Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nine Teenagers Charged. How Many Lessons Learned?

The tragedy keeps unfolding. I feel like the whole country got a glass of ice water thrown on their face. Anyone who's been on the fence about whether bullying is just "kids being kids" got a wake up call.

No one wants to be Phoebe Prince's family tonight. No one wants to be one of the nine teenagers and their families tonight. Bottom line.

So. How do we talk to our kids about it? Ask them what they think. Believe me, a conversation like that will be invaluable. Ask them what they think. Ask them how they think it can be changed. It's a good time to listen.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bullying Makes Kids Feel Desperate

An eight-year-old boy jumped out of a second story window at his school this past week because of bullying. Eight.

He was repeatedly teased. Told over and over again that he was stupid. He is dyslexic.

The last straw was when a few other kids pulled down his pants. How demeaning. Hard to imagine the embarrassment he felt.

And check this out. He was asked by the school to sign a "no suicide" contract. What??????? He's in elementary school!!!!! And how does that help any child at any age anyway?

What can we learn from this? Kids with disabilities such as dyslexia, Asperger's or other challenges have it extra hard in school. In trying to get a "normal" education, they are being ostracized, teased, and made to feel different. It's not a question of mainstreaming kids, it's a question of awareness and compassion in education.

Teach tolerance at home. As parents, we have to stick up for other parents who have children with struggles. Insist that your children and their classrooms are tolerant. It shouldn't all be on the shoulders of the poor parents whose children are vulnerable. Stand up for them. Let them feel your support.

The fact that struggling kids are fair game among school bullies is the elephant in the room. Don't turn the other way.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The "Someone" Survey for Targets, Witnesses and Bullies

1. When I get up in the morning and get ready to go to school, I hope that I:

A. Will feel anxious
B. Will be disrespected
C. Will feel that I have no friends
D. Will feel that no one understands
E. None of the above

2. When I go to the lunchroom, I hope that:

A. Kids will not make room for me at the table
B. They will tease me about my lunch
C. They will make me feel unwanted and uncomfortable
D. They will make inside jokes to make me feel I’m not part of the group
E. None of the above

3. When I go out to recess, I hope that:

A. I will not be included in any games
B. I will be left to walk around by myself and feel alone
C. People will call me names
D. I will feel sad because everyone else is looking happy
E. None of the above

4. When I go to the restroom, I hope:

A. I will be nervous because there is no adult supervision
B. Others will try to embarrass me
C. Kids will try to get me in trouble
D. Kids will shove me
E. None of the above

5. When I am in the classroom, I hope:

A. I am made to feel stupid
B. People will pass notes about me
C. People will whisper things about me when the teacher isn’t looking
D. People will act upset when my desk is changed and put next to theirs
E. None of the above

6. When I go on the bus, I hope:

A. Things are out of control
B. People give me a hard time and no one tells them to stop
C. No one sits next to me
D. Kids step on my backpack and make me feel scared
E. None of the above

7. When I am on a team or after school activity, I hope:

A. People ignore me
B. Kids on the team make me feel bad when I make a mistake
C. Kids leave me out when they leave after the game to hang out together
D. Kids don’t cheer for me
E. None of the above

8. When I’m having a hard day and people are being mean, I hope:

A. That someone gives me eye contact and smiles
B. That someone lets me in their circle and doesn’t turn their back
C. That someone tells the person who is being mean to cut it out
D. That someone lets me join their group
E. That someone gives me a compliment
F. That someone stops the gossip
G. That someone doesn’t laugh when I fall and helps me up
H. That someone understands
I. Am That Someone.

Please Note: the last item should be read aloud and remembered.

(c) Tangled Ball 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Really Works When You're Trying to Stop a Bully?

A really cool survey just came out. Youth Voice Project is the first known large scale research project reaching out to kids to specifically pinpoint what strategies work and which ones make things worse when it comes to bullying. More than 11,000 teens in 25 schools have participated.

Kids were asked about the possible ways of handling bullying. If you were ever bullied, you might identify with the following choices:

• Hit Them or Fight Them

• Make Plans to Get Back at Them

• Tell the People to Stop

• Walk Away

• Pretend It Didn't Bother You

• Tell an Adult at School

• Make a Joke About It

• Remind Yourself that It's Not Your Fault

• Tell a Friend

• Tell an Adult at Home

Read Youth Voice Project and find out which one of these works and which don't. Fascinating.

Stan Davis, author of two great books, "Schools Where Everyone Belongs" and "Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention" is co-author of this study. After reading his first book, I thought there's hope to improve this situation. He's never shy about getting down to the misconceptions and telling you what it's really like in a school.

