Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

If each one of us untangled one string at a time...

Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Pat on the Back

Bravo to everyone in 2009 who did something big -- or small -- to help stop the heartache of bullying. The fact you cared could have saved a child or an adult years of unnecessary pain.

If you did any of the following, stop and give yourself a round of applause:

• Noticed a child's sadness and asked them about it. Then really listened.

• Didn't judge a friend when they confided in you about their child's issues with bullying.

• Acted outraged when you saw someone being mistreated and said, "That's horrible! You don't deserve that!"

• Taught your child to always "be nice to the new kid" or the "kid who's a little different."

• Spent a moment to tell your child that you're proud of them because they didn't join in when someone was being bullied.

• Watched a "reality" show with your kids and then when things got mean, said "That's not reality."

• Asked them to take you for a tour of their online world and reminded them that the golden rule applies there, too.

• Taught your kids and co-workers about the beauty of sometimes NOT hitting "Send."

• Paid attention to the kid that sometimes isn't paid attention to.

• Looked people in the eye and validated their feelings.

• Taught your child to stand up straight and look others in the eye.

• Encouraged your child to have a few different groups of friends.

• Made your child feel, whether they're at that lovable stage or not, they are loved and valued just by your expression when they walked in a room.

There are many more but you know what they are.

And thank you to the organizations who work on bullying issues every day, such as the International Bullying Prevention Association.

Let's really make good things happen in 2010. That means all of you out there with money, start spending it on public service and school campaigns that first and foremost educate and empower the bystander.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Please Re-Gift

For any parent who had the joy of seeing their angelic children opening up the coveted cell phones, computers, and XBoxes this holiday season, there's another gift that goes with it. One that the whole family can enjoy. Some Common Sense.

As parents, we all know that this new age of technology brings great things, such as talking with friends, downloading music, movies, tv shows, help with homework, texting and "apps" galore. Kids who receive their first cell phone have that glorious feeling of empowerment and independence.

Independence is so great. It's comparable to the thrilling feeling of getting that first bike. And I bet when you purchased the bike, you also bought the helmet.

So consider this tip a gift to you and your little munchkins. It's information on how to keep your kids safe online. It's incredibly worth reading because you'll sleep better at night. To raise good digital citizens we have to become good digital parents.
Common Sense is a great tool to help with some of the gray areas of parenting when it comes to technology and safety.

Go ahead and read it. It doesn't take long. No longer than getting on the knee and elbow guards and snapping on the helmet and running down the street holding the back of the bike and yelling, "Pedal, Pedal, Pedal!".

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bystanders are Victims, Too

A new study from Britain sheds light on an aspect of bullying not often discussed. The impact on the bystander.

According to the study, "Watching their peers get bullied puts adolescents at risk for psychological problems and substance abuse even if they're not victims or perpetrators."

The research revealed that students who simply witnessed bullying were more likely to experience a bunch of bad things: "feelings of inferiority, depression, anxiety, paranoia, and "somatization" or physical manifestations of stress such as stomach aches." (And by the way, I learned a new word -- somatization. I think I've actually had that myself and didn't know it.)

But seriously, I was actually a bit relieved to read these findings because kids, and adults for that matter, must have some reaction to a mean-spirited environment. Being around mean can make you sick or want to escape. It's the same for adults who are in a work environment where people are mistreated. Makes perfect sense.

What do we do with this information? Start building a bigger case for money to be invested to help schools tackle the problem. A study like this is further confirmation that bullying affects a much wider group than the people directly involved. In reality, every single person can be a bystander.

And as parents, be aware. When a child, no matter what age, relates a story to you about how mean someone is to another in school, don't blow it off because you're relieved your child isn't the bully or the victim. It may really be bothering them. They may be thinking they're next or they're weak because they don't feel they can help.

Next, give them assurance that they can stick up for someone without putting themselves in harms way. Telling a parent is the first step. As the trusted person, show interest but don't betray their trust by gossiping about it. If necessary, mention it to the teacher or principal yourself. Follow up by asking your child if the bullying is continuing.

Let them talk. Really listen. Tell them you're proud of them for having empathy. Let them know you're on their side in case they're afraid the bullying might happen to them.

Be the safety net.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hearing a Message as Powerful as Her Voice

I just read a short celebrity type blurb about Susan Boyle and how bullying affected her life. Of course, it came as no surprise. People were still rolling their eyes at her when they saw her step on the stage before her dynamic performance.

I hear the same story over and over again. When people ask me what I do and I mention my interest in bullying, you can't believe the number of adults who blurt out their story and the pain, not matter the age, is apparent.

Many feel bullying is a "rite of passage." I'm pretty open-minded and perhaps there's some truth to that, but when you see the pain linger for years, the "passage" part never happened.

