How to Tell if My Bullied Teen Might Attempt Suicide?

So you know your teen is being bullied, but do you know the signs that he or she is planning a suicide attempt?

You may think that suicide success in teenagers (and adolescents) is too rare to worry about. And it’s true: A completed suicide in bullied teens is exceedingly rare (though strikingly newsworthy). However…the ATTEMPT is alarmingly common! Why would your bullied teenager be an exception?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, during 2013 for kids grades 9-12: Seventeen percent seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months; 13.6 percent made a plan for the attempt; 8 percent actually attempted suicide at least once in the prior 12 months.

So your teen is being bullied. Are you sure they won’t attempt suicide? In life, can you be sure of anything, even the sun rising tomorrow? Of course not. But there are signs to look for that can indicate that your bullied child is seriously contemplating a suicide attempt—to the point of planning on where, how and when.

How can a parent tell if their bullied teen or younger child may attempt suicide?
“They feel the whole world is against them and don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,” begins Carole Lieberman, MD, a forensic psychiatrist, expert on bullying and author of Bad Boys: How We Love Them, How to Live with Them, When to Leave Them.

“The kids who are more likely to go beyond moodiness and depression, and actually commit suicide, are those who feel the least support from their parents, and who have nothing positive to hold onto—no space in their life where the bullying isn’t affecting their success.”

The tricky thing here is that parents may actually believe they’re being super supportive, when in fact, they’re (unintentionally) adding to the feelings of hopelessness.

For example, a child expresses suicidal ideations to his father. The father becomes irate at this and snaps, “Oh come ON, you have so many good things going for you! I bet if you wrote down all the bad things in your life, and all the good things, you’d see that the list of good things was way longer!” Dad then returns to his computer activities while Junior is left trembling.

In his mind, Dad is being supportive. But the truth is, he just added to the teen’s feelings of hopelessness. Feelings of hopelessness cannot be quantitated on a list. A built-in pool in the backyard, having one’s own bedroom and 10-speed bicycle, a giant flat screen TV, computer and smartphone, a Game Boy and all sorts of other material possessions, translate to featherweight against the superheavyweight bullying that occurs at school and Dad’s disgraceful attitude.

So on that boy’s list are 15 “good” things and one “bad” thing (bullying). But that one thing, the bullying, is a brick on the scale, making the 15 good things weigh as much as sawdust.

Parents might think their bullied child would never attempt suicide because he or she doesn’t act depressed. This is another tricky area, because the classic signs of major depression include a nearly complete loss of appetite (sometimes to the point of regurgitating attempts to eat), excessive time spent in bed, excessive time spent sitting and staring into space, and being non-conversational and more like a zombie.

So a parent might think that their bullied child, who has a good appetite and is highly functional, would never attempt suicide. Then one day it happens, as was the case of Michael Morones. At age 11 he hung himself, fed up with the bullying by classmates. But he survived and exists in a minimally conscious state, at best.  

So don’t assume that the absence of classic depression symptoms means your bullied teen or child is in the clear from a suicide attempt. It may not even be depression, per se, that fuels the suicidal thoughts. Feelings of hopelessness and seeing no way out are thought processes that don’t always add up to the classic presentation of severe depression in which the victim is in bed all day and rapidly losing weight.

Other signs your bullied child might try suicide:
Giving away of prized possessions
Talking or writing about suicide
Googling ways to commit suicide or information on overdosing on drugs
A sudden, unexplainable cheerful disposition (signaling happiness over discovering a solution to all the bullying: suicide)
Criticism from family members, e.g., overly-critical parents; siblings who ridicule or exclude the child
Child being unable to open up to the parents (signaling that the parents’ responses at these attempts to communicate are harsh and judgmental)

Another sign is the absence of a sanctuary—an environment in which bullying cannot survive, such as a top-notch martial arts school, where kids and adults of all abilities and disabilities are graciously accepted.

Don’t be a “not MY kid” parent. You may think you don’t know what more you can do for your child who suffers from bullying, but if that child died by suicide—rest assured, you’d suddenly know all the things you COULD have done to prevent this. So get to work NOW before your child beats you to it. Dr. Lieberman offers courses of action in Part II.


Prevent Bullying from Becoming Deadly to Your Child

Many bullied kids attempt and especially think about suicide, and the common denominator is lack of action by the parents.

It’s a mistake to attribute suicide completions and attempts by bullied kids to some inborn hardwiring in their brain or some genetic configuration on a chromosome. Humans are largely products of their environments.

