Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Teacher Training and Bullying Prevention

Good teachers humble me and I love schools. Every once and a while, I think about going back to school to get a degree in education. Why haven't I followed through yet? Whenever I spend time just visiting a classroom, I go home and take a nap. I'm exhausted. I don't know how teachers do it.

Luckily there are other brave and passionate souls out there preparing to make teaching their career. Recently, I was interviewed by education major Nicholas Macula, a second year student at St. John's University on Staten Island for a group project on bullying. The presentations were an assignment given by professor Dr. Sandra Abrams for a required education course titled Human Relations in Inclusive Settings. That's an unusual course title so I had to ask Dr. Abrams what it meant:

Students in the School of Education at St. John’s University are required to enroll in Human Relations in Inclusive Settings in order to become well equipped with interpersonal communication and self-reflective tools that will enhance their teaching and learning experiences. As noted in the academic bulletin, this course involves collaborative and individual projects that help students not only understand the importance of parent and community involvement, but also develop an “appreciation of the values and cultures of English language learners.” The work students complete for this class helps them acquire strategies for improved communication and classroom practice, preparing students for dynamic, real-world scenarios.

When asked if I could write about this, St. John's graciously said yes under the condition that I include the following statement:
“The views expressed on the pages of this blog/web site DO NOT reflect, in any way, the opinions of St. John’s University, its administrators, faculty and staff.”

That being said, I do have to add that St. John's should be very proud of what I saw and heard -- a professor inspiring her students to think and students who were doing just that.

They shared great information regarding the definition of bullying, cyber bullying and exploring solutions but for this post, I’d like to share a few outstanding points that may be of interest to parents, especially since parent/school relationships are key.

First and foremost, it's important for parents to know that these types of courses exist for teachers in training. Whether dealing with bullying issues is part of the exact job description of a teacher or not, it can be a part of the classroom experience. Being aware of it makes a teacher more prepared.

Above and beyond academics, the role of the teacher can be very challenging.

As part of the assignment, one of the groups conducted an informal survey on campus and online. Only 14% of students surveyed who responded yes when asked if they had been bullied in primary and/or secondary school, told a teacher.

This is a statistic that now holds much more significance for the St. John's students as they prepare to be that teacher, especially given that most advice we give children is to "tell a trusted adult, such as a teacher or parent."

When Dr. Abrams asked her students why they thought 86% of those surveyed did not confide in a teacher, the general consensus was, based on their own recent memories of being in school, they didn't feel the teacher would do anything about it or the teacher's involvement may even cause more problems.

Aha! That's why courses like Human Relations in Inclusive Settings are so necessary. Within a few years, most of the St. John's students will hopefully have jobs in elementary, middle or high schools, but they're not waiting until then to start thinking about the teacher's role.

Dana, a senior who has already had some classroom teaching experience, suggested that there should be required workshops that include both teachers and counselors that discuss bullying specifically, just as there are other professional development workshops.

One thing became clear to me. Teachers are trained to teach and not to be social workers. But I love Dana's suggestion because in order to help teachers teach, we have to support them in handling difficult situations that impact the success of individual students and the class as a whole. Teachers need to feel prepared, even if it means learning what not to say or when to work with a counselor. Counselors are often not prepared themselves.

How do we help fix that disconnect? Putting teachers AND counselors in a room together and giving them both the same information and letting them share their knowledge sounds good to me. This will help build an infrastructure in the school to help pave the way for real help for kids who need it.

I'd like to thank Dr. Abrams and her students for caring. The future students of these future teachers will thank them, too.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What's Your Excuse for Not Having a Bullying Prevention Plan?

Tangled Ball would like to clear up a few misconceptions for all elementary schools who are reluctant to step in when it comes to bullying prevention. (Prevention being the key word here -- meaning taking measures so something doesn't happen.)

This is what it isn't:

• It's not admitting that you have a problem.

• It's not taking away from "teaching" time.

• It doesn't have to hurt your budget.

• It doesn't have to be a "downer."

First, bullying happens at EVERY school and starts young. That is in no way blaming the school. Schools are full of people -- small and big -- who come with their own personalities and their own learned behavior. Bullying happens. No guilt necessary, unless, of course, you don't recognize this basic fact and step up to help dial it down.

There are countless of creative ways to introduce bullying prevention messages in core curriculum. If you want some suggestions, just email me at: thetangledball@gmail.com!

• There are great free resources out there for schools and parents.

• It can be empowering and fun and positive. As a matter of fact, when you start prevention campaigns as early as Pre-K and upwards through elementary, it better be somewhat fun or it won't stick.

So to all those great principals out there who put their own ego aside and say,
Heck, yea, this is a problem and I'm not going to sit by and pretend it doesn't happen. I'm going to at least try to send the message in school that everyone counts.

A toast to you! You're awesome and the kids in your care are lucky. (I have to give a shout out to Mrs. Theresa Signorile at Our Lady Queen of Peace on Staten Island. She's a great example of stepping up for her students. The smiling happy kids in the picture above are part of the OLQP Leadership Campaign. The Be the One project includes the entire school and it's focus is to create a partnership between upper and lower grades to teach respect. Respect is the anti-bully.)

If you're a parent reading this, assist your school by doing a little research and helping the administration and teachers organize and implement a bullying prevention plan. Schools can always use an assist.

PTO Today is a one of the good resources out there supporting the parent/school relationship. It's a win-win.

