Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Friday, February 26, 2010

Stand Up To Bullying Day (Today!)

Bobby Cooper is proof that you don't have to have been a target of bullying to be interested in what it does to others. The thing I love about Stand Up To Bullying Day is that it was conceived by a guy who had no real history with bullying. He's a self described "cool guy" who could have done something about bullying when he was in high school -- but didn't. He didn't step in for the same reason many don't step in. He didn't feel like it was "any of his business."

Bobby, like many other college graduates, didn't feel his education necessarily pointed him in any certain direction after his four years. It was a segment on Dr. Phil with his son, Jay McGraw, on bullying that motivated him to take on the issue. (Obviously, he didn't have a job if he was watching Dr. Phil in the middle of the day.)

But no matter what the motivation was, it inspired him to learn as much as he could (which is really good because research is key. Bullying is complicated and definitely not a "one size fits all" issue.)

It sounds like it's been a winding road, trying to figure out how his talents could best contribute to awareness and solutions. But pink shirts it is -- and I think he's probably making a difference. Read his web site. It's thorough and well intentioned and developed by a guy who could be doing a lot of other things. And, I think it's really important to get cool guys involved in this issue as leaders.

Way to go, Bobby. I'm putting on my pink shirt right now.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bullying is the "Elephant in the Room"

According to the news, parent's of 15-year-old Canadian suicide victim, Ashkan Sultani, have decided that their son's upcoming memorial will be a lesson in the tragic consequences of bullying. They want to stress prevention and compassion.

School administrators fear that this will cause copycat suicides and would prefer to make it about suicide prevention. I don't know enough about what would trigger a copycat suicide. And it's too risky for me to speculate.

What I do know is that Ashkan's parents are the experts in what unrelenting mean behavior did to their child. They say that "bullying is the elephant in the room."

My heart goes out to them. I applaud them for taking on the subject but alas, they have nothing to lose. They've already experienced the greatest loss. The memorial service was scheduled for tomorrow, Ashkan's birthday.

I still believe that kids don't always know what they're doing when they ostracize, say mean things, share a mean text or forward mean messages on Facebook.

After giving bullying surveys in a school recently, I came away firmly believing that kids, especially in elementary school, do mean things but don't always know that it's "bullying." They just think it's what the next kid is doing, they're getting away with it, and it makes them look cooler. Bullying prevention efforts have to happen in the younger years and not only in schools.

It's a good time to give your own survey at home. Ask your kids if they ever treat others badly...or do they get treated badly? Do they witness others getting treated badly, and if so, do they feel comfortable stepping up in some way, even if it's simply telling an adult who could step up? Ask them what bullying means.
Start the conversation. Talk about the "elephant in the room." Do this on Ashkan's birthday.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cyber Bullying. Parents Need Info...and Experts Need Parents

Mayor seeks to stop cyber-bullying

This meeting happened in Massachusetts but I recently went to one in the New York City area.

Meetings like this need to happen everywhere and community by community there need to be parent meetings that clearly lay out the problem. Cyber bullying is 40% about technology and 60% about parenting (and probably about 100% of peer pressure.) But parents are at a disadvantage. The uses of technology are changing every day. One day, you're worried about instant messaging and then the threat moves to the cell.

Not only are these types of meetings good for parents, they're critical for decision makers and professionals. Why? We need a realistic sense of what is actually happening with kids and their daily lives. Experts need to start listening to parents, as well. Parents are still the experts about their children and how to get them to open up and what they are capable of.

Parents are also the key to prevention.

Although many schools experience a low level of participation by parents, there's a way around that, too. Organize a parent task force to research age-appropriate programs for schools and homes. Slowly build interest and include parents who have some knowledge of technology and an interest in solutions. Don't stop. Don't give up. Our kids' emotional health is worth it.

Remember, it's a good new neighborhood our kids are in. It's not all bad. But just like all neighborhoods, we need a "neighborhood watch."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bullying Advice from Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus speaks out about how it feels to be "bullied" by the press and paparazzi. People can judge and say she is so rich and famous, she has nothing to complain about...but she does have feelings.

And if those feelings will help your child, especially daughter, feel they're not alone, my advice is to use it. I think one of the toughest aspects of bullying is the loneliness and the sense that it only happens to you. That somehow you deserve it. Well, Miley is rich and famous enough to say, "Cut it out. It hurts."

No one -- and I mean no one -- likes to be the target of mean things. Seriously, it doesn't matter how old you are, how successful you are or how talented you are, almost everyone has self doubts. And every bully knows that those self doubts are the bulls eye.

