Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Monday, May 30, 2011

Elementary School Graduation and Teaching Gratitude

My husband and I call this the "Season of Clapping." Between graduations and awards ceremonies, your hands start hurting.

It can also be a season of gratitude and a good time to teach kids to be thankful for the people in their lives.

As part of the Be the One leadership program at Our Lady Queen of Peace School, students in the older classes mentor the younger children on messages based on Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning book, One.

The eighth grade mentors the second graders and it's been a good partnership. They've read books, played word games, created Venn diagrams, decorated ornaments together and in general got to know each other while building a relationship of respect.

It seemed a good idea to use the eighth grade graduation as a time to teach gratitude...and who said these lessons have to be boring? As a farewell, the second graders organized a surprise party for their older counterparts. On a day that the eighth graders were off campus, the second graders went to work making cards and signs and practicing "You've Got a Friend in Me."

In the process, we were able to talk with them about gratitude. They talked about what made their Be the One partner special.

(When the seven-year olds were asked how we should fool the eighth graders in going to the party, they suggested things like, "Tell them Jesus is in the gym," or "Tell them to come look at the two-headed bird.")

When the big day came, the second graders hid on the stage and when the curtain opened they yelled SURPRISE! The eighth graders genuinely seemed happy in a "I have to still look cool" kind of way.

They ate cupcakes and drank juice and did an activity together. Using a template of a shamrock, they were asked to wish four things for each other. One of them said, "I wish you could come to high school with me to hang out."

Understanding is the anti-bully. Gratitude is the anti-bully. Really getting to know a person that you didn't know before is the anti-bully. Listening to someone younger than you and remembering what it was like to be 7 is the anti-bully. Having someone look up to you -- hanging on every word -- can be a life saver.

Introducing these concepts in the early years is One of the ways we can change the culture of mean.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Facebook Is OK for Kids: LOLJK

You're a fat pig. LOLJK*

You're so gay it makes me sick. LOLJK

What's wrong with you? LOLJK

You smell. LOLJK

What kind of outfit is that? Loser. LOLJK

You are soooooooooo stupid. LOLJK

Want to be my friend?

Over 7.5 MILLION kids under the required minimum age of 13 are on Facebook, according to a recent Consumers Union study. According to this article in the LA Times, parents with children on Facebook and under the age of 10 do not even "friend" their child on Facebook.

If you are one of those parents, I would really like to hear from you why this is ok. Are you certain that your child or your child's "friends" aren't saying stuff like this online? Are you sure it's a child talking to your child?

I hear from parents that their kids tell them "it's not fair" that they can't get a Facebook page. What's really not fair is to put kids in sophisticated situations before they're able to handle it. In all honesty, 13 is even too young.

The LA Times brings up a several key points:

For minors who lack the experience or judgment to use a social network, this raises the scary potential of sexual predators tracking down kids who reveal their age in an online chat, cyberbullying and more.

“A million kids were bullied on Facebook in the last year," Jeff Fox, technology editor at Consumer Reports, told FoxNews.com upon the release of the study. "A 10-year-old is not well-equipped to deal with those things.”

"Friending" your child isn't the complete answer, either. What do you do when you "friend" and you don't like what you see? Do you take your child's page down when you don't like what the other kids are saying? Are you sure an adult isn't posing as a child? When do you step in?

I do believe that kids need to learn how to handle social media but that is best done on sites that are kid-friendly, like Yoursphere, and others. And even then, it's only ok if it becomes a "teachable moment" and you sit next to them and guide them. How did you teach them how to cross the road safely? Did you stay in the house reading a magazine and tell them to come and tell you if they got hit by a car?

*LOLJK: Laugh Out Loud Just Kidding

Step up parents. This is no laughing matter. Your kids are hiding behind their LOLJKs. And who's hiding behind the kids?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

If I Was Asked to Give a TED Talk about Bullying

My daughter, Alice-Kate, just sent me this TED Talk with Ric Elias, who survived the Hudson River plane crash in January 2009. Like most TED Talks, it's thought provoking and it made me wonder what I would say in a TED Talk about bullying prevention.

My talk might start with something like this:

The pain of feeling insignificant is almost impossible to describe. People who fill whole do not understand this but people who have had love and respect withheld know exactly what this means.

It doesn't matter what you look like, how much education you've had, how many people physically surround you or how well you try to hide it. You can be an adult or a kid. It makes you feel small and the smaller you feel the less joy you have. Without joy there is very little reason to get up in the morning. Your life is diminished. This is when bullying leads to suicide...or at the very least, a slow dying inside.

