Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bullying Diminishes the "Inner Resume"

Claire, the well-spoken teen who appears with author, expert and founder of Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel Simmons in this Tedx Women Talk, beautifully describes the irrational acts of exclusion and the fallout of real pain due to bullying in middle school.

Rachel goes on to talk about the inner resume. Although I had never heard that term, it's a great one. We can either add to the proud inner resume of a person or diminish it and make someone feel worthless.

She also talks about the classroom of relationships. Another great term. When hearing it, it reminded me of all those times my kids talked to me about relationships. It's a hard thing for a parent. Sometimes you feel like you should let them alone to figure it all out -- but other times, you feel like this is a teachable moment being handed to you.

I think the world has gotten a little harsher. Although I was a little unsure at the time, I'm happy that when they talked to me about something callous that a "friend" had done, that I called it out. I didn't say it was ok. I didn't say "you're being too sensitive." I said it was bad. It's not that the person was evil but it was a bad thing to do. It's not ok to do or say something harsh and feel normal about it.

Sounds simplistic but I think that's part of the message. As parents, teachers, and mentors, we have to understand the power of the "relationship classroom." Kids are watching, learning, listening all the time. Eventually they will be talking to their own kids and remembering the time that you called out mean behavior and my guess is, they will do the same for their own kids.

We are helping them build up their inner resume and reminding them that they have no right to diminish someone else's resume or have their own resume damaged in any way. That's power.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Expert Father & Son Share Their Thoughts on Internet Safety Equation

When looking back on 2011 and all the speakers I've heard on the issue of bullying and Internet Safety, a couple of them stand out. They happen to be related and were on the same panel at this year's International Bullying Prevention Association (IBPA) Conference in New Orleans.

Father and son duo, Gary and Aidan McDaniel, kept the crowd of nearly 500 riveted as they talked about their two perspectives on the issues of Internet Safety and Cyberbullying. At the age of 14, Aidan was one of the best speakers I've ever heard. He basically said what I've been thinking for a long time: there is no online world and offline world. It is now all one world and as adults, we have to understand that the culture we nurture offline is the same culture that develops online.

In other words, if a home and/or a school nurtures kindness and basic decensy, then you can expect that online, the same kind of courtesies will be there. As Aidan said, "A plant can't grow in the climate that doesn't support it." Aidan described that although he was homeschooled for part of his education, he is now in a high school that values how students treat each other.

Aidan doesn't have an online issue because his friends are his friends online and off. As a way to demonstrate how the attitude of the school spills over, he described an outreach effort that he's involved with in school and as he put it, it's goal is to "launch people into the friend zone." When someone new comes into the school or if a fellow student is having a rough time socially, they are befriended until that person is comfortable.

That school is obviously growing a lot of healthy plants.

Where are we, as adults, going wrong in this whole Internet Safety equation?
Our Problem and Your Solution
This is one of those tangled strings that Aidan just skillfully untangled in one short sentence. As adults we are taking on a teen issue that we don't fully grasp.

We don't really understand a world where the cell phone is as important as seeing someone in the hall or that facebook is simply an extension of your day. So how can we solve anything when this is not the way we, as adults, live? But if we concentrate on our main job of nurturing good citizens, then good citizens will be good citizens whether they're texting from the mall or sitting in the lunchroom.

In other words, Aidan says, "It's everyone's problem and everyone's solution."

Next up was his Dad, Gary, a clinical social worker for the Morgan County, West Virginia schools. Gary supports the 7 schools in their county in their efforts to meet the psycho-social needs of the students. That ranges from developing bullying prevention programming to suicide prevention, to family work, to crisis management, to reconciliation work, training faculty and staff, coordinating counselors, and providing direct care to students. Needless to say, Gary is up close and personal to what's going on in the lives of students and schools.

As soon as he started to speak, the light bulb went on. No wonder Aidan is so cool, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. At his son's request, Gary threw out his formal talking points and spoke from the heart. He talked about two simple equations:

Citizenship = Relationship

Digital Citizenship = Relationship Amplified

That's it!!! It's not different. It's just amplified....so if it's a good relationship offline then the communications online will most probably be fine or even better than fine, but if it's a bad relationship, watch out. Technology can make it much worse.

Why is this important? Because as parents and teachers, we have to understand that the good behavior, attitude and respect that we instill in our children will be amplified. Or if we turn our backs and don't pay attention to our children's every day peer to peer relationships and we don't stop bullying in it's tracks, it will also be amplified.

Thanks, Gary and Aidan. You both just told us like it is...and my gratitude is amplified.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Accepting Others is the Anti-Bully

Single Dad Laughing blogger Dan Pearce wrote a piece about acceptance titled "Im Christian, Unless You're Gay." It's not really about religion or homosexuality, it's about acceptance, in general. It's a powerful blog with powerful messages, which is why I wanted to share his follow up vlog.

My immediate takeaway? Make someone's holiday this year and just accept them whether or not they're "like you." That's all. Accept them. Give them eye contact. Engage them in conversation. Have a laugh. Treat them like equals because, of course, they are.

If you have kids, it will be the best Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa gift you can give. Kids become bullies when they get in the habit of judging others. They either hear us doing it or they're not stopped when they try it on their own or they copy their peers to fit in.

There's no time like the holidays to change how we treat others...and to show our kids the power of simple love.

And after you've done something you're proud of, take a page from Ellen DeGeneres or Single Dad Laughing, Dan Pearce...and Just Dance...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In case you were wondering and according to a study by the Girl Scouts Research Institute, yes, reality shows can make girls more mean.

We can put all the bullying prevention campaigns in place that we want, but when teens are surrounded by mean, it's hard to prevent it. People often say, "What's the big deal? Bullying has been around forever", but with the dawn of the reality show phenomenon, being mean has helped create a new low. Now, it's "funny" or "cool."

Are you reading this producers of Bad Girls Club? Do you care? Probably not, but it's ok for us to care. Ask your kids if they watch it. If they watch it and laugh at it, worry...and say something. Somewhere along the way, we have to get the message across that if it is reality, in any way shape or form, it's a very sad reality.

There's another aspect to this story. Often when we see someone doing something so extreme, we feel we're not as bad as and that gives us permission to be mean but not that mean. In other words, many popular reality shows lower the bar. It's not ok to be mean, even if it's not as mean as what we're watching for "entertainment."

When did it become ok to watch people, including teens, assault each other?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

For Jamey Rodemeyer's Sake, Listen

It was reported today that the kids that taunted Jamey Rodemeyer, calling him a f---t and telling him that he should kill himself got off with a slap on the wrist. This is a particularly disturbing case because the taunting and brutality didn't stop after the suicide. Jamey's sister was taunted even after her brother took his own life. The same kids that taunted him in life chanted at the Homecoming Dance -- when a Lady Gaga song came on -- and during the same weekend as Jamey's wake, "You're better off dead, we're glad you're dead."

This is not unique to the Buffalo area. Other families grappling with the suicide of a child due to bullying have experienced the same thing. That scares me. A lot. It's one thing for kids to not understand what their brutality does to another human being but it's exponentially worse when they still don't get it after a child hangs himself.

I once heard that young teens are wired for the "pack mentality," meaning they like to be in groups and what the group thinks and does rules. But to this degree?

Are we're losing it? Are we losing our outrage? Are we losing our ability to teach kids empathy? Because even if they do run in packs, this horrible outcome should have stopped them in their tracks.

This should be sending up a flare.

Jamey also said in a video shortly before he died that "I was always saying how bullied I am, but no one listens." If there is only one thing we can do as a result of this poor child suffering so deeply, we can listen.

Each one of us can listen. It should be without interruption. Turning off cell phones, TV, and all the other clutter and just listen. And if what that child is telling us is bad, we can be outraged for them. We can validate what they're going through...or just sit in interested silence.

And Jamey's Dad has this piece of advice for parents who are worried that their kids are being bullied, "Badger your kids and make them talk."