Next time your daughter seems shaken from being at the wrong end of someone's mean comments or attacks, tell them about Miley. Especially if she's a fan. And listen to "The Climb." Whether you personally like Miley or not, it's a good song with a good message for growing souls.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Reminder About Unconditional Love on Valentine's Day

All true love is unconditional.

But sometimes that's hard to remember when your child grows out of that cute stage or when they don't fit in with their peers for some inexplicable reason.

This is an "elephant in the room" conversation. Many parents are embarrassed when their child is the target of bullying. For some reason, we tend to think that it's a reflection on us. Most parents don't admit this but it's human nature. We want our kids to be the cool ones.

But the fact is, most kids like most adults, have flaws. It's not a crime. And when they're being ridiculed, it's incredibly painful for both of you. Some parents want to lash out at those doing the bullying, but others secretly blame their child for having traits that are easily picked on.

For those in the latter category, it's so hard to keep your head. Despite what you're feeling deep inside, fake it if you have to but tell your child that they're perfect. Tell them that the only reason they're picked on is that those people are mean and/or must not know you very well because if they did, they would see how perfect you are.

Be the cheerleader. It could protect their emotional health and blunt the long tail of pain that bullying causes.

Of course, teaching them skills is an act of love as well. Skills such as standing up straight, looking people in the eye and being firm about telling bullies to "stop" are extremely important. But they won't learn these things over night so in the meantime, treat them like they're right and the others are wrong, and no matter what, you'd rather have them as your kid than the other kid who might be popular, but in your mind is a big loser because they don't know how to treat people.

Tell your child that no matter what, you're proud of them for NOT being the loser that makes others feel bad.

When we were going through awkward times -- which everyone does growing up -- did we need to be constantly corrected or did we need someone to see past the awkwardness and make us feel like we were valued -- and yes, loved unconditionally.

It's not easy and we won't know if it worked until they're all grown up and looking past these things with their own children, but it will be one of our finest moments as parents.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

OMG...YouTube Safety Mode...Alleluia!

I always thought it was a little weird that YouTube, one of the most fun parts of the internet for me, was clueless to the fact that there are actually children living on the planet.

They got the memo!

Check out YouTube's new Safety Mode.

Would love to hear what you think about it. The only problem I have, which I'm sure could be easily fixed (so I don't want to be too harsh-- Rome wasn't built in a day) is that a parent has to know about Safety Mode before going to the site because it sure isn't obvious. In some way it should say, "Look, Parents! SAFETY MODE. Click Here! Aren't you proud of us??!!"

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bullying, Cyber Bullying. Where Do We Start?

The Phoebe Prince story still has me reeling. And unfortunately it's not the first suicide of a young teen that has had me perplexed, horrified and saddened. It's so preventable... but where do we start?

I have had two very good experiences in schools over the past week: one small Catholic elementary school and a fairly large public middle school. In the former, I gave a parenting workshop on bullying and online safety. My theory is that both have to be addressed at once. It's one world -- schoolyard to cell to home computer -- for kids. Although adults tend to think of being online and offline, it's one line for kids.

Treating peers well, therefore, is an option no matter where kids are at the moment. Notice I said, "treating peers WELL is an option." In my experience, if you make kids feel like a hero, they will rise to the occasion. Especially if you start early.

Bullying and cyber bullying are out of hand. Where do we start? Community by community until a national leader(s) steps up to create a thorough national campaign that makes treating others poorly very uncool.

That brings me to the second school. I was impressed. A young principal and his assistant principal and other interested professionals in the building became aware of cyber bullying. They pulled out all the stops. Sent numerous email blasts regarding to make parents aware, had a representative for the local district attorney's office come to speak to all 1500 of the students and then held a parents' meeting at night. Turnout was fairly low but that's not the point. They held it not knowing what the turn out would be. And they encouraged those who did come (in all fairness, a big snowstorm was coming) to get involved and HELP the school HELP the kids.

That's putting yourself out there. And that's what we need. Schools to be open and say, "Everyone under the tent. We're in this together."

It's no one's fault that there's a generation gap but it is our fault if we recognize the gap and don't try to close it.

As a first step, I ask all schools to do what this school did. Put it out there, start the (tangled) ball rolling. For schools that don't know where to begin, put together an objective (or as objective as humanly possible and be a parent) committee to start doing research for the school. The goals of the committee could be researching good resources, including speakers, free, age-appropriate, researched and downloadable product, thorough programs such as Olweus that involve the entire school community -- including parents, lunch ladies, teachers and coaches. Whatever fits the personality, mission, and budget of the school. Speaking of budget, a secondary goal of the committee could be to raise funds for high-quality programs.

Caution: The committee should act as an information gatherer not a complaint department for individual incidences.

