Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Monday, April 26, 2010

What Happens When You Turn Away?

I was sick this past week and wanted a good book to distract myself. A friend suggested "Sarah's Key," The New York Times bestseller by Tatiana De Rosnay. Sounded light and just what I needed. I was probably the only one in the world who didn't know it was about the Holocaust. I didn't know if I had the energy to take on such a heavy subject but the way the author weaved the story connecting the past with the present was so engaging. I finished it in a day.

Although, over the years we've learned so much about the extreme nature of people's behavior during that horrible time in history -- those that hated and caused pain and destruction and those that risked their lives to help -- Sarah's Key made me want to honor those compassionate souls who didn't turn the other way. It was so difficult for them.

Don't we want to raise heroes? Compassionate souls who don't turn away. I suppose we have to lead by example and say "Not on my watch will I let another person cause anguish." It's a lesson we can learn from the past.

What is our role as bystanders? I came across a great expression coined by a group called School Climate. It's "upstanders." An upstander is a bystander who steps up. I really like that distinction because bystanders come in different forms:

Assistants - who actively join in the attack
Reinforcers - who give positive feedback to the bully, perhaps by smiling or laughing
Outsiders - who stay back, stay quiet and thereby condone the bullying behavior
Defenders - who try to intervene to stop the bullying or comfort the target. (Upstanders!)

There is a long list of ways that kids can be an "upstander." They can help by going to an adult or surrounding the target, or not participating in the mean-spirited behavior. Whatever their comfort level is. It's important not to force a child to do something they don't feel capable of such as confronting the bullies but it is important to empower them by giving them choices of ways they can help. Witnesses, like victims, feel the affects of bullying: stomach aches, lack of concentration, sadness. We have the power to empower them.

A book I'd like to suggest is Stan Davis' Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention.

And as I tell the kids, "The best leaders teach by example." We can all brush up on our upstander skills.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Preventing Bullying on a Budget

Since most every school has a bullying problem, why doesn't every school have a prevention program?

Denial on the part of administrators, lack of interest by parents, teacher cooperation and money are some of the top reasons but none of them are good enough.

As for parents, a few parents can make a big difference. If you're reading this, it's clear that you're interested. Find a few other parents who feel the same way. Research activities.

Many teachers have compassion and understand that students do better work when they feel respected and the general atmosphere is nurturing. Unfortunately, some teachers don't. As a matter of fact, some teachers add to the problem. It's just a fact. But engage the teachers who "get it." You can't change the school 100% but you can change the balance.

If money is a problem (and it almost always is), get creative.

Consider a "Leadership Program" to focus on the importance of the bystander and empower them to step up. Older kids can mentor younger kids. I started one of these programs in a school recently. There are many good children's books about the right way to treat each other. Two of these are "Have You Filled A Bucket Today?" and "One." When the older kids read these with the younger kids, the message is delivered to both. "Have You Filled a Bucket Today? has a wide variety of activities that can be downloaded for free.

Of course, not one of these ideas is the magic bullet. But they are a way of starting TODAY. To be successful, bullying prevention programs have to include everyone: administrators, teachers, parents, students, coaches, and even lunch monitors and it has to be consistent and constant. It's overwhelming but starting small and doing things that include as many as possible is much better than doing nothing. Programs like Olweus are the preferred way to go: it includes training and is sustainable. But if you can't find the money or you can't get the teachers to jump on board, don't let it stop you.

Every child deserves to be protected and supported. Don't let excuses get in the way.

Tomorrow, I'll post some links to free resources for online safety. Bullying doesn't end in the schoolyard anymore.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bullying: A Little Less Talk, A Little More Action...and Money

The Phoebe Prince story has the country now (correctly) focused on bullying. There are many great experts doing great work in this field. So why does it feel like so many schools, parents and kids are clueless when it comes to how to handle this devastating issue?

Here's a thought. Until corporations, foundations and/or the government steps up to pay for quality programs to be introduced to all schools: public, private and parochial and until money is spent on a consumer campaign that reaches homes, will we ever be able to get a handle on this problem. Currently, the efforts, although worthy, are sporadic and not well funded to say the least.

So here's a chance to give your opinion. Where should the money come from and how should it be spent?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bullying: Parents Are The Best Long Term Medicine

Phoebe Prince's suicide and the stories of bullying from South Hadley, Massachusetts have so many parents worried. And for good reason. But it's parents who have the power.

For parents whose children have been bullied, you might relate to these feelings: stomach in knots, dreams of dismembering the bullies, feelings of powerlessness, frustration, fear, and deep hurt. It may be harder on parents at times than it is on the kids.

But even through your pain, if you're paying attention to your child, not putting them down, helping them improve the situation, being their friend when they have no other friend, hiding your worry that they'll be labeled a "loser," and just generally, "being there," then there's a very good chance that, although they're devastated and downtrodden today, they'll grow up to be happy adults who didn't let bullying leave a long tail of pain.

Take for example, a fifth grade boy I recently met. His parents were worried. He received so much abuse, they said, that he didn't give eye contact, he mumbled, his shoulders were already slumped from carrying the weight of the world. He had been a target since kindergarten.

Instead of getting totally discouraged, his parents stepped up their efforts. By the time I met him, he was standing up straight and looking me in the eye, told me in the most confident way, about the advice and support his mother and father gave him. They spent time with him, including reading about bullying and guiding him through the process of making new friends. Privately, his parents told me how hard it had been and how frustrated and angry they were. It took time. The bullying didn't necessarily stop but the constant reminder from his parents that he's important began to make him feel stronger. Now he wants to help the younger kids feel stronger.

Hang in there, parents. Remember that your unconditional love may not stop a bully but it will eventually stop the pain.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Come On America, Untangle This Mess!

This blog on bullying is called Tangled Ball. Why? Because bullying is a messy, complicated problem. What's happening in South Hadley, Massachusetts right now is the clearest example of how the lives of our young, our families and our schools are being lost or diminished at the hands of unchecked mean behavior.

If you are a reader of the blog, you know that there are many good people doing many good things in the fields of bullying prevention and online safety. So, this is the question, why is the problem escalating?

It's time to combine efforts, identify real solutions and step up efforts to get these services, products and messages to every parent, child, home, school, media outlet, decision-maker, government agency, pediatrician and mental health professional.

It will take hundreds of solutions. And those that are not worried about protecting their territory, their approach, their product are the ones that will make the difference.

If you work in the field or have an interest in the tide of bullying turning, this is your chance to share your expertise, your opinion, your wish list, or your perspective on what is needed or what is already working to help untangle one string at a time.

Tangled Ball will do it's best to share these ideas and encourage change.

Your comments may mean the difference between life and death. Just look at South Hadley.