Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Monday, May 24, 2010

Confidence Lesson from Jessica

Thanks to the Parent Dish blog for sharing this video. It's a great post and well worth your time, including the interview with Jessica who is now 12.

That's what we're fighting for: preserving the type of spirit that makes Jessica sing in the mirror. It's worth it to step up and stop anyone who tries to rob a child of their spirit, whether it's an adult or peer. As adults, we're in charge. We need to be more aware of all children we come in contact with and know enough when they've lost that lighthearted birth rite called childhood joy.

Help them get it back. Stand up for them and teach them that they do not deserve to be treated badly. It may not change overnight but when an adult, any adult, pays attention it makes a big difference.

Now that I've finished writing this post, I'm going to go sing in the mirror. Hope you do, too.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bullying: Emotional Gymnastics

Is that a real term? If not, it should be. It's what happens when others make you second guess yourself. It's a form of bullying. They 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 complement. 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!)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Can Bullying Survive In the Presence of Empathy and Kindness?

Is empathy teachable? Is happiness contagious?

Two articles: USA Weekend and Time Magazine say yes to both.

That's good news. It means hope for overwhelmed schools and frustrated parents but most of all, worthy kids.

As reported in USA Weekend:

When people benefit from kindness, they “pay it forward,” which creates greater cooperation that influences others in a social network, say researchers Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist at Harvard University, and James Fowler, a social scientist at the University of California-San Diego. Findings were published in March in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Christakis and Fowler also have found happiness, loneliness and obesity to be contagious.

Did you hear that? Loneliness is contagious. And that's what bullying does.

But so is happiness. And that's what we can build by "paying it forward." Imagine the lives that can be changed by including the excluded.

This week's Time Magazine article "How to Deprogram Bullies: Kindness 101" is also a must read.

"When kids are able to watch an interaction that's empathic, empathy isn't just being taught; it's being demonstrated," says Dr. Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA.

Here's a tip: leadership programs where the primary focus is for older kids to teach younger ones about respect, kindness and expectations for good behavior. It works for a lot of reasons. Often, these are lessons that older kids have forgotten and by becoming the teacher, they have to step up their game. It's also important to enlist the help of older kids because, quite honestly, sometimes younger kids listen to student mentors more than to adults. Younger kids in general seem to want to impress their "cool teachers."

(Like anything, it's not always perfect, though. Recently during a leadership session, a 7th grade boy was shocked when a pint-sized kid socked him. He yelled, "I've just been bullied! This is not supposed to happen!" Rome wasn't built in a day.)

Leadership programs take commitment but not a lot of money. Try it. Demonstrating empathy is a good way to go.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Too Busy To Bully. Too Busy Singing.

P.S. 22 elementary school kids in Staten Island don't look like they have time to bully. They look like they're too busy having fun and making music. This is the picture of childhood and school that gives hope. Obviously, their chorus leader has great leadership qualities. This teaches a thing or two about empowerment.

Instead of focusing on the bad in kids, what would happen if we spent time doing things like this? It's the anti-bully. All kids are included and they're all working together. The happiness that music brings probably lowers frustration and brings a smile to their faces.

You may think this is a stretch but I don't. And neither does UK soccer star Gary Neville. His anti-bullying message to kids: Smile More.

So there's our assignment. Empower kids and get them to smile more. It's much harder to be mean when you're happy with yourself.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Moms Who Care About Other People's Children, Too

What's the secret weapon in the fight against bullying in schools? Good anti-bullying programs are important, training is key, school leadership is critical, but they're not the secret weapon.

It's parents, particularly mothers, who care about all the children in the school, not just their own. These are the moms that show up at workshops, that come to volunteer, or if they're working outside the home during the day, continue to show an interest in their own way.

Without moms who understand that the school climate affects all the children, the school can become like the Wild West with only one sheriff in town -- the principal -- and maybe a few deputies.

Working on school climate is extremely time consuming and labor intensive. You don't get gold medals for it and the results are not obvious on a day to day basis. It's not like the plant sale where your job is done when the last marigold is sold and you count up the money (although that's good, too!). It's about devoting time to organize and implement activities. It's about noticing and catching kids in the act of doing something good. And at times, it's about nurturing kids that are not your own.

So here's a "shout out" to the extraordinary moms I've met who deserve the gold medal but are left with the marigold: Nancy, Janet, Cathy, Tanya, Elana, Kelly, Susan, Ann Marie, Lisa L., Lisa F., and Annette. And here's to the sheriff: Mrs. S. who has brought to the job, not only a talent for education but the mothering skills needed to nurture.

Happy Mother's Day. It's not only the kids you are raising that are the lucky ones. It's the village you are watching over.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Parents and Bystanders Seem To Be The Key

To change the culture of an elementary and/or middle school, the message has to begin with parents. A recent study confirms that a school climate is dependent on how kids relate to each other which is a direct result of how they are taught at home.

It's hard work to promote respect among students but unless parents and, in some cases, teachers get the message, it's impossible. But how do we get this point across?

Instead of an anti-bullying campaign, another concept is to build a leadership campaign. It's easier to talk to kids and parents about leadership than it is to harp on bad behavior. It's also an effective way to talk about the critical role of the bystander. If a child feels like they are a leader when they support the kids around them, they are more likely to step up. If both a parent and child can be complimented for their leadership qualities, others will more likely follow.

As part of a leadership program, older kids mentor younger children. This is so important because in order to lead, kids are taught to lead by example.

An observation: kids tune out at the word "bully." Kids don't relate their own behavior to being a "bully." From what I see, they only understand it when they have to explain it to a younger child.

What is also good about this approach is that it sends a message to the young ones about the expectations of the school. Basically, "We are nice to everyone here, whether they are your friend or not." It also gives them a sense of importance that the older kids know them. Sometimes kids do things because they don't think anyone else will notice. The older kids are taught to catch the younger ones doing something good and give them encouragement. The older ones are also reminded to "take their own pulse" and to not make mean behavior a habit.

This may be simple but it is universal. People want to feel good about themselves. Any school can establish a leadership program with no or little cost. Just the help of interested parents. See -- it's always about the parents!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bullying Dissection

As a person who nearly fainted during a maternity ward tour --I wasn't even close to actually having the baby yet -- I have a lot of nerve making a medical analogy, but it's necessary.

Bullying has to be dissected and the tumors, one by one, need to be surgically removed.


First cut: Home.

The undeniable fact is that kids learn how to treat others by how they are treated by parents and siblings.

Second slice: School.

Every school, including everyone in the building, needs to be trained by reliable trainers and have a program that is consistent and constant.

Third incision: Money.

Schools need the money to do this. Where will it come from? Private donors, government, fundraisers? No matter what it is, money cannot stand in the way. Bullying and online safety programs should be mandatory.

Fourth cut: Media.

This is a tough one. Kids are absolutely positively surrounded by messages of hate and intolerance. Meanness is glorified. Who is going to start advocating for kids? Who is going to either take this stuff off, including the "reality" tv shows and/or which advertisers are going to put their foot down? (I know you have some meaningful initiatives, MTV, but it's a big fat mixed message. You have a half a dozen horrible "reality" series that show the worst side of humanity. Seriously, the M in MTV now stands for Mean.)

There is some serious triage needed and then some planning for the kids just starting out. Can we change the culture enough for the babies being born today to have a chance of having a fairly pain free childhood?