Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Bully Project

The Bully Project Promo from Lee Hirsch on Vimeo.

The goal of The Bully Project is to raise awareness about the devastating affects of peer to peer abuse and then do something about it. It can't be finished soon enough.

One of the challenges of this tangled ball of a mess called bullying is engaging more people in the solution. It's a difficult issue. Parents in general don't get involved until their child has had a bad experience. Although bullying affects millions, when it happens to your child you feel desperately alone.

A good film goes a long way to capture people's attention. With insidious issues like peer to peer abuse, we have to "see it, to feel it, to fix it." Or as Maya Angelou says, "When we know better, we do better."

If you care to donate, IndieGoGo makes it easy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


P.S. 22 hits it out of the park again. This time with Matisyahu's One Day:

sometimes I lay
under the moon
and thank God I'm breathing
then I pray
don't take me soon
cause I am here for a reason
sometimes in my tears I drown
but I never let it get me down
so when negativity surrounds
I know some day it'll all turn around
all my life I've been waiting for
I've been praying for
for the people to say
that we don't wanna fight no more
they'll be no more wars
and our children will play

"And our children will play." Exactly. If we teach our children to spend time playing and not tolerate them putting each other down, it will be One Day to celebrate.

We can only start one home at a time. As a parent if you have the expectation that your child will be kind to others, it's one more in a classroom that changes the balance from mean spirited to just plain spirited.

It just takes ONE...and then one more...and then one more....

Monday, July 26, 2010

Preparing for the 2010-2011 School Year

My husband would be horrified if he knew I even uttered "preparing for the new school year" in July. He's been out of school for quite a while now but he still goes pale when he sees those "Back to School" signs. Seriously, he almost gets sick.

In some parts of the country, there's plenty of summer left but here's something to ponder as you sit around the pool or go camping or traveling or just hanging out reading a book in a nice cool place:

What can be done to improve my child's school's climate?

(What the heck does "school climate" mean? In a nutshell, it means "is the school friendly, safe, and a nice place to go?")

Schools need parents to help. Article after article about bullying and cyber bullying discuss the responsibility of schools. Schools most definitely have to kick it up a notch when it comes to addressing peer to peer abuse. It can't be effectively done, though, if parents aren't solidly on board.

So much can be done to prevent bullying in the younger grades. It just makes sense to start early and set the expectation of how kids treat others in the classroom, schoolyard and online.

Here are some basics that EVERYONE with young kids going to school can make their responsibility:

• Teach your own children how to relate to others in a kind way.

• Tell them to be nice to the "new kid."

• Compliment them when you catch them treating others, including their siblings, well and tell them that's what leaders do.

• Conversely, if you catch them in the act of bullying others, there should be swift and consistent punishment.

• Be on the lookout for good books, DVDs and other programs that teach tolerance.

• Talk to your school PTA about making those books, DVDs, etc. available in the classroom.

• When you child starts school, don't do anything as a parent that makes other parents and kids feel left out, including handing out invitations when not everyone is included.

• Encourage your child to develop different groups of friends.

• Watch out for other children, not just your own.

• Teach them what being an "upstander" means. It's someone that sticks up for others and upstanders are heroes. For example, if they hear kids call other kids names like "stupid," "fat," "ugly," etc. they should either tell an adult or if they feel brave, tell the bullies to stop.

Bullying will always be an issue but it's making sure that the balance in a school is generally nurturing. It starts with ONE and then spreads.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jessi Slaughter: So Many Things Wrong With This Picture

This is so disturbing but let's look at it one string at a time:

No. 1: "Jessi" is too young to be on this site.

No. 2: "Jessi" has no judgment about how to communicate online. Again, she's too young (but I have to say that I know some 11 year olds who have better judgment.)

No. 3: What about the parents?

No. 4: Why is she unsupervised? Is the computer in her bedroom? (That's against all common sense for her age.)

No. 5: Why are people so extreme in their anger? Death threats?