This study is rather brave. It's honest and gives incredibly helpful information. The take away for me is that adults need to know a lot more about handling bullying if we're going to be the ones that kids come to for guidance. Some of the things we've been doing or saying don't work. Plain and simple.

Just one example: after reading this and especially if you're a teacher, you'll never want to tell a child "not to tattle" again. The numbers don't lie. It backfires.

Friday, March 12, 2010

ONE: Bullying Prevention in a Brilliant Little Package

There are many things to discuss about bullying this week: two new important studies, a brand new anti-bullying bill just passed by the Massachusetts legislature, and more incidents of serious bullying in the news and around the country, but out of all these subjects, I chose:


Everyone, no matter how old you or your kids are, go out and buy ONE by Kathryn Otoshi. Although it's a book for young kids, you will be amazed at how this simple book with extraordinarily beautiful but simple illustrations illuminate the complicated issue of bullying as well as the hopeful and inspirational power of ONE.

It is exquisite.

Recently, Chef Jamie Oliver was honored with a TED Award for his advocacy work on behalf of kids and nutrition. Although his issue is combating obesity, there are parallels to the bullying issue. It's about changing culture. He talks about each person's responsibility to teach others about nutrition. He says in his speech, which you can see here, that if one person teaches three people about nutrition, it will only have to be repeated 25 times over to cover everyone in the U.S. I'm not very good at math but I trust Jamie. (His daughter's name is "Poppy". You have to love him.)

I'm telling you about ONE. And if you tell three people...you catch my drift.

Bullying prevention is SO important. This little book has a huge message and it does all the work for you. As a matter of fact, if older kids read it to younger kids, they get the message, too. Doubly good.

Not to give away the ending, but in closing...

Sometimes it just takes ONE.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Seriously, We Have to Get Young Kids Off Facebook...

Common Sense Media came up with a great list of Facebook alternatives. A growing problem for parents is how to say "No" to Facebook but "Yes" to social media. We have to get together on this, parents. Safety in numbers.

To repeat: The minimum age for Facebook is 13 but many parents are letting their children lie about their age and create Facebook pages. (Personally, I think 13 is still too young but check out my post from last week -- no need to bore you, especially since if you're reading this, you probably already agree.) Parents are being nagged to the point they'll give in. It's the old "But Everybody's On Facebook." And if we don't stop it soon, it will be completely true.

Next step is to think about solutions.

Will the alternatives be enough to get kids off Facebook? My super duper consultant, Catherine V. agreed to look at each one and weigh in. A popular and smart but empathetic 13-year old, Catherine knows what will fly and what won't. She hasn't let me down yet.

Catherine V. went through each site from the Common Sense list and told me whether girls and boys would use it (as opposed to only girls or only boys) and what ages she thinks they would appeal to. Here's what she has to say. This is important because to be a social network, it actually has to be social.

Take it away, Catherine:

My Secret Circle: Young girls ages 8 to 11

Yoursphere: Young boys and girls ages 9 to 12

FaceChipz: Young boys and girls ages 10 to 12

JitterFingers: Girls ages 11 to 12

Glogster: Girls ages 13 to 14

Posterous: Boys and girls ages 13 to 15

YourCause: Boys and girls ages 13 to 15

Ning: Boys and girls ages 14 to 16

think.mtv: Boys and girls ages 14 to 18

Blerp: Boys and girls ages 15 to 18

"My favorite website was think.mtv because it was a website that teenage boys and girls could use, and MTV is already a known name. Since it is a known name, it would catch on faster, and it is basically the same as any other social networking site. Personally, I would use this website, and I think many of my friends would. It is also a "trendy" website and up-to-date with this generation.

The worst website was My Secret Circle. It's not that it's bad, it's just I don't think I or any or my friends would ever use it at this age. It's more of a childrens website, and I think it's actually a great website, just for a much younger age."

You may want to take a few minutes and check these out yourself. If there's one you like more than another, talk to the other parents in the class. Get everyone involved in a social network that will provide privacy, fun and low risk for Cyber bullying. But remember, the best antidote to cyber bullying is to first and foremost talk to your kids about your own house rules on how to treat others. Tell them to expect the same from their friends. They won't get this by osmosis. You actually have to make a point of it.

