Psoriasis and Bullying
Bullying. Bullying and psoriasis. As I stare at my computer screen, I can’t help but feel a twinge of sorrow as I type those words. Every year, I lead a football camp designed to help kids improve their athletic skills and promote greater appreciation for the game which has been such a big part of my life for so many years. It’s one of the ways that I endeavor to give back to my community. Over the past few years, I have also had the distinct pleasure of working with the National Psoriasis Foundation’s Youth Ambassador Program which encourages young leaders to raise awareness about psoriasis in their respective communities. I often find myself inspired, humbled, and in awe of these youngsters. In part, that is why I find this topic so difficult to discuss.
I’ve often heard psoriasis itself described as a bully but that is not at all what I am here to talk about today. While bullying is by no means a new phenomenon, it seems as though it has become a hot button issue in recent years. Just like psoriasis, bullying does not discriminate against age, gender, race, nationality, size, shape or along any other line that we can discern. In many cases, even the bullies are discovered to be victims of the same type of behavior they perpetrate. Living in the age of the internet has also ushered in a new assortment of challenges that we must band together to address.
There are many organizations all over the world doing wonderful work to raise awareness around this issue. October is National Bullying Awareness Month; and, as someone who works very closely with kids, this matter is very important to me. The effects of bullying may last well into adulthood and in some cases even result in tragic repercussions. Growing up I remember being taught, as I am sure many of us were, that you had to stand up for yourself. I was told that you had to fight fire with fire or else the bully would never back down. Let me be clear, I do NOT advocate violence. Furthermore, as an adult, I have moved away from this simplistic view that puts the onus entirely on the victimized individual to rectify the situation and fails to acknowledge the role that community can play in the solution. Besides the bullied and the bully, there are usually witnesses, parents, educators and others who may be able to assist. It’s like the old African proverb that states “it takes a village to raise a child.”
It’s hard enough to deal with the pressures of growing up but to add bullying and a chronic condition into that mix is almost unthinkable. I’ve met so many people that have lived with psoriasis since childhood. Some of the stories they have relayed to me are devastating. In some cases, the bullies were other children but in other cases the antagonists were older: teachers, parents of classmates, and other ignorant adults. Here are a few of the common types of bullying: physical, verbal, emotional, or even virtual (over the internet). Bullying is not always easy to spot and may require an extra degree of vigilance. Bullying may even affect performance in school and cause self-esteem issues.
- “Strong people stand up for themselves, the strongest people stand up for others.” (Unknown)
Often, the targets of bullying may be reluctant to step forward out of fear of making the situation worse - it can be a lonely feeling. As a child, I remember hearing that I should always involve an adult if I was being bullied. I feel that as adults we should not dismiss the weight of that responsibility. It’s not just about “kids being kids” or anyone needing to “toughen up.” Personally, I know that this is something that I do not take lightly; I make it a point to educate myself on the signs of bullying, make a conscious effort to remain vigilant, and address issues I uncover with urgency. In this day and age, the stakes are high for children. On the other hand, one of the benefits of the internet is that it also provides us with plenty of tools that can help: videos, workbooks, articles, and access to information on legal resources. If you are a parent, teacher, coach, friend or anyone with the power to help a child feel less alone in discussing this subject, I urge you to proactively create a safe space to facilitate these conversations whether you suspect a problem or not. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter if the child in question is the bully or the victim of bullying; the more frequently we can discuss the topic in a genuine and caring way, the better our chances of successfully resolving these complex dilemmas. I cannot guarantee that the following steps will prevent or stop bullying.
I am aware that each case may present its own unique set of challenges. Here is the general approach I take when faced with a bullying situation.
While encouraging positive self-esteem may not protect children from bullying, it is vital to recognize that children may not understand what is happening to them or why. It is important to let them know that it is not their fault and they are deserving of respect. I believe that children who feel higher levels of self-esteem may be more willing to speak out about the problem and seek help. On the flip side of that equation, it has been my experience that bullies may also suffer from self-esteem issues and resort to victimizing others in an attempt to bolster their own self-image. Addressing self-esteem issues with bullies may help to break the cycle of victimization.
Raise awareness and foster empathy
It has been said that ignorance is at the root of fear. Ignorance may lead to discrimination and in some cases bullying. After speaking with many parents of children with psoriasis, I have learned that making it a point to inform community members (for example, teachers and other parents) about the condition could make a positive impact. Once people understand what they are dealing with and that it is not contagious or strange, it typically reduces fear and could have a humanizing effect that fosters empathy.
Maybe your child is not the victim of bullying but instead a witness. It is still important to prepare him or her to handle a bullying scenario as a witness. I feel that we underestimate the power that witnesses have to become allies to the bullied. It is not easy and it takes courage. Here are a few ways allies can help:
- Providing a sense of power in numbers and encouraging other witnesses to be allies too
- Speaking out about unfair treatment
- Reaching out to adults for help
- Being a friend and letting the bullied know that they deserve to be treated with respect
Working with the Bully
I try to tackle the problem from as many angles as possible. I humbly ask that parents discuss the issue of being a bully with their children. Sometimes, all it takes is a conversation and some introspection to set a bully on a better course. If your child is the problem, take it seriously. Even if your child is not the instigator, it may be helpful to frequently check in and provide guidance. Here are the principles that I usually try to help bullies realize:
- Everyone is worthy of respect
- Their actions are harmful to others
- Hurting others is not cool and it is certainly not okay
- Violence is not the answer
Know Your Rights
Do your homework and understand your rights. Most states in the U.S. have anti-bullying laws. If you have attempted to partner with other parents and your child’s school to address the problem but have been met with resistance, you may consider seeking legal counsel.
Bullying has become somewhat of an epidemic. It is up to all of us to create a better tomorrow for future generations. I believe that change starts at home and in our communities. It starts with conversations, accountability, and empathy. I feel that we need to acknowledge and address bullying whenever possible. It is not okay to sweep it under the rug and pretend that it is just normal immature behavior. Bully, victim, witness, parent, teacher…we do not always get to choose our role but I believe that we are capable of choosing our response. We can all be a part of the solution.
Any suggestions made are not intended to replace the advice of a qualified medical professional. Please consult your healthcare provider prior to making any changes to your treatment, exercise or diet routine.