Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Friday, December 28, 2012

Leadership and Friendship After Sandy: Tory's Kindness

As we think about the good and the bad of 2012, I wanted to share the much needed rays of hope and the stories of leadership that even in the bleakest times, give us reason to keep believing that people are good.

Why does someone who has no obligation to help others and who could easily just write a small check and send it to charity, feel compelled to go the extra mile?  Or better yet, the extra 150 miles, which is what Tory Johnson and her family did as they shuttled back and forth from the comfort of the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the bleakness of post-Sandy Staten Island to help people they had never met.

I was lucky enough to work with Tory years ago and if there's one thing I know about this dynamo is that she gets the most done in the shortest amount of time in the biggest way.  When she got inspired by Jon Bon Jovi's post storm tweet -- "We may not have electricity but we have power" -- she sprung into action.  Tory raised over $100,000 online. She promised to make sure that the money was spent directly to help the immediate needs of hard working families who lost everything in an instant on that scary October 29th.

Most people know Tory for her regular "Steals and Deals" segments on Good Morning, America and WABC.  Others know her as the founder and CEO of Women for Hire and Spark and Hustle or have read one of her books, but there are over 125 families on Staten Island who know her as a friend who stepped in when they needed it the most.

Tory and her husband, Peter, and their twins, did it the hard way.  After the money was raised, they came themselves to meet the families, listen to them, and then purchase what they needed to start the recovery process.  For many, buying a stove meant that they could finally have heat.  Purchasing tools meant that sheet rock could be replaced or a mechanics career could be saved.  Buying bedding finally meant a decent night's sleep.

But perhaps more importantly, asking questions meant someone was listening proving that they really weren't forgotten.

So many things struck me about their kindness.  Tory and her family are successful in their careers and their lives because they work at it.   They gave back to others the same way.  They didn't do it the easy way because they knew that to be a real help, they had to see it for themselves.   They gave it over 100%.

The result?  During the time I was with them as they walked down the aisles of Home Depot and handed out $500 gift cards to shocked but grateful affected families at an elementary school, I heard person after person, inviting Tory and Peter and their kids to come back after they've (hopefully) fully recovered to go to their block party or their holiday dinner next year or a barbecue in their back yard.

They are unexpected friends for life.  Sometimes it just takes one to get you through.

That's leadership.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sandy Volunteers: Why I Came

Volunteers from Hudson Valley Community College
Troy, New York

How They Came?
After a student tried to get funding to bring a group to Staten Island and it fell through, the Hudson Valley Community College stepped up with the funds.  They were able to hire a bus to make the
 6 hour round trip.  

Why they came?  
"We just couldn't stay away."

Yesterday was a dark, rainy day which makes the destruction on Staten Island look even worse.  Bleak.  Seemingly unsurmountable.

It's the volunteers who just show up that provide the few rays of sunshine.

They come from all over.  A few blocks away, a few hours away, a few states away.

Most of them come in, help, and get out.  Never asking for a thing.  Not even a thank you.

These volunteers are the glue holding our affected neighborhoods together.

It's been six weeks since the storm and they still come.  As time goes on, it's even more important that they show up.  Some families want to give up until someone says two simple words:  "Need Help?"

I'd like to share some of the faces of those rays of hope.

Thank you to all who keep coming while much of the world moves on.

Thank you, Hudson Valley Community College!  Hope you had a warm and satisfying trip back to Troy.

If you have a volunteer you'd like me to highlight, please send along their story of kindness.  You can email me at thetangledball@gmail.com.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Tree of Hope In a Sea of Sadness

These are not ordinary times on Staten Island.  For my neighbors in New Dorp, the days are full of feeling overwhelmed.  It's getting colder and confusion and sadness are growing deeper.  You would think, though, that as the holidays approach, the residents would give into despondency.


Yesterday, I went to the sweetest Christmas decorating ceremony I've ever been to, and that includes the year that I was standing next to David Rockefeller as THE tree was being delivered to Rockefeller Center.

First, there was a Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Cedar Grove Avenue, which now looks like a war zone.  It was the coldest (still no electricity in the building) -- but yet the warmest -- Mass I have ever been to.  Storm or no storm, the church bells were rung at 9:30 am.  Those parishioners sticking it out in their homes all gathered.  We could literally see our breath but no one seemed to mind.

Immediately following, we went to the parking lot where a small plain tree just stood there waiting for about four dozen of us. There was no music and the scene in the background was impossible to describe.  Homes and delis that were there a month ago were gutted, torn apart by the surge of water and kneeling on the ground.  It was cold and dark but spirits lifted when ornaments were taken out of packages and passed around.