Why not? I'm sure there's a mix of reasons (once again, a Tangled Ball). It could be personality or other life circumstances or perhaps the fact that no one stepped in, either to stop it or to empathize.

And now with cyber-bullying, watch out! It's only worse. More embarrassing and impossible to escape. Can you imagine if you're a kid who's being mistreated at school and you just can't wait to get home to escape -- but then it starts online? You have no where to go.

Linda Sanford, author of Strong at the Broken Places, was the keynote speaker at the International Bullying Prevention Conference in Pittsburgh several weeks ago. One of her many skillfully delivered messages was that one person can make such a difference in the emotional life of another person going through trauma. According to Sanford, "it doesn't have to be someone who is there all the time." Just someone who supports with words, or gestures, or kindnesses and respect.

Which means we all have the potential of impacting the life of a person of any age who, because of our basic interest in them, may grow to be healthier and happier. I find this hopeful which is perhaps why this conference was titled, Hope.

Just seeing, caring and showing a little outrage -- "You don't deserve that!"-- can go a long way to diminish the long term heartache.

P.S. If you have 5 min. watch Britain's Got Talent video again. Wouldn't it be great to interview those audience members who were dramatically rolling their eyeballs? You never know when 80 million people will end up seeing you look like an insensitive boob.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Follow up on GMA Story

Not So Kid-Friendly Web Sites

Think about this. It's CRAZY young kids on NICK.com (often 10 and under) can link to REALLY inappropriate games on AddictingGames.com (owned by Nickelodeon's parent company?!).

To be fair, I don't want to pick on NICK but it's a good example. Although there's a warning that you're leaving the Nickelodeon site, it disappears in 5 seconds. Secondly, there's a "bomb" icon that comes up when a game appears that's not appropriate. But if a child is linking and the parent THINKS they're on the NICK site, it doesn't help.

It's a new "parenting screen issue." What's that you ask? I made it up, but it's when you assume you're safe letting your child watch anything or interact with anything on a screen that you think is totally fine, like a football game on tv. Then the most bizarre and violent promo comes up for one of the lame network shows that you wouldn't let your child near. But the network took that decision from you and showed them :30 of it anyway. And since it happened so fast, you're racing to find the right button on the remote or your leaping over furniture to turn off the tv. But it's too late because they've already seen it and they're a little freaked out watching their parent overreact.

Now "linking" is doing the same thing. And when they're under 10 you don't want them to grow up too fast but you do want them to develop good judgment. So let them know about "leaving sites and entering a new site" and talk about all the tricks that Web sites have. Maybe even have a laugh and tell them how they're already more mature than the so called "adults" that produce tv shows or create vile links.

And keep talking so they talk back (in a good way) and tell you things, like when they stumble over something that they're embarrassed about or if someone says something bad to them online. They'll know you have respect for their judgment and empathy for them because it's not their fault.

They're 10 and under. They deserve to be kids.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Why Nice Kids Do Mean Things Online

There's been a horrible rash of online bullying incidents with downright tragic results making the national news. And unfortunately, the kids involved are 12 and 13 years old. What's happening? Have middle schoolers gone crazy? Are we raising cruel children? The LA Times article about the "Kick a Ginger Day" campaign on Facebook sheds some light on why even good kids can do incredibly mean things and why they don't even think of it as "bullying."

According to the LA Times, "Their developing prefrontal cortex makes them impulsive, hypersensitive, unprepared to weigh risks and rewards. In fact, the mere presence of a teenager's friends can unhinge the brain and lead to lousy choices.

In a recent brain-imaging experiment by Temple University psychologist Laurence Steinberg, teenagers who brought their friends along to the lab for the experiment took twice as many risks as those who were alone when they were administered computerized risk-taking tests."

This is the type of research that should be shared with teachers and parents at every middle school across the country. Kids have more ways to "flex their muscles" online and try things they wouldn't normally do. And since nice kids feel bad after they've realized that they've caused harm, it would be great to give them the tools they need to exercise judgment before they hit "send."

It's our job as digital parents to help our little digital citizens avoid getting sucked into the digital mob.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Parental Controls and Bullying

I only have one friend who actually uses parental controls on the computer, television and X-box (but I promise you, I do have a lot of friends). She's a single mom, originally from Ireland, with two boys ages 8 and 10 and a demanding job. Since I feel a little guilty for never using parental controls, I got up the nerve to ask her why and how she uses them.

Her answer reflected a common concern: predators. In her words, "I suppose most parents rely on themselves being the control but the web is way too vast and the predators are many steps ahead. I wish they'd realise that these people aren't hanging outside on the playground as much as pretending to be 13 on kids' sites! Anyway - I am the strictest, cruelest Mom in the Universe!"

I can assure you, she is not, and her kids really don't think so either. And although her main goal was to keep predators out and to monitor bad Web sites and violent video games and tv shows, the parental control on the X-box helped in another unpredictable way: with bullying.

