I’m a single parent to a 16-year-old boy. He dropped out of Grade 9 two years ago due to gangsters at the school victimising him. He wants to go to night school. Ever since he’s been angry and moody, not all the time, but when it does flare up, he is uncontrollable. At first I thought it’s just teenage hormones, but I’m starting to worry. I feel he needs to see a professional.
I am really sorry that your son was bullied and victimised at school to the point that he needed to drop out.
Gangsters are bullies who when alone often will not act this way. Bullying has devastating emotional and psychological effects on the victim. These include depression, anxiety, withdrawal, social isolation, anger and a sense of powerlessness. That he experiences moments of rage is completely understandable because of what was done to him.
He is angry at the bullies and angry for feeling so humiliated by them and feeling disempowered to do anything about it, except to leave the school. More than likely, he feels they won and he lost. But these were not normal circumstances, he was ganged up on and victimised.
The aim of the bully is to render others powerless, which is often a projection of their own inner sense of powerlessness. The victimised person then goes on, in their minds, “bullying” or abusing others.
I would suggest you talk to him and let him know, under the circumstances, that he did his best to protect himself but that the system failed him.
The school should have an anti-bullying policy. All pupils, teachers and parents should be educated about what bullying is; how to recognise it; how the victim can get help, especially from the school’s staff; the importance of immediately addressing the bullies and having firm consequences for this behaviour.
The anti-bullying policy and awareness campaign should urge bystanders to report bullying immediately.
Once reported, the teachers and principal have to take it seriously and act on it by getting all the relevant information about the incident from everyone involved.
Parents should be invited too so they can help do something about those who terrorise their children.
Let your son know you understand that he feels angry about what happened, and suggest that he speaks to a counsellor to help him talk about his feelings. This will bring him great relief and help restore his sense of agency and inner strength.
Just read your amazing article regarding children needing boundaries to grow. My niece is 13 years old. She has acknowledged that she had sex. She just started her high school career a few months ago. Please, do you have any advice.
It is always a shock for caregivers when their young children embark on sexual activity, especially for girls. Although, in many cases, caregivers would prefer that young people wait before they have sex, this is not always the case.
Young bodies are reeling with hormones, including sexual ones, and we, as caregivers, need to understand this and also have open discussions about it, including why we think it’s best to delay having sex. I would suggest you talk to her about safe sex, contraception and condoms, sexually transmitted disease and protecting her body for her future.
Don’t criticise or punish her, as this will only lead to her shutting down and not talking to you about serious issues. Say you are glad she trusted you with this information, but that you are concerned for her safety and that her body is sacred and it’s best to ensure she feels ready for sex emotionally, although she may feel ready physically. Explore with her what it means for her to have sex.
Ask her questions, such as does it mean the guy will be more committed to her, love her more? Let her know these are all myths. Does she feel pressurised by herself or others to have sex? This is a difficult situation that teenagers often find themselves in. Brainstorm scenarios of situations that could be awkward and ideas of what she can say to protect herself in future.
My fiancée is expecting our first baby (boy) in June. We are a very young couple, and we were wondering if it is wise to let the baby sleep on his own from birth. We would appreciate any tips you think will be helpful in raising a boy.
Having a baby for the first time is exciting but also very scary for new parents. So, I first want to commend you, as you seem to be a very caring and involved dad, which is sadly not very common.
This attunement to the needs of the baby makes a huge difference and contributes hugely to a baby feeling safe and protected.
They need your love, and with this love you will be able to be attuned to the exact need of the little one (well mostly). Whether he needs to eat, sleep, play or cuddle, your intuition will tell you, and his little sounds and cries are ways of communicating and letting you know he needs something.
Trust your gut feeling. Babies need you to connect with them. Talk to him often, say to him, “You seem to need something now, and daddy/mommy is going to see what you need.” Then ask yourself, based on the time of day, etc, what could my baby be needing now? Milk, sleep, play, cuddling, is he feeling ill, and so on. I think it’s fine if the baby sleeps in his cot next to your bed for the first month or so, and slowly you can move him to his own room, and put him to sleep there.
A good sleep routine helps them to fall asleep quite easily such as bath time at a set time, then a feed, a little lullaby and soft lights encourage sleep.
Many parents think babies need only food and to be cleaned, but babies also need love and attention, as they do not yet have a sense of themselves. They feel a sense of merging with the mother especially, as if they and mom are one.
Only after the first few months do they start to separate emotionally and feel more secure within themselves, due to having internalised the earlier loving responses of the caregivers.
A good book to get is What to Expect – The First Year by Heidi Eisenberg. There are good tips on her website whattoexpect.com
* This column will appear every two weeks. Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist in private practice. While she cannot enter into correspondence with individual readers, she will try to answer as many queries as possible through this column or refer you to organisations that can assist. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774. Provide sufficient information about your difficulty.