Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

First Tangled Ball Award Ever Goes To...Stan Davis!

Stan Davis deserves an award just for the title of his first book alone: Schools Where Everyone Belongs. Isn't that a beautiful concept? As a resource for schools, this book, co-authored with his daughter Julia, does not disappoint. It's hopeful and compassionate at the same time realistic and thoughtful. It gets to the heart of how kids really feel and not just how adults assume they feel.

Stan is a teacher, therapist, presenter/entertainer, researcher, activist and father. Although soft spoken, his International Bullying Prevention Association (IBPA) workshops are standing room only. His presentation is built on real research, experience in the classroom and a genuine respect for teachers and kids. (And, yes, there really is an international conference where everyone gets together to try and figure this darn thing out!)

His second book, Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention, is awesome, too. Everyone's a bystander in one way or another. If everyone was taught to step in, a lot less kids would feel alone in their pain.

And one more thing to check out: Youth Voice Project. Stan, along with another well-respected researcher, Dr. Charisse Nixon, had the brilliant idea of throwing out preconceived notions of what works and doesn't work in bullying prevention by asking kids themselves -- over 13,000 of them. Brilliant!! Check it out because the results are surprising.

In preparation for this post, Stan was kind enough to answer two questions:

What inspired you to devote your time and talents to bullying prevention?

My time in the Civil Rights movement taught me two things: positive change is possible, and it comes when people work together. If everyone is doing positive things, no one person has to do it all. Gandhi said "Everything you do will seem unimportant. But it is very important that you do it." I just retired from counseling children after 41 years; during that time I learned over and over that small acts of kindness make a big difference, especially when a school is a place where those acts of kindness come from many adults and peers.

What has been the most satisfying aspect of your work?

Seeing the Bean School where I worked for the last 18 years become a place where every student and every adult could count on support. Building a network of colleagues in this work who inspire and teach each other, including Denise Koebcke, school librarian in Indiana who involved a majority of her middle school students in helping others, Wayne Sakamoto, the School safety officer in southern California who gets members of different High School cliques and gangs talking with each other, Dee Lindenberger in Michigan and Michelle MacPherson in New Brunswick, Canada, who empower youth to help each other, Chuck Saufler in Maine who integrates bullying prevention and restorative justice, Stuart Green in New Jersey who organized a powerful statewide coalition for change, Celia Arriaga who has brought bullying prevention interventions to Latin America, and..... The list goes on.

I would also add the work Dr. Charisse Nixon and I are doing in surveying more than 13000 teens to bring their voices into this discussion.

Then I think of the abused child at my school who made all my and our work worthwhile by her summary of how she has become a strong, positive, kind person despite years of abuse and neglect. She said:"I bring the way school is home with me." I feel blessed to have been part of the work educators do in making schools places of healing, safety, and growth for all.

Standing ovations are hard to pull off online but you deserve one, Stan. Although, having met you several times, it's doubtful that you would consider that important.

Who's tomorrow's winner?
Hint: One thing that Stan and tomorrow's featured expert have in common: they're both fathers.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who's Making A Difference...and Why?

One more day until October's Bullying Prevention Awareness Month...and the beginning of Tangled Ball's month long shout out to people stepping up. On each of the 31 days, Tangled Ball will feature an expert in the field whose work benefits parents, schools and most importantly, kids.

There are great experts out there doing fantastic work. You should know about them.

How were they chosen? Completely and unapologetically subjectively. Through conventions, research and word of mouth, Tangled Ball found professionals in their fields that are proactive, inclusive, smart, realistic and compassionate. Included in the bunch are authors, researchers, Ph.Ds, filmmakers and speakers. The one thing they all have in common is they're brave. Bullying is a Tangled Ball issue. It's not easy to fix but it hasn't stopped these advocates. The more we know, the better the chances that kids will have an easier time of it. These award winners deserve our attention and applause because every child has the right to feel good about themselves.

In addition to these professionals, Tangled Ball will be featuring regular folks who perhaps don't start their name with Dr. but who in their own way and in their own world are stepping up. It could be a teacher, coach, parent, crossing guard, lunch lady, aunt, uncle, grandparent and/or especially a kid! (And hey, I didn't mean to discriminate against doctors, if you know one who deserves it, go ahead and nominate.)

Their name and a brief description of what makes them special will be added to a post every day. In other words, every person you submit will get a shout out during October. It's not the Oscar, but sometimes people need a high five, slap on the back and a big fat Thank You. That's the Tangled Ball Award! These are the people that will inspire others to be upstanders.

Nominations can be sent to thetangledball@gmail.com or you can scroll down and talk about them in the comments box. I'll publish the comment during October. Can't wait to hear from you!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Raising Champions

If you're a college football fan, you know that at a certain midwest university it's tradition for the players to hit this sign before they run onto the field. These words and this tradition reminds players to be their best. Show leadership on the field. Take your team to victory.