And if you're a parent or principal and you're reading this and rolling your eyeballs and saying, "This is delusional. None of these things are going to solve the problem." You're half right. The problem will probably never be solved per se, but it may improve, and if a handful of kids don't end up carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders because you made an effort, is it still worth it? I'll let you answer that yourself.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kids, Bullying, and the Holidays

This is a challenging holiday season for me and my family. It's been a season of loss. No matter what, loss makes you sad and there's no room for sad during the Christmas season.

When things are going well, the holidays make everything that much brighter. But when that's not the case, the holidays somehow make your lows feel lower.

Then I started thinking about how kids feel when they're being ridiculed or ostracized or physically pushed around. Are the holidays a needed diversion or are they hard? Isolating? Lonely?

When kids are happily buying gifts or making cards for their friends, do bullied children feel worse? When kids are getting together to go to the mall or go ice skating or caroling -- or whatever the traditions are for whatever religion you are -- or whatever region you live in -- do kids on the outside looking in, feel despondent?

I love the holidays but this holiday has made me more aware of kids who don't have the skills yet to understand that it's not their fault.

The point of this post is simply to say that during the holidays, perhaps we could give the gift of awareness, eye contact, interest, time, or just a kind word. Every child deserves the warmth of friendship.

It's too embarrassing for kids to admit that they're not happy during the holidays. Perhaps we can help lift that burden. Even if we can't fix their problem completely, we can remind them that there's still a reason to smile. Can compassion be wrapped? No, thank goodness. It's a gift that doesn't need tape and nice neat corners...but it does need an open heart and maybe a little glue.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Teaching Empathy and Bullying Prevention

My last post talked about the elementary school "One for All" Leadership campaign. It's simple goal is to have older kids mentor younger children. It's not the whole answer by a long shot but it's one of the answers in creating a more positive school climate. Although the older grades are asked to teach the younger ones lessons in friendship and respect, the overriding lesson is compassion.

You can't talk about compassion. You have to demonstrate it. As the "buddies" get to know each other, they learn to listen to each other. Why is this so important? Because some types of bullying make kids feel invisible. No one should suffer with the feeling that they're not important enough to be seen.

Why do we need to teach young kids empathy?
According to an article in Time Magazine's August issue, How Not to Raise a Bully: The Early Roots of Empathy:

Increasingly, neuroscientists, psychologists and educators believe that bullying and other kinds of violence can indeed be reduced by encouraging empathy at an early age. Over the past decade, research in empathy — the ability to put ourselves in another person's shoes — has suggested that it is key, if not the key, to all human social interaction and morality.

Someone commented on the post that a leadership campaign is "good in theory" but there are "mean teachers and mean kids out there." I agree with three quarters of that comment. Meanness is the enemy and that's why this fight is worth it. If part of the answer is making sure that there is someone in the building that "sees" each child, it's worth a shot. Building compassion takes a lot of effort. It doesn't happen overnight but the benefits get passed along for generations. It's also fun and we could all use a little of that every day.

The most surprising part of seeing these partnerships in action? In the process of helping to build self confidence in the younger kids, sometimes it's the older kids that benefit the most. When a first grader looks up to them as an eighth grader, it doesn't matter if they're the most popular in the class or if they were just ignored at lunch. All that goes away at the moment when a 6 year-old thinks you're the coolest thing on earth.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Every School Has a Bullying Issue. So now what?

Let me put it this way, it is highly unusual when a school doesn't have a bullying issue. The national statistic is about 30% of kids in schools say they've been bullied. After I conducted a survey in a local school (with 4th-8th graders, actually) it was, surprisingly, 30%. I say surprisingly because this is a well run school with "nice" kids.

What I thought was cool, is that the principal didn't hide from that number. She is a confident administrator who didn't get defensive. She said, "Well, then let's do something about it." My hero!

The challenge was two-fold. It's not just the "what," it's the "how" on a limited budget.

What are the goals?

• to focus on early prevention

• to engage all students in the building

• to make it positive and to empowering

• to engage teachers

• to engage parents

• to make it sustainable

• to build a foundation for growth

• to promote friendship and respect

• to provide multiple opportunities to repeat positive messages

• to make it fun and effective

Was it possible to accomplish some of these goals...with very little money?

Impossible!...until One came along.

The book is ageless and beautiful. It's message of standing up for one another resonates with children of all ages and adults. With One as the foundation, we built a One for All Leadership Campaign where the upper grades mentor the younger children by reading and working on activities with their "buddies."

Although Ms. Otoshi is extremely busy and lives across the country, she kindly designed a t-shirt for the partners to wear when they get together to talk about what it's like to Be the One. They're a team.

I highly recommend this approach. It's about prevention for the little ones and it's a teachable moment (literally) for the older students, who are quickly becoming fantastic mentors.

It's sustainable because there are other books, too, that are great tools. Kathryn has even come out with a sequel called Zero.

Obviously, it's not the whole answer. Training for the administration, teachers and parents is key and still has to happen...but it's a start. And starting somewhere is much better than standing still. One string at a time.

By the way, money for training and programs should not be the stumbling block. Organizations like National School Climate Center and Pacer have FREE training tools. But If states are passing bullying prevention laws that require training -- New Jersey being one -- hopefully, money will be attached. Parochial and private schools need training money, too. I'm just saying...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Taking Action in Bullying Prevention

More people are getting involved in the bullying issue. Thanks to Ellen DeGeneres, even celebrities are stepping up to tell us how they really feel about the whole culture of mean. Listen. Whatever works. Bullying is such a messed up and difficult problem to tackle that I personally applaud anyone who tries to untangle one string at a time.

It's always compelling to see "stars" speak from the heart and it's really helpful for awareness. Go Ellen, Madonna, Jaden, Greyson, Tracy Morgan...

