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.