"Conor told me about a nasty IM on X-box from a friend (he thinks I view everything later and would see it) and I explained the nastiness of kids when they can hide behind anonymity but also of friends when they're not there in person. Again, it's tough. As with any bullying done by friends, you nearly have to wait until your own kid opens up to you."

According to a 2004 iSafe survey, 58% of kids do not tell their parents when they've been bullied online. Experts believe this number has only increased.

The moral of this story is that any way you can build in a system that encourages your children to talk to you about uncomfortable subjects so that you can react appropriately -- and then help -- sounds like a plan to me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thanks to Broadband for America for taking an interest in the New Neighborhood...

Prepare for the Worst to Enjoy the Best…
Parenting in the New Neighborhood

I was worried when my daughter first started high school. The phone never rang. No friends? That’s when it hit me; they’re all online and it’s the “new neighborhood.”

There have been countless good things about the new “hood.” Hours of fun watching YouTube, invaluable help with homework, sharing information and developing friendships.

But just like any neighborhood, it has a few dark alleys.

Parents naturally worry about online predators but in reality cyber-bullying has become the number one issue of concern. According to an iSafe study several years ago over 42% of kids online had experienced some form of cyber-bullying.

The insidious nature of bullying in the schoolyard is bad enough. Now just imagine that you can’t get away from your bully and you can’t control who reads nasty things about you or sees mortifying photos. Over half the kids cyber-bullied don’t even tell anyone. It’s worth noting that most kids don’t ever use the word “cyber” or “offline” and “online.” It’s their life and when it happens they’re feeling attacked and alone.

While legislators, policy makers, judicial system and law enforcement all have key roles to play in this tangled ball issue there is an immediate need for the industry, parents and schools to step up.

Help kids avoid some of the pitfalls when they’re young. Look at it this way. If you built a pool in the backyard, you’d teach your kids to swim, you’d build a fence, install an alarm…and then enjoy the pool. (By the way, I thought this was an original thought but in doing research I’ve found that well respected authorities have also used this analogy. So much for being uniquely brilliant.)

We could use a far-reaching national awareness campaign and someone to pay for it; the industry to offer more product-based solutions; a strategy for schools including training teachers and making online safety and digital literacy a required part of the curriculum; and parenting tools that address age-specific issues.

Luckily, there are smart people doing great work to help families with online safety. The best advice I’ve come across is a combination of good old-fashioned parenting with some technology savvy thrown in, such as:

• Hold your own child to the same standards online as offline, including treating others with respect. Even good kids try to “flex their muscles” online.

• Place the computer in a common area and sign a contract with your child that lays out your expectations for their technology use (“netiquette”) and then post it next to the computer.

• Be smart about what age your child will be allowed to be on a social network and know exactly what it’s all about. For example, the required age for facebook and MySpace is 13 but since it can’t be enforced some kids lie about their age.

• Set a tone that signals to your child that they won’t be punished if they share a problem they’re having online. Take their concerns seriously. Listen and sympathize but DON’T overreact by taking their beloved computer and/or cell phone away.

• Compliment them when they use good judgment such as not “friending” someone untrustworthy or not passing along hurtful messages.

• Take 7 minutes to watch Common Sense Approach to Internet Safety and encourage your child’s school to take a look, too
• The “What You Need to Know” video tutorial from iKeepSafe is also a great resource and is short enough to fit into a busy schedule.

To raise good digital citizens we have to be good digital parents but in the end parenting is parenting whether it’s offline or online. All parents and schools should know about the great information out there to help them prepare for the worst while enjoying the best the new neighborhood has to offer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Parenting Offline to Online

I'm not proud of the fact that that my children were never given any guidance when I put them in front of the computer. Who knows what sites they've seen? And I never discussed mobile phone etiquette so if they ever received hurtful texts, they didn't tell me. (A high percentage of preteens and teens don't tell. One reason: fear their parents will overreact by taking away their access to Facebook, MySpace and their beloved cell.)

But, I've learned that it's just like teaching your kids how to swim. Once you do, you worry a little less about them drowning.

As parents, we don't need one more thing to make us feel like we're lousy at our jobs, but who has the time to do everything? This short video from iKeepSafe might help. Check out the What You Need to Know.

It's like a short swimming lesson. It's good if you get wet but you don't have to stay in the pool until your fingertips shrivel. In other words, it covers the basics so you know enough to watch from the sidelines and cheer when your kids say "Mom, watch this!," or jump in when they look like they're in a little trouble.

Kids shouldn't feel alone in the new neighborhood of technology. They need us.

What's your favorite resource?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Home Version of Anti-Bullying Campaign

"Be nice to the new kid."

"Don't be mean to kids when you're online."

"It doesn't matter what the other kids are doing, never do or say anything to make someone feel bad."