It's even better if we're prepared for solutions. Multiple solutions.

The National School Climate Center provides free bully prevention resources, classroom activities, and supports to schools and students-in-need through their national BullyBust campaign. I asked the center's co-founder, Dr. Jonathon Cohen, the following question:

Is it possible to actually improve school climate?

Yes! Educators, parents and students can learn and work together in ways that actually make schools significantly safer, more supportive, engaging and helpfully challenging. And, when they do so, academic achieving increases, student dropout rates and teacher retention rates increases. However, improving school climate is – necessarily – a multi-year effort that needs to be a central goal for the whole school community.

As we have recently detailed in ‘School climate reform: Mobilizing and supporting the whole village to support student learning and positive youth development (Cohen, J.[2010] in Principal Leadership, September) there are five important lessons that we have learned that support effective and sustained school climate improvement efforts:

Lesson #1: Principal as leader: School climate improvement efforts need to be fully supported and led by the principal.

Lesson #2: How to measure school climate? School climate data provides the “anchor” as well as direction for school climate improvement efforts and the actualization of the school climate standards. It is important that school use a school climate survey, like the Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (http://www.schoolclimate.org/programs/csci.php) that is valid and reliable; recognize student, parent/guardians and school personnel “voice”; and assess all of the major areas of school climate (safety, relationships, teaching and learning and the environment).

Lesson #3: On the value of school climate improvement road maps: The vast majority of principals recognize that school climate matters. However, we discovered that many principals are not sure how to best support effective school climate improvement efforts that build on past successes and challenges. School climate improvement ‘road maps’ that included specific tasks and challenges that shape each of the five stages of the school climate improvement process provide an essential foundation for change.

Lesson #4: Creating school policies that support safe, engaging, healthy and helpfully challenging schools: Educational research should shape policy, which in turn dictates practice. When schools adopt or adapt the National School Climate Standards (www.schoolclimate.org/climate/standards.php) they are setting a social, emotional and civic as well as intellectual or ‘academic’ bar that schools must strive for.

Lesson #5: Educational practice that support the whole child: School leaders face an almost impossible task. It is an admirable – and essential – goal that no child be left behind. But to insure this we must understand and address a myriad of needs and barriers to learning.

Pass this info on to your schools and check out their resources. Now that we know better, we can do better.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bullying and the Brain

This week's Boston Globe article, "Inside the Bullied Brain" is riveting. Although many people don't consider bullying dangerous and are of the opinion that it's actually a normal part of childhood or a "right of passage," this article comes to a completely different conclusion:
A new wave of research into bullying’s effects, however, is now suggesting something more than that — that in fact, bullying can leave an indelible imprint on a teen’s brain at a time when it is still growing and developing. Being ostracized by one’s peers, it seems, can throw adolescent hormones even further out of whack, lead to reduced connectivity in the brain, and even sabotage the growth of new neurons.

Read it. Really.

Studies researching the long term effects of peer to peer abuse suggest that the brain may actually become altered and the side effects range from depression to memory loss.

It's so sad but not shocking. It's obvious that when a child or teen is consistently mistreated, eventually their outward personality often changes. Those are the things we can see. What about all the things going on in a child's brain that we can't see? Children can function but they may be suffering. What IS shocking is that we continue to let it happen.

Early prevention should be a priority. If we catch kids at young ages, we may be able to prevent some brain damage. Sound dramatic? Not when you have studies like these to back you up.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Childhood Obesity and Bullying

In doing a little channel surfing today, it seemed like everyone was talking about childhood obesity and bullying. If you're an overweight child, you know they go hand in hand. Everyone from Rachel Ray to Dr. Oz to Dr. Phil mentioned this issue today. Although this post was written in September, I thought it would be an appropriate day to re-post this information. (Is that as bad as re-gifting??)

It's something to pay attention to for a variety of reasons. Kids who are overweight have long term emotional scars from the teasing, bullying and downright abuse of their peers.

That's a total bummer for kids with extra pounds. Physical AND mental health are at risk. It's also a total bummer for parents who worry about them.

Naturally, it's important for parents to take the reins and help their children with good nutrition and exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic: "Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start children on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Childhood obesity can also lead to poor self-esteem and depression."

So speaking of self esteem and depression, what can be done about the put downs from peers?

No. 1: If you're a parent or any adult with kids in your life who are NOT overweight, don't allow them to call other kids Fat...or Tubby...or Blubber. Seriously, it's in the same category as saying "You're so gay." You may not think so, but just read the study and think again.

No. 2: If you're the parent of a child that's overweight, let this be motivation to you to start helping them with their health. It's hard, I know. Weight, like bullying, is complicated. It's a Tangled Ball. It's not just about restricting calories, it's about emotions which makes it one of the hardest parenting issues to handle. More often than not, there's a lot of frustrating baggage that makes it hard to help a child with a weight issue.

There's a site for teen girls who struggle with their weight called Fitsmi, as well as a companion separate site, Fitsmi for Moms. Fitsmi recognizes that girls need to have a safe place to be teens first. Girls with extra pounds have the same interests in fashion, boys, celebrities, and makeup as any girl (as well as sports, academics, etc., etc.). They just need a network of friends who know what it's like to be a plus size in a size 2 world. It's a place online where they're not judged and they can be honest. It's a source for good information, including tips on clothes and relationships as well as nutrition and exercise. (Boys should have their own site, too! But if you're a parent of a boy, advice on Fitsmi for Moms might still be helpful to you.)

Here's the key: no judging.

