Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

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.