No. 6: Not only is Jessi mad at her online tormentors but her Dad's behavior may be scaring her, too. No one's in charge.

Dr. Real is right. Anger fuels anger.

No. 7: Jessi is 11 and this may sound trite, but it's a bit disturbing that she's wearing so much makeup.

Poor Jessi. She's just a kid. Looks like she wasn't encouraged to remember that.

Bottom Line: In case your pre-teen kids are pressuring you to have a Facebook or MySpace page or be on any social networking site that's not for kids, don't let them.

The Emotional Gymnastics of Bullying: Sometimes It Just Takes ONE To Help

Bullies throw you off your game. They make sure they say something to you to bring you down a notch and then couple that with leaving you out of things. Or the best trick: no eye contact! Then repeat, and repeat, and repeat until the soul gets sucked out.

It's hard enough on adults but what about kids who don't have the experience, the skills or network to help them overcome the horrible emotions of self doubt and the exhausting exercise of emotional gymnastics.

Sadly, they're harming themselves.

What can we do?

WE can notice. WE can give eye contact. WE can give praise. WE can give validation. WE can give a smile. WE can give a compliment. WE can ask questions. WE can give protection. WE can care about all children, not just our own. WE can listen. WE can correct the bully.

WE can help them find their soul. Sometimes it just takes ONE adult.

(Tip: Buy the book ONE by Kathryn Otoshi for yourself and any child you know. Simple, Beautiful, Brilliant!)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More About Phoebe Prince

This article in Slate about Phoebe Prince and the events leading up to her suicide is an important read.

It focuses less on bullying and more on the fact that, according to this piece, she was troubled. She was involved in a lot more stuff than what you want a fifteen year-old to be doing, including cutting herself, having sex and smoking pot.

Reporter Emily Bazelon describes a variety of factors leading up to Phoebe's death, including her parents' separation and her heart-wrenching sadness at missing her father who stayed behind in Ireland.

The most disturbing part of this is that she was fifteen. It would be hard to handle all the emotions that come with the grief of separation as well as the guilt of risky behavior at such a young age.

It seems that some of the wheels were falling off for poor Phoebe. Perhaps the harshness of peers helped force one or two of those wheels to come loose. The students charged in her death may or may not be responsible but the cruelty of some of their interactions and their extracurricular activities should make us sit up and take notice.

I'm sure there was no way for them to know how vulnerable she already was, but isn't that the case for all of us? When we're being harsh, we don't actually know if we're talking to a "Phoebe Prince" or not.

If there's a lesson here, it's that we need to work harder to smooth over the edges that kids are developing by their early teens. Keeping the wheels on starts early.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dear Mr. President, Please Make Susie Stop Calling Me Names

After Ziainey Stokes was being bullied in one school, she moved to another. It didn't help. She was still picked on.

One of the first pieces of expert advice to bullied kids is to "tell an adult." Ziainey was really sick of being harrassed so she did just that. The adult was President Obama.

It was a good choice for a couple of reasons. Who's going to mess with you when at any moment, the motorcade might pull up? Or instead of hearing your name on the loud speaker, you'll hear your name (but not in a good way) during the State of the Union address. Obama has said publicly a few times, including during his first interview after being elected, that "meanness" is one of his pet peeves.

Even though we're not in the White House (unless of course, Michelle O is reading this), we can still be that adult. Is meanness your pet peeve? If so, make some kid's day and step up.

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/video.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Top Ten Reasons Why Contracts Work

As adults we tend to think in terms of our kids' offline and online lives as two separate things but in reality it's all one life to them.

Hopefully we have the expectation that when our kids go to see their grandparents, or they're in school or at their friend's house, that they will behave, they'll be polite and they will treat others with respect.

When kids are young and just learning how to use the computer and/or they're getting their own phone, set the ground rules. It's even a good idea to use a simple but effective tool: a contract.