Nothing about this issue is simple, except this. Kids will bully kids who are overweight. (It's gotten out of hand. A child doesn't even have to be technically overweight to be teased by their peers.) When they do, they are stealing their childhood as well as risking their long term emotional health. It's our job as adults to stop it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks to Those Who Care about Kids and Bullying

Thanks to all those who spend their time, money, and expertise to help kids have a lighthearted and bully-free childhood.

There are so many great experts doing good work. There are also great parents paying attention to raising compassionate kids. And to parents who also volunteer in schools, you're awesome. Parents can't do it alone and schools can't do it alone. When we work together we have a shot at preventing and/or blunting the long tail of pain that bullying creates.

Is there a one-size fits all solution? Absolutely not.

I really like the list at the top right when it comes to training, research and tools. There are many others which I'll continue to share in future posts but... who -- and what -- would you recommend?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and the readers of this blog are my favorite people. (Other than the ones I lugged around for 9 months. Oh, and of course the guy that's my friend and husband.) So thanks for your interest in pulling out one damn string at a time.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rock On in Bullying Prevention

Almost everyone has had a great teacher in their lives. One of mine was Mrs. Behrens in the third grade. If you went by looks alone, you'd be terrified. She was an imposing figure. Luckily for the hundreds of kids she taught over the years, that was only a brief first impression.

Although it was a small Catholic elementary school without any type of arts program, she created her own. She would often tell us in the afternoon to clear our desks except for crayons or colored pencils. She would pass out a sparkling white clean sheet of paper to each student and then ask us to just clear our minds. She would put on classical music and simply introduce it by saying, "Enjoy Bach." We just listened to music from a record player (yes, a record player) she brought from her own home and records from her own collection and let our minds just drift as we drew anything we wanted. It turned my whole day around and allowed my 8 year-old mind to relax and expand. We all loved it. Mrs. Behrens was brilliant!

Here's something that's not talked about enough -- music and bullying prevention.

Singing it, playing it, creating it, or listening to it, music is the great communicator. So why don't we use more of it to get messages across in school, lower kids' frustrations and create a better school climate in general?

There are hundreds of reasons why schools are often very tense, especially as kids approach middle and high school. Music is a great tension reliever. It allows all ages to express themselves and being able to express yourself, lowers frustration.

School budgets are always part of the challenge but introducing music in the classroom is easy and doesn't take a big budget. Just ask Mrs. B, now in her eighties and a much less imposing figure. But it's still the size of her heart and her simple wisdom that are impressive.

Here's a little of P.S, 22 Chorus to help drive home the point. It makes me smile that the chorus teacher's name is Mr. B.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

If You Were Bullied, Would You Tell?

A huge percentage of kids don't tell an adult when they're being bullied. Fox News' story, "Why Bully Victims Suffer In Silence" prompted me to repost an interview I did several months ago with a very wise teenager. Bottom line, for so many kids, telling an adult doesn't help. In fact, so many times it makes it worse.

If the main piece of advice we give kids is "tell an adult," then we better kick it into gear and start funding training from Pre-K and up.

This is what a very wise high school student told me several months ago:

Rashidat Encarnacion participated in last year's Family Online Safety Conference (FOSI). She was one of a group of Girl Scouts asked to be on a panel moderated by Marsali Hancock, President of iKeepSafe, a well-respected national online safety organization. The panel was a chance to hear about online safety issues from the perspective of teens. I was very impressed with the girls' comments, and in particular, with then 16 year-old Rashidat's sage advice.
Sometimes 'friends' on Facebook are not your friends. Know the difference and don't 'friend' anyone you can't trust.

Believe it or not, as fate (happily) would have it, I ran into Rashidat several months later. I asked her if she could explain why kids don't tell an adult when they've been bullied. This is what she said:

Well, I feel children do not tell their parents because they are afraid of the way their parents will react to the situation. Maybe the parents’ reaction to the situation can cause further bullying of the child. Personally, when I was bullied in school the bullying would cease for a little bit. Then it would become worse than before, because I decided to tell an adult. Not only that but we want to feel independent …so we don't want to tell our parents about what's going on, especially things that are hurting us. In other situations pertaining to bullying, it can seem like a sign of weakness when you tell an adult. I remember fellow classmates calling me a "tattle-tale" and not wanting to hang around me if I told a teacher about someone else or myself being bullied. That is also another reason - the child being bullied does not want to lose their friends. Therefore, they keep quiet and do not tell others when they are bullied.

There are numerous reasons why children do not want to talk with their parents about bullying. When children do approach an adult, the adults should not pressure the children. If the child feels that there is no reason to worry, they feel that their situation is under control. Maybe you should respect your child’s wishes and not make a big deal of the problem.

At the same time, do not take the issue lightly. No matter what, you are the parent and you have the right to intervene in your child’s problem when it is necessary.

Like it or not, these comments are real and represent one of the core issues. Kids should not be left alone in their misery but this will continue to happen until there are many more trained adults that kids can trust. States, such as New Jersey, are slowly waking up to the fact that bullying laws don't work if they don't require high quality training for schools.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

When Siblings Are Bullies: 10 Seconds in Bullying Prevention

Most people with a sibling can relate to sibling rivalry. It's not unusual. In fact, it seems quite natural.

Many experts say that siblings should work things out for themselves. It teaches them how to resolve conflict on their own. That's somewhat valid.

BUT...when does sibling rivalry become bullying?

Scenario 6:

Your kids bicker and sometimes get physical. Most of the time it blows over but it's escalating. It seems like every time they walk in the house, they're at it.

Although there's a two year difference, your younger child really has the upper hand. As she's getting older, she knows how to push her brother's buttons.