"If kids are saying things you don't like about someone, come tell me. You won't get into trouble and I'll be careful how I handle it."

"I saw how you took a little extra time with the boy who has special needs in your class. I'm proud of you."

"Thanks for telling me about that mean text. I'm so glad you didn't add to the gossip."

"You're a good example to the kids in your class. That's what leadership is."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Click Here But Have Tissues Ready

A New Low..Boy with CP Being Tormented by Classmates...

I usually try to stay upbeat but this story has me reeling with anger. How can this happen? A 15-year old boy with cerebral palsy being emotionally humiliated and physically abused by classmates -- since 3rd grade????

By the way, one of the most disturbing aspects of this abuse is holding him down and pouring dog food in his mouth. Barbaric. But we're letting it happen.

As Bill Cosby would say, "Come on, people!". We need to start recognizing that we are raising an angry society and the line just keeps getting crossed.

No one stepped in??? It's a simple lesson for everyone -- Don't let things like this happen. Say something. Do Something. Anything.

And talk to your children about never engaging in cruel behavior even as a "bystander." Watching and/or knowing and not doing anything about it is cruel in itself.

We're not saying enough to our children to make them aware of right and wrong. We're abdicating our responsibility and letting entertainment take over. Kids are watching enough "reality" tv to presume that the mean behavior they see IS reality. It's not...yet. But because we don't explain that it's not or simply turn the tv off, it's slowly but surely becoming reality. Somehow kids in the U.S. are getting the message that mean is somewhat "cool."

Irresponsible producers will never see the light and do the right thing. So Step Up Parents. Step Up Kids. And Step Up Schools. This should be breaking all of our hearts.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Eye Contact

Can we discuss one of the most insidious of all bullying tactics? Not giving eye contact. Yep. If you've ever been on the receiving end, you know what I mean. It's a message that you're not worthy. And when done as a group, watch out. You can end up in the fetal position.

It's a tactic not only used by middle and high school girls but by many passive aggressive adults. I've personally used it and it works. But I didn't feel good about it and I'm not doing it again.

It's a great weapon because the perpetrator can get away with it. It's subtle but effective.

I've decided to call people out on it. Why not? And, it's possible to do that without lowering yourself. Most bullying can be stopped with just a few words.

Next time someone doesn't give me eye contact intentionally, I'm going to try to get their eye and say, "Is everything ok?" And if they ask why I ask that, I'm going to reply, "Because you're not looking at me and you seem tense." At the very least it makes them think that they're not as subtle as they thought they were. They'll have to find some other means to make me feel small.

But for kids it's different. A lot harder. I think adults should be aware of the kind of hurt it causes and at least step in with awareness and sympathy.

But that might not be enough. Anyone out there have advice?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Jelly Bean Wisdom

My son, Peter, coaches the "mighty" Jelly Beans, an adorable assortment of 4-year old boys and girls who are learning a team sport for the first time.

It dawned on me as I watched them enthusiastically make goals for the opposing team (The Peanuts) that this was much more than learning a sport. It was learning how to treat each other.

Out of the blue, a frustrated little Peanut shoved a Jelly Bean right to the ground. It was the quickest way to get the ball. After the Ref reprimanded the perpetrator, the game was about to resume. I was proud to see that big, tall, 25-year old Peter stopped the game to kneel down, look his pint-sized player in the eye and compliment him for NOT hitting back.

When the action started up again, all was forgiven. Then the craziest thing happened. The little boy that had been shoved went from feeling shaken to feeling full of confidence and went on to make three goals -- for his own team this time.

I guess the moral of this Jelly Bean story is that if more adults took the time to stop, connect and compliment, the emotional effects of bullying wouldn't be so brutal.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

This Mom Should Feel Proud

I was talking to a young girl, now in 8th grade, about how hard the transition was for her when she moved schools two years ago. It was tough. The girls were not as inclusive as they should have been and had a tendency to gossip and the boys in her class were rough and never missed a chance to tease.

But things turned around the next year. I asked her what happened. She said she didn't share her problems with the other kids because she wasn't sure they would use it against her. She said she started trying to find friends she could trust by working on different projects with different kids and getting to know them. Eventually, she found a different set of friends.

When I asked her what her advice was for other kids, she said, "Tell an adult. I told my mother and she listened. It made things better."

Actually, listening isn't as easy as it sounds. When I asked her mom about it, she said, "Listening. A lot of parents don't do that but it's the job. Moms worry about their hair or going to the mall more than listening to their kids but it's the most important thing."

In this case, it spared her sweet girl hours of hurt.

This mom should feel very proud.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Serena... Accomplished Tennis Player and Bully (click here)

Can you imagine being the line judge at the U.S. Tennis Open when Serena Williams came at her telling her that she'd like to shove the (expletive) tennis ball down her (expletive) throat? It wasn't funny but I did have a little laugh when she said that "she DID NOT tell the line judge that she was "going to kill her."

