Ask Dr. Mike, July Edition
The advice columnist weighs in on Facebook, neighbors' children, bullies and sex with figures of authority.
Facebook, Family and Concerning Comments
I know you just wrote about Facebook last month, but I have my own Facebook dilemma that I hope you can help me with. My 16-year-old niece has posted what I think are very concerning comments about her hating both herself and life. I reached out to her father (my brother) to express my concerns, but he just brushed me off, telling me that I am “being overly dramatic.” Neither he nor his wife is a Facebook friend with their daughter, which I think is irresponsible on their part. But I am and have access to her posts. Help.
R in Loudoun County
It is not uncommon for adolescents to make exaggerated or existential-like comments about life or death on Facebook. It is also not uncommon for depressed and suicidal adolescents to post those sorts of things. In situations like this, I think it is always better to err on the side of caution since you are an adult family member and since you really do not know if the posts are something to worry about or not. Your brother may be right that there is nothing wrong with his daughter, but he may also be wrong. I recommend cutting and pasting the postings of concern into an email and sending them to your brother for his review. I also recommend reaching out to your niece by phone or in person to let her know about your concerns. Keep in mind that your actions may upset your niece, and she may even unfriend you on Facebook. In the end though, the good that would come of your reporting things to your brother more clearly if there is indeed a problem with your niece far outweighs the possible negative feelings your niece might have toward you if she is fine.
Thoughts on the Bus Bullies
What are your thoughts on the recent bullying incident involving the older woman who was bullied by several boys when she was serving in her role as bus monitor? I know you were on Good Morning America as an expert for bullying last year, and great job by the way! This seems like an area of interest and expertise for you, so I was just wondering if you had an opinion on what happened. I think all of the children involved should be expelled from school, and I hope Ms. Klein gets rich off of the experience.
C in Loudoun County
Thank you for the kind words regarding my work on bullying. As a psychologist in private practice, I have had quite a bit of experience working with children and adolescents who are bullied, as well as those who bully. I am aware of the incident you are referring to and have also watched the YouTube video that went viral and prompted donations and international sympathy for Ms. Karen Klein. In my opinion, there are two types of bullies in the world. There are those individuals who know right from wrong, and yet they still choose to act out angrily or aggressively toward others; their motivations are intentionally mean spirited. The second group of individuals that bully involve children and adolescents who have personally experienced significant emotional and/or physical abuse or who have legitimate psychiatric conditions. For this latter group, many of these children and adolescents do not have the self-awareness or capacity to regulate their behavior adequately at all times. Moreover, for this latter group, their bullying behaviors should be understood in the context of their history and conditions. I do not know the backgrounds of the involved children for the incident you are writing about, so I really am not in a position to formulate an opinion on their behaviors or what their consequences should be. I do feel strongly that the incident should serve as a teaching tool for parents. As parents, we are responsible for modeling appropriate behavior and for teaching our children appropriate values and morals. I hope Ms. Klein does several talk shows and that the topic remains hot in the media for a while, since the exposure, as unpleasant as it is, is good for parents and children to see. And yes, I think we all feel badly for Ms. Klein, and I too hope she continues to benefit monetarily from the hardship she endured.
Slowing Becoming the Neighbors’ Nanny
My children are really good friends with our neighbors’ children, and I am pretty good friends with their mom. Both of our neighbors work full time, and the children’s grandmother cares for them during the week. Grandma does a pretty lousy job watching her grandchildren, who then end up spending most of their time over at our house with my kids. I am a stay-at-home mom and have never minded helping my neighbor out with her kids here and there, but since school has been out, I find that I am carrying the burden while grandma passively watches on. Not to come off like a frugal jerk, but I am also funding way too many lunches and snacks. How do I talk to my neighbor about the situation without upsetting our friendship or the friendships of our children? I can’t be the daycare center I’ve become for the rest of the summer.
H in Loudoun County
While I agree that you need to say something to your neighbor, I also think you need to approach this with care and respect. I would advise you against saying anything negative at all about the children’s grandmother. Even if you feel that she is underperforming in her role as a caretaker to her grandchildren, she is still a member of that family. By complaining about grandmother not doing her job well, you run the risk of hurting and upsetting your neighbors. The better approach would be to focus on how things are impacting you. I would tell your neighbor how expensive things have gotten for you with having all the children over at your house for meals and snacks and that you simply cannot afford things at the current pace. This statement then opens the door for an open discussion without a harsh confrontation. You could then brainstorm with your neighbor on how things should change. If the discussion with your neighbor does not go well, as a stay-at-home mom, you could also make some changes of your own. You could begin to plan out or schedule the day’s activities for your children, which would include some time with the neighbor’s children and some time without them. You could also leave the house more frequently with your children to run errands and for planned activities (e.g., visiting the library, pool, park, having a picnic, etc.).
Sex and Positions of Authority
I heard your radio interview last week on the teacher sex scandal in NYC, and I completely disagree with you. Your position is that the 18-year-old student who bet his friends that he could have sex with his 27-year-old teacher, and did, is a victim? How is he a victim? He is a young adult who did something stupid, but he’s hardly a victim of sexual abuse.
H in Loudoun County
I agree with you that the young man is not a victim of sexual abuse. At 18, he is at the legal age of consent to engage in sexual relations with other adults. But that does not mean that 18-year-olds possess the full capacity to manage themselves across all adult situations. The research on development has clearly shown that the frontal lobe—the area of the brain responsible for exercising good judgment, impulse control, problem solving—is still developing into the early- to mid-20s. As a society we know this is true and it is evident by the laws and restrictions we place on young adults. For example, younger adults cannot rent cars on their own or legally drink alcohol. My point in the interview is that the teacher should have known better and is certainly the more responsible between the two. First, she is an adult in every sense of the word. And second, she was the young man’s teacher and thus held a position of authority and power over him. Just as bosses should not sleep with their employees due to the inherent power differential in their relationship, teachers should also not sleep with their students for the same reason … even when the student is 18.