You try to give them a little space and handle it on their own but one day your son comes out of school feeling dejected. He was one of the few kids not chosen for the science fair. When he tells you what happened, his sister sort of laughs and says "That's because you're stupid."

Here's where the 10 seconds comes in. When you get in the house, you ask to see your daughter privately. Then you tell her in no uncertain terms that what she said crossed a line. You tell her that you would never let anyone get away with saying that to her and the same goes for her brother. You then tell her to sincerely apologize to her brother...and then figure out some appropriate punishment...and then FOLLOW THROUGH.

Why be so firm? It's important for BOTH kids. This is what bullying prevention expert, founder of Bully Safe USA and author, SuEllen Fried had to say,

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.

So it's not o.k. to let them truly be mean to each other. It can affect both negatively for a lifetime.

So enough bullying talk. Thought a perfect way to end this post is to make the family smile. You can't bully while you watch this. It has over 3 million hits for a reason:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You Don't Deserve That!: 10 Seconds in Bullying Prevention

It would be so great to know the right thing to say ALL the time.
If you're like the rest of us, that's not the case. In fact, sometimes it's a miracle when the right thing comes out. Like the time I asked a 20 something if she'd fallen off a bike, just to realize that she'd had a botox injection.

I meant well. Really.

It's like when kids do open up to us about bullying. It's so hard to know what to say. We want to say something that will help them with the situation but we often start "helping" them by trying to correct their behavior. That's totally justified because if there are ways we can empower our kids so they're not as vulnerable, it's worth a shot.

But maybe the corrections shouldn't be the first reaction. First, we need to tell them, "You don't deserve that! That's awful and I'm mad for you. Now let's have some ice cream (or carrot sticks depending on your parenting style) and let's talk about it." And then instead of talking, we listen.

The words take 10 Seconds. The listening can go on and on and on.

Monday, November 15, 2010

10 Seconds in Bullying Prevention: Gossip

Recently, Madonna was on the Ellen Show and challenged adults to not gossip for a day.

This brings me to Scenario 5 in Tangled Ball's 10 Seconds in Bullying Prevention Series.

You're in the grocery store after school. You have 45 minutes to buy dinner and get the kids home. They're due at piano lessons in an hour and they need to squeeze in their 15 minutes at the keys so you can tell the teacher they "practiced." You're pretty sure the teacher means an hour a night and every week when you leave, you vow that this will be the week when they actually do that.

Thinking on the fly about a menu, you dash up and down the aisles coming up with ideas of something fast and hopefully, nutritious. The cell rings. It's one of your best buddies and there is SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT.

You hate to admit it but you heard some shocking news about so-and-so and it kind of perked up your day. Especially, since this so-and-so was a snob to you last year during one of the school fundraisers. You don't mind taking her down a peg. You would never consider yourself a BIG gossiper but this is too good.

Snap decision. Although you don't have a lot of time, you're dying for a little gossip fix. You pick up the phone. You're about to launch right into it when you're stopped by the reflection in the glass. No. It's not that you need to fix your hair or your outfit is just wrong. You notice the kids!! Standing right by you and within ear shot.

You take a breath, get your head screwed on straight and tell your friend that you can't talk right now. (5 seconds.) You know full well that the next day you're at work so it will probably be a few days until you're able to tell your story. By then, she will have found out and the thrill will be diminished.

But in the remaining few seconds, look at your kids and know you just taught them a lesson and they don't even know it. Since you're in the ice cream section anyway, reach in and get a treat. This time, it's you who deserves a little reward.

Friday, November 12, 2010

10 Seconds in Bullying Prevention: Turn Off the TV

This is a short -- but definitely not sweet -- post.

Scenario 4:

Just flip through the channels any time of day and you'll realize that it's possible your kids are watching any number of "reality" shows that promote mean-spiritedness. You won't have any trouble finding these shows and you won't have to go too far up the channel lineup to get a wake-up call. (It's hard to admit you're watching TV in the afternoon but tell your friends it's research!)

It takes a little bravery but when your kids are watching shows that are based on people being mean to each other, it's ok to tell them to "turn it off." But first explain that it's not "reality." (Unless they keep watching and then it may become their reality.)

All in all, that takes about 10 seconds.

American Academy of Pediatrics recently came out with new guidelines on media use and children. Really worth the more than 10 seconds (but only a minute or two) to read.

Depending on how old your kids are, Common Sense Media, is a great resource. Good to go to before telling your kids they can turn the TV back on.

(And do you want to hear something funny? When I just went to publish this post, the google ad to the right was about "What's on TV today!" I actually find that hysterical.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

10 Seconds in Bullying Prevention: Where Does the Computer Go?

Ten seconds. Yes. Ten seconds can make a huge difference in bullying, including cyber bullying, prevention.

Today's tip and Scenario 3:

Your child has had an old computer handed down to them and it's in their room. Now that your oldest is in middle school and the computer is on the fritz, you decide you'd better replace it. It's science project time. Seriously, it would be easier to lay on a bed of nails than to do a science project without a good working home computer. It's enough to throw a parent into full blown panic. So it's off to the store.

When you come home, box in hand, you're thinking, "Where do I put it down?" You have a moment of hesitation before just carting it up to your child's room and plunking it down where it's now deceased predecessor once sat.

You stop and think -- and five seconds later-- you connect. With your elbow, you knock off the pile of bills, papers sent home from school waiting to be signed, part of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich you made for breakfast and you place the computer in it's new home. Right smack in the middle of the kitchen where everyone can see it.