There are ways for parents to try to ensure that bullying doesn’t become deadly, says Carole Lieberman, MD, a forensic psychiatrist, expert on bullying and author of Bad Boys: How We Love Them, How to Live with Them, When to Leave Them.

Dr. Lieberman first encourages nightly family dinners, the “best first line defense against bullying’s harmful effects.” Now that’s assuming that the family dinner isn’t similar to the tension-filled one depicted early on in the movie “Saturday Night Fever.”

Family time at the dinner table is an opportunity to connect and be supportive, but simply rounding up the family to the table, in and of itself, does not mean emotional support. You have to make it happen by being a loving, empathetic parent, not a heartless schmuck.

Dr. Lieberman explains, “Your teen will feel supported if he is asked about his day every day, and you show your willingness to intervene on his behalf.”

Often, “How was school today?” yields very little response, sometimes just a shoulder shrug. This makes some parents irate, which in turn, shuts the child down even further.

Here’s the solution: BE SPECIFIC! Requesting the child to describe their day is too overwhelming. Narrow it down: “So…did anyone at school say anything to you today that really upset you?” Then listen to what pours out.

Another way to help prevent bullying from becoming deadly, says Dr. Lieberman, is psychotherapy “at the first signs of being bullied. Don’t wait until the bullying escalates. Weekly psychotherapy will help counter the pain, and the therapist will be on the lookout for suicidal thoughts that may indicate a need for hospitalization.”

Dr. Lieberman also advises parents to inform teachers and school administrators of the bullying. Show these officials “documentation of it, such as texts, photos and videos. Stay on top of them if they don’t do enough to stop it and the bullying continues.”

Contact the bully’s parents, says Dr. Lieberman. “Tell them you have reported their child to the school, and warn them you will report it to law enforcement, if the bullying continues.” Many parents are afraid to do this. Most people won’t even complain that a neighbor’s dog barks nonstop. But parents need to go to bat for their child.

“Consider transferring your teen to another school, if the situation isn’t improving,” says Dr. Lieberman. “Do research into which schools have more teacher involvement and a better policy towards bullying. If you have documented the bullying and your 
efforts to stop it - including your teen’s school being of little help - the school district will have to agree to the transfer.”

Yes, bullying can become deadly for kids. Minimizing this issue is of no consolation to the parents whose kids opted for suicide to deal with the bullying. 

Parents Should Know Teen’s Social Media Activities

It’s not an invasion of privacy to “snoop” in on your teenager’s (or younger child’s) social media activities.

Though to what degree this should be done is open to debate even among parents and bully-experts who endorse this practice, one thing is clear: It should be done, because social media has made it easier than ever for kids to be relentlessly harassed by bullies—but also for the bullies to wield their power (e.g., they feel safer behind that computer screen).

Now don’t go there, that is, thinking that today’s kids are “pussies.” Certainly, the adult critics who accuse parents of “coddling” their bullied kids would be singing a different tune if they themselves, on the job, were the targets of ongoing harassment!

Yes indeed, I’d love to see how long these adult critics of the anti-bullying projects could tolerate being jeered all day long for their ethnic background, body weight, religion, hair style, big teeth, the way they laugh, their lack of speed on the job, their odd first name, etc.

But back to the so-called invasion of privacy in which parents monitor their teens’ social media activities.

“First of all, parents need to stay on top of their teen’s social media because it’s a jungle out there,” says Carole Lieberman, MD, a forensic psychiatrist, expert on bullying and author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets.

“So many kids - on both sides of the tracks - are living in dysfunctional homes, where they're neglected or abused,” explains Dr. Lieberman. “These kids take out their pain and rage by bullying other kids. So, keeping tabs on your teen’s social media is not invasion of privacy; it’s being a parent who wants to protect your child.”

It’s not whether or not a teen is a coward. Kids CAN be cruel. Just like adults at the workplace can. The comments I read to anti-bullying articles, that accuse today’s parents of “coddling” their children instead of teaching them to “grow some balls,” tend to be from men. I wonder how quickly these men would redact their position if they learned their wife was being sexually harassed at the workplace.

“Bullying is increasingly resulting in teens committing suicide because the hurt and shame make them feel hopeless and afraid,” says Dr. Lieberman. So it’s not about raising kids with no backbone. It’s about the increased ease at which the bullies could seep out of the woodwork.

And by the way, adults can be just as nasty on social media, simply because social media allows the bully to act out behind the safety of a computer screen.

