Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Don't Let Anyone Call You Stupid: A Lesson in Bullying Prevention from Michael Angelakos and P.S. 22

(If you saw the Oscars last night, you'll understand why I am re-posting this story about the boy from P.S. 22 who needed a kind word and a little reinforcement from a compassionate adult. The adult who paid attention just happened to be Passon Pit's lead singer Michael Angelakos. This little boy is probably now in middle school but hopefully Michael's words will stick with him throughout life. And just as a side note, I was proud of the Academy for including Staten Island's pride and joy!)

Experts agree that the role of the "bystander" is key in blunting the affects of bullying. The Center for Social and Emotional Education and other experts in the field refer to the key role of the bystander as the upstander, to indicate that standing "by" is not helpful...but standing "up" can make all the difference.

You could just be minding your own business and WHAM, there's a need to step up and support someone who is being mistreated. In that moment, a decision has to be made. Do I step in to the problem or do I just let that person/child fend for themselves? Do I care enough to lend a sympathetic ear, or tell the bully to "stop," or get additional help... or do I just stand by?

During this recording with the chorus from P.S. 22, Michael Angelakos, lead singer of the award-winning band Passion Pit, proved he is an UPSTANDER. In under 30 seconds, he could have possibly changed this lucky child's life.

Do we have to be a celebrity to be an upstander? No way. In that moment and in that child's eyes, it's extremely likely that Angelakos was just a person saying the right thing at the right time.

So to every upstander out there, ROCK ON.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jennifer Aniston Proves that It Takes Seconds to Stop a Bully

Dr. Michele Borba, a renowned parenting expert, speaker and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, recently outlined her list of 6 Teachable Skills to Stop a Bully. In it she describes a study that indicates that when a bystander (or better yet, upstander) steps in to confront a bully, in over half the incidences, the bullying stops in 10 seconds. Imagine that. 10 seconds.

Recently, a megastar proved that point. Although this is fairly old news in the world of celebrityhood, apparently Jennifer Aniston stepped up to ask Perez Hilton to stop saying nasty things. Very, very tricky. It could have gone very well or very badly. What if Jennifer approached him and he used it against her? There are no rules when you make your dough dishing the dirt. But apparently the self proclaimed "Queen of Media" took it like a man and has promised to tone it down a bit. Risky for him as well, because being mean has been part of his schtick and even poor Perez has to eat at 5 star restaurants. (Not sure I still trust the guy but I have to give him credit for listening.)

This may be old star watching news but it deserves to be discussed a little more. What if we can train kids from young ages to step up? That's what I'd like to accomplish in one school with a mentoring program called Be the One, based on Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning book, One. It's important to give kids skills to help stop bullying situations in ways comfortable for them -- directly confronting the bully, getting an adult to help, not participating or laughing when someone is being mistreated, using humor, showing compassion, etc.

This recent article in the New York Times describes how often bullying happens within the popular crowd. Anyone who's involved in a school knows that there's a lot of truth to that...and it makes stepping in even harder. It makes me think that this training has to start early -- kindergarten on up -- before kids get too sucked into cliques.

So Jennifer is an upstander. A well paid, well publicized, glamorous super star... UPSTANDER!.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

More on How Young is Too Young On Facebook: Michelle Obama Weighs In

Why Is 10, 11 or 12 too young to be on Facebook?

Isn't it obvious? It's not about giving our kids permission to do something that all of their "friends" are doing, it's giving them permission to do something that may be hurtful. I'll agree, that some kids may never experience a problem but you wouldn't give them a glass of beer and say, "Well there's a good chance they'll never be alcoholics." I know this sounds extreme but it's really not.

The one statistic that blows my mind is that 84% of kids that are bullied online don't tell an adult. That means that unless you supervise like a hawk (and not many parents have the time for that), you may not know it when something has been said to hurt them...or if they've said something that might hurt another. The damage is done in seconds. Kids have a hard enough time in middle school navigating the ever changing landscape of friendship. It is sophisticated stuff to do this online.

Do such young kids need it? No. And if your answer is yes because a.) everyone in their class has it and he/she feels left out than I have a suggestion. It might be a good idea to talk to the other parents and decide together that at least some of you won't let them. Of if b.) my child is shy and has a hard time making friends and this makes it easier for them, I understand because shyness is painful -- but this may not be the solution. The old-fashioned way of helping them make one or two friends outside of school might be a safer, more long-lasting way to go.

What's the risk? Check out Ryan Halligan's story...or Phoebe Prince...or the many other tragic suicides of kids who were being hurt online and couldn't take it anymore.

In all honesty, I think 13 is too young, too. And something I really don't understand is why as parents do we give ourselves one more thing to worry about? My youngest son didn't go on Facebook until he was almost 17. It was his decision. He's a social guy and has a lot of friends but for some reason he didn't want it. It got to the point that he felt like he was missing out on knowing about events, parties, things going on in general so he now has an account. He's happy with it and it's added something to his life. I'm not anti-Facebook but I'm very grateful for the many nights of peaceful sleep I got because I wasn't worried about his online life. I know I'm lucky because he wasn't badgering me for it but I know what that's like, too. I have four kids and know how hard it is to say no.

Not that it counts for much, but if you do say no, you have a fan in me. I would be happy to hear from you and if I had the money, I'd throw you a parade or send you to DisneyWorld. At least there, you could let your kids just be kids.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dear Parents, Why Do You Let Your Young Kids Have Facebook Accounts?

After witnessing what is happening to so many kids online, I wanted to write a really preachy post about not allowing young kids to go on Facebook. Instead, I would like a parent to enlighten me on why they think it's ok.

I've had a really bad couple of days, including not sleeping, because I've become aware of "nice" kids being totally cruel online. The kids I'm referring to are 12. The minimum age for Facebook is 13. In my opinion that's way too young, too, but letting kids under the age of 13 have an account is telling them to lie.

I know all the excuses. "My child wore me down. EVERYONE is on Facebook. He/She is a nice kid and can handle it. He/She has nice friends. It's cute."

Parents, get your head out of the sand. When you finish reading this post, go "friend" your child or somehow get access to their account and check it out. You may not like what you see. If you don't like what you see, make it a teachable moment. Kids need to be supervised online. That's the bottom line.

Cyberbullying is NOT about technology. It's about building judgment. If you see stuff you don't like, take it down and don't let them go back until you feel they have the maturity to handle social networking. I know what you may be thinking. "They may just go over to a friends house and go online. They'll be impossible to live with. I feel so bad for them because they're the ONLY kid in 7th grade that's not on it."

If you don't think it's a problem, you haven't been looking hard enough. And if it's not a problem today, it may be one tomorrow. Kids do not know how to handle tough social situations in writing. They don't know enough to stop before they click.

My analogy is that internet safety is like building a pool in your back yard. You build it because it's fun but you wouldn't let kids use it unless you give them swimming lessons, have them wear flotation devices if they don't swim, have rules, buy an alarm and build a fence around it. Same thing with the internet.

Although I said I didn't want to write a preachy post, I just did. Couldn't help it. What I saw this week is a recipe for ruining childhoods.

I started with a question and I'll end with a question. Parents, why would you let your kids drown?