Call me crazy but I think a tennis ball shoved down the throat might actually be fatal.

But maybe the most disturbing of the entire incident was Serena's attitude at the press conference immediately afterwards. She was still feeling pretty tough and actually laughed it off and sneered at some of the reporters' questions.

Bullying behavior as far as I can see.

After a few days and probably a few dozen panicked phone calls from her publisher and other endorsers, she decided to properly apologize. I don't buy it but I do have to thank her for being one of the clearest and most visible examples of bullying we've come across.

Congratulations, Serena.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bully in the Making

Today a friend of mine is in the odd position of confronting a 9 year-old bully in the making. Yikes. It's a tricky situation. She's related (by marriage). The only positive for her is that she's not blood.

My friend has caught her in the act of being really mean repeatedly. She goes out of her way to tell other kids that they're not liked and fires off the list of reasons. Then she spreads rumors among her little friends and is already creating a gang mentality. She's very "cute" physically so her family thinks of her as "precious." The kiss of death.

Sunday was the last straw. She rode her bike up to my friend's son who is much older than she is and, in an effort to impress her little friends, went after him verbally. He tried to laugh it off but it wasn't cool at all.

What to do next!? First, I advised my friend not to do anything until she was completely calm. She's given it two days.

Next, it's time to strategize. I actually went to a few Web sites for her and didn't find anything really on target but what I did find is an article about bullies and empathy. It's challenging because the "little bully" doesn't seem to have much empathy. How do you get them to understand?

Luckily, the child's parent is the one who has to do the heavy lifting and teach her child about right and wrong. The only thing my friend can do is handle the situation to accomplish what she needs to accomplish.

This is what she doesn't want to happen. She doesn't want to start a family war and she doesn't want to embarrass her son.

This is what needs to happen. "Precious" needs to squirm.

I'll keep you "posted." Literally.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Not So Easy for Young Bystanders

Many bullying experts believe that empowering bystanders to step in is the key to improving bullying situations. This makes great sense but it's still very complicated and not a "one size fits all" or "one size fits all ages" answer.

Just as the "gang mentality" of bullies works for them, enlisting the support of all students in a school to step in seems like an effective way to go. Basically, you educate a "gang of supporters." Kids, rightfully so, feel intimidated and ill equipped to step in to certain situations on their own. If whole classrooms are taught how to recognize bullying and given easy tools like simple things to say and ways to intervene, kids might not feel so nervous about doing the right thing.

Last week, I had an experience where a group of socially popular adults were bad mouthing others that weren't there to defend themselves. I was very uncomfortable and felt like if I said something, they would laugh at me or start talking about me when I left the room (which was very shortly after). Sound like middle school? It felt like middle school, and after all the research I've done on the issue of bullying, I still wonder why I didn't step in. It really made me empathize with kids faced with these tricky situations.

Here's an article from GreatSchools which helps focus on this debate and gives a few tips to parents.

What do you think? Any tips for kids? (Just go to the right and click "Not So Easy for Young Bystanders" under "Blog Archive." Simply scroll down a bit and leave a comment. All feedback and suggestions are important.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bullying: Bad For Your Health??

In June, The American Academy of Pediatrics officially named bullying a health risk.

Do you agree that bullying should be considered a health risk? Why or why not?

Join the national conversation. Click "Bullying: Bad For Your Health?" under Blog Archive to the right. Scroll down to Post a Comment and tell us what you really think.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Share Your Brilliant Ideas to Help Parents with Internet Safety

It's the "New Neighborhood Watch."

In opening remarks at a recent UN symposium on Cyber Hate, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "The Internet has brought tremendous good but there are a few dark alleys."

Many smart people are out there trying to help us navigate the "dark alleys," but no doubt the best advice comes from parents who live in real homes with real kids. It's time to share tips on what's working. Everything from where the computer is in the home, age appropriateness and social networking, cyberbullying, rules, enforcement of rules and what happens when, as in the "old" days when you didn't want your parents invading your room, your kids don't want you near their computer or their Facebook page.

Let's hear it all and about every age. Let's help each other face the fear of the new neighborhood of technology land so we can move on to other activities, like saving for college. Just kidding. I'd rather talk about the dangers of the Internet. Much less scary.

Click on "Share Your Brilliant Ideas..." under Archive to the right and a comment box will appear at the bottom. Give your best advice, vent a little, ask a question or preach. Whatever will shed a little light.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lessons From Ryan's Story...Step In

At age 13, Ryan Halligan had enough of bullying and took his own life. His parents did everything they could to blunt the effects of bullying on their kind, sensitive son but he was surrounded. It happened in school and it happened online.

According to a recent study led by “Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, 42% of kids bullied on the Web are also harassed at school.” (Parents, June 2009).