Your middle schooler is still in shock. What?? This is horrible. Unfair. Dorky. Lame. Unthinkable.

It takes 10 seconds to do the right thing but admittedly it will take hours to ignore the pleas from an unhappy child. But in the end, it will save you hours of sleep because now you can see what your child is saying to others and what they're saying to them. You can intervene if necessary and help before it gets out of hand.

And the side benefit? As you were shoving the papers out of the way, you noticed that the class trip permission slip has to be in tomorrow. Phew. Dodged a bullet again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

10 Seconds in Bullying Prevention, The Series: Scenario 2

Really? It only takes 10 seconds to make a difference in bullying prevention? Yep.

Everyone can do something? Yes, again.

Here is today's tip:

Scenario 2

You're in the car taking your child to school. You're praying you don't have to get out of the car because it's been a really hectic "day" and it's only 7:35 a.m. So hectic that you're wearing your pajama bottoms with a sweater so that if people just see you from the head up, they'll assume you're totally dressed. You may get away with it because you threw on some lipstick while you were in the driveway.

You pull up to the building where other little munchkins are already waiting outside for the bell to ring. You notice that there's one child from your kid's class that still looks a little out of place and awkward.

You have the presence of mind to say to your own child,
"Be nice to the new kid today."
(That only took about 4 seconds but wait for another 3 seconds to hear an answer. And in the remaining 3 seconds you say,
"I'm proud of you."

What just happened in 10 seconds? Building a foundation of empathy, empowerment, kindness, tolerance that will be passed along by example. That's what an upstander does.

Now how do you get back in the house without your neighbor seeing you? Luckily you have your lipstick on so they won't even notice that you're not wearing real pants.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

10 Seconds in Bullying Prevention

Today starts a series on what can be done to stop bullying incidences in just 10 seconds.

It's like an infomercial...
In Just 10 seconds YOU can help stop mean behavior that leaves a long tail of pain. In just 10 seconds...and if you call now (whoops, forgot that this is NOT actually an infomercial).

First 10 Second Tip:

Scenario 1:

You overhear three tween girls do what many tween girls do so well. Talk about other girls. It almost seems like a sport and it doesn't matter if the girls are basically nice or not. They usually are nice. You happen to be one of the tween's parent. It's awkward because you don't want to embarrass your child and you hate to admit it but you're just a little bit relieved that she is not the one being discussed. She has friends.

But is it good for your daughter to continue doing this or is it a really important teachable moment? I'm fairly certain that girl relationship experts Rachel Simmons and Rosalind Wiseman would say... step up. It's just as important for the girls who are gossiping as much as it is for the girl being verbally dismembered. Girls need to learn how to be loyal. Those qualities strenghthen them through life, including careers.

In ten seconds, you can step in, look them in the eye and say,
"Girls, I don't know if you realize it but that's mean and I don't think you girls are actually mean. So, how was school today?"
(In other words, make your point and get out.)

They might not show it but they will hear your message. And maybe you're the only one brave enough to say it. When your daughter is older, more mature and has her own tween, quite possibly she will be stepping up to a group of three tweens and saying,
"Girls, I don't think you realize it but..."

Life is funny. It sometimes only takes 10 seconds to make a lifetime impression that gets paid forward. And who doesn't have 10 seconds to spare an unsuspecting target as well as help young fairly clueless girls become mature adults?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Creative Ways to Get Kids to Stop, Think and Connect

That's what I'm talking about. Getting creative.

Don't you just love the the backup singers and dancers?

Just like Stop, Block and Tell, it's easy to remember and important to teach.

Share this with your kids and have a dance, a laugh, and a smile. Because you just did something really good. The more we know, the better we do. That goes for kids, too.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

PTA/PTO Groups Are Key in Bullying Prevention

October...and Bullying Prevention Awareness Month...are over but since 31 days wasn't enough to share what certain organizations/foundations and businesses are doing to untangle one string at a time, Tangled Ball is spilling over to November to highlight some important work.

One of the biggest challenges in untangling the whole bullying mess is engaging more parents. It seems like there's an endless number of factors that make bullying difficult to control but the one thing that most experts agree on is that more adults need to step up.

Parents are key for a few reasons. One is that parents should be responsible for teaching kids to treat others well BEFORE they go to school, including correcting them when they don't and praising them when they do.

Once kids are school age, involvement needs to kick into gear. This is a huge issue for schools these days. How do we get more parents interested in participating in their kids' education, including school climate? Especially, since there are more single parent homes or homes with both parents working.

Kids just do better when adults, particularly their parents, care. You may not have thought that PTAs and PTOs were that important but after studying this problem for a while, it's clear that these organizations are key to a school's success and to the quality of our children's experience.

PTO Today is a company that recognizes that today's schools need good tools, resources and creative problem solving to adapt to the challenge of involving parents. Brilliant! School parent groups have to keep up with the times. Intrigued by their Web site, blog and company mission, I asked Tim Sullivan, Founder and President, the following questions:

What is the goal of PTO or PTAs?

The specifics of this answer vary by school, but in general terms every PTO or PTA or HSA that I work with has the simple goal to bring parents together to make their school a great place for their kids. What that means at any given school really depends on the school. At some schools, resources are so low that the PTO spends a ton of time advocating for better budgets and/or trying to provide those resources themselves. In other schools the PTO or PTA focuses almost exclusively on building parent involvement and community through family events and enrichment activities. For most PTOs, meeting that goal of making the school a great place for the kids involves a combination that starts with building parent involvement and also includes enrichment efforts (activities that supplement the academic offerings) and – of course -- fundraising.

