Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bullying: If You Could Be Honest With Other Parents...

Parents have a HUGE role in raising non bullies; protecting their children from long term bullying; and standing up for other people's children.

The elephant in the room is how parents of targets feel about parents of bullies. Especially if the parent of the target has been brave enough to approach the other parent in a rational way.

So here's a chance to be honest (not cruel or crass, just honest) and say what you need to say.

"When I talked to (parent of bully) they defended their child by saying, "___________________________."

"It would be so helpful if they would ____________________________________________________________."

Wake up, parents. No one ever wants to hear, "kids will be kids," especially if your kid is beating up or spreading rumors about my kid. That's NOT what our expectation should be of kids. And this is what I have to say when parents say that to me: "In that case, parents should be parents."

The New York Times' blog regarding bullying and cyberbullying is great but the comments are even better. Check out "Jim M.'s" comment. He's #14 and my new hero.

It's admirable when parents are not in denial about their children's behavior. As a matter of fact, those are the kids, when corrected, who will probably be leaders. So be a leader and raise a leader. When another parent approaches you about your child's behavior, be open to what they have to say. Don't go overboard. Listen to your child's side and then make an informed judgment. If you child is at fault, this is a great teachable moment.

You're the chief but you're also part of the village.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bullying: My Name is Alex...

Currently in production, The Bully Project is the first feature documentary film about bullying. Bullying numbers are big: over 5 million kids per year get bullied; over 160,000 per day don't go to school because they're afraid, more than half of the kids online say they have been harrassed.

But numbers are numbers. Here are some of the faces.

When problems are so big, so tangled, so insidious, it needs a powerful film to get people out of their comfort zones and create change. I know the kids featured in the film would appreciate your help, as well as the other 4.999 million kids who are suffering due to peer abuse. It doesn't make sense to let this continue.

Some of us feel like this problem is so big that we can't make a difference. Here's how each one of us can make a statement about helping kids and protecting their physical, mental and emotional well being. Go to IndieGoGo and donate: The Bully Project

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's a Good Time to Talk to your School About Next Year's plans for Bullying Prevention

Some schools around the country are already out for the year. In the East, where I live, they only have a couple of more days before they're free!

Even if your school is already in vacation mode, it's a good time to send them an email or a note to ask "What's up?" for next year.

If you don't already have a bullying prevention program in place, here are a couple of suggestions to get started.

Programs have to engage the following stakeholders: Principals, teachers, after school staff, lunch monitors, parents, and finally, the kids.

Here are some simple and cost efficient ways to get started:

Principals and Teachers: Check out this three day conference in NYC hosted by the Center for Social and Emotional Education and suggest that someone in the school or school district go for professional training. I've met with this group and I have a lot of respect for their work. School climate is a critical and complicated subject which requires professional guidance. Information learned at the conference can be shared with all other adults in the building that interact kids, including after-school staff. If it's not possible to come to NYC, there are other organizations that host them in different parts of the country.

Parents: Enlist the support of the other parents while you're at barbeques or the pool. Believe me, it's a subject that hits a nerve with more parents than you would have guessed. There's safety in numbers and instead of complaining about kids bullying other kids, do something about it. Start forming a group of interested parents to come up with resources and age appropriate ideas that the school can incorporate when the new school year comes around.

A book I found inspiring is Schools Where Everyone Belongs by Stan Davis. I love the title. It's a positive message that he reinforces over and over again with good clear examples of the challenges and how to overcome them.

And since we can't forget that the kids also live in an online world, I suggest the following web sites: Common Sense Media and iKeepSafe. They have tremendous resources for homes and schools. The government also offers free booklets about online safety and they're great: Netcetera.

Students: Two great books that can jump start an anti-bullying or leadership campaign in elementary schools: Have You Filled a Bucket Today and One. It's amazing what happens when you put older kids together with younger kids to read these two books and discuss them. With a little guidance, kids mentor each other better than we ever could.

There are dozens of ways to approach school climate and bullying issues. Just start somewhere. Something unexpected happened when I started a home grown campaign at a local school. Kids weren't necessarily expecting miracles but things seemed to improve simply because someone was paying attention to the problem. Some kids were relieved that we were bringing up the subject. Once again, it was proof that we don't always know what's going on in their minds or their world.

So have a frozen concoction, preferably with a little umbrella, and starting getting creative.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Basic Lessons from Phoebe Prince Case and other Bullying Tragedies

The name of this blog is Tangled Ball because bullying is a tangled mess. EVERY incident is caused by multiple factors: the personalities of the kids involved; the method -- whether it's physical, verbal, mental, emotional, online or offline; the school climate; the involvement of parents; or the involvement of the principal, teachers and/or other adults.

Sometimes complicated problems can only be solved one string at a time.

Let's start with the last one: other adults.

First step: we need to cut each other some slack. Adults are not mind readers. It's tough to know what to do. Our culture is moving away from the concept that a village raises a child. What does that mean? Sometimes an adult feels like it's not their place to reach out to a child or teen that is not their own.

This blog post is giving you permission.

It's back to the basics because experts say that when an adult is interested in the welfare of a child, parent or not, it makes a big difference. (And we don't really need experts to tell us this because if we look back in our own childhoods, we know it's true.) So instead of looking at it as a negative, it's a positive. It doesn't hurt to ask a child or teen, "Is everything ok?" Simple as that. And then LISTEN. Just sit and listen. Show that you're listening by asking a follow up question. Don't be in a hurry. Don't have an opinion. Unless the opinion is, "You deserve to be treated well."

It's almost impossible to know the right thing to say. But that doesn't mean we can't care. It also doesn't mean that we can't help that child talk to the school counselor or someone who may have more of the answers, even the parents.

Kids should not feel alone. That's when all the pain becomes too dangerous.

So if anyone is reading this today, be on the lookout for kids who might need someone to ask the question, "Is everything ok?" We'll never regret caring.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Jessica Alba Gives Hope to Kids Who are Bullied

According to an interview for The Ticket, an entertainment blog, Jessica Alba was bullied badly as a child.

If the bullies were trying to destroy her confidence, they obviously didn't succeed. The kids giving her a hard time are probably mortified now (if not, they should be!).

Two things struck me about her story. One is that her Dad, a former military man, walked her into school every day. Way to go, Dad. And two, it was before cyber bullying became a huge issue so I'm assuming she at least had some escape at home.

In our country where we glorify physical beauty, it's hard to believe that everyone, even those with good looks, can be a target. Even though Jessica Alba was beautiful, she was bullied. Phoebe Prince was also very pretty and she was bullied. But poor Phoebe didn't have an escape. Cyber bullying made that impossible.

The moral of this story is that noone is immune to peer abuse. As parents, the more we're aware, the better the outcome. As far as cyber bullying is concerned, ask kids...and ask them often ...if things are going ok, even online. One of the biggest problems is that the vast majority of kids don't tell their parents when something goes wrong. So I guess we have to ask and ask and ask. (And if someone is mistreating them online or through texting, don't pull the plug out of the computer or take their phones away. That's why they don't tell us in the first place. Work with them on a solution. Here's a link to Common Sense Media if you need some solid advice.)

Jessica Alba had the last laugh. Here's her advice:

"Anyone out there who gets bullied should realize that they can take control and succeed."

I agree. Have fun leaving the bullies in the dust.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bullying: A Survey and Video For Everyone

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.

Now imagine that NO ONE stepped up. The following video is from a full length documentary in production by award-winning director Lee Hirsch called The Bully Project: A Year In the Life Of America's Bullying Crisis.

(c) Tangled Ball 2010