Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

You Won't Forget The Bully Project

The Bully Project premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this past week. Since I had been involved with the film in its early stages, I took my 17-year old son to see it. It got a standing ovation.

It got a standing O for a couple of reasons, I suspect. First, it's an outstanding piece of cinematography and the audience of film lovers probably appreciated the talent of director Lee Hirsch. But above and beyond the beautiful camera work, the subject matter and the subjects themselves -- a handful of families and kids deeply and sometimes tragically affected by bullying -- took your breath away. You wanted to crawl into the screen and hug the kids and their parents and beg the misguided school administrators to stop talking and tie back the hands of the bullies on the bus.

It got to everyone. We sat in the front row but you could tell how deeply affected the audience was by the gasps, jeers and the constant sniffling that comes with tears.

This is a brave film, not only from the standpoint of the director's work but also by producer Cynthia Lowen's ability to convince the families of the bullies that this needs to be seen. Although there are definitely villains and victims, I applaud the Sioux City, Iowa school system for being the ultimate brave souls in this film. It reminds me of ABC's Hopkins 24/7 that aired several years back. As I worked on the promotion of that groundbreaking documentary series, I couldn't help but be in awe of Johns Hopkins Hospital for letting the country inside a very reputable -- but not perfect -- hospital. I feel the same way about Sioux City. It's a sacrifice to be vulnerable.

So if you're interested -- which there's a good chance you might be if you're one of the caring souls that follow blogs like Tangled Ball -- go to their facebook page or The Bully Project web site. We can figure this whole tangled mess out together.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bullying Prevention: Are You With Me?

We can all do something about bullying prevention.

Three of the strings in this tangled ball that provide hope are:

• Early Prevention

• Parenting

• Role of Bystander (or the Upstander)

There are many, many others but if we concentrate on setting standards in school at a much younger age, if we send kids to school more socially aware and we compliment good behavior and correct bad behavior and we teach kids HOW to step up for one another, then I think we have a shot at improving kids' lives.

Are you with me? Or a better question, "Are you with them?"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Future Teachers are Key in Untangling Bullying

As part of a regular lecture series, I was invited, along with a St. John's University professor, to make a presentation to education students regarding the issues of bullying and cyber bullying.

I walked away feeling like I was the lucky person to learn something. It struck me how important it is to raise awareness and offer training to future teachers.

They were a great audience. Engaged and compassionate.

In this tangled mess, teachers represent one of the most critical strings. As most people know, most bullying doesn't happen in the classroom but the most consistent pieces of advice that experts give children is "Tell a trusted adult."

Aha! I think we've hit upon a huge disconnect -- but with training it can be improved. Adults, either in school or at home, don't really know what to do and kids know that instinctively. Even well meaning teachers say the wrong thing that can make a child feel even more isolated and hopeless.

OK, so here's an example that I hope horrifies you as much as it horrifies me. In my travels, I was visiting a 3rd grade classroom recently and although I wasn't there to discuss bullying, it must have been on their minds. Their hands were waving and their little bodies popping out of their seats trying to shout out their stories of bullying. I was shocked at their need to tell me all of this in such a flood of urgency. I wasn't sure why until I asked the teacher in front of the students, "Mrs. X, what do you think?" and she, (hold on to your seats) says "Oh, don't worry. They were just bullying you 'with love."

What????? Is that even possible? I don't think so.

You catch my drift. The kids can't confide in her. She makes it worse.

I think we really need to make high quality training mandatory or at least very accessible. There are many top notch organizations such as the National School Climate Center who host workshops. What if the school doesn't have the money? Have a fundraiser and send at least one or two teachers who can come back and share the materials and information. Teachers are not supposed to be social workers but they should feel prepared to react in an effective way when their students need them, especially when it directly affects the class climate. Teachers are also in a position to stop bullying behavior when they see it in their classroom or when they're walking the halls. They can also help encourage kids to be good digital citizens because young teachers, especially, have a better understanding of how kids communicate online.

I applaud St. John's for making this a part of their education outreach for future teachers. The children in their care will be very fortunate.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bullying Can Stop a Soul from Singing

There's a line from another Rascal Flatt's song, "I'm Movin On," that says "you find strength in your moments of weakness."

If we can teach kids to find their strength even when others try to make them feel weak -- and to help others do the same-- we might save some lives.

One of the most difficult parts of working on the bullying issue is that you don't know who you're helping. You can look at a whole classroom of kids and not know who is hurting inside. That's why a mentoring program seems to be helpful. It's a way to cover everyone. It's a way to make sure that each child has someone that looks them in the eye and is happy to be with them --and it goes both ways. Sometimes it's the eighth grader who needs the validation from the first grader.

I knew I had to use this video when I saw the lyrics referring to the tangled thoughts. One of the questions asked is Was there anything more I could have said or done? Maybe it's about saying, doing -- and seeing. Making sure that someone sees and validates a young child's worth on a consistent basis is so important.

Why? It might be the reason someone stays on stage and finishes their beautiful song.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blood is Thicker than Water: Bullying Prevention and Intervention

Family Discusses WH Bullying Conference: MyFoxTWINCITIES.com

The role of the sibling is so powerful. A caring sibling can make all the difference and is one of the roles that doesn't get enough attention. Siblings are often better positioned to understand the subtleties of bullying. If they are compassionate, they can be confidantes and allies. Maybe they aren't on the scene when bullying happens, but they may be that one person that makes the target feel ok about themselves.

By now, most people are aware of the story of the Australian boy slamming another boy to the ground. There's a lot of talk about who's the villain and who's the victim but it sounds like neither one of them was having a good time of it at school. After watching an Australian talk show that interviewed both boys, I was really struck with one of the side stories. Casey Heynes, the bigger bullied boy who threw his much lighter bully to the ground, talked about how bad the bullying had been affecting him, including contemplating suicide. When the interviewer asked him what saved him, he said "my sister."

Unfortunately, bullying prevention can't prevent all bullying but if a child has anyone in their life that makes them feel safe and important, then the bullying will have less of an impact.

Sibling issues are hard but it's also part of early prevention. If we compliment our children when they're good to each other, perhaps they will continue to value that role.

In a recent post about PACER, it was mentioned that the organization was invited to the White House Summit on Bullying Prevention. One of the PACER parent advocates, Lynn Miland, was asked to attend with her two girls. Kelly is 19 and on the autism spectrum and was bullied a lot in school. Her 16-year old sister, Maggie, is a junior in high school and is obviously an advocate. They both deserved to be invited to the WH. It represented the power of family.

This is what they had to say about the summit:
Kelly: It was so amazing you had to be there to believe it!! The President wants to prevent bullying in any way, shape or form. It will definitely make a big difference in this world. If you want to make a difference, then you need to hear about what people like me have gone through. We don't want any more kids to take their lives because of bullying.

Maggie: People think that bullying is a normal part of growing up, however I know that isn't true. I am thankful that President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama agree. I am confident that we have only seen the beginning of the fight to end bullying and the rest will come as more people become aware and involved.

Siblings can also watch each other's backs online. If we teach our children to look out for each other, it's amazing what they can accomplish-- and we can't. Older responsible siblings may have a bigger impact on teaching the younger ones the rules of the online road -- and we may never know about it. Were you ever the brother or sister who had to warn a sib about drinking? Were you ever the sibling that stopped a rumor about your brother or sister...or told them to stay away from a certain crowd...or were you ever a sibling that benefitted from a kind word when you were feeling like a loser?

Things haven't changed all that much. Blood is still thicker than water. A good sibling can be a lifesaver.