Other than a handful of us, most everyone else placing an ornament on the tree will not be able to have Christmas at home. And for some, not be able to celebrate at home ever again.

That didn't stop them from smiling, laughing and loving this little tree.  As we placed gold, red, blue and green balls on the tree and grown men strung the garland,  people forgot for a minute what they were going to do, where they would be and how they would get through that day and the next.

As a joke, two men had strung together an empty six pack and placed it at the bottom of the tree.  Nope. Sandy didn't rob them of their spirit!

It doesn't matter what holiday you're celebrating or what symbol you use to unify, please remember the people gathered around that little tree of hope.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Comfort Campaign

If you want to do something to help someone who has been devastated by Sandy, consider donating to Tory Johnson's Hurricane Sandy Comfort Campaign, inspired by Bon Jovi's words, "We may not have electricity, but we have power."

No other words needed...except Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sandy and Teaching Kindness

The date of my last post was October 29th.

Since then, things have changed on our Island of Staten.

I feel as if the Island has been through a war and everyone is shell-shocked.  Kindness hasn't been so important to our oxygen since 9/11.

As I walked this desperate neighborhoods a few days after the storm, it was amazing how many kids I saw helping out.  They came from all over -- grade schools, middle school, high schools and colleges.

This is a fine teachable moment and since kindness, empathy and leadership are the "anti-bully," I applaud each parent who is encouraging their children to help.

Our kids had so many happy moments in our former beloved beach house.  Many days of no tv, hanging out, being lazy, and just being kids.  It was supposed to become part of the NYC Parks Department.  Sandy had other plans.

Just being kids is such a gift.  Don't let anything take that away -- a storm -- or even a peer who decides that taking someone down a notch is a fun game.

It's a good time to get kids involved in helping others less fortunate.  It makes them pause before they diminish someone else's chance for a light-hearted childhood.

Thanks for all of your kindnesses in the past two weeks.  It's everything.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy...and One Million Acts of Kindness

Can't type too much today.  Sandy is upon us.

Since this has to be brief, I wanted to tell you about someone really cool who we can all support, even in stormy weather.  He's riding his bike as part of the One Million Acts of Kindness Campaign.

Beginning in New York City in mid-October 2012, I will ride The Kindness Bicycle
and Kindness Bus around the perimeter of the United States. This 9,000 mile ride
will take one year, ending in New York City in October 2013. I will visit schools
along my travels, addressing school bullying, cyber bullying and adolescent suicide.
On a personal note, this ride is also to honor the 3 students killed at Chardon High
School in Ohio on February 27th 2012, which is only 10 miles from my home. I will ride
in their honor along with 3 young adults I knew from my hometown, who took their lives.
My mission on this ride has but one focus: To save kids lives.
Isn't this amazing?!  Go, Bob.

I love it.  Hope you do, too, and I hope he makes a lot of money.

If you're in the East, BE SAFE!

And if you're everywhere else, enjoy your day.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Is There a Teacher In Your Life That Taught You How To Step Up?

If so, you have a fantastic opportunity to pay them back.  Facing History and Ourselves, an awesome organization that devotes itself to teaching kids how to be "upstanders," is offering a $5,000 grant to an educator who has inspired kids to step up.

As my Irish friends would say, "Brilliant!"

I really believe that we have to give our good teachers oxygen by telling them they are appreciated.  Schools and teachers are severely criticized but there are exceptional schools and devoted teachers that need and deserve our appreciation and respect...and the chance to win some money.

Facing History is doing something so important.  We need to recognize those who inspire our kids...and for that, Facing History, you have my admiration.

It's made me think about the educators in my life.  Thanks, Mrs. Behrens and Mr. Christian.  You showed me how to step up by your example.

Nominate someone today!  The deadline is Monday, October 22nd! 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Use Common Sense to Stop Kids from Being Victims

(Warning.  Be prepared for two things.  These are the words of a girl who took her own life last week -- about a month after she posted this.  She was also a "cutter" and there is a photo of her "cut" arm at the end.)

This is Amanda Todd, a Canadian 15-year old who, it is believed, committed suicide after being bullied relentlessly.  Of course, there will be the usual discussion of whether bullying was the root cause but it's time we realize that kids are walking around with huge burdens and bullying can only add to their despair.

Sounds like Amanda made a bad choice online a few years back -- she must have been only about 13.  She flashed her chest online for a  horrible, horrible person who not only pressured her to do it but then shared it...and then threatened her.   What would have once been an extremely mortifying and frightening set of events to get past, is now something she couldn't get away from.

