Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

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.