Is it my imagination or are people less compassionate? When did we become unplugged? Withholding compassion can be terminal. It's torture.

Make no mistake, listening to someone with heartache today can save their life.

If you are a parent, this is your job. Do not let your child feel alone. And if you're the one withholding unconditional love or if you're showing favoritism, or not giving eye contact or criticizing them in front of others, than make no mistake, you're doing permanent damage. You are definitely not being the best parent you can be.

If you let a sibling, a spouse, a co-worker, a friend or just an acquaintance, suffer in silence, than you're not being the best human you can be.

My posts are usually more positive but I know what heartache can do. It's crushing. But help is only a kindness away. It's at the tip of your tongue and the warmth of your heart.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thoughts on Early Bullying Prevention from the Street -- Sesame That Is.

All roads lead to Sesame Street. Last week, a colleague/friend of mine forwarded a link to me about bullying. I had worked with Allen at Nickelodeon and again at Sesame Workshop. When I opened the link, it was the Sesame Family Newsletter and low and behold, it was an article written by another Sesame Street buddy, Elana Halberstadt. Little did I know that since working with Elana, she had gotten married and had a little boy, Max.

Elana and I had a fantastic catching up session on the phone. We always had a good working relationship but it was even more fun to get to know Elana as a mom.

Max, now 4, is already experiencing the joys of pre-school and also some of the challenges, as well. And so is Max's mother. Elana is already up close and personal with some of the gaps in the bullying prevention issue. What I was impressed with is that she seemed to have a handle on walking into the situation and addressing the right things for her son. First and foremost, it was to reassure her son that he's not stupid. Secondly, that he needs to learn as early as 4, to tell the child being mean to STOP. It was important for her to go to the school and discuss the issue with the teachers and they happily worked with her.

It didn't surprise me that she wrote about it for Sesame Street. I worked on many public affairs campaigns while I was a consultant there. One of my favorites was Sesame Street PEP (Preschool Educational Program), which focused on training day care providers on how to help teach very young children. This is their genius. As you may know, Sesame Street was co-founded by Joan Ganz Cooney to help reach and teach children, particularly the underserved, during the tremendously important ages from 2-5. Kids were at home and television (aha!) could be used as a tool. The humor and music on Sesame Street is skillfully scripted to not only delight the child, but to entertain the adult caretaker. Without realizing it, the parent is interacting with their little one which helps their developing minds grow. Brilliant!

And speaking of brilliant, hats off to their top-notch research department. When the numbers starting showing that kids were more likely to be in day care, PEP was developed. (Although it no longer exists in that form, it looks as if it has been replaced by high quality online resources.)

How does this all loop back to bullying prevention? Training, trust and toddlers. I think what Elana's Sesame Family Newsletter article says is that it's never too young to set healthy expectations about respect. It's important that from as early as the toddler years, if kids are in school, a parent-teacher relationship needs to start. It's not just about numbers and colors, it's about behavior at home and in school. Learning happens no matter where they are or who happens to be the teacher at the moment.

It doesn't matter how old I get, I hope I never forget the lessons from Sesame Street. And Cookie Monster, I miss you! Give me a call.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Just A Kind Word

My husband's Uncle Jim Regan passed away last week. He was the President of the Board of Education in New York City during one of the most tumultuous times in its history. During his tenure in the early 1970's, the system almost went bankrupt, the mayor laid off over 10,000 teachers and the city was in turmoil. Who would want that job? Uncle Jim.

Even during the most divisive times, each day Uncle Jim would enter the downtown offices of the Board of Ed through the basement. Holding a styrofoam cup of coffee in his hands, he would have a light-hearted morning chat with the maintenance workers, then the receptionist and work his way up to his office on the upper floors. When his actual work day began, he was prepared to handle anything thrown his way.

Always the Irish charmer, Uncle Jim had a way with stories. During his last six weeks of life, though, there were no stories. Barely a syllable. Within hours of his passing and unclear as to how much he was understanding, one of his daughters asked him if he needed anything. Surprisingly and out of the blue, he said:
Just a kind word.

In a recent post, I shared Alye's video. Silently, she was asking for the same.

Many responded online but I was incredibly touched by the kind words shared on the video below created by students at Ramapo College.

These students took the time and effort to reach out. Their direct messages to Alye have probably helped thousands more. Uncle Jim would have approved.

As the President of the Board of Ed, he touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of students and teachers but you never know how he may have touched the lives of the workers in the basement or the receptionist on a bad day. He always made it clear that their kind words on some of those tough mornings gave him courage.

James F. Regan was always a good teacher. He will always be loved.