That type of leadership doesn't start in college. Kids learn very early on what leadership is all about. Some learn to lead by creating an imbalance of power while others learn to lead by example and have the interests of the whole "team" at heart. We all want our kids to be leaders but which kind? The first type leaves a trail of pain while the other empowers.

When bullying behavior is not corrected, kids learn that creating an imbalance of power by fear is the quickest way to get other kids to follow. When kids are corrected and told about basic right and wrong, they most often build the skills to play like a champion even in the schoolyard.

A champion, even at an early age, can affect the social climate of a classroom. A good leader -- even as a pee wee -- can help create an inclusive, supportive atmosphere. A champion is someone who people WANT to be around, whether it's playing in the schoolyard or in a stadium.

So coaches, i.e. parents and teachers, know your players -- and don't let them get away with bullying their peers.

The Jean M. Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse and School Violence was recently established at the University of Buffalo. It was made possible by Dr. Alberti who, at one time, was a fifth grade teacher. She became interested in peer abuse after realizing how classrooms were changing. Congratulations Dr. Alberti for playing like a champion and creating this center. Here's some information from their first symposium in April. Hope it's helpful.

How ironic that the football team at the university in the midwest mentioned above are known as the Fight'in Irish. Since they're rivals to my favorite team, I'd rather keep it at that.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Parent Teacher Partnerships are Key to Bullying Prevention

When Parents Are Pushed to Protect Their Bullied Young

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By now, almost everyone has seen this story. If you've ever had a child bullied, it's hard not to sympathize with Mr. James Jones. His lack of self restraint is hard to watch and not the way to handle things, but the raw emotion behind it is heartbreaking and understandable.

We've also heard his apology and plea to other parents to handle this situation differently. It reminded me of another bus story of a parent warrior. Darlene's a dental hygenist with two children. Her youngest daughter was repeatedly harassed in middle school. With a studious and quiet personality, her daughter found it impossible to stick up for herself. The school was notified multiple times for three years but it didn't stop...until Darlene took things in her own hands. A very risky move. On the way back from a school trip to an amusement park, she stood up in the bus, told the kids she knew they were bullying her daughter and to stop, and then asked them to show more kindness. That takes guts but I thought it was a bad idea.

What if the kids made things worse after Darlene's speech? What if they laughed at her? What if the other parents on the bus were not supportive? Mother and daughter were desperate. What's amazing is that 12 year-old Tricia encouraged her mom to stand up. She had gotten to the point that she didn't care what the other kids said. She had nothing to lose. What a sad statement in itself.

Darlene had a plan and she kept her cool (no unfortunate expletives)...and it worked. Would I ever do it? Not on your life. I'd be too afraid of the repercutions...but it just shows you how desperate and angry parents can feel and how they'll walk over hot coals for their kids. At the very least, she knew her daughter would know how much she cared and how she would risk negative consequences to stick up for her.

It can't get to this point. The kids on the bus in Orlando should have been stopped way before there was this type of problem. There are busses full of kids at this very moment that are out of control. Busses, playgrounds, hallways and cafeterias are the hot spots for bullying.

Here are some resources that offer solutions for these specific danger zones.

Peaceful Playgrounds

School Safety: Mentoring Program on the Bus

Olweus: School-wide, including classroom, cafeteria, playground

It's amazing how desperate a parent can feel when their child is demeaned. Amazing but not surprising.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Emotional Weight of Bullying on Overweight Kids

Here's something to pay attention to for a variety of reasons. Kids who are overweight have long term emotional scars from the teasing, bullying and downright abuse of their peers.

That's a total bummer for kids with extra pounds. Physical AND mental health are at risk. It's also a total bummer for parents who worry about them.

Naturally, it's important for parents to take the reins and help their children with good nutrition and exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic: "Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start children on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Childhood obesity can also lead to poor self-esteem and depression."

So speaking of self esteem and depression, what can be done about the put downs from peers?

No. 1: If you're a parent or any adult with kids in your life who are NOT overweight, don't allow them to call other kids Fat...or Tubby...or Blubber. Seriously, it's in the same category as saying "You're so gay." You may not think so, but just read the study and think again.

No. 2: If you're the parent of a child that's overweight, let this be motivation to you to start helping them with their health. It's hard, I know. Weight, like bullying, is complicated. It's a Tangled Ball. It's not just about restricting calories, it's about emotions which makes it one of the hardest parenting issues to handle. More often than not, there's a lot of frustrating baggage that makes it hard to help a child with a weight issue.

