Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

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.