Numb Toes on Elliptical Machine: Neurologist Says Why

Here’s a neurologist’s explanation for what causes numb toes when you use the elliptical machine.

“This is not very scientific, although several factors probably play a role,” begins
Bonnie Gerecke, MD, director of the Neurology Center at Mercy in Baltimore; and board certified neurologist with a special interest in neuromuscular disorders, ALS and EMG.

“When on the elliptical machine, there is more pressure placed on the toes and forefoot compared to the hindfoot,” she continues.  “There are small digital nerves in the toes that are likely being compressed when the feet are on the pedals, and this in part causes the toes to go numb.”

This does not mean anything is wrong with your nerves or muscles. The mechanics of this are akin to wearing a tight pair of high heeled shoes, cramming in your toes; your toes will probably go numb pretty quickly. 

Dr. Gerecke continues, “There is also increased swelling in the feet during exercise, and this can also cause numbness.  Tight fitting shoes are probably also contributory.”

How to Prevent Toes from Going Numb on the Elliptical Machine
“One can wear slightly larger shoes than normal, although too much room could cause blistering,” says Dr. Gerecke.  “Pedaling backward intermittently for brief spurts can also help.  Alternating with other exercises is also helpful.”

In addition, place your feet a bit away from the edge of the pedaling platform so that the toes don’t jam up against it when you pedal.

“While experiencing toe numbness while using the elliptical is common, if there is prolonged or severe numbness or tingling, one should seek the attention of a health care provider for an evaluation.”  

Stop Examining Your Tongue For Bulbar ALS

Here is why you have to STOP, once and for all, inspecting your tongue for bulbar-onset ALS. This destructive obsession has got to go.

Do you realize how rare bulbar-onset ALS actually is? It’s about 0.1 per 100,000 people. That’s one-tenth of one in 100,000. But maybe that doesn’t matter to you, because you’re going by what you see in the mirror every time you examine your tongue—and this obsessive inspecting consumes a lot of your time…every day.

“Bulbar onset ALS is rare,” says Bonnie Gerecke, MD, director of the Neurology Center at Mercy in Baltimore; and board certified neurologist with a special interest in neuromuscular disorders, ALS and EMG.

“Moreover, patients who develop this condition experience dysarthria (slurred speech), dysphagia (trouble swallowing) and potentially other symptoms such as emotional lability, dyspnea (shortness of breath) and facial weakness.”

Some people who obsess about their tongue and ALS also begin believing they have slurred speech. They may hear or sense that they are slurring their words. Slurred speech in bulbar ALS is the result of inadequate electrical conduction of nerve cells; the muscle fibers that these cells fire to receive impaired signals; hence, slurred speech (speech is controlled by muscles).

This nerve damage does not come and go. Once a person with bulbar ALS develops slurred speech, this symptom is there to stay. So if what you perceive as slurred speech comes and goes…this heavily points away from bulbar ALS. 

“Examining one's tongue in the absence of any symptoms is not helpful, as there is no reason that the tongue should be affected clinically in the absence of any symptoms,” says Dr. Gerecke. 

But what if you’re thinking that the twitching that you see in your tongue is only the first symptom of bulbar ALS, and that soon, more will follow? After all, wouldn’t there have to be a first symptom?

By the time a person with bulbar ALS sees their tongue twitching from the disease, the patient already has the symptoms (or some of) that Dr. Gerecke pointed out already. And the tongue fasciculations of bulbar ALS look more like a bunch of worms squirming under the tongue, not the “twitching” that a healthy person sees in the mirror.

Can ALS Twitching Come Before Muscle Weakness?

A neurologist says that ALS twitching CAN come BEFORE muscle weakness.

There is information on the Web stating that in ALS, muscle weakness comes before twitching (fasciculations). To know that muscle weakness begins appearing prior to any twitching can be a big source of reassurance to people who are literally trembling with fear that they may have the incurable motor neuron disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

In the research I’ve done for my articles, I was not satisfied with the information I was finding pertaining to whether or not the muscle twitching in ALS preceded the weakness. So I decided to ask a neurologist this simple question:

Can the twitching (fasciculations) of ALS precede the pathological weakness in the muscles?

“Muscle weakness and cramps can either precede twitching or twitching can precede muscle weakness and cramps,” says Bonnie Gerecke, MD, director of the Neurology Center at Mercy in Baltimore; and board certified neurologist with a special interest in neuromuscular disorders, ALS and EMG.