I think most of us have experienced the relief of having someone understand. Sometimes it was from someone you didn't expect.

Experts tell children to "tell a trusted adult" when they're having a problem with bullying. Listening is usually a sign that we can be trusted.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thankful for the People Who Step Up: ABC: Anti-Bullying Coalition

Are you ever curious how and why certain people become involved in the bullying prevention issue?

Recently, I became aware of a great site and facebook page for ABC: Anti-Bullying Coalition. It's really inclusive. It made me wonder who started it and why. When I found out the founders, Cari, Candice and Aunt T, are based in Michigan City, Indiana, I almost fell off my chair. I grew up in Michigan City (Long Beach, specifically) and although I was 13 when we moved and I have no family there, I still consider it "home."

Their Mission:

We are passionate about implementing pro-active anti-bullying solutions into our school system and as far around the world as we can grow! We have found such need in our community to advocate for families as well as help change the belief that "kids will be kids" and "it makes them stronger" with the knowledge that even one bullying episode can have life long negative effects. And although our program is currently focused on school time bullying, we hope to spread the word; bullying is a personality and it spans all ages and crosses all boundaries; race, religion, size, gender, socioeconomic status, educational level, sexual orientation and does not stop in High School but continues on to the workplace, retirement homes, private clubs, organizations, it's everywhere.
Why They Stepped Up:
Cari’s Story:

There are moments in life that change us, define us for the next chapter, and it was one of those moments that inevitably led to the creation of ABC. I am a mom of three children, distinct and wonderful in their individual ways. When people ask me why I started ABC, they are always surprised when I tell them it’s not because I was bullied, or because my own children have faced it…. Is it a factor behind it? Yes, of course…. But it was not the inspiration. Instead the inspiration came in a defining moment, when I found myself openly crying in my office after reading yet another story of a child who had taken their own life due to bullying. I empathized with the child that felt it was their only escape and as a parent, who cannot imagine the pain of losing a child. It is my greatest fear. Right then, I decided I would do “something” in the fight against bullying.

I researched it heavily, wrote letters, connected with teachers and friends… I talked with my fiancĂ© of knowing this was “something” I was meant to do, but I didn’t know what that “something” would turn out to be. The “something” became clear, when my best friend, Candice, put me in touch with moms locally whose children were facing bullying and were being silenced by the school system. ABC was created within days and I continue to look forward to a future so bright “I have to wear shades.” ☺ I am determined to end bullying…. That is my goal, and while there may be those who scoff and say, “That’s never going to happen,” it only makes me that much more determined. Each time I learn of another child’s death, I cry tears… tears for the child, tears for the parent, the family and the friends… and my resolve strengthens. We CAN change this society from one of cruelty and violence to one of kindness and empathy. We CAN stand up, band together and have our voices heard. We CAN do all of these things….. together.

Candice’s Story:

I am involved with ABC: Anti-Bullying Coalition for many, many reasons, but the main desire to help end bullying stems from experiences I had during my high school years.

When I was younger, I was teased, bullied, and sexually harassed beyond belief because of my large breast size, which lead to taunting and malicious rumors being spread about me. Because of the extreme personal nature of the bullying, I was too ashamed to tell my parents, a teacher, or an adult about the harassment. I am still ashamed about it to this day.

As a result, I developed severe anxiety issues relating to school, especially the classes that included my tormentors. Eventually, I had skipped so many classes, and missed so much school that I had to be pulled out and “homeschooled” for the remainder of the school year, and the administrators recommended that I attend the city’s Alternative High School the next school year. This “punishment” ended up being my salvation.

The alternative high school’s atmosphere was completely different from that of the public school. It was more family oriented, with students comfortable enough to stick up for fellow students when issues would arise, and teachers and administrators sincerely cared for their students, which was constantly demonstrated through their actions. Here, my self-confidence flourished, here I thrived. The shy, quiet, self-conscious girl who was so ruthlessly tormented at her previous school found herself standing up for others, and standing up for herself. The Alternative School was not perfect by any means and issues of bullying DID go on, but incidents were not swept under the rug and were dealt with by the administrator’s head on. Because of their actions, I have experienced a school environment that did not tolerate bullying on any level; I know from experience that such a place CAN exist. I also know how a school like this can heal a person’s soul.

Aunt T’s Story:

I have always had extraordinarily strong feelings about right vs. wrong. I am frustrated by injustice in this world and voice my opinion frequently. They are not always popular or well received, but I have always felt it is vital to not just sit back and watch someone be treated as inferior. To me, this is condoning the behavior/treatment.

Sometimes it is very hard to look someone in the face and ask them to not use a derogatory slur or questions their strong beliefs if they differ from my own. But I am confident enough in my beliefs that I usually don't let intimidation hold me back. The same cannot be said for all people I am friends with or even folks in my family. I would sit back and watch people laugh off comments that I know for a fact they do not believe or feel acceptable. I would question them later, inquiring as to why they didn't "correct" the person or verbally "defend" their beliefs? Without fail people would say; "What good would it do? It won't change their beliefs". While I understand why people feel this way, it is an unacceptable belief. It falls into the "If not now, when? If not me, who?" philosophy.

If I don't highlight right from wrong, I am NOT honoring my beliefs. If I don't fight to keep our children safe from the torture of bullies, who will? If I didn't help change peoples view, language and level of acceptance... I am condoning, therefore perpetuating, the prejudice. This crosses over into bridging the communication gap between school systems and families.

I do not believe our school systems are ambiguous. I believe most teachers and administrators care deeply about our children. Likewise I believe parents are acutely aware of their children's physical and mental well being. But so many people seem to get stuck on the accepted bullying wheel. Many beliefs and sayings are widely accepted by society; schools and homes are just microcosm of society. Bringing schools and families together to work through bullying issues changes society.

One child, one family, one school, changes society. That is why I am part of ABC: Anti-Bullying Coalition. Even one family helped, one mind changed, one school made more aware - profoundly impacts society. I stand up for what I believe in. I fight for what I feel is right not only for my own but for those who are unable or unwilling to do so for themselves. "Prejudice is learned. Teach acceptance" is my gospel. Aunt T~

Inspiration from Michigan City makes me thankful. (And wonder what the MEAN on their t-shirts mean? It's "Moms Expecting Acceptance Now!" Where does your inspiration come from? Would love to hear your story.

P.S.: The "MEAN" on their t-shirts stands for "Moms Expecting Acceptance Now!" (Moms are so "mean," and in this case, it's a good thing!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Study: Teens, Kindness & Cruelty on Social Network Sites

I read about the recent findings from the Pew Research Center study on Cyberbullying and Internet safety -- Teens, Kindness & Cruelty on Social Network Sites -- but before I could write about it myself, I discovered this article and low and behold, it's by my cousin-in-law, Warren Raisch, an expert in all things online. Thank you, Warren, for allowing me to share this:

The Dark Side Of Social Networking – 88% of Teens Witness Online Cruelty on Social Networks.
Posted on November 14, 2011 by Warren Raisch on his blog Think Conversation!

An entire generation is growing up with the Internet as a central part of their daily lives. Social Networking is a big part of that daily experience. As social networks mature, it should probably be no surprise that they will start to reflect both the good and the bad elements of the societies that they operate in. Unfortunately meanness and bullying is a growing issue for teens according to a new report out from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, which surveyed 799 kids ages 12 to 17 and a parent or guardian.

As a parent, I struggle with how much access to provide to my children on the Internet in general and with Social Networks. Being in the industry I recognize the power of the Internet and all of the wonderful access there is to knowledge, entertainment and connectivity to family and friends. But as a parent I also recognize the danger of too much access and lean towards controlled and supervised access for my children. My general practice has been to provide one computer to the kids with child protection software located centrally in our home in our Kitchen/Family room area where my wife and I can supervise all Internet access.