Who hasn't done something they would like to forget?

I've said this before but I can't say it enough.  We are in the middle of a generation gap.  Nice kids are doing things online -- whether they're feeling "brave" or feeling vulnerable -- that you would never have expected them to do offline. We don't know enough about their online culture and we're not preparing them for this new neighborhood.  We teach them to look both ways before crossing the street...or not talking to strangers -- and this is no different.

How do we parent them when they have these online lives?  Get educated ourselves and educate our children.  It's not that hard and the benefits are lifelong.

Make sure our kids are learning from a young age how to be good digital citizens.  The best set of tools and information I've seen is from Common Sense Media.  (And their name is PERFECT.  Some of this is just common sense.)

The kits are affordable and are ideal for parent conferences.

There's never been a better time to step in to teach them how to treat others and how to expect to be treated -- offline or online.

(There are really good resources out there if you feel a child is despondent and considering suicide.  Vermont's Center for Health and Learning's initiative UMatter is one of them.)

If you feel that this is not that important, just remember Amanda's own words at the end of this searing video,
I have nobody.  I need someone.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bullying Prevention Month: Is Television Making our Kids Mean?

I wanted to share some news about a study about what kids are seeing on television every day.  Meanness.

Kids are surrounded by verbal and non-verbal mean messages.  When I look back on my childhood, bullying definitely existed but when I went home from school, we watched Leave It To Beaver, or Father Knows Best.  At the very least, kids were exposed to shows that made it clear that there was "right and wrong."  As corny as those shows were, they were entertaining to us and they reinforced the messages of making good choices.

According to an article in the Deseret News:

Researchers examined 150 television episodes of the 50 most popular television shows for children, ages 2 to 11, as ranked by Nielsen Media Research. They noted socially aggressive incidents that targeted self-esteem or social status through gossip, mean facial expressions and/or friendship manipulation. Such incidents, they found, occured once every four minutes, or fourteen times per hour.

We can offer great programs in schools but when kids go home and turn on the TV or if their siblings are allowed to bully them, it's almost mission impossible.   Most of us receive messages by what we see.  What they're seeing is that you get power if you're mean.  Think about it,  most shows, even if they're geared towards elementary school-aged children, have an edge.

As parents, we tend to ignore what they're watching, especially if we think it's something safe and made for kids.  My advice is to watch every show with them at least once.  If it's not sending the right messages, bring it up.  Make them critical thinkers.  Sometimes television can be a great tool to talk about issues they might be facing in school...but beyond that, don't let them get a steady diet of shows that don't represent how you want them to behave.

Our focus is so much on schools but they can only do so much.  Of course, we all have to step it up a bit and take more responsibility, but that includes Hollywood, too.

I miss "The Beav!"

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Young Kids, Bullying Prevention and Inspiring Leaders

What perfect timing.  October is National Bullying Prevention Month and this morning I had a great conversation with an elementary school principal.  She brought up a great point.  She was worried that kids seem to react the opposite way when they host a bullying prevention assembly in the school.

She says that during the days immediately following the assembly, she gets a flood of kids coming to her telling her hat they've been bullied but  somehow, the kids it was supposed to affect -- the kids who are actually being mean -- don't get the message at all.

This is not to say that all assemblies are bad.  It's possible that the messages that experts are delivering in assemblies are getting through to a certain number of kids but how do you make sustainable change in a school?

Just as there are multiple problems complicating the bullying issue, there are multiple solutions.  When I talk about solutions, I'm talking about ways to improve the school climate.  I don't think "bullying" can be wiped out completely but I do think we can change the balance in the school to one that feels safe and somewhat nurturing.  We also have to know how to help when a child has been bullied because it will continue to happen no matter what prevention measures you put into place.  The goal is to have every child feel confident -- but they will never be totally immune to mean behavior.

I think the focus has to change from "bullying" to "leadership," especially when you're talking to kids K-8.

Last week, my friend Nancy and I went to an evening sponsored by NBC's outreach effort, Education Nation.  The topic was bullying and it was co-hosted by correspondent, Kate Snow.  One of the guest panelists was Izzy Kalman, founder of Bullies2Buddies.  He is a self-described opponent of the anti-bully movement.  His theory is that we have to start teaching kids to stand up for themselves.  He says it's the frustration of being a victim that leads to bad things -- like mass shootings and self harm.

