help or sympathy. That’s a real concern and we work with school systems so our kids can find a place there again.
Q. On peer issues, how do you help parents to find common ground?
That’s a lot of knowing your child well. Give your child an opportunity to talk. Kids need the opportunity to think out loud and parents cannot be judgmental. You’ve got to get the kids start to talk about what they are hearing. That helps with that middle ground. You have to let kids talk about what they see and what they hear, and not falling out of your chair in the process. Great parents are great listeners. And the way you listen is so important. Be non threatening and non judgmental and just listen. That gives the child grounding. They tend to pull back to what’s secure and that’s a family. Belonging and acceptance is so important to a family. Even if they buck against that at times, they need it. Clear boundaries for behavior and expectations are keys to success. The more you give kids a voice, the more they will communicate with you.
Here at Shriners, we have a whole system transition training program. As the children get older, 14, 15, 16, we work specifically on those issues. Our world can kind of be a protective bubble here. There are programs out there to help children. It is just so hard to be able to identify the right ones for the children who need the continued help.
What parents want for their children more than anything is for their children to have a typical child’s life. Here there are appointments, and there are surgeries, and they are navigating the questions of other children. In many cases life is hard, but we know in most cases, the parents and the children will make it.
The financial side of care is so important. Families worry about that from the day their child is born. I hear that over and over again. People say I know my child is OK now, but what happens when I am no longer here? And its very frightening and stressful.