A recent study showed that even mild acts of sibling aggression are as detrimental as the bullying kids face at school. When I read the article I immediately flash backed to my childhood.
As the youngest of three boys, I had my fair share of emotional and physical trauma. The hole my head made in a wall from my oldest brother throwing me, the "inadvertent" broken nose my middle brother gave me. At times, I was a test dummy as my brothers' brains developed the capacity to see what would or wouldn't hurt a human. Nothing wrong with a little brotherly love. On top of that I wasn't as smart as my Ivy League oldest brother or as athletic as my all-star three-sport middle brother.
I've often examined what role my family dynamic played in my diagnosis of bipolar disorder when I was 16. Both of my parents have a history of depression, anxiety and addiction in their families. With that ticking time bomb of a biological makeup it was more a matter of what disorder would I get and when would it come out. I had a predisposition for an emotional disorder and a home environment ripe for exposing it.
Another complicating factor in this maelstrom of emotions was my personality. My brothers could never have known how ridiculously sensitive I was or how much attention I needed. I obsessed over comments that others easily brushed off. I overanalyzed situations again and again, reliving the pain of the events, and then turning it inward until my self-hatred seeped from my pores. I started binge drinking to shut my brain down and engaging in really risky behavior, because I didn't know how to cope. I didn't possess the knowledge necessary to change my patterns of destructive decisions.
I could run down the list of all of the difficult things I went through with my family, as well as the extensions those hardships caused on my self esteem, but the reality is that focusing on all of the external factors in my life didn't help me. This approach of constantly identifying everything affecting kids won't help them without a second step.
Almost everyday we see new studies, reports, and statistics outlining what is dangerous. The media inundates us with headlines about what to fear. Bullying, guns, violent video games, death metal music, sibling aggression, etc. By fixating on all of these issues we're missing the opportunity to give kids the tools they need to handle these outside forces. We can't remove all of the things threatening kids, but we can help them understand how to cope.
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is helping kids as young as age 5 begin to learn vital lessons about brain development, coping, and mindfulness. Programs like Mind Up, mold a child's brain to be better equipped to handle all of the stresses they will face in their lives. The results from Mind Up show a significant decrease in incidences of bullying, lower rates of stress, fewer missed days of school and an increase in empathy. As more SEL courses are developed for young people it will also be important to create engaging lessons for students in middle schools, high schools and colleges to receive this life changing information.
My bipolar disorder, self-hatred, and the challenges from my childhood were far less overwhelming as I learned new ways to process those feelings. I was fortunate to be able to utilize therapy and re-shape the pathways in my brain to create a healthier life. Better coping skills helped me make sense of my family dynamic and brought us closer together. Without achieving the second step of dealing with my stresses, I'd still be a victim to the trauma of my childhood.