His counterpart on the panel was Thomas Krever, Executive Director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute and although they disagreed on some of the approaches to kids being bullied, they seemed to come to a similar conclusion.

Although they didn't say it in these exact words, it comes down to teaching kids to be leaders.

Sound simple?  Simple concept and a lot of hard work to get there.  It has to start really young.  Pre-K and Kindergarten are not too early.

Leadership is the anti-bully.  If we can teach children from a young age how to be leaders,  there will be a better climate in the classroom.  A happier place leads to a more thoughtful place.  I really think all teachers and parents should read Stan Davis's book,  Schools Where Everyone Belongs.

In a way, I wish October could be We Need More Leaders month.  To that end, there are free materials and suggestions on the Tangled Ball site.  Free because it's really important that we work together to give children back their childhoods.

(By the way, I hope Kate Snow has recovered.  Ms. Snow is no stranger to news stories about bullying but I don't think she could have been ready for the raw emotions that spilled over that night.  Although kids were in the room, it was the adults that shared the most about the scars that cruel behavior has left behind.  It was a reminder why it's so important to keep going.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Teach Teachers Tech: A Platform for Good

Raise your hand if you think we're experiencing a generation gap in this country.  How many of you admit that your child (even your young child) knows more about navigating cyberspace than you do -- a lot more.

Our kids are throwing themselves headlong into this new neighborhood of technology while many of us are holding on to the comfort of the old country (and things are moving so fast that email could be considered an old-fashioned way to communicate!).

Although we're catching up, our kids have raced ahead.  

We have two options on how we feel about this:  

Door #1:   total paralyzing fear


Door #2:   acceptance and embracing it as a teachable moment for both you and your child or student

(If we're experiencing this at home, make no mistake, teachers are feeling the gap, too, and there are so many benefits to using technology in the classroom.)

If you can give in and choose Door #2, I have a great tip for you.  Go to the newly-launched Platform for Good, created by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI).  The teacher's site, in particular, is awesome. It introduces a concept that I totally believe in:  Make the Kids the Teachers.  It's called Teach Teachers Tech (TTT)

This is a great idea because adults need the help and kids want to show us what they know.   (In my pilot program -- Be the One -- older kids teach the younger ones about leadership and how to step up for one another.  Kids are the experts in their own worlds.)

It's ok to give up a little control.  It's ok that they're better than us at something.  It doesn't mean that they don't still need us to help them navigate but we need to know where they're going first.  It's also the best online safety tool.  I always suggest that parents ask kids to take them for a tour of their online world.  Be proud of them.  It's the quickest way to get the inside scoop...and gain their trust.

There's a lot of good in the new neighborhood.  We need to be familiar with all aspects and not just the negative ones.  If we only focus on the dangers, we'll lose out on all it has to offer.  And speaking of the dangers, if we understand the new neighborhood better, we are more skilled in steering them away from the dark alleys.

A final tip:  Be a Good Student because that will make you a Better Parent and a Fantastic Teacher.

Eureka!  The gap gets smaller.

In the words of A Platform for Good, this is your chance to Connect, Share and Do Good.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A New School Year. How's it Going?

It's a new school year and for those of you who are reading this and didn't have such a great year last year, I hope things are much better this year.  Things can change.  Sometimes the mix of the students in a classroom changes, sometimes they can get a more understanding and patient teacher, sometimes they find new friends.

Whatever it is, enjoy it.

And for those of you who are worried that things haven't changed at all, I am so sorry.  This post isn't about the kids as much as it's about you.

Parents worry and worrying can make us sick.  When our kids are unhappy, it's hard to feel joy.

I often talk about being the Be the One Go-To Trusted Adult for kids but I think adults need a trusted adult, too.  Often, bullying is hard to talk about with others, even other parents.  Although you may have a good group of friends, it can be difficult to discuss it if their kids aren't experiencing the same thing.  It almost feels like you and your child are singled out.  It can be very isolating and who wants to feel like a "loser."  No one.  Child or adult.

But just as kids shouldn't feel alone, neither should the parents.  It's good to reach out to other people who can genuinely sympathize, offer perspective and some general support.

And if you're not experiencing a particular issue with bullying this year but understand it all too well, try to reach out to the moms and dads who are tied up in knots over their children's sadness caused by meanness from peers.  Sometimes it just takes a smile -- and the knowledge that you can keep a confidence -- to give other parents the energy they need to support their children and to keep pushing through.