They're not commonly used but they're a secret weapon. (For example, at a recent workshop, 50 elementary school parents were asked if they ever used a contract when they started letting their kids use the computer. Not one did.)

Every home with kids should consider having a contract (or Family Media Agreement!) that they sign along with their parents that establishes the expectations of how they will treat others when they're online. You can make one up but you can also download for free. Common Sense Media, for example, has a good one. They also have them for different age groups. Makes perfect common sense.

Tangled Ball's Top Ten Reasons Why Family Media Agreement's Are A Good Idea:

• It heads problems off at the pass.

• It gives you a reason to discuss expectations. (Expectations are better than "rules!")

• It gives you a way to discuss consequences if they don't meet those expectations

• It takes pressure off the parent by covering all the online safety issues at once.

• It gives one on one time with the child...and why not have fun with it? Discuss. Laugh. Heck, decorate the damn thing.

• It gives an opening to suggest that the child take you on a tour of their online world. (This is sneaky but it works. If they take you for a "tour," you won't have to guess what they're "up to" online.

• It shows you're interested in their safety.

• It helps them build good judgment online.

• It sends the signal that this is what parents do and when they become a parent, they can use the same type of tools.
and, finally...

• It will help you sleep better at night.

Now download, talk, take a tour, laugh, decorate, post next to computer...and then sleep like a baby.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Parents Who Admit Their Kids Are Bullies Are Heroes, Too

Did you ever go to a school reunion and were shocked at how some kids turned out? Or shocked that they turned out just the way you thought?

Here's a theory: When kids who bullied in school are eventually stopped by a caring and wise adult, they seem to grow up just fine. When kids who bullied in school but were not stopped, you meet them years later and find out they've been divorced several times, their kids are in trouble, they can't hold on to a job, etc. You get the picture.

So when parents recognize that their kids have a tendency to bully and they work at correcting it, they deserve help, empathy and a standing ovation. That's a good parent. We can't always control our children's personalities but we can sure try to straighten them out. Their future spouses will thank you.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit is an Upstander

Experts agree that the role of the "bystander" is key in blunting the affects of bullying. The Center for Social and Emotional Education thought that the role of bystander is so important that perhaps it should be renamed to reflect that action is required. So bystander became "upstander," which says so much more.

You could just be standing there minding your own business and WHAM, there's a need to step up and support someone who is being mistreated. In that moment, a decision has to be made. Do I step in to the problem or do I just let that person/child fend for themselves? Do I care enough to lend a sympathetic ear, or tell the bully to "stop," or get additional help... or do I just stand by?

During this recording with the chorus from P.S. 22, Michael Angelakos, lead singer of the award-winning band Passion Pit, proved he is an UPSTANDER. In under 30 seconds, he could have possibly changed this lucky child's life.

Do we have to be a celebrity to be an upstander? No way. In that moment and in that child's eyes, it's extremely likely that Angelakos was just a person saying the right thing at the right time.

So to every upstander out there, ROCK ON.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Alex from The Bully Project: "Some Kids Get Enjoyment from Seeing Other Kids Hurt."

If you saw Alex Perry in the school hallway, you might not guess that this is what she was thinking.

There are many kids like Alex in schools. We just have to see them, step up and not let other "kids get enjoyment from seeing other kids hurt."

It doesn't matter whether it's a teacher, coach, counselor, peer, or parent. You don't need a degree to help. You just need compassion and a willingness to step up. Or in other words, be an "upstander."

Kids with special needs are more likely to get bullied. That doesn't say much for our society. If you are a parent of a child with special needs, a good resource is Smart Kids with LD. It has good information on how to help your child interact with peers which increases the chances of a positive school experience.

The "Alex" clip is from The Bully Project, the first feature length documentary about peer to peer abuse. If you want to donate to The Bully Project, IndieGoGo makes it easy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bullying: "Upstanders" are the Heroes

Recently, I was at the opening remarks for the CSEE (Center for Social and Emotional Education) Summer Institute. (By the way, any organization whose whole reason for being is to help schools create the most nurturing environments possible has my respect.) They coined the word "UPSTANDER." What a fantastic term for both adults and children.