With so many two parent or single parent workers per household, is parent involvement a thing of the past ?

Definitely not. Is parent involvement different? Definitely. But gone or less essential? No way! The best parent groups adapt to the needs of their parents and change their own habits (email becoming much more essential than the standard old 7PM PTO meeting) and create opportunities for engagement that fit parent schedules and needs. I love events that serve parents (provide dinner!) or understand parent schedules (a donuts with dad event before school and before work). And I really love PTOs that find tons of different types of ways for parents to connect that do not require a month-long or year-long commitment. PTO Today’s “2 Hour Power” program is all about that. http://www.ptotoday.com/2hourpower/ Go to most schools today, and you’ll find powerful, successful examples of parents connecting with their schools. It’s popular to say that parent involvement is a thing of the past, but the facts just don’t bear that out.

So don't just consider getting involved. Make it a must...and even better yet, get your school excited about doing things a little differently. School climate will improve. Guarenteed.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mary Lee and Matt: Two Eras and 5 Lessons on Bullying Prevention

Due to the passing of my BELOVED mother-in-law, Mary Lee, I haven't been able to keep up with the Tangled Ball blog for the past few days.

But today, I have two experts to discuss. One was 11 in 1935 and the other is 11 in 2010.

There's a title of a book written about 30 years ago called The Little Girl with the Grandmother Face. It reminds me so much of Mary Lee. With her usual enthusiasm, she told me a few months back that she was happy with Tangled Ball's effort to engage parents and all adults in the conversation about everyday bullying solutions. Always bubbly and upbeat, I was surprised when she turned serious. She told me that she had never forgotten how she was the "bully" for a brief time and how she still felt bad when she recalled making a little girl in her class feel left out. With great clarity, she told me how the girl's mother talked to her one day and asked her to be kinder and what an impact that made on her life.

If you met her, any thought that she could ever be mean would come as a huge surprise because Mary Lee is the greatest example of unconditional love.

I'm so grateful that she shared it and it's just one of the hundreds of things that she taught me. There are three good-- and ageless -- lessons in this story alone:

• The first is that almost every child tries to "flex their muscles" to feel more powerful even at young ages.

• When an adult steps in and handles it correctly, the lesson is often heard.

• Never let a child continue to be mean. Even nice kids try it and nice kids, especially, feel bad for a very long time.

And actually, there's a fourth:

• Take time for real conversations with people you love. You never know what you'll learn.

The second expert's name is Matt. When he started middle school this year, he noticed a boy in his class who had some difficulty walking. This reminded Matt of his uncle, John Paul, from Ireland who has cerebral palsy. When Matt came home he and told his mom about his fellow student, his mom nervously asked him, "You didn't say anything about the cerebral palsy to him, did you?"

Matt said "No, I just told him if he needed anything, I'd be his friend."

The lesson here? Follow Matt's lead.

Friday, October 22, 2010

President Obama's Message and a Reminder of How Many Kids We've Lost

OK, so Tangled Ball had a different expert in mind to feature today...but he IS the President...and it's very important that he added his voice to this subject. I hope that ALL kids feeling relentlessly "put down" and suffering will identify with this message.

Kids are bullied not only because they're gay (or perceived as gay), but also because they're "fat," or too thin, have disabilities, are too pretty, not good looking enough, have red hair, are new to a school, too promiscuous, too conservative, too rich, too poor, or just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can all do SOMETHING. When in doubt, as adults we can do simple things like say, "You don't deserve that!" And repeat and repeat and repeat. Our outrage and empathy will go a long way to blunt the long tail of pain that bullying causes.

We can't stop every incidence. We can stop kids from feeling that being treated that way is OK. We don't have to wait for experts to tell us that kids need us to constantly tell them that they are very cool... and kids who put other kids down are knuckleheads.

Just a reminder of why this has gotten the attention of the White House and how much it deserves our attention.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper. Ever Heard of Them?

Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper definitely deserve a Tangled Ball Award. Tangled Ball is all about engaging more people in this dialogue, raising awareness and inspiring folks to actively do what they can to blunt the long tail of pain that bullying causes.

This issue has needed high profile celebrities to step up and Ellen and Anderson have done just that. It's great to have that power to reach so many people. If I could choose a super power, that would be it.

Ellen is encouraging people to donate to three different organizations. All of them are good. Tangled Ball particularly likes Pacer. (More on them in a future post.)

And Ellen and Anderson, if you read this, contact me. The more people we reach, the better off kids will be...and Tangled Ball is ready, willing and able to help.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Getting Real About Bullying with Kelly Karius

As a counselor in Saskathewan, Canada for ten years, Kelly Karius developed a specialty in conflict resolution. The issue of bullying just kept surfacing and resurfacing until she decided to really take a stand.

24 Bully Stake Out is such an interesting concept...and she's right, bullying happens everywhere.

Kelly is lending her voice and her experience to creating solutions and sees the importance of talking directly to kids. It's so important. As adults we get nervous that we can't fix this because it's such a huge and highly complicated issue. In the hopes of having answers, we come up with things we ASSUME will help. Is this making things worse? When adults have answers but they're not the right ones, does it make kids feel more despondent?

These are really good questions. Kelly is not afraid to say that some of our solutions are well meaning but bad.

It's worth reading We Know What Doesn't Work. Truth is a good place to start if we're really going to help.

