The death of Rebecca Sedwick had parents in Pinellas County upset enough to attend a bullying class

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Holly Sonberg has three children at home and knows she'd never want to see any of them hurt or bury one.

"I just can't imagine how that mother is feeling," said Sonberg.

Sonberg is referring to the mother of Rebecca Sedwick.  The 12-year-old jumped off an old cement tower earlier this week, ending her life.  Her tragic death is being blamed on bullying.

"Unfortunately, by tragedies like this that have happened, it brings to light how serious this is," Sonberg said.

This tragedy was enough to prompt Sonberg to become proactive about bullying and to attend a bullying seminar in St. Petersburg Thursday night.

Therapist Seamus Allman, who has worked for 42 years in the field, deals primarily with bullying and learned helplessness.  Allman led the hour-long seminar and provided an alternative way of tackling bullying that does not involve taking away cell phones or the internet.

"We teach our young people how to survive storms and fight a storm," explained Allman.

Allman believes it all comes down to frame of mind and perspective.

"It is not just optimism as a magical intervention, but just that whole sense in language of whatever it is I am dealing with now, we will get through this, I will get through this," Allman said.

According to Allman, bullying is an epidemic and therefore an issue that must be addressed by society as a whole.  It is not an issue that solely rests on parents to resolve.

He believes we all must be on the lookout for what he calls learned helplessness.

"People that are exposed, that they get the message that there is very little that they feel they can do about it, they tend to give in," he added.

Often times, learned helplessness can be noticed in the thought processes children use and will manifest itself in their spoken words.  Adults need to be on the lookout for "Twisted Thinking" like:

  • All-or-nothing thinking (black-and-white....no grey areas)
  • Over generalizations (never ending pattern)
  • Mental filter (dwelling on the negative, ignoring the positive)
  • Discounting the positive (doesn't count, not good enough)
  • Jumping to conclusions (mind reading, fortune telling)
  • Magnification (binocular process)
  • Emotional reasoning (I feel _____, therefore _______)
  • "Should" statements (must, oughts & have-to)
  • Labeling (I'm a loser, failure, jerk...he's worse)
  • Personalization & Blame (If only I....)

Allman says children need to focus on how they made a positive impact that day or what went right. 

He believes regular family meetings can achieve giving children the sense of being confident and secure enough to go out in the world and be successful.

He says the least confident children often end up being the bullies.

"The only reason people are saying this stuff is because they are in a lousy place in their own heads," Allman explained.

If you find your child is the bully, Allman warns that you must take it seriously, act quickly and tell them you are disappointed.   He prefaced his advice by telling those in attendance a good parent-child relationship provides a foundation for discussions like this to take place.

He said values must be established in a household and defined.  Values should include safety, security, trust and mutual respect.

Allman provided statistics showing the majority of bullies end up having run-ins with the law later in life and are more likely to perpetrate domestic violence.  Just another reason adults, whether they be teachers, parents or a passerby, need to address bullies.

According to Allman, long term bullying can result in victims having financial troubles and mental health issues.

Allman urges parents of bullies and parents of bullying victims to go to workshops and classes to learn more about these behaviors.

We are taking action for you with several ways to address bullying.  Visit http://wfts.tv/17UdBNt  to learn more.

You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).  The toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in our national network. These centers provide 24-hour crisis counseling and mental health referrals.

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