We monitor the sites they visit and the content they interact with. We are just entering the Social Networking participation with our oldest daughter and we have allowed her to set up a Facebook account with my wife and I included as friends and with us monitoring the activity. To be honest, I was very uncomfortable with the decision but since we know all of her friends and the family members on her Facebook account it is going fine so far. But I encourage parents to stay involved and don’t be afraid to monitor your kids. It is our responsibility to monitor them and guide them. If we don’t someone else will.


The majority of social media-using teens say their peers are mostly kind to one another on social network sites. Their views are less positive than those of social media-using adults.

Most American teens who use social media say that in their experience, people their age are mostly kind to one another on social network sites. Overall, 69% of social media-using teens think that peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites. Another 20% say that peers are mostly unkind, while 11% volunteered that “it depends.” At the same time, in a similar question asked of adults 18 and older, 85% of social media-using adults reported that people are mostly kind to one another on social network sites, while just 5% felt that people are mostly unkind.4

88% of social media-using teens have witnessed other people be mean or cruel on social network sites.

Among social media users, 88% of teens have seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on a social network site. Asked, “When you’re on a social networking site, how often do you see people being mean or cruel?,” teens who use social network sites say the following about how frequently they witnessed such behavior:

12% say they witnessed cruel behavior “frequently.”
29% say they saw meanness on social network sites “sometimes.”
47% say they saw such behavior “only once in a while.”Overall, adults are less likely to say they have seen meanness on social media; 69% of adult social media users say they have seen people being mean and cruel to others on social network sites.
7% of adult social media users witness meanness or cruelty “frequently” on the sites.
18% say they saw meanness on social network sites “sometimes.”
44% say they saw such behavior “only once in a while.”15% of social media-using teens say they have been the target of online meanness.Some 15% of teen social media users have experienced such harassment themselves in the past 12 months, while 85% of them have not.

“Online lives and offline lives are now merging more and more, and that’s something parents have to be aware of,” says Jim Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, a non-profit that educates kids and families about media use. “There is still so much we don’t know about how (social media) affects teens’ social and emotional development.”

About 93% of teens surveyed say they have an account on Facebook, and 62% say the profile they use most often is set to be private so only their friends can see what they post.

86% of teens say they have received advice from parents about how to be safe online.
55% of teens say they don’t post content that might reflect poorly on them in the future.
22% have had an experience on social media that ended a friendship with someone.

To read more, check out the full report.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Who is Your Be the One Go-To Adult on 11-11-11

One One - One One - One One is a perfect day to talk about the real need for adults to understand the importance of stepping up. It's also a perfect day to honor the thousands of members of the military who have done -- and are doing -- just that.

Recently, at the International Bullying Prevention Conference in New Orleans, Kathryn Otoshi and I gave a workshop on her book, One, and the Be the One campaign. When we talked about the Be the One Go-To Adult, we wanted people to think about who their Go-To Adult was and how they helped or if they didn't have one, what they had to deal with on their own.

One of the leading pieces of advice for kids being bullied is "tell a trusted adult." But as talked about before on this blog, that's only good advice if we can be trusted. I didn't say well-meaning (because most of us are) but actually trusted. That means we need to think about how we react. When my kids would come home and tell me about some peer to peer atrocity, my first instinct was to want to dismember the other child. Sound dramatic? Perhaps, but I know I'm not alone. Other parents take a much more laid back approach and tell their kids to "get over it."

There's a happy medium, like listening, sympathizing, creating a strategy and following up. Imagine what a difference it would make if we knew what we were doing and kids felt safe. It would not only help prevent bullying but it would help blunt that long tail of pain that bullying causes. (Be the One Go-To Adult materials are downloadable and for free!)

On this special and never to be repeated day of 11-11-11, think about who the Be the One Go-To Adult was (and maybe still is) in your life, think about how important that role is, and if possible, hug them. And if it's a vet, hug them twice.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lessons from Fred, Rodney and Paul on How to Step Up: From Tragedy a Little Hope

One month ago today, 18 year-old Fred Drew died of a gunshot wound to the chest in Florida.

According to his family and friends, this crime was the result of Fred stepping up for others:
Fred Drew sacrificed his life protecting friends from bullies. Fred was always a loving and happy soul, a protector, not afraid to stand up for what was right and always there to help others in need. He was well loved by all, he was a mentor, a leader and an integral part of his community.

Fred was born on April 16, 1993. He graduated from Citrus High School, class of 2011, where he excelled in several sports, including the wrestling team, varsity football team (team captain), and weightlifting where he attained all-state status. Fred was a true champion on and off the field. He was scheduled to receive a full wrestling scholarship from Bloomsburg University. He was also being considered by the United States Navy for their Navy Seal Program. Raised in the Episcopal faith, he was a member of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Inverness, Florida where he served as an acolyte.
This happened only 30 days ago. His family must be reeling with grief. They deserve our love and support.

Fred's cousin and godfather, Rodney Briguglio, shared with me the pain that their entire family is experiencing. What a loss. He also told me that how in the middle of your darkest moment, what a difference simple kindnesses can make and how, sometimes, it's the most unexpected people who step up and give you hope.

Rodney decided very quickly after the tragedy to establish a charity to help the victims of bullying and their families:
Two days after Fred's death I decided to take action and start the Frederick P Drew Memorial Fund Inc. to honor his name and heroics.

I applied for the non-profit that day, within two weeks I had received all of the documents from the lawyers and was incorporated as a non-profit. Now I had the task of choosing the best bank to hold the funds. I have been doing business with Wells Fargo for years so I decided to use them. When I arrived at the bank I was greeted at the door by a customer service representative and asked how she could be of assistance, I explained my reason for being there and she escorted me to a waiting area.

Within a minute licenced personal banker Paul Schild greeted me and led me to his desk to open the account. I explained what had happened to my cousin and how I had decided to start the foundation against bullying. Paul listened closely and was sincerely moved and empathetic to my situation. He also commended me on taking action so quickly and turning our families sadness into someting positive that will benefit other families victimized by bullying.

After filling out all of the necessarily documents I handed Paul my first donation check of $25.00 to open the account. He took the check and went to the teller line to deposit the money. Upon returning to his desk he handed me the receipt and said "I personally matched the $25.00 donation so your account balance is $50.00. I was speechless. Acts of Random Kindness like this are practically unheard of these days. I was so touched that someone would give so selflessly and take a personal interest in his customer. It's nice to know that I chose the right bank and that people like Paul Schild are still out there going above and beyond.
Paul stepped up. He had no idea that Rodney would tell me that story or that he would be getting any attention at all. He just knew that Rodney and his family needed to know people are listening, caring and feeling their loss.

I've also never heard of a charity raising money to help bullied kids get the counseling they need. Stepping up for bullied kids in this way is a worthy cause and will truly be honoring an upstander. Peace to you, Fred, and to your loving family.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Celebrating My No. 1 Hero on 11-1-11

One One - One - One One. What a fitting day to celebrate my No. 1 hero, Houston Rivero. Houston is 23 today.

Why is he my No. 1 hero? Because Houston knows how to love. Although strikingly handsome with a wickedly adorable twinkle in his eye, it hasn't been easy for Houston. Twenty-three years ago his mom was on a helicopter being rushed to a hospital that could care for this baby who came very, very early. As he got older and grew, so did the challenges...but it never stopped him from being patient and enjoying everything he possibly can.

He doesn't spend his days bringing others down and with a smile and an indescribable warmth, he makes sure he spreads that love around.

There should be more of the type of unconditional love that he gives and inspires from others. And his parents should get a Be the One Go-To Adult Award. Twenty-three years of constant care and support. Shouldn't people get some sort of parade for that kind of devotion?

