Parenting Teens: Ask the Expert

How Boys and Girls Bully Differently; When Teen Gambling Becomes an Addiction

By Russell Hyken, Ed.S., LPC, Columnist for St. Louis Kids Magazine
Q: Some of my daughter's friends seem to be teasing her a little more than they should. She seems hurt by this but tells me there is nothing wrong. Could she be hiding her feelings?

A: Girls can be just as aggressive as boys. In fact, some might consider female hostility more dramatic and damaging than boy bullying.
Girls antagonize in a covert, complex and long-term manner; boys, on the other hand, are overt, obnoxious and instantaneous. Girls employ socially manipulative tactics, often causing good friends to be instant enemies.
Relational aggression is a growing area of concern for today's teen and the typical type of hurtful behavior most frequently used in female circles.

Bully girls use exclusionary tactics to inflict hurt on others by crowding an unwanted victim out of a lunch table spot, encouraging friends to give a cold shoulder and spreading inappropriate rumors. The results are internal scars that may take years to heal, and, unfortunately, most girls fall victim to this behavior at some point during the high school years.

Pay attention to how your daughter acts to determine if she is a target of a "really" mean girl. Look for dropping grades and listen to the language she uses to describe her day.

Do your teen's comments indicate that she wants to switch schools and escape her world? Is she acting overly tough to mask a source of unknown pain? Is she fearful that her relational problems will never end? These are signs of a distressed daughter facing intense inner turmoil.

Because girls tend to be overly critical of themselves, they need the support of their families and friends to develop defenses against daily dramas. Empathize with your daughter's distress and discuss relation- building strategies.

Teach your daughter to compliment the accomplishments of her peers. It is a sign of confidence that others will respond to with a positive attitude.

Discuss how joining with others can help your teen reach her goals and build positive relationships based on success. Group studying, for example, is more rewarding than lonely, late-night learning.

Emphasize the importance of open and honest communication. Confronting a situation with respect and working toward problem resolution will deescalate issues in a mature manner.

Most importantly, encourage your daughter to engage in a variety of activities. Students that have multiple friends tend to cope better with drama because they have more social supports.

It may be difficult to determine if you daughter is a victim of relational aggression. A boy comes home with a black eye, but a young woman's inner scars may be unnoticeable.

Staying connected with regular family time and frequent conversation is the best way to encourage open communication about this or any problem.

Q: My son seems to be spending a lot of time playing poker with his friends. He also reads about it on the Internet and watches it on TV. Could he have a gambling problem?

A: Most kids are exposed to gambling long before they reach the adolescent years. They bet their friends they can run faster, make a basket or choose the winning team.

They play chance games at fast food restaurants with lucky scratch-off cards or look under the cap of carbonated beverages to win a prize. In fact, I will bet that you have made an innocent wager with your child and didn't even realize it.

Today's generation is the first to grow up with legalized gaming. In one form or another, gambling has been legitimized in every state. Be it a casino, lottery or sports book, games of chance have become part of popular culture.

Further extending the reach of this highly profitable industry is the Internet, which offers anyone the opportunity to "make a bet" with virtually no regulations regarding age and ability. 

What distinguishes social gambling from problem betting has more to do with the individual than rolling the dice. In fact, most kids like to make the occasional bet and find wagering to be a fun but forgettable experience.

Unfortunately, approximately 11 percent of teens admit to gambling regularly, and one in 50 teens has a true addiction.

The best way to prevent gaming addiction is to pay attention and covertly converse with your kids about fiscal awareness. Explain how the family budget works. Let your teens know there are things you want but can't afford. 

And emphasize the importance of relationships over material matters. Acknowledge the occasional small wager is acceptable, but explain how obsession over the next win and anxiety over a current loss are the signs of an emerging problem.

Lastly, what makes gaming addictions so scary is that problem gamblers can initially hide their betting behaviors. There are no needle marks, blood-shot eyes or slurred speech.

Furthermore, many gamers, on the outside, are strong students who are highly motivated to be successful. On the inside, however, these kids can't manage their impulsivity and often suffer from low self-esteem.

When they lose, they lose control. Grades slip, household money goes missing and relationships weaken. Many turn to additional addictions to mask their pain and frustration.

Send questions for this column regarding teen issues to Hyken at
[email protected]. Anonymity will be granted.


Russell Hyken, Ed.S., MA, LPC, NCC, CEP, is a licensed professional counselor, an educational diagnostician and a regular columnist for St. Louis Kids Magazine. With more than 15 years of experience as a high school English teacher, school counselor and school administrator, Hyken is now in private practice. His practice, Educational and Psychotherapy Services, specializes in educational/ADHD evaluations, individual and family therapy, and local and national educational options for learning disabled students and troubled teens. He can be reached at 314-691-7640 or through his web site

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