There's a site for teen girls who struggle with their weight called Fitsmi, as well as a companion separate site, Fitsmi for Moms. Fitsmi recognizes that girls need to have a safe place to be teens first. Girls with extra pounds have the same interests in fashion, boys, celebrities, and makeup as any girl (as well as sports, academics, etc., etc.). They just need a network of friends who know what it's like to be a plus size in a size 2 world. It's a place online where they're not judged and they can be honest. It's a source for good information, including tips on clothes and relationships as well as nutrition and exercise. (Boys should have their own site, too! But if you're a parent of a boy, advice on Fitsmi for Moms might still be helpful to you.)

Here's the key: no judging.

Nothing about this issue is simple, except this. Kids will bully kids who are overweight. (It's gotten out of hand. A child doesn't even have to be technically overweight to be teased by their peers.) When they do, they are stealing their childhood as well as risking their long term emotional health. It's our job as adults to stop it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

ONE and ZERO: A Perfect 10 in Bullying Prevention

But overall he liked being Blue...except when he was with Red.

One, by award-winning author Kathryn Otoshi, is brilliant. Although it's a children's book, it's message is ageless. When it comes to making a bully stop...
Sometimes it just takes One.

Part of it's genius is that it never says bully. It never says target...or even bystander. It's about colors that turn into numbers and realize that they count...just like One.

Reading this to 14 year-olds is as powerful and effective as reading it to 5 year-olds. Adults get it, too.

And GOOD NEWS! Kathryn has written a sequel. ZERO is about learning to believe in yourself and realizing your worth.
But how could a number worth nothing become something?...
Zero rolled up to the numbers. "I've thought of a way for us to count even more!" she said....
And this time when she looked at herself, she felt whole...right in her center.

These two books make it simple to teach the complicated concept that everyone counts. Sometimes it just takes One...and Zero.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Bully Project: Alex

Alex is one of the featured students in the upcoming feature-length documentary, The Bully Project. It's hard not to feel the pain of bullying after seeing this clip.

Plain and simple: Kids like Alex need someone -- anyone -- to step up. It's our job to teach our kids to step up. It's our job to step in.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

National "Get Involved in Your Child's School" Day

Tuesday was the self-proclaimed national "Be Nice to the New Kid Day." Hope it went well and all the new and old kids in the class felt good about themselves when they went home.

Today is National "Get Involved in Your Child's School" Day. Once again, it's a fairly recent holiday. I made it up about 4 and a half minutes old. But it's a really important one. It's a holiday that will have benefits for years to come.

When my oldest child was in first grade, I joined all the other mothers in the schoolyard complaining about something that the principal hadn't done perfectly. I, along with the others, were quite right, of course, and completely justified at taking this poor woman to task, whether she knew it or not. It's a kind of sport and I was really enjoying it until one mom in the neighborhood called me out. She said, "The first PTA meeting is tonight. Don't complain unless you're willing to get involved." Whoa. Right between the eyes!

Well, she was right. I was working full time and had two other younger children at home but that was no excuse. There's always a volunteer opportunity, especially with grade school. I had to do something. It was the best piece of advice I could have gotten for the following reasons:

• Children LIKE it when their parents volunteer.

• You get to know other parents better and believe me, you need each other during these formative years.

• Kids don't feel like they can get away with as much if they feel you're familiar with everyone in the school.

• Other kids get to know you and you can see first hand how they treat each other.

• When and if you have a legitimate complaint, the administration is more likely to take it seriously.

• It's actually fun and it builds community. Note: Sometimes school parents can form cliques. If so, make sure you volunteer with other parents you think you'll enjoy.

Involvement by parents lowers the incidences of bullying. Bullying lowers grades. Therefore, your interest in them and their school is good for their grades.

So, if you were on the fence before, perhaps now you might consider trying it out. One event at a time. It takes some time to find a niche, even as a volunteer, but it's worth the search. If you stick with it, your kids will feel so PROUD. That's the final and best reason of all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

National Be Nice to the New Kid Day

Public schools in the northeast start back to school today. Now that almost everyone in the country has started a new school year, it's a good time to celebrate the National Be Nice to the New Kid Day.

Of course, this is not an official holiday. I just made it up... but why not? If we made a point of telling each one of our children to be nice to the new kid, can you imagine what a positive impact it would make, not only on the new kids but on our schools as a whole?

It only takes a minute to remind them and surprisingly, kids usually step up. Ask them two questions when they come home. "How was your day?" and "Were you nice to the new kid?"

Were you ever the new kid? If so, I bet it doesn't matter how many years it's been because you will always remember whether someone stepped up to be nice to you. A smile or being included at a lunch table could make your whole day. Heck, it could set the right pace for the entire school year.

Now that power is in your child's hands. Empower them. And if they are the new kid, tell them to be nice to the other new kids. Nothing takes care of new school jitters like looking beyond yourself to help someone else.

Good luck and many good wishes for a happy new school year full of growth and joy and happy new relationships.

Thought this was an appropriate day to share this video: No Legs, No Arms, No Worries. Children don't need worries. They do need a little kindness.