Kelly takes on the standard advice of "Tell Someone":
Yes. It is awesome advice. And it works exactly until children realize that it doesn’t work very well at all. We are telling our kids to TELL someone. But we aren’t helping that SOMEONE out. So they tell. And nothing changes, or maybe it even gets worse. Worst of all, maybe the SOMEONE is so overwhelmed by the information that they can’t even HEAR it properly. Bottom line: Most people give the wrong advice about to kids about dealing with bully actions. Elementary students are far more likely to tell someone than middle or high schools students. Why is that? Because they’ve learned that the adults don’t make it better anyway.
(Tangled Ball's take on this: The one thing all adults can do is say "You don't deserve that. I don't have all the answers but maybe we can work on this togehter.")
So, Kelly, get on that bus and tell us what you hear. I'm sure our good friends up north can help shine a little light on what's happening here in the states...because as Kelly would say, "Bullying happens here."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Annie Fox

There's a fan page on Facebook called Cruel's Not Cool. In checking it out it has all the qualifications for a Tangled Ball Award feature. It's informative. It's inclusive. It shares a wide variety of helpful information. It's sincere.

Who's behind it? Teen expert and author, Annie Fox.

Thought you'd like to know more about her. When asked how she became interested in the issue of peer to peer abuse, she explained:

I've been answering t(w)een email since '97. The #1 issue is peer conflicts. Typically the email's from a girl who finds herself shut out by her former bff. The so-called friend has turned mean & gotten others to join in. In Feb. at a school assembly 50 questions were submitted to me... all about mean-kid behavior. Then in April I launched our anti-bullying forum Cruel's Not Cool! (cruelsnotcool.com) and that's gotten a lot of attention. This problem poses a real threat to our kids' healthy social and emotional development. That's why I'm doing whatever I can to shine a light on the issues.

Parents should be encouraging kids to talk about their feelings from Day One. Seriously! We help our kids build self-esteem and Emotional Intelligence skills from the earliest ages by the way we talk to them, the way we listen, and the emotional landscape we create & maintain within the family. Kids who've been raised respectfully, are better able to set boundaries with peers. These kids are also more likely to seek help from a trusted adult when they feel overwhelmed.

Thanks, Annie. Trust. In the end, building trust is perhaps one of the only pieces of insurance we have against the damaging affects of bullying.

By the way, Annie will be speaking today and it's free:

Tuesday Oct. 19th — Annie is a guest on The Real MomTV's “Life Simplified”with host Leslie Gail. They'll be talking about helping kids deal with the stress of school, sports, friends and life! Watch live, at 9am PT/12pm ET

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Bully Project and All the Families Affected by Severe Bullying

The Bully Project will be featured on tonight's 20/20 on ABC at 9/8C.

Award-winning director Lee Hirsch and co-producer Cynthia Lowen were featured in a Tangled Ball Award post at the beginning of the month. I think the Long family and all the others featured tonight and in the film deserve one, too.

Tune in but grab some tissues first. Then go for your wallet and contribute to this film. As a country, we have to engage more people in creating more solutions in this escalating and damaging issue. A film goes a long way to help. Let's honor all the families who will never be the same.

Seriously, we can all do SOMETHING.

We won't be sorry we stepped up.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Michele Borba: Bullying Prevention and All Around Great Parenting Expert

How does Dr. Michele Borba do it all? She's an award-winning author of 23 parenting books, including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, international speaker, educational consultant, parenting expert as well as a child and adolescent expert and a regular contributor to the Today Show. That's in between being a guest on countless other national shows and the expert featured in multiple magazines.

Her Reality Check blog (oh, yeah, she blogs, too) is a fantastic resource. As a professional, mother and former teacher, her advice is practical, real and spot on. Bullying and cyber bullying are definitely on her radar screen and worthy of our attention.

Dr. Borba's tagline, Proven Solutions to Raise Strong Caring Kids, says it all. The word strong and caring are two traits that should be paired up more often.

This expert gets a Tangled Ball Award because she's the real deal. Smart but approachable and full of good things to say.

But back to the original question. Michele, how do you do it all?

Luckily, she was able to multi-task as she got ready for this morning's appearance on Today and answered two important questions for Tangled Ball:

Should parents wait until middle school to worry about bullying and cyber bullying?

While we know that bullying peaks during those middle school years, one of our biggest mistakes is waiting until then to have those "bullying" chats with our kids. Habits start early, so we need to start teaching bully prevention strategies far earlier. For instance, new research shows a commonality between bullies and victims .. both lack problem solving. We can start teaching problem solving in preschool: "Tell me the problem...okay, let's think of one thing you can do instead." If we want our children to be able to hold their own and be less likely to be bullied, we should stop rescuing, talking for them, or always solving their problems. Instead, we can teach them to use a firm voice and say, "Stop it. I don't like it." Or learn to hold their head up, look the person in the eye so their body appears stronger and more confident. We also need to help our kids develop empathy and impulse control. Skills are teachable. Our children need skills to be able to navigate a sometimes vicious social jungle. It's up to us to teach them those core skills. Doing so is a key first step to reducing the bullying problem.
How do we engage more people in the bullying prevention solution?
Knowledge is power. Knowledge mobilizes groups and makes the step up, roll up their sleeves and work on solutions. The first step to engaging people in the bullying prevention solution is through education. I've worked in dozens of communities where parents, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, ministers, the press, etc are working together. Start with holding book clubs and read one good book about bullying together. Ask the local newspaper to put in weekly articles about bullying and simple solutions. Bring in a good speaker about bullying to talk to your PTA. Ask the principal to put simple bully prevention tips in the school newsletter. Pediatricians and Boys and Girls Club directors can post tips in their office. The city librarian can set aside a display in the local library with books and resources that are available. Show folks that bullying can be prevented by giving them the resources. It will make a difference!