So Happy Birthday, Houston. You're No. 1.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Listen to Ally: When It Comes to Being Bullied, She Knows What She's Talking About

Several months ago, my friend, Nancy, and I attended a bullying and cyberbullying panel discussion featuring some of the top names in the field...but the most impressive by far, was an expert sitting in the audience. The most riveting remarks were by a young well-spoken girl by the name of Ally. She began to speak honestly and openly about her own experience:

Allyson is a 21-year-old from Franklin, NJ who was cyberbullied, bullied, and harassed in high school after an ex-boyfriend forwarded a topless picture of her to her entire school. She has since done multiple interviews, goes to schools and talks to students about the dangers of sexting, and educates others on digital abuse awareness. She also appeared in the MTV News special "Sexting in America: When Privates Go Public." She is currently attending school for Vascular Sonography and is writing a book about sexting and the severe repercussions she had to overcome after high school.

I reached out to Ally to ask her to share her three top tips for parents and teens:
1) Do not ever put anything in writing or pictures that you wouldn't want your parents, teachers, or family to see. Once something is sent it can never be taken back. It is virtually out there forever, and it CAN haunt you for the rest of your life.

2) If you are a parent or guardian and you suspect something is up with your teen, TALK TO THEM. Keep your eyes open to warning signs of bullying. i.e drop in grades, isolation, sudden personality changes.

3) If you are a teen who is being bullied online or off, GET HELP. Be it through your parents, a trusted friend, or a teacher, find someone you trust who is reliable enough to help you. You can not deal with it on your own.
Ally taught me so much in just a few minutes during that symposium. She was immediately likable and made me realize that this momentary lapse in judgment can happen to anyone and the fallout is cruel and brutal. (I always say that "even nice kids" can run into trouble on the internet but no one deserves to be tortured.)

October's National Geographic cover story, The New Science of the Teenage Brain, as well as CNN's story, Why Teens Are Wired For Risk explain why teens do things that seem risky and thoughtless. They mention 2 things: 1.) they don't think about the risk, they think about the reward (such as having a boy really like you) and 2.) they are preparing to leave the nest and become independent (from what I understand, kind of testing things out.)

Knowng this doesn't make it any easier to parent teens, but it may make it easier to understand why even "good" kids push the envelope (and actually most kids are good). We cannot abandon them.

Thanks, Ally, for being brave and sharing your story. It's noble that you're willing to help others.

And, thanks to my dentist, Dr. Tricorache. Have you noticed yet that your October issue of National Geographic is missing? (Some brains actually never fully mature.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Question Bullied Kids May Be Asking: Is Love Alive?

Is love alive? For kids who are made to feel worthless by peers, siblings or sadly from some adults in their lives, they may not think so.

This message is simple. We all have what it takes -- two ears, a heart and the opportunity -- to help kids feel like love is alive.

Kids most often suffer from bullying in silence. They cannot know what they cannot see or feel. If they don't have someone in their lives who "sees" them or has the guts to listen to them and feel their pain, then love is not alive for them.

Can we step up and Be the One Go-To Adult? For tips, go to Tangled Ball...but if a little reminder is all it takes, listen to Winter Song again by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson.
"My voice will be a beacon in the night." -- Winter Song

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Charles M. Blow Essay on Bullying You'll Never Forget

I had never thought of suicide before and had never remembered ever speaking the word, but, in that moment, the idea fell on me so completely and so agreeably that it was as if I had planned it.

I dug the bottle of aspirin from my pocket. I was going to take them all. I had no idea if they would kill me, but I hoped that they would. Then the questions came. Would it hurt? How long would it take? Would my mother be sad? Would I go to hell for committing suicide? Heavy questions piling up like boots at the bottom of a dark closet.

Before I could form answers, one of my mother’s songs came to save me.

The New York Times published this essay, The Bleakness of the Bullied, by Op-Ed Columnist Charles M. Blow on October 15th. He was referring to a time in his life that bullying and teasing were partly responsible for almost driving him to suicide. He was 8.

In today's letter to the editor by Stuart Green, Director of the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention, he adds,
And when bullying does occur, we must ensure that all children have the lifesaving adult support that rescued him, if not at home, then at school.

I couldn't agree more. How do we make sure that each child has that Go-To adult in their life? Why is it so important? It can be the difference between life and death. Or it can be the difference between suffering and the light-heartedness children truly deserve.

By sharing his story and lending his beautiful writing skills to helping us feel the problem, Charles should get a Be the One Go-To Adult Award!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Anderson: Bullying Prevention Expert on What Parents Can Do

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Recently, the new Anderson show covered the topic of bullying, which featured bullying prevention expert, Dr. Dorothy Espelage. (By the way, Anderson Cooper went on to host a week of shows about bullying and prevention on AC360 a week later and that's why he should get a Be the One Go-To Adult Award.)

I'm sharing it again, here, because Dr. Espelage gives a tremendous amount of solid advice for parents in a very short period of time and it's worth watching and sharing. She talks about the school's responsibility but also how critical it is for the kids to come home to a safe environment -- one in which they can share what's happening without worry that we'll overreact or under react -- and one that can cushion them from some of the negative things they're experiencing. In other words, they need a sympathetic ear and reassurance that they're important and loved.

Tips from the interview include:


• Insist on a bully prevention plan or safety plan for your child
• Call parents of bullies or bully group and arrange a meeting, if you can
• Get your child involved in other activities to build confidence
• If you have the means, get your child in therapy


• Get off of Formspring and other social networks
• Tell, tell, tell! Talk to parents, and your support network
• Keep record of all bully incidents
• Manage your anger
• Reach out to other kids in your school that are being bullied
• Do not let the bullies know that they got to you
• Role-play

When you listen to her interview, she also mentions that the school bullying policy should match what is really happening. In other words, it's not good enough for a school to say they have a policy if kids aren't being stopped from bullying kids with disabilities or the way they look, etc. It's a great point.

Come to think of it, Dr. Espelage should also get a Be the One Go-To Adult Award.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Being Called 'Fatso' Seared My Soul: Mayor Koch

Gay teens -- or teens and kids perceived as gay -- get bullied often and brutally. It's horrible and needs to stop.

No doubt about it.

But there's another group of kids that can't seem to escape it either. Ironically, it's another three letter description -- Fat -- or perceived as "fat"-- in our "size 0" society.

I don't think kids who get teased for their size get as much support as other kids. The list of mean adjectives thrown at kids in the hallways, on the bus, in the schoolyard and online are endless. Fatso, lard ass, grotesque, etc., etc.

Can you imagine how hard it is to struggle with your weight and feel like you'll never fit in because you're not wearing those cute jeans, you're not comfortable in gym class, you feel like everyone is watching what you eat in the cafeteria and nobody wants to sit next to you on the school bus? Torture.

Recently, former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, released his new children's book, co-authored with his sister,Pat, Eddie Shapes Up, based on his experience as a fat child (his words, not mine.)

In an Oct. 7th radio interview with CEO and founder, Linda Frankenbach for fitsmiForMoms.com, Mayor Koch not only talked about his weight as a child but the burden of being bullied.

I was a fat kid, and when I was in the schoolyard, the other kids would call me ‘fatso,’ and I will tell you that it seared my soul.

He shared some words of wisdom for parents, and since he's 87, it demonstrates that these childhood experiences never quite leave you:

You have to encourage a child, never make fun of a child. Other children are mean-spirited and will make fun – that’s the nature of being a child. But a parent can’t make the boy or the girl feel additionally upset because they think you don’t love them because they’re fat.

My parents never asked me about being bullied. That was a private matter where I had to depend on my friends. But I think every parent should say to their child, let’s you and I be really close friends and share our secrets. Tell me, maybe we can help.

I'd like to add to that list. Don't let your child tease about someone's size. Overweight kids often pretend it doesn't hurt but there's no way hurtful comments that make you feel diminished are ok.

If you have a teen girl struggling with her weight...or if you're a parent of a child who is overweight, visit fitsmi.com and it's companion but separate site, fitsmiForMoms.com. Kids and parents need extra support -- not nasty comments -- when they're struggling.

Ask any overweight child why it's so hard to be bigger than the other kids. As Michaela McNutt,a young 11 year-old girl in Florida who lost over 50 pounds with the help of her mother and is now inspiring others to do the same, says:
I know the bullying, the teasing. And you can do this. It's not impossible."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

5 More Tips on How To Be the One Go-To Adult

Elizabeth Lasky , a leader in social work, specializing in bullying, cyberbullying and relationship issues, spoke at a conference in NYC recently. I was struck by her grasp of the bullying issue and her common sense approach.