I am sending you good wishes for all good things as this year unfolds.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention To Host Cyberbullying Conference

Cyberbullying is SO complicated.   It's a major string in the tangled ball mess of bullying issues.   Even many experts in the field haven't really caught up to what's really happening and what to do about it.  

I often talk to adults about bullying and usually I can sense that the audience is with me.  But when I get to talking about bullying online, the audience turns from looking engaged to looking panicked.  

I have to give a shout out to the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University of Buffalo.  They're hosting Understanding and Addressing Cyberbullying, a full day of speakers and workshops on September 19th (and the price is affordable -- $75 for professionals and $35 for students).  It comes at an appropriate time since the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA)  in New York goes into effect this school year.

(Note:  please notice in their name that it's the Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention.  When Jean M. Alberti, a former teacher turned psychologist started this center through a generous gift, I asked her why.  She said that bullying had turned from something that could be handled as a teachable moment in the classroom to abuse.  She makes it clear that bullying IS abuse. I like her.  She tells it like it is.)

Dr. Amanda B. Nickerson, Director of the Center, answered a few questions for me:

What would we like attendees to take away from the conference?

A better understanding of the complexity of cyberbullying as well as effective prevention and intervention strategies that can be put into practice. Also cyberbullying is just one aspect of bullying, results from our needs assessment revealed that this was an area that respondents wanted to know more about. Dr. Sameer Hinduja, our keynote speaker is a leader in the field of cyberbullying prevention and intervention. He conducts original research on the topic, is co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center , and presents to a wide range of audiences such as businesses, law enforcement, school districts, parents, and youth. 
In addition, we have selected panelists that represent diverse perspectives to address legal issues , school administration issues (from a large urban district as well as a suburban district), mental health issues, and organizations that provide outreach and education about these issues. 

Other work at the center includes ongoing research and evaluation projects where they work to better understand the dynamics involved and the effects of bullying, as well as the types of policies, programs, and interventions that work best. To that end, we have developed a guide to school-wide bullying prevention programs.

What I like about the Center is that it's taking the time to do research. Evidence-based programs are a priority.

In other words, we can't assume that we're on the right path in diminishing bullying if we don't spend time and money researching the truth. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

If You Had To Choose Two Best Pieces of Bullying Prevention Advice

Last week, I spoke to a local Rotary Club (by the way, they do great work for the community) and during the question and answer session, one member asked me what my best piece of advice was for a parent of a child getting ready to start middle school.   He alluded that this child had thick glasses and wasn't the coolest cat in town by middle school standards.

When you only have time to give one piece of advice, what would yours be?  Mine was sharing with him a piece of advice that I had come across a few years ago:

Make sure your kids have a few different groups of friends.  

That made sense to me because although you can't always prevent bullying, you can prevent your kids being devastated by bullying if they feel good about themselves somewhere and with someone.

The other question was similar but this time it was about cyberbullying and it came from the same father.  Smart guy.  He realizes that his son or daughter is about to enter a new expanded neighborhood.  What was the first thing that popped in my head?

Make sure the computer is in a public spot.

I also slipped in the advice about asking your child to take you for a tour of what they do on the computer...and also how to train them to take their hands off the keyboard as soon as they see a message they don't like.  Taking a breath and telling an adult are key things to tell your child to do.

I'm just curious.  Bullying and online safety are big subjects.  If you only had 1 minute to share,  what would be your best pieces of advice?

And if you're already back in school, best of luck for a year full of many smiles.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Where Can You Buy a Refrigerator AND Get Help in Bullying Prevention? Sears.

Sears officially launched its Team Up to Stop Bullying campaign a few days ago.  This is a comprehensive effort to not only address the problem but to offer solutions.

The site is clever and offers resources for all key people:  students, families, educators and even a special section for cyberbullying victims.

I have to say that just three years ago when I started to devote the majority of my time to this issue, many people looked at me like I had two heads but over time, and perhaps due to the horrible bullycides that have plagued our country and our kids, more influential people are coming on board.

Enter Sears.  I was thrilled but curious about why this huge company decided to take on bullying.  Marie Newman, Managing Director of the Team Up to Stop Bullying campaign, talked to me the day after the effort officially launched:
"Sears has stepped up to create Team Up To Stop Bullying to address parents, kids, families and schools' need for bullying solutions. While there is an all-time high in awareness, it is important for parents, kids and educators to know there are many existing solutions that work. Those solutions can be found on our website via our 55 bullying solution coalition members. Find bullying solutions and information at sears.com/teamup."
What I really like about it is that it's inclusive.  There are many great experts out there doing good work but not enough people know about them.  Sears has created a one-stop shopping experience for anyone  -- child, parent or school -- who needs help to address their personal situation.  Bullying is a tangled ball -- complicated and messy -- and I thank Sears for stepping up and being willing to offer many solutions to one big problem.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Help Aurora Shooting Victim Petra Anderson

Please share this with anyone and everyone you know who was stunned, shocked and saddened about the Aurora shootings.  We can help.