Where do you start to tackle the issue; to make a difference? John Halligan, Ryan’s dad, started by going to middle and high schools himself and telling Ryan’s story. Eventually, he was in such demand that he had to make the choice of giving up a long career as an engineer at IBM and devoting all his time talking to as many kids, parents and administrators as possible.

His mission is personal. Bullying is personal. And bullying is a hurt that sometimes doesn’t get healed.

What John Halligan is doing is admirable. It must be painful every time he gets up to address an auditorium full of kids that remind him of his own. His presentation is addressed to bullies and victims, but maybe most importantly, to the bystander. The bystander is the key to stopping repeated mean behavior. Bullies bully because they can. John Halligan is empowering kids to step in. It’s the most powerful anti-bullying tool around.

A letter from a middle school student after one of John’s presentations:

“Dear Mr. Halligan,
I have learned from our assembly to not be a bystander. Our school gave us papers about your unfortunate situation. I instantly went on the internet to learn about Ryan’s story. After I finished reading me and my mom were in tears. My mom tells me things happen for a reason, although I don’t know what the reason is. I know that Ryan wouldn’t want you to stay sad. Your story has inspired me and hopefully it will inspire others. I hope you go around different places and teach others NOT TO BE A BULLY!!”

The Halligan family is brave and their bravery is making a difference. Now we should all step in.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Suspected "Bullicide"

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What's Your Advice?

Check out this Dear Deidre column. A sixteen year-old boy writes in to ask the advice columnist for The Sun (a British paper), if he should stand up for his friend who is being badly bullied. Her advice, in a nutshell, is to not get too involved and encourage the boy to go to an adult authority.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

GOOD NEWS...Things got better for Tricia...

Remember Tricia? (Click on May Archive to the right for the full story.) Well, I heard from her mom...and guess what? Things are better at school. Both Tricia and her mom are in disbelief. It seems that how she said...or something she said...on the bus on the way home from the school trip clicked with a few of the kids. Shock of all shocks, one of the girls recently invited Tricia to her birthday party and a boy invited her to his party in August.

As life goes, Tricia couldn't go to the girl's party because she was going to be out of town. (Don't you just hate that, parents?! Just when you think you have everything planned and organized, something important comes up for your kids...and you're conflicted!)

Guess what smart thing Tricia's mom did, though? The two of them went out and bought the girl a gift and dropped it off at her house. The girl actually hugged Tricia.

Thought you could use a good ending. And it's true.

The moral of this story is to listen to your child, don't let anger blind you and hang in there!

Feel free to write your story and we'll get the experts to weigh in. No kidding. Vent a little. (Just go to right hand column and click on "Good News...Things got better for Tricia" in the blog archive and a comment box will appear at the bottom. No need to use your real name if you don't want to.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

EXTRA! EXTRA! New York Times and Tangled Ball

It would be time well spent to read this article which touches on a range of pertinent questions about bullying, prevention and response. But the readers' comments on the NYT web health blog are mind blowing. It’s clear by the comments that the effects of bullying last a lifetime. Do they have to?

Here to see it!

Appeared in New York Times Comments on June 9, 2009:

Fantastic article and extremely worthy of discussion. 
Bullying is a “tangled ball.” In some situations, it is easily untangled and in others, it’s knotted and extremely complicated. It will take health professionals, parents, schools, law enforcement, judicial system, and internet providers, to add their voices, their expertise, their interest and their money to come up with real answers.

In the meantime, children are suffering every day. We, as adults, can’t wait for change to help kids who are being affected as we speak. As parents, friends, mentors, teachers and mature adults, we can make a big difference in real time by paying attention, picking up on any signs of sadness and caring enough to ask the right questions, to learn to be patient enough to hear the answers and to help in whatever way possible.

Just knowing someone cares can lift some of the burden. The ” tangled ball” blog was started to dissect one bullying incident at a time by describing actual bullying challenges and get the experts to weigh in with effective advice. http://tangledball.blogspot.com/

We can all help to lift the burden one child, one home, one school at a time while we work on national initiatives.
— Susan Raisch (Tangled Ball)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Our Experts and Joshua's Dilemma

SuEllen Fried, founder of Bully Safe USA bullysafeusa, author and respected national and international speaker on the topic of child abuse and bullying, addressed the issue of sibling bullying at the 2008 International Bullying Prevention Association Conference attended by educators, legislators, law enforcement officers and psychologists...and me. Her presentation struck a cord with almost everyone in the room. Although the audience was comprised of professionals attending to expand their professional skills, the topic hit a very personal, and not often discussed, note.

SuEllen generously agreed to weigh in on Joshua’s tough situation at school and at home:

Sibling Bullying:

Research indicates a strong connection between sibling bullying and peer bullying. More than half of victims of bullying by siblings were involved in bullying behavior at school. The sibling relationship is the most long lasting of all relationships and according to studies, the most violent. Fifty-three out of every 100 children abuse siblings. As our society was in denial about peer bullying for centuries, so are we in denial about the devastation of sibling bullying.