She works with kids on their own turf and seems to really understand how their world works. Often, there's a disconnect between what an expert will advise and what really works for kids.

The reason I followed up with her is that while she was on the panel, she said that she asks kids to write down on a piece of paper the name of the person they would go talk to if they had an issue.

In other words, who would be their Go-To Adult? This is key. You can't advise kids to talk to a trusted adult when they haven't thought of who that person would be or if that person doesn't have the tools to be the "trusted adult."

Liz kindly contributed her tips to our Be the One Go-To Adult Campaign. She kept them simple but powerful:



2. Treat your kids as the expert!

3. Be supportive. If there’s a problem, work together patiently.

4. Promote good digital citizenship.

5. Seek help – help your child create a web of support.


1. Get to know your school policy

2. If you see bullying, INTERVENE IMMEDIATELY

3. Report the incident to the right person

4. Make your classroom a safe place that embraces tolerance and respect.

5. As a follow up, check in with all students after any incident.

One that is not often discussed is if you're a teacher, 1.)"Get to know your school policy."

Believe it or not, many principals don't know their school policy...or if they have one. If the school isn't clear about a bullying policy, help them. Do a little research and find out what other schools are doing. Some states, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey have public school policies in place by law (and I'm a little on the fence about them). But what about the other states...and what about private and/or parochial schools?

This is an area where parents and teachers can make a huge contribution by being an advocate. Don't get mad. Do something.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Anderson Trying to Untangle Messy Issue of Bullying

Anderson Cooper should get a Tangled Ball Award for putting so much effort into trying to untangle the complicated mess of bullying through his series this week: Bullying: It Stops Here. He is definitely a Be the One Go-To Adult.

If you missed the televised town hall meeting that he hosted on CNN from Rutgers last night, tune in to AC360 for the next 5 nights as he, along with expert guests, shave away at this tangled up problem affecting the emotional and physical health of so many kids.

Rosalind Wiseman, Dr. Phil, Lee Hirsch of The Bully Project and even mom and celebrity Kelly Ripa and Jane Lynch were on hand but clearly, the stand out experts last night were the kids and clearly the stand out message was "Listen."

Bullying is such a huge issue. There are three strings in this knotted mess that I would like to address: Early prevention, parenting and the role of the bystander (or a better term -- upstander.)

Early prevention:

We need to start young. Waiting until middle school is too late. Even waiting until middle school to encourage kids to talk to a trusted adult is often too late. They're self-conscious at that age and it helps if they've established trusted relationships with adults they can talk to before they have an issue.


• We need to encourage young parents to prepare their kids for school and then set the expectation with their children that they need to be treated well and they need to treat others well.

• We need to bridge the gap between the school and home. What's wrong with having mandatory school-wide meetings at the beginning of the year to discuss the school's expectations when it comes to bullying? Often it's only addressed after a problem arises.

• As they get older, we need to know how to respond when they come to us with a problem.

Bystander (Upstander):

Money, time and effort have to be spent creating school climates where you feel like the outsider if you treat others poorly. Train kids how to -- and expect them to -- step up. Make them feel good that they have that power. (There are plenty of great organizations that help with school climate. The National School Climate Center is one.)

There are dozens of other tangled strings and I hope some are going to be discussed this week on AC360. On my wish list is the role of media. Literally, our kids are surrounded by mean.

Tonight Rachel Simmons will be on talking about the role of the counselor. Tune in.

What would you like to see addressed?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs on Doing What You Love


Thursday, October 6, 2011

How To Make A Child Feel Better When They've Been Bullied

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Notice that the headline doesn't say "How To Prevent A Child From Being Bullied." Because sometimes we can't. These things often happen in their worlds, not ours. Sometimes there's not a solution. Sometimes the only thing you can do is notice, listen, sympathize and make them their favorite meal. (And then try not to cry yourself to sleep.)

It is heart-wrenching when we don't have the answers and we may not ever know if just listening and "being there" did any good. Chances are though, that it does. You only have to look back at your own experience to know that it's true.

Bullying prevention expert Dr. Dorothy Espelage appeared on the show to share her thoughts on what to do for your child. It's good Be the One Go-To Adult advice. I sincerely hope you don't need it but in the event that you could use expert advice, here it is.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How To Help Prevent the Pain of Bullying

How is it that it's become almost common to read about young kids who have committed suicide due to bullying. Just this past weekend, it only took me a couple of minutes to find three news stories relating to three different kids growing up in three different places -- The Wall Street Journal, The Irish Times and KLAS-TV -- but who have one horrible thing in common. They took their own lives.

Are we in danger of thinking this is normal? Bullying is so complicated. A tangled mess of factors make it hard to tackle -- but there are things we can do.

A leading problem:

#1: Kids Feel Alone

Kids feel alone when they are bullied. For every horrible extreme tragic story of suicide, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of kids who are walking around with similar pain and are struggling to figure it out for themselves.

Experts usually advise kids to go tell someone -- a trusted adult.

Why is it that many kids don't tell an adult? Answer: They're afraid we don't really understand the situation and we'll make it worse. They are often right.

Part of a Solution?

Be the One Go-To Adult

We can start bridging this gap between adults and kids when they're young. We can empower them in school and home with an expectation on how to treat others and how to be treated, set a school climate where it's not cool to be the bully, and engage adults by guiding them in some basic "do's" and "don't's" when communicating with -- or acting on behalf -- of a child.

If kids feel we're not going to overreact -- or under react -- or not judge them -- or embarrass them, then they might start sharing more. We might be able to hear the pain in their voice and at the very least reassure them that they are valuable. If kids understand early on that they can get the validation they need to stop their emotions from spiraling, that skill may be invaluable as they get older.

I once heard an expert say, that as a child, you only need one person to get you in order to be ok. (It was Gary Neuman who helps, among others, children of divorce.) That's so hopeful, especially if we all understand that we can be that one person who makes a child feel like they're ok.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Kathryn Otoshi, author of One, and I are proud to have created materials for elementary schools that allow kids to identify their "Be the One Go-To Adult," (hopefully in advance of a problem) and provide the adults in their life with some basic tools and advice to help them "Be the One BEST Go-To Adult" possible.

We would be honored if you downloaded the Be the One Go-To Adult Certificate and the Be the One Go-To Adult Congratulatory Letter for your school or after school program. Could it mean life or death to a child? Maybe by using tools like these and working together we won't find out.

Sometimes It Just Takes One.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Want to Help a Bullied Child? Be the One Go-To Adult

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Here's a gift. Free. Just for you and the children in your care, whether it's at school, at home or in an after-school program, on the field, or in the art or music room.

One of the top pieces of advice from bullying prevention experts to children who feel bullied is to "tell a trusted adult."

Question is, although we want to help, can we actually be trusted to do or say the right thing? We can't be too hard on ourselves. It's a tricky subject even for trained counselors. But it's a child's self-esteem at risk so it's worth a try.

Award-winning author of One, Kathryn Otoshi, and I, came up with the Be the One Go-To Adult campaign. You can learn more and download a Be the One Go-To Adult Certificate and Congratulatory Letter from Tangled Ball.

We've also asked experts in different fields to give the best advice they have to help adults do the right thing.

Dr. Amanda Nickerson, Director of the Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence, shares her top 5 tips:

LISTEN in an accepting and active manner. Adults often think that listening is not doing anything, but really listening, without interrupting, is often immensely helpful on its own. Thank the child for talking to you, as this was likely very difficult.

CONVEY EMPATHY AND CONCERN – reflect on how upsetting this must have been and how sorry you are to hear that they had this experience.