To read that is a blow to men and women who spend inordinate amounts of time ruminating that they might have this devastating condition.

“There is no absolute paradigm for the disease,” says Dr. Gerecke.  “A patient can experience muscle twitching (fasciculations) as an initial sign or symptom of ALS, although weakness usually follows shortly thereafter in this case. 

“It should be kept in mind that many individuals who experience muscle twitching do not develop ALS, as muscle twitching can be benign.”

ALS is a very rare illness, whereas benign fasciculations are part of being human; they are exceedingly common and have many harmless causes such as health anxiety, general anxiety, dehydration, a hard workout and mineral imbalance.

In fact, it may very well be that anxiety causes the twitching to gear up the body for a fight or flight. In a sense, the muscle fibers are on standby to fight or flee—kind of like engines revving up for the big race. But if that fight or escape never comes…but the anxiety persists, the muscles may remain in a twitching or revving-up mode for extended periods.

Dr. Gerecke continues, “Conversely, a patient with ALS may develop muscle weakness and cramps prior to the onset of twitching, and not all individuals with ALS develop twitching.  Muscle weakness and cramps can also be due to many other conditions.”

Fact is, a hefty number of conditions cause weakness in the muscles. And the weakness can manifest in different ways. It can be gradual; it can be rapid or sudden; it can be accompanied by severe pain or be painless; it can come only after intense exercise and be temporary.

Cramps in the legs are often caused by dehydration, but can also come from an assortment of non-neurological conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Bottom line: There is no rule that the twitching in ALS necessarily comes before or after any muscle weakness (or cramps). 

Warning Signs Your Child Bullies Your Younger Child

How can you be absolutely sure your older child doesn’t bully the younger one?

Never in a million years did my parents ever suspect that their oldest child bullied his two younger brothers whenever they put him in charge when they left the house. The younger boys (eleven months apart in age) were too afraid to report it to my parents because the older boy (by about four and a half years) threatened to beat them up if they did.

Parents often miss the clues when a child bullies a younger sibling, but in general, the worse the bullying, the stronger the clues. Some signs are more obvious than others, and parents need to look for the clues, rather than blindly assume nothing is wrong.

Warning Signs Your Child Bullies Your Younger Child
One sign is that “Your younger child is fearful of your older child or more distant than they had been in the past,” says Stacy Kaiser, Live Happy editor-at-large, and a southern California-based licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert with a special interest in the topic of bullying. 

Kaiser continues, “You are seeing your younger child engaging in bullying behavior towards their peers or children younger than them.”

Ask yourself where your child could have learned this behavior. Who might be modeling it for them? Sometimes it’s at least one of the parents, but sometimes, more than any other person, the bullying older sibling is the No. 1 influence.

Kaiser also points out that if the younger child’s behavior has changed around the family, that this could be a sign that an older sibling is being a bully. Is the younger one more withdrawn and isolated than usual? Are they more angry and aggressive?

The victim of the bullying by the older sibling may also be quite young—too young to verbalize what’s going on. They “might suddenly become physically aggressive and hostile towards their bullying sibling because they do not know how else to communicate that they are being bullied,” explains Kaiser.

In addition, a sign to be suspicious of is when you’re out of the room or out of earshot of your kids, and, says Kaiser, “You return to find your younger child very upset and your older child is behaving as if nothing has happened.”

Finally, if you’re wondering if there’s any bullying going on amongst your children, ask yourself if you yourself could possibly be modeling this kind of behavior. What kind of behavior do your kids witness you exhibit when, for instance, you’re not hearing what you want to hear from customer service at your favorite store? How do you respond to solicitors at your doorstep or a neighbor whose dog keeps barking? And how do you respond to your children when they goof something up or start getting a bit annoying?

Signs Your Teen Son Is an Online Bully

Teen boys who are cyber bullies are unique from girls, so here are the signs to pay attention to, says Stacy Kaiser, Live Happy editor-at-large, and a southern California-based licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert with a special interest in the topic of bullying.  

First ask yourself if your son was ever bullied or abused in the past, says Kaiser. Imagine the power he’d feel, the vindication, as he torments other kids behind the safety of his computer screen.

Another red flag is if your teen son has multiple e-mail addresses or social media accounts, says Kaiser. In particular, be alert to numerous names or cryptic names.

Another sign that your son could be an online bully is if he “exhibits aggressive or passive aggressive anger and seems to derive pleasure out of tormenting or upsetting others,” explains Kaiser. 