Clearly, Joshua's parents need to step in to support and protect him. The abuse of power he is experiencing - from the sins of commission from his brothers and the sins of omission from his parents, plus bullying at school leaves him in great pain. The pain cycle can turn to rage and revenge, or it can turn to depression and suicide. When a family becomes involved in scapegoating, the target becomes a sacrifice for the unresolved aggression issues of the other family members. Everyone pays a long-term price.

The school's decision to transfer the bullying students to another class is a good step, but more is required. The school needs to make sure that the "bullies" are not allowed to find another target in their new class and steps need to be taken to increase Joshua's belief in himself or he will send messages of vulnerability to other students who might be quick to turn on him. The school needs to adopt a strong bullying prevention and intervention program and the parents need to understand how important it is for them to become engaged in building a cohesive, caring, compassionate family system.

In regard to Joshua's low grades, testing might uncover a learning disability of some kind that is holding him back. There are numerous tests that might pinpoint a specific need and an appropriate intervention that could make an enormous difference in Joshua's life. It is extremely important to reach out to Joshua before he enters middle school with all of its challenges.

SuEllen Fried’s books are co-written with her daughter, Paula Fried, Ph.D., Clinical Psychology. Bullies and Victims, Helping Your Child Through the Schoolyard Battlefield and Bullies, Targets and Witnesses: Helping Children Break the Pain Chain” are thoughtful, well researched and worth the read. The sibling abuse chapter (Ch. 7) in Bullies and Victims gives great insight.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sibling Bullying and Joshua's Dilemma

Here’s a tricky situation. What happens when siblings bully each other? Most parents never consider the usual “sibling stuff” as bullying. They chalk it up to sibling rivalry but it can cross the line.

Joshua is eleven and is harassed at school. It’s a hard thing to stop because the particular class he’s in has about 5 boys who put other kids down and encourage each other’s mean spirited behavior. To the school’s credit, they are planning to switch the class up and move a few kids to another class next year but for right now, every day is miserable for Joshua who has tried everything.

Now, feeling deflated, he goes home every day where he gets picked on by his older and younger brother, too. He is constantly told that he’s stupid and a “baby.” (By the way, Joshua is far from stupid but his grades don’t reflect his capabilities.)
The abuse at home is escalating but the parents don’t recognize that it’s gotten worse. They’ve turned it off. Joshua’s parents have stuck up for him at school but at home they turn a blind eye.

Let’s hear from the experts.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

School Bullying Expert Weighs In!

Stan Davis, author of Schools Where Everyone Belongs: Practical Strategies for Reducing Bullying stopbullyingnow kindly agreed to give his expert opinion on Tricia’s bullying situation. His book is extremely well researched; he actually works in a school, actually likes kids and has actually lowered the bullying rate at his and other schools.

Stan’s thoughts on Tricia’s mom’s approach:

Be Careful How You Advise
First, he cautions, kids go to adults only because they’ve tried to handle the problem in multiple ways first and couldn’t. Adults have to be very careful on how to advise kids who’ve already tried different approaches, such as “yelling back and not taking any nonsense.” You don’t want to make them feel like they’re failing at the solution.

Don’t Empathize with the Bully
But, he told me, it’s great that Tricia’s mom didn’t empathize with the bullies. So many parents make the mistake of explaining the bully’s behavior in kind ways, such as “they didn’t mean it,” or “they were feeling bad about themselves.” As Stan puts it, “tormentors don’t need that type of support.” Reserve that empathy for the kids being tormented.

Bullying Can Drive Parents Crazy
Stan also understands why Tricia’s mom stood up and confronted the kids on the bus. She was desperate to solve something. Since the school’s actions were ineffective, Tricia’s mom needed something to happen. But, Stan says, “It probably won’t work.”

Schools Should Mirror Workplaces
Schools have to create strict guidelines that mirror the workplace where workers are not allowed to impede the work process and adversely affect the financial bottom line. The bottom line at schools is the learning process.
Just having teachers randomly talk to kids about bullying goes nowhere. As Stan says, “That’s like having Nancy Reagan stand up and tell people not to take drugs.”

They don’t listen.

Tangled Ball’s bottom line: The school needs Stan’s book

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tricia's Story: What's Your Take?

Let’s start with a school in New York: Tricia's Story

Tricia, a smart, quiet seventh grader has been constantly taunted for two years. Her classmates tease her about everything from what she wears to her bushy eyebrows. She sits alone at lunch and Tricia’s classmates make sure to ignore her in the hallways or “accidentally” bump into her.