PROBLEM-SOLVE NEXT STEPS – what would be most helpful for the child? In some cases, active intervention is needed to ensure the child's safety; the child may also need help developing coping skills to prevent the situation from happening again or coping with it if it does – this is not intended to put all the emphasis on the target, but the reality is that it may happen again and just saying to kids "it's not your fault" may take away their sense of having any control over it. Seeking out the support of peers can be critical so that kids are not alone in facing someone bullying him/her.

CONTACT THE SCHOOL – the school needs to know what is happening so that action can be taken to deal with the bullying behavior. Document and provide specific details about where it is occurring and who is involved (including staff witnessing it). Realize that schools can't possibly see and know about all incidents, so avoid placing blame on the school. Rather, have a dialogue about what can be done to protect your child, while advocating strongly for your child. Realize that schools may not be able to tell you what they will do to discipline the other child. Partner with the school but if you do not receive a timely and/or satisfactory response, be persistent and realize you have other options (law enforcement, etc.).

FOLLOW-UP – with your child, with the school…keep tabs on what is happening and what you can do to help.

Thanks, Dr. Nickerson. This makes you a Go-To Adult.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bullying: What "Drama" Means

Just watching Mean Girls. Whoa! The drama! Do your middle or high school kids come home talking about drama? Is all drama equal?...or is it code for "bullying."

Researcher Danah Boyd and Alice Marwick sets us straight in this week's New York Time's blog Bullying as Drama:

Jamey recognized that he was being bullied and asked explicitly for help, but this is not always the case. Many teenagers who are bullied can’t emotionally afford to identify as victims, and young people who bully others rarely see themselves as perpetrators. For a teenager to recognize herself or himself in the adult language of bullying carries social and psychological costs. It requires acknowledging oneself as either powerless or abusive.

In our research over a number of years, we have interviewed and observed teenagers across the United States. Given the public interest in cyberbullying, we asked young people about it, only to be continually rebuffed. Teenagers repeatedly told us that bullying was something that happened only in elementary or middle school. “There’s no bullying at this school” was a regular refrain."

Older kids tend to think bullying is "kid stuff." In high school it's called "drama."

If we don't understand how kids explain what's happening in their lives, then we can't ask the right questions or be there for them in the right ways.

When kids talk about "drama," check out their body language, ask questions and whether they call it "bullying" or not, if it's mean drama, there's a good chance there's pain behind it. It's not that we should be "in their business," but cancel that...we should be in their business, especially when we can remind them that they're valued.

And as I've always said to my kids, "Save the drama for your mama." (And if you're thinking, that makes no sense, you may be right. I just said it to make them laugh.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kudos to KooDooz for Bullying and Cyberbullying Prevention Efforts

KooDooZ, a new kids' site using "social media for social good" is going directly to the source to help untangle one string at a time in this whole bullying mess. On Friday, September 23rd from 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm (PST) which of course is 8-10:30 (ET), KooDooz is presenting a unique panel discussion encouraging participation from children and adults from around the country. The event will be livestreamed. The live and livestream audiences can ask their questions through Twitter with the hash-tag #SMWLAyouth.

I asked Lee Fox, founder of KooDooZ to fill me in on the event:

Our format invites 6 youth panelists who have either been bullied; initiated an anti-bullying campaign; or been a bully in the past with hindsight.

In addition to the panelist participation, we have also been video interviewing over 40 kids and have compiled video clips of answers to 5 specific questions about bullying. Moderators asks a question, we run the video clip, the panel discusses. We then invite our live & livestream audiences to ask what's on their minds.

As a TownHall meeting, all concerned citizens and community members are encouraged to join in this conversation. We even suggest organizing sleep-outs and dinner parties from the comfort of your own homes, youth group centers and schools.


Kylie Morgan, 16yrs
Special guest singer / Song-writer Kylie Morgan dedicated her song, "Phoebe (It Matters What We Do)" to Phoebe Prince who tragically took her life after being bullied by classmates. Kylie is also a key spokesperson for PACER.org and will be performing her music live.

Faith G., 12
Faith moved around a lot after her parents got divorced at the age of 8. Once she settled into a new school, she became bullied because of her red hair and her pigeon toe condition. Sometimes the bullying got so bad, she didn't want to go to school. She found strength in her horse, Smartie and started using horse therapy to cope with the teasing at school.

Maya M., 12
Friends describe Maya as strong. She has to be-she's overcome a lot. Growing up with a mentally ill mother, Maya was abused and put down a lot by her. It got so bad, she contemplated suicide. Maya confided in her dad and began going to therapy. Now Maya uses art as a way to express her feelings.

Malik W. 15yrs
Malik has been on both sides of bullying. He's been bullied and he's also found himself being a bully. Through guidance and leadership programs, Malik was able to pull himself out of the vicious cycle of youth violence.

Alyssa P., 13yrs
Alyssa is often seen talking with people who seem lonely and is a valued member of the Bully Prevention Club at her school. Additionally she was selected as one of the finalists in this year’s TEEN TRUTH Film Festival for her video, “STAND”.

Tyler Page, 14yrs
Tyler asked youth in his leadership academy, Kids Helping Kids to adopt Rachel's Challenge, a bullying and violence abatement program after he experienced bullying abuse.

Funny. We often talk about bullying but we don't ask the kids directly, so by the time we offer advice, it's already out of touch. I encourage everyone who is interested in the subject of bullying to watch the livestream and if you have middle and or high school kids, watch with them. (And tell your school and/or youth group.) It's a great time to get their perspective. Invaluable!

Friday, September 16, 2011

International Bullying Prevention Conference

If you're reading this, you're probably already interested in doing something about bullying and cyberbullying. The statistics are staggering but the reality of the pain it causes to kids, families and schools is mind blowing.

Schools and counselors know what a tangled messy issue it is but don't have all the resources they need to turn this issue around in their schools. Instead of being angry at schools for not doing the right thing, we need to step up and help.

An opportunity is approaching. The International Bullying Prevention Assoc. conference is coming up in early November (Nov. 6-8) in New Orleans. Everyone can attend this conference and it will not disappoint. Experts from around the world representing every side of this toxic problem will converge over these couple of days to discuss the newest research about what it is and what works to help stop it. (If you have to fly, the airfare to New Orleans is worth it because the conference is very reasonably priced at $250 for non-members.)

When I became interested in this topic, I went to the conference when it was held several years ago in Indianapolis. I came away with more knowledge in two days than I could have gotten in a year. The world renowned speakers are there to inform and inspire and the workshops give school administrators, teachers, law enforcement, counselors, and superintendents hands on tools to take back to their communities.
In addition, the event will include “Bullying Prevention 101,” a day-long workshop where participants will learn specific techniques and strategies that will help them develop a great understanding of offline and online bullying behavior and learn practical ways to ensure that their schools have peaceful learning environments where positive and respectful behaviors are practiced.
If you want to do something good for your child, student and school, recommend this conference. We don't have to talk about how bad bullying is, we can learn from experts and each other and take the information back to our schools -- and stop accepting this type of school climate.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lessons on 9/11 are Good for 9/12, Too

I've had a lump in my throat and a heavy heart all week. My heart aches for the many families we know who had the worst thing happen to them on this day 10 years ago. Of course, I have my own story of fear and confusion but at the end of the day, my family was intact.

Since we had so many in our neighborhood on Staten Island who were directly and tragically affected, I assumed that my kids were basically ok. But perhaps my kids, like so many others, may have been afraid to say they weren't ok. It must have frightened kids to see their parents so visibly full of shock, fear, and sadness. Many parents were functioning but not in a way that gave kids the comfort that there was someone in charge. There is no one to blame for that except the evil people who carried out this plot.

But now with the privilege of time, we know there are lessons to be learned. Among them are how to talk to kids and address some of the things that may be causing anxiety. These pieces of advice from Common Sense are invaluable and can be used beyond the anniversary.

And of course, I have to bring this around to the issue of bullying. Kids in elementary school do not remember 9/11. Organizations, such as My Good Deed, that are promoting 9/11 as a national day of service should be commended and supported. I have a suggestion. Make it a Day of Service as well as a day to promote peer to peer respect. What do you think of this idea?