Thanks Catherine V. for doing some of the work for parents!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bullying Survey: Good but NOT the Whole Story

Click on AP Story to Read. It's short.
It's been a big week in the world of bullying prevention. A new national study,"Trends in Childhood Violence and Abuse Exposure" was released. A headline from an Associated Press story declares,
U.S. Survey Finds Sharp Drop in Children's Bullying

Not to be presumptuous, but I'd like to do a little editing:
U.S. Survey Finds a Sharp Drop in Children'sPhysical Bullying

That's good news in itself and programs, such as Olweus, should feel very encouraged and proud that programs such as theirs are making an impact. This survey is validation to keep up the good work and to continue funding critical programs that make children feel safer at school and thus perform better. According to the story:
The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that the percentage of children who reported being physically bullied over the past year had declined from nearly 22 percent in 2003 to under 15 percent in 2008. The percentage reporting they'd been assaulted by other youths, including their siblings, dropped from 45 percent to 38.4 percent.

The term bullying has come to mean more than physical bullying. The headline is dangerously misleading. I want to celebrate with the rest of the bullying prevention advocates but I was a little unnerved by the broad classification of bullying. I have a sense that physical bullying may be on the decline but other forms are not: cyberbullying, including texting and misuse of social networks, and mental abuse including ostracizing and teasing. Also, I'm wondering if kids with conditions, such as Asperger's, are finding that physical bullying is on the decline -- or on the rise. The same question applies to gay teens.

The simple act of adding the word "Physical" to the headline is really important for a few reasons:

• AP stories reach the general public and the general public is a little behind the curve in understanding bullying. It's not "Sid" in Toy Story anymore. It's kids finding new and more efficient ways to belittle their peers.

• Adults may start to dismiss the issue of bullying, assuming it is being taken care of. Marlene Snyder of Clemson was so correct when she said that we can't let up on this effort. Every year, new teachers have to be trained. It's not solved, it's showing signs of promise.

• 15% of kids reporting that they've been somehow physically assaulted is still a lot of kids.

• Bullying is too general a term and kids who are experiencing emotional pain at the hands of peers aren't necessarily thinking this is a problem that is going away anytime soon. They don't know what to call it but it hurts.

• AP is everywhere. Leaving out a critical word in a headline has ramifications forever. We need to draw more decision makers into this issue and it would be tragic if reading this headline somehow diminishes the breadth of the problem.

But here comes another BUT...

If this survey inspires good, smart, devoted people to keep at it because there are tangible results then there is much good that comes out of the attention.

Show this to all the headline writers you know.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Too Young for Facebook?

Raise your hand if you think 13 is too young for Facebook. Under 13? Actually, if you let your child create a Facebook page under the age of 13, you are allowing them to lie on the form. Isn't that some type of crime? Or at the very least, a bad parenting message?

Anyway, the official minimum age to have a Facebook page is 13. And I still think that's way too young. Why? When things are going ok between friends, it's a fun thing. But when friends become enemies-- which can happen overnight -- things can get said and "shared" that are so hurtful that there's no telling what kind of damage can be done. Most kids don't understand the privacy settings...and many parents don't know either. Since we don't have netiquette classes in most schools, kids also don't understand the ramifications of posting compromising photos or saying inappropriate things.

And worst of all, they're not going to tell you when things are spinning out of control on Facebook because they're afraid you'll take it away. Kids at that age are not prepared to handle the superhighway of emotions that Facebook can create.

But for every parent struggling with their child's pleas to be on Facebook because "EVERYBODY's on Facebook", Common Sense Media came up with a few alternatives.

Just to make sure these "alternatives" have some potential to actually be used INSTEAD of Facebook, I've asked a consultant to try them out and let me know if she and her friends would ever consider switching. Catherine V. is a very cool, talented well-liked eighth grader who is also a Facebook user (legitimately). As a matter of fact, she took me for a tour of how kids use the site and it was really enlightening. Most kids really do sign up with the intention to share interests and good fun but during the tour we did stumble across some kids using it to joke about teachers, etc. Not a good idea, kids. Facebook is not anonymous.

After a preliminary look last night, here's what Catherine said:

Hello, it's your consultant!!!!
I took a look at the alternatives for Facebook you sent me. Most of them would appeal only to younger girls, maybe up to 12 years old. The ones near the bottom of the page were really interesting, and I think a lot of my friends would actually use websites like that. I will post the link to my Facebook page and maybe word will spread around!!! The only thing is, Facebook is well known and it would be hard to make another website just as popular. But even so, the websites were unique and seem a lot safer than Facebook, so parents would maybe let their child get a "FaceChipz" instead of a Facebook. These websites seem fun and safe, so I could definetely see them as an alternative for Facebook. It's just a matter of a certain trend catching on...but I see a lot of potential in these sites!

I trust Catherine. I think parents can say, "NO" to Facebook but "YES" to social networks. What do you think?

I'll get more specific about each site in the next post.