Tricia has started to put herself down and is feeling “ugly” and “dumb.” Mom, an extrovert, advises her introverted daughter: “Just yell back at them when they tease and take no nonsense.”

The “nonsense” continues and after many letters and phone calls to the school administration with no results, her mother’s patience wears thin. She asks Tricia if she could talk to the kids directly and, surprisingly, Tricia encourages it. So on the way home from a school trip to an amusement park, Tricia’s mom stands up, asks the teacher if she could say a few words, and to the amazement of all on the bus, Tricia’s mom is blunt. She calls out the entire class and the boisterous mood turns to shock. As they squirm in their seats, Tricia’s mom tells them in no uncertain terms that she knows what they’re doing and they better stop.

Right or wrong? Stay tuned for the next Tangled Ball blog when we ask the experts to weigh in.

The Tangled Ball Theory

Flipping through the channels or reading the paper, the subject of bullying seems to be getting more and more attention. Even Oprah is tackling it. But when I started to research it for myself after watching Columbine unfold, I realized it was so much more than stereotypical Jock-Or-Nerd social strife. It’s about superiority, inferiority, self-esteem, empowerment, communication, sadness and a lot of confusion.

In short, it’s a tangled ball.

I have a library of books and have been in and out of many meetings and conventions across the country about all types of bullying. After all of the reading, listening and networking, one thing is clear: there is no “one size fits all” solution. Each strand, each perspective needs to be “untangled” one home at a time.

So here’s the first example of a bullying situation. Each bullying situation is different but it happens absolutely everywhere. Obviously, we’re not crazy enough to use real names but everything else is true. We’ll spell out the situation and how adults handled it.

Next, we’ll bring in the experts.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Check out NY1's coverage!


How a Read-a-thon Can Help Change a Life ...Mine

OLQP learns that reading pays off even in tough times.

Students at Our Lady Queen of Peace in New Dorp learned whether their hard work to raise money for two important causes during their annual Readathon, despite the economy, paid off. This year's themes: “Making Life Sweeter for Shannyn and Friends” and the Fr. Gannon OLQP Scholarship Fund hit home.

Since her birth four years ago, the entire OLQP parish has been praying for a brave little girl, Shannyn Craig. Shannyn suffers from ACC (Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum), a birth defect in which the structure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain (the corpus callosum) is partially or completely absent. In Shannyn’s case, ACC has caused a wide variety of physical challenges. As a continuation of their commitment to Shannyn, the students raised money to donate to the NODCC (National Organization for Disorders of the Corpus Callosum) for research to help find a cure for ACC.

Money was also raised for the Fr. Gannon Scholarship Fund, named for OLQP’s beloved pastor who passed away last March. The scholarship will make it possible for a parish family facing financial challenges to send their children to OLQP.
You could hear a pin drop as Mrs. Michele Craig, Shannyn’s mother, told the nearly 500 students and many of their parents, “Although Shannyn cannot see and will never walk, talk, or do any of the things that all of you do, Shannyn feels the love, support, prayers and good wishes from all of you.”

The money raised far surpassed the $3,000.00 goal with the final dollar amount coming to $4,785.02. (As the students learned, “Every penny counts!”)

During the “kids helping kids” campaign, they read for donations, collected change, hosted a “dress down day” and sold ice cream and symbols cut out in the form of Hershey kisses. Students and families used the “kisses” to write personal notes to both Shannyn as well as to Fr. Gannon’s family. The symbols were then used to spell out a huge “We Can Help” message on the wall and later given as gifts to the Craig and Gannon families. Huge symbolic “candy jars” also graced the walls with personalized cut outs of candy representing each child. OLQP had 100% participation.

“This was truly a labor of love for the students and parent volunteers, who went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure we raised enough money, awareness and spirits for deserving recipients,” said Mrs. Susan Raisch, Volunteer Director of the Readathon.

A special partnership between eighth graders and kindergartners added to the success of the project. They teamed up to read, count pennies, eat ice cream and talk about what the Readathon is all about. Eighth grader Ashley Mooney explained, “What I learned in my years at Our Lady Queen of Peace is that it is important to help others. I feel privileged to be a part of this team.”

One of the students wrote a message on a “kiss” that reads, “Dear Fr. Gannon, Enjoy heaven. Don’t worry. We are helping Shannyn as much as we can.” That says it all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Follow Me!

In an effort to truly get my message out there, I want you you to follow me on Twitter @susanraisch.

Let's get out there and do some good.

Welcome, and my vision!

Tangled Ball aims to fill a significant gap in the 10+ billion-dollar self-help industry. As a multi-platform content provider offering a range of television, radio,DVD, print, Internet and seminar products, Tangled Ball will help detangle common but stressful issues affecting millions of families. Its uniquely appealing multimedia products will be designed to serve as the "Dr. Spock" for the MTV generation, addressing children's problems that adults frequently have difficulty understanding and handling.