So I wish you peace on this important day. And if you are denied peace, please know that you are valued.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Real HELP: Facing History's Lessons on the Civil Rights Movement

I just finished The Help and loved it. It brought me back to my childhood and made me think about Nina. Although we lived in the north, we were a white family with a black maid. I understood how Skeeter felt about Constantine. Nina was warm, kind, had a great sense of humor and since she lived with us until I was 11, was a major part of my upbringing.

And by saying I "loved" the book, I mean that it resonated with me and made me think. It also made me want to wake up Nina because I have my own questions. Did she have a family? Children? Sisters? Brothers? Did she ever feel disrespected by us? (I know she must have felt exhausted because I'm one of eight kids.) It made me want to go back in time and although I was young, it made me want to make everything alright for Nina. It made me want to be an upstander.

This summer I was privileged to be invited to sit in on a workshop hosted by Facing History and Ourselves. It was a training session for teachers who are interested in teaching their middle and high school students about the Civil Rights Movement. Facing History creates curriculum that goes well beyond dates, places and names. It skillfully analyzes why, how, and could this happen again?

As a young child, I didn't truly understand that racism was a such a deeply ingrained system of bullying. Why not teach how deep it ran, how helpless it seemed, how hard it was to start somewhere and fight the tide of oppression? Facing History's lessons about that era untangles the collective problem and makes it personal. That's skill. Through news clips and newspaper articles, letters and a host of other sources, you felt the pain, the sting of being black in a generally mean white society.

You also felt the triumph and the bravery of the original leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including Charles Hamilton Houston.

If you want to know more about his intellect, leadership qualities and heroism, do a little research. That's what sitting in on this class did for me...and what it probably does for middle and high school kids who need to take history personally so we never forget, not just as citizens but as humans who have choices every day on how to treat others.

Once again, Facing History you hit it out of the park. Both The Help and Facing History made me reflect on all that Nina had done for my family. Although she felt like family, I had a shocking thought sitting in the middle of that workshop. I didn't know Nina's last name.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Tell A Trusted Adult" Is Only Good Advice When Adults Can Be Trusted: Bullying

Something is missing. On almost every list for kids and teens of "What To Do When You're Being Bullied," there's a bullet point that advises:
• Go Tell A Trusted Adult
But who is that trusted adult and do they know what to say or do? Even the most well-intentioned adult might mess things up even more. It's the elephant in the room but like most tangled ball problems, there's a way to untangle one string at a time.

I've been studying bullying and online safety issues for a long time but sometimes when kids confide in me about the hurts they feel from being disrespected and mistreated, I'm at a loss for words. I always start out by telling them that I'm not a counselor. It doesn't seem to matter to them. I guess they know I'm interested and for that moment, that's what they need.

The statistics that scare me the most are the percentages of kids who suffer in silence.

There's a reason for this. Adults tend to overreact or under react. Both are natural responses because either you want to solve the whole problem for the child and take control or we don't understand the subtleties of their relationships and their worlds.

What we need is some type of training or guidance and then "Go Tell A Trusted Adult" will actually be good advice.

Kathryn Otoshi, author of the award-winning children's book, One, and I came up with a game plan. As part of our Be the One© campaign, we would like young kids to identify and honor their Be the One Go-to Adult. In other words, who is the person in their life who is easy to talk to and supportive?

Along with their very own Be the One Go-To Adult certificate, the "honoree" will get a letter that gives basic advice about "How To Be the Best Go-To Adult" possible. Additional information from experts on what to do to help a bullied child will be on Tangled Ball.com beginning Sept. 5th.

Once again, this takes a village. Do you have suggestions for the Go-To Adult? Tell us your stories, give us your recommendations.

If you're a parent, teacher, administrator, public servant, expert, coach, counselor or just your every day special Be the One Go-To Adult and you're interested in the materials, let us know.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why Anti-Bullying Programs Miss the Mark

Couldn't have said it better myself...so I didn't try. Enjoy this great article from Jane and Blair:

(Female friendship experts Jane Balvanz and Blair Wagner publish A Way Through, LLC’s Guiding Girls ezine. If you’re ready to guide girls in grades K – 8 through painful friendships, get your FREE mini audio workshop and ongoing tips now at www.AWayThrough.com)

As I direct my focus to a new school year about to begin, I reflect back on the past school year and the approaches I’ve seen schools take to address school bullying among their students and their staff. The one that really misses the mark is starting an anti-bullying program.
It is common for us to see something we don’t like and to join an anti-[fill in the blank] campaign. We talk about, write about, and complain about how bad it is. Our focus is on resisting the thing we don’t like, in this case bullying. We push against it. And that’s the problem.

What We Resist Persists

There’s an old saying: What we resist persists. Put another way, when we are negative about an issue, we perpetuate or spread negativity.

When we jump on the anti-bullying bandwagon, our attention, energy and focus are on the negativity of bullying. From this place of negativity, we lack emotional access to positive solutions. The anti name has a persistent negative influence.

As an alternative to a dooms day attitude or an angry approach, a more effective option is to recognize the bullying we see. Name it. Be curious about it. Look at it from several angles. But don’t stay stuck there.

Once we’ve gotten clear on what we are seeing and where it is coming from, work to clarify what we DO want. We want better social skills, social competence, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, healthy friendships, a positive culture, a positive climate, and positive role models.

A Springboard to Create a Replacement of Bullying Behavior

This positive focus gives us a springboard to create what we want.
Once we know what we want in bullying prevention, our job is to provide structures, training, and ongoing support for our students and for our school staff – all based on a focus of creating what we want, not on stopping what we don’t want.

Let’s replace those anti-bullying posters (of kids bullying or being bullied) with posters representing healthy friendships and acts of kindness. Start social skills training early. Put forth positive examples, language and visuals everywhere to influence your students in a positive way!

© 2011 A Way Through, LLC

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Real Housewives or the Real Bullies. You decide!

I was in the television business for many years and loved it. But television is one of those things that as a parent, you have to take seriously. Even if none of the other parents seemed to be disturbed about what their kids saw, I will be eternally grateful that I did care. Of course, my four kids tease me unmercifully about my attitude towards the tube when they were little but I take it like a man because I know that at the very least, it made them think about what they were watching. (Not that they always followed the guidelines. When I would walk in from work, I would hear them nearly killing themselves by leaping over furniture to turn it off before I could get upstairs. Naturally, the remote was always lost.)

Now that I'm completely immersed in the bullying prevention field, my concerns are not just for my own kids, but all kids. No matter what anyone says, I think most reality shows encourage crazy amounts of meanness. Plain and simple.

The other day, I tripped over this blog post written by Sally Berenzweig, one of the co-founders of KidSafe Foundation and asked if I could repost it because I think it's spot on. Here it is:

Ok, I admit it..I watch the Real Housewives and I am a little embarrassed about it. Those that know me may be surprised…my family (well not my sisters because they watch it too) Friends? (Well not my closest because they too watch) But I am sure colleagues might be surprised. But I do watch it and I had to write this blog after watching “The Real Housewives New York Reunion” last night.

Now I may be a little late in the game for just writing this because I tape the show and don’t know when it was first aired(another slight embarrassment) So, last night as my husband is falling asleep and I am up I start watching. Not 10 minutes into the show I feel my blood pressure rising. My husband picks his head up and says “Oh my g-d they are so mean!” and I realized these women are bullies.

So now the importance of the blog…..I start thinking ….What are these women modeling for their children?
· To speak their mind…yet not to care how another will feel about what their saying!
· To be strong…yet always at the expense of others.
· To stand up for what they believe in…and to talk over people until they see things your way.
· To tell the truth…but be mean-spirited as you tell it..
· To not listen to others because they don’t agree? To me, that speaks Bully, and that is what they are modeling for their children…how to be a bully (and boy are they good at it)
If I had the opportunity to ask each and every one of these women what have they taught their children about how to treat other people. I am sure that they would say they want their children to treat others with respect, dignity, empathy and kindness. But if you watch that is not at all what they are modeling for their children. As I am watching I wonder to myself when they look back on this footage are they embarrassed? Do they wish they did things differently? Do they realize they are the “Mean Girls?”