Hosting events that train parents on research-based solutions would be a huge step in the right direction.

You catch my drift (the snowstorm made me say that). Start somewhere. Parents and witnesses/bystanders are a good place to start.

To help get you started, click on prior post: Helpful Links. Here are just a few that endorse wholeheartedly. If you want more, let me know.

And Congratulations to both schools. You're brave but you won't be sorry.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Helpful Links

Highly Recommended

Overall, I found Common Sense Media and iKeepSafe to be the most comprehensive and most helpful on all things including online, video, cell, movies and television.

Common Sense Media


The Department of Health and Human Resources developed the Stop Bullying Now site which covers more on "traditional" bullying:

Stop Bullying Now

Great site to check out before your child buys a video game:

Entertainment Software Ratings Board

This is a short list. Feel free to leave a Comment with additional suggestions. Hope this helps and remember...


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How Much Space Do We Allow in Cyberspace?

Over the decades, kids have seemed to find a place to have a good time that was all their own. Their own world.

What we have now is a dilemma. Kids, I think, still need that space and for many it's being online. Where are the lines? Legitimately, the suicide of 15-year old Phoebe Prince has rattled many parents. Something went terribly wrong in that part of Phoebe's world.

In preparing for parent workshop at a local elementary school on Friday, I was thinking about concrete things we can do to give kids their space but to help stop bullying from overpowering their emotional health.

What I ended up with was a few simple suggestions... but I'm also left with a few questions.

The Contract...Know the Territory

• Start with a simple contract that sets the ground rules for all technology that can be posted next to the computer.

Up to grade 5

The younger ones might actually have fun going over it with you. It shows you're interested.

Grades 6-8

The older kids may roll their eyes, be embarrassed or maybe even a little mad. Do it anyway.

High School

High School is hard. Some type of contract or agreement is still necessary but you may want to handle it with care. Establishing rules about texting and online behavior becomes even more important but you don't want to treat them like babies. Even talking about Phoebe's story may illustrate how their safety and happiness is at the center of the need for some boundaries.

Side Benefits

Experts are great about saying, "Talk to your kids." What does that mean? It's hard to just randomly start talking about subjects that you're not exactly comfortable addressing. A contract gives you a reason and the words to open up the conversation -- and with your focus on the contract, you don't even have to give each other eye contact which can make these conversations more relaxed. It's a time to set consequences so it's clear that when the rule is broken, there will be a punishment. Just like any parenting issue, consistency is key.

Two easily downloadable contracts: Common Sense Media, and FOSI (Family Online Safety Institute)

Take a Tour

The Great 2010 Online Tour

If you're not familiar with what your kids are doing online, ask them to take you for a "tour." If that feels awkward, ask them to show you something on YouTube and then keep going. Make them feel like the expert not a criminal. For example, when the contract talks about "personal settings," and you're not sure what that is, ask your kids to show you. It's ok not to know as long as you're willing to learn.

Compliment them for being so smart online. If there's something you don't like, ask questions, don't just leap to being mad. The goal is for your kids to TELL you when someone bullies them or acts inappropriately. They definitely will NOT tell you if they think you'll be angry instead of sympathetic.

The overwhelming majority of kids DO NOT TELL A PARENT when they are harrassed online. That's a huge problem right there. By the time a parent finds out, the damage is done. Kids are trying to navigate the super highway of emotions online. It's isolating, debilitating and frightening. And the last thing you want is peers to parent peers only. Peer to peer advice is great in some instances but not always when it comes to the big stuff like their reputation.

Those are two suggestions that I'm going to throw out there on Friday. I'll keep you posted on whether they were well received or if they're realistic/useful in any way.

Now for the question. Why do we let our kids on Facebook or MySpace at such young ages? I know many are on even younger than 13, the supposed minimum age that Facebook or MySpace allows.

I know they feel left out if they're not on. I get that and fitting in is SO important. That's not sarcasm. It really is...BUT it's still a little risky. At the middle school age and into high school, friends are fickle. Things turn quickly. Egos are forming. According to the statistics, at least 3 out of 10 kids are cyber bullied. Even nice quiet kids "flex their muscles" online.

Could parents of classmates decide as a group to hold off on letting their kids have Facebook or MySpace pages? I'm just asking. Could the conversation be included in schools' open houses? Could information go home to parents of 6th, 7th, 8th graders?

It's easier if not everyone "is doing it." Just a thought. You may want to consider talking to your friends and your school. You know what they say..."Safety in numbers."

And after all is said and done, I still think it's important for kids to have their own space. Monitoring every little move seems unnatural but it needs to be balanced with enough involvement that they're not in the woods totally alone. When they get lost you need to know how to find them.