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.