All I know is that I don’t want my child to be a bully or a bystander – I want him to be the kid that helps his friend who is being bullied. I want my child to treat people the way he wants to be treated – with respect, dignity, empathy and kindness and that is why I try to model that behavior for him. Children do what we do. Not what we say, and I guess at the end of the day that is why I wrote this blog. For us as parents to ask ourselves what kind of children are we raising? Act how you want your child to act – Model good behavior.

Now I know the Real Housewives shows have millions of viewers and I am one of them. Why are we watching? This is something I will have to explore further at another time. If for nothing else. It made a good blog!

ps. I promised my business partner that I would share that she has never watched any of these shows.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cyberbullying: Two Things Schools and Parents Can Do

At last night's cyberbullying summit sponsored by the New York City Council, two things struck me: 1.) It's great that the room was full and there's clearly more interest and awareness on the subject and 2.) We don't quite get it yet.

Hearing From the Real Experts: The Kids

ENACT, an awesome NYC high school performing group, opened the night with a fantastic short play about sexting. That woke everyone up. It got our attention because it skillfully showed how even good kids can get pressured and send provocative photos of themselves.

One brave girl was there to tell her real story. She was a good all around student but in a spur of the moment act -- it took six seconds --sent a photo of her breasts to a guy which he forwarded and it spread like wildfire. Her mother was nearly in tears talking about the bullying and harassment her daughter received for four years after the incident. It was heartbreaking to hear her mother talk about the fact that kids are being charged as sex offenders. It's true. Think about that. They have to sit in the same room as rapists and pedophiles in court ordered therapy sessions. They can't live near a school, for example, for 25 years.

Another highlight was listening to a Wired Safety panel of teens and tweens (and even an eight year-old) talk about the various ways that the internet, and particularly cell phones, are being used as weapons. Among the 77 ways (yes, they said that 77 ways had been identified) that kids use technology to hurt each other were things like picking up someone else's phone when they're not looking and sending mean messages or pretending that others sent you harassing messages to get them in trouble. Then the drama starts, which is why a lot of cyberbullying is done in the first place. Teens love drama.

The reasons and the perpetrators can be categorized in a variety of ways. Some are mean girls (and boys); some have been bullied before and want retaliation; some are shy offline and are flexing their muscles online. But the bottom line here is that all kids are capable of doing this. Many just don't know better. Most are just kids.

Tangled Ball Problem Needing Many Solutions

Next steps? A panel comprised of reps from Common Sense Media, NYC Dept. of Ed, MTV, Facebook, Microsoft, AT&T, and the Relationship Abuse Prevention Program were on hand to report on what they were doing as organizations to help stop the epidemic. Unfortunately, it's not enough. Two basic things are missing. We need a reporting infrastructure in middle and high schools that can handle sexting and cyberbullying incidents. Schools literally do not know how to handle this issue -- and the policies and laws are not clear, which is scary. We need to help them out by untangling a few of these strings. (An organization in D.C., iKeepSafe, has an initiative called Generation Safe which is trying to do just that.) Secondly, we have to start teaching internet safety as young as kindergarten and include parents. (Common Sense Media and others mentioned to the right have fantastic and often free materials.) No two ways about it.

Other Countries Struggling With Same Issues

Just saw this piece from Australia this morning on this very subject. I'm with you, mate.

If you had two suggestions, what would they be?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Expert Rick Ackerly: Yes! Schools Can -- and Should -- Teach Empowerment

I follow Rick Ackerly's blog, The Genius in Children (and his book, The Genius in Children: Bringing out the best in your child is a must if you're a parent or an educator.) Rick is a nationally known author, speaker and educator but I like to call him "the school fix-it guy". His approach to education and to kids, in general, is really refreshing. He tells it like it is and treats kids like people, meaning they have a lot going on in their brains and hearts. I asked him the following question. And although, I love his entire answer, I especially like what he says about "labeling" kids. (I also love the ten Disciplines of a Learner and the fact that when he was a principal, he had it printed on the report card.)

Is there a place for teaching empowerment in schools? If so, how important is it to the success of the individual student and to the school as a whole?

Yes, of course, schools should teach empowerment, it is in fact their job. Empowerment is critical to the success of the individuals in the school (adults as well as children). It is, also, critical to the success of the school as a learning community—even if it only aspires to be a teach-and-test academy.

Because of all the baggage around words like power, empowerment, powerful people, I have rarely used them. I think it is slightly better to say: In a good school the measure of a person’s authority is their ability to increase the authority of others. A good principal increases the authority of the teachers, the teachers increase the authority of the students. The quality of adult authority is a function of the degree to which it increases the authority of the children. (Yes, I am trying to change the way we normally think of authority.) Isn't that one way to look at an educated person: she's an authority on something?

To begin with, naming types of people is worse than useless. Our brains take to it naturally, but we need to exercise a certain set of mental disciplines to resist the temptation and, instead, strive toward seeing ourselves and others as unique. One could define education as the process of transcending the generalizations we make of ourselves and others, because the purpose of education is accurate self-definition, and generalizations are distortions of reality.

As all good doctors are charged with helping people learn how to take care of themselves, all teachers and parents should be charged with helping students have a growth mindset about themselves. In my vision children would never be named bully or victim, because once you have a label in your head, you spend the rest of your life being NOT that, and you are off the track of defining yourself; you have let a label frame your development.

In order to change behavior, we have to change the cognitive constructs of the social context, and to do that we have to change our language. If I am on either end of a bully-victim continuum, then my goal is to be somewhere in between, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to be neither here nor there. But my job, remember, is to define myself uniquely in the world.

It is more empowering to have two continua: “takes a stand” more or less, and “cares for others” more or less. I can evaluate my progress toward self-actualization by using a four point scale with 4 being “consistently” and 1 being “rarely.” Of course, I would want to be “4” on both.

Speaking for myself, for example, when I was in grade school, I was a 2 (“sometimes”) on the first scale and a 3 (“usually”) on the second. I avoided conflict (and bullies). When in trouble, I usually presented the jugular vein. People liked me because I geniunely cared about all people, especially the underdogs. I was often elected president of the class. Becoming all I could be in the world has required that I learn to go nose to nose with people without getting mad, stating my position clearly and firmly without trying to defeat the other person. It has been the challenge of a lifetime, and although most people would give me an “outstanding” on “takes a stand,” and although I might sometimes give myself a “4,” I know that I still have a natural tendency to present the jugular vein and usually try to defuse conflict with humor or charm. I rarely go nose to nose with people, and feel that that somehow makes me less of a man, even though I know it’s not true. At the age of 66 I am still working to fulfill the image I have defined for myself.

To help people toward this double-headed challenge of defining Self in Relationship parents and teachers can establish a set of disciplines. At my last two schools we put the following list of ten “Disciplines of a Learner” on page one of the report card.

“Disciplines of a Learner:”
1. Asks questions
2. Speaks up
3. Uses mistakes as learning opportunities
4. Takes criticism constructively
5. Builds on other people’s ideas
6. Welcomes a challenge
7. Takes risks
8. Listens with an openness to change
9. Perseveres in tasks
10. Knows when to lead and when to follow.

Notice that one could actually count the defined behaviors and use the 4 point scale more or less objectively. If all schools focused on graduating eighth graders who are skilled at using all the tools in this toolbox, all of our graduates would be great learners, great leaders and great students—powerful people.

As I wrote in “Banishing Bullying” A person’s behavior is strongly influenced by the social context. Establishing these disciplines as normative in a school can have a powerful effect on all other aspects of school culture and create the conditions in which victims nearly disappear and bullies are more easily confronted and changed into truly powerful people.

Genius, Rick!