It says so much more than "bystander." It's says "I see you and I'll help." Kids may try to look tough. They may be functioning -- but sometimes you can see that scared or lost look on their face. Are they being ostracized, intimidated, physically bullied, harassed online? So often, they're afraid to say. They just want someone to see it on their face, guess there's a problem and "stand by me."

This obviously universal song says everything else needed to be said. Congratulations to all those upstanders -- moms, dads, teachers, coaches, friends, and anyone who knows what it's like to need someone to help and stepped up.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"What We All Want In Life Is A Shot": Bullying and Special Needs

Every parent wants to see their kid hit it out of the park -- just once. For Jason McElwain, it was dunking 3 pointers.

"Hitting it out of the park" can apply to anything. For some it's sports but for others it can be math, photography, music, writing or hundreds of other interests. EVERY parent wants this feeling of accomplishment for their child, including parents of children with special needs.

Sometimes it's a coach like Jim Johnson of Greece Athena High School or sometimes it's someone who just recognizes the whole person, not just aspects of a child that make it hard for them to fit in. Ironically, it's the hidden parts that make them stand out that need to be discovered, nurtured, appreciated and given a chance. If schools aren't prepared to educate mainstream students about kids with disabilities, then kids with challenges, such as Asperger's, don't have a chance "to take their shot." As a matter of fact, it's often the opposite. Kids with challenges are vulnerable to taunts, exclusion and physical bullying. (As mentioned in previous posts, kids with Asperger's are 6 times more likely to be bullied in school.)

Jason McElwain's story is a teachable moment. It's up to the entire school--students, parents, teachers, coaches--to help every child "hit it out of the park."

If every parent talked to their child about how to treat others in school before the new year started, bullying wouldn't be the reason why tens of thousands of kids don't want to go to school. As a commentator from ESPN said, "What we all want in life is a shot." Let's start talking.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Bully Project: Alex

When I get a little tired and think, "Why did I decide to take on bullying? This is too big and too hard. My career in television and public relations was fine," I think about Alex.

Alex has Asperger's and although I don't have a child with Asperger's, I feel responsible for all the kids that do who go to school and are bullied. Kids with Asperger's are 6 times more likely to be bullied and it doesn't make sense.

The Bully Project is the first feature length documentary to take on this issue. It provides an insight into what kids go through but it's goal is to provide solutions as well.

If you want to be a part of the success of this film and care to donate, IndieGoGo makes it easy. Alex and all the kids profiled in the film are worth it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Kids with Asperger's More Likely to Be Bullied

According to keynote remarks by Kevin Jennings, director of Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, at the CSEE Institute yesterday, kids with Asperger's Syndrome are six times more likely to be bullied in school. If you're a parent of a child with Asperger's, this is no surprise.

There is absolutely no reason to let this happen. Every administrator and every teacher should be trained in what to do to protect kids with disabilities. There are many programs out there. One simple step overlooked by many schools is a bullying prevention plan for lower grades so that as they progress in school it's the expectation that every child will be respected.

What about the lessons we're teaching at home? Are kids getting the message at home to be good to everyone, including and especially, kids with disabilities? Parents of children with Asperger's need support. When parents don't talk to their kids about how to treat others, we are the bystander who lets bullying happen. We are all somewhat responsible.

And if we do, what a beautiful and opposite result. We can also be responsible for providing joy in a child's life and peace for their parent.

Monday, July 5, 2010

How Did Your Parent Turn Your Worst Day Into Your "Best Day"?

Hard to believe that Taylor had friend issues. Did her mom know at the time how big of a help she was?

Whether you were on the receiving end of kindness or you were the one stepping in, we want your stories. You might not get a song written about you but you will inspire others. Parents need to know how important it is to just "be there."