“If there is excessive secrecy about his cell phone and computer there is likely something suspicious taking place online or via cell phone,” she continues. Finally, “If your son appears to be highly critical or intolerant of others and expresses those thoughts verbally, he may also be expressing them online.” 

School Bullying vs. Sibling Rivalry: Same or Different?

The only difference between school bullying and sibling rivalry may be their names. Parents sometimes toss out that term, “rivalry,” to soften their perception of a truly bullying situation.

“Sibling rivalry and bullying at school can have the same impact on both the victim and perpetrator,” says Stacy Kaiser, Live Happy editor-at-large, and southern California-based licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert with a special interest in the topic of bullying.  

“In both cases, the victim feels helpless, powerless, intimidated and out-of-control. He or she can be left with low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, a drive towards drugs or alcohol, and even suicidal thoughts.”

When this dynamic occurs, it’s not rivalry. Yes, sibling rivalry exists, but bullying is a different kind of behavior. Denying it by slapping on the label “rivalry” won’t make the problem go away.

“The perpetrator feels powerful, superior and a feeling of inappropriate pleasure,” continues Kaiser. “He or she can be inspired to continue to bully both the sibling and the people at school, and that desire can escalate to bullying or physical violence in other environments. It allows the perpetrator to feel entitled, to have inappropriate boundaries and to develop a sense of grandiosity.”

Whether you wish to label the hostile behavior between siblings as rivalry or not, one thing is for sure: Hostility between siblings brings a unique component that’s absent in the classroom between classmates: The victim can’t get rid of the sibling. The victim lives with the bully. Even in the middle of the night, the bully might strike. School may even be something of a sanctuary, even if the victim is bullied there too.

“Sibling rivalry can actually be worse than bullying at school, because the siblings often spend more time together, and because of family obligations or loyalty, the victim is often less likely to tell the parents about the excessiveness or significance of the bad behavior,” explains Kaiser.

Furthermore (and very unfortunately), it’s not unheard of for the bully in the home situation to actually be favored over the victim. In such a case, the parents tend to believe the bully’s version of events, even going as far as accusing the victim of “starting it” or “bringing it on,” or not being mature enough to stop complaining about it.

On the other hand, “bullying at school can be more intense, because the bully is attempting to get attention from an audience of their peers, whereas on the home front, the sibling is often doing it for their own gratification or revenge and not for attention.”

Percentage of Bullies whose Parents Bully THEM

So just HOW prevalent is it when a bully’s parents bully that child? The behavior of bullying is not created in a vacuum.

There are no precise statistical figures about the percentage of bullies who are victimized by their parents, but let’s admit it: If you’ve ever witnessed bullying at your school, didn’t you ever wonder how the bully’s parents treated him or her?

When I witnessed “Nunzio” intimidating “John” in high school, I had no difficulty imagining Nunzio’s father pushing the slightly-built boy around the house.

“Oftentimes even parents with the best of intentions are bullying their children because their parenting style is too authoritarian, too aggressive and/or too abusive,” says Stacy Kaiser, Live Happy editor-at-large, and a southern California-based licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who has a special interest in the topic of bullying. 

“When parents behave in such a way, they are role modeling that behavior to their children,” continues Kaiser. “Often, their children duplicate that behavior by becoming bullies themselves.

“Also, when children or teenagers feel powerless or helpless in one scenario, they often seek to feel powerful and strong in another setting. This can manifest itself in them bullying other children in order to have the illusion of feeling better about themselves.” 

It makes so much sense: Dad berates Nunzio, slapping him on the head over little things, calling him a loser, never playing ball with him or taking him hiking, never encouraging him and praising him, but quick with the denigrating comments.

At school, Nunzio hunts for weaker kids to bully around, to upgrade his status from loser to somebody. It sure feels good to make John shake in his shoes, especially since John is bigger. That’s Nunzio’s fix for the day. He then goes home and once again, the cycle continues, being labeled a pussy by his cold father, smacked on the head and told to fend for himself for dinner.

Kaiser explains, “Perhaps a parent does not think they are bullying their child or perhaps they think that discipline can come in the form of insults, verbal abuse and berating of their child.

“That child in turn might think they are treating a peer, or even an adult, in a ‘normal and appropriate’ manner when instead they are being a bully, just like their parents are to them.”

So how often is it that a bully of grade school age or teen-hood is the recipient of bullying by their parents? Nobody knows for sure, but it’s pretty impossible to ignore what seems like a very solid cause and effect.