If we can ban together and raise $700,000 for Karen Klein, the bullied school bus monitor, we can also step up to prove that what happened in Aurora isn't the shooter's story.  It's the story of people who got hurt and the people who stepped up to help.  Click on the Ready to Believe: Anderson Relief Fund in above box to hear Petra Anderson's story told by her sister Chloe.

If you choose to help, make that the teachable moment for your kids -- not the fear of going to a movie -- but the job we have as a nation and a community to show that kindness is what gets us back on our feet.  Give them the sense that real power is in showing we care.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Fat Boy Chronicles: Obesity, Bullying and Teachable Moments

Have you heard of The Fat Boy Chronicles?  The book, co-written by authors Michael Buchanan and Diane Lang, both former award-winning teachers, is based on a true story of a bullied obese ninth grader.  It doesn't matter how old you are, you're transported back to high school.  I swear that you can almost smell the cafeteria and feel that old familiar knot in your stomach when the main character, Jimmy Winterpock, talks about gym class.

(I guess I shouldn't speak for everyone when I wince at the memories of gym, but my high school nemesis, Erin, made gym a living hell for me.  I'm embarrassed to say that when I heard she hadn't faired too well in adulthood, I wasn't surprised or heartbroken.  Small of me, I know, but I'm human.)

Through Jimmy's English class journal entries, we get a realistic peak into what high school is really like for an obese teen.  Obesity is the #1 reason kids are bullied but I think any kid who is perceived as "different" in any way, can relate to The Fat Boy Chronicles.   The movie inspired by the novel masterfully tells Jimmy's story and is perfect for school and community screenings.  Curriculum is also available.

The creators of The Fat Boy Chronicles have embarked on a new project:  Boxes.

The premise:  Everyone has worth.

They're looking to raise money to see this project off the ground.  I'm going to donate because their mission makes sense to me.

Just in case you're interested, here's more info:

If you're a teacher, principal or counselor, you may want to use The Fat Boy Chronicles in your school in September (National Obesity Awareness Month) and/or October (National Bullying Prevention Month.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tragedy, Teachable Moments and Empathy

I couldn't bring myself to write a post over the weekend.  I was stunned and sickened and saddened at what happened in Aurora, Colorado.  I'm sure you were, too.

Like everyone else, I'm not sure how to process it.

The only thing I can say is that we won't know what provoked this but we do know how we should react to it.  With empathy.  Deep and genuine empathy.

This is the tricky part.  How do we talk about it with our tweens and teens without scaring them but using it as a moment to help them understand that these were real people and that it's not just a news story?

When I begin to worry that our country is becoming immune to other people's pain, I think of Karen Klein, the grandmother who was heartlessly bullied on the bus by middle school students.  When the video went viral recently, so did the sympathy and support.  It was announced today that the vacation fund for the school bus monitor, started by a stranger from Canada, was closed at $700,000.

Bad things happen...and in the case of Colorado, horrific things happen.  In the case of Karen Klein, parents all over the country and even internationally, were using this as a teachable moment.

In the case of the Aurora shootings, it's not an easy fix.  We can't send someone on vacation and make it all better.

But what can we do?

This article by teen expert and psychologist Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D, gives us a little guidance on how to talk to our kids and how to inspire them to reach out.

Empathy is the anti-bully.

(Is your flag at half-mast?  President Obama has asked that we put our flags at half-mast until sunset on July 25th to honor the victims.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Green Eyed Monster and Bullying

There was a Berenstein Bears book that I used to read to the kids called "The Green-Eyed Monster," and it's about jealousy.

Jealousy can cause people to act in crazy ways and I suspect that it is one of the main emotions behind some bullying.  It's one of those emotions that causes the tangled ball to become more complicated because people and even kids are often skilled at covering the jealousy with emotions like anger and intolerance.  When a person is jealous they will do anything to pull the other person down.  Anything.  And sometimes, they're so good at it, that they get others in on the act and watch out.  The target has no chance.

By the time the bullying is in full swing, no one realizes that it started with jealousy.  It was the seed that poisoned a domino effect of actions.  The poor victim often doesn't even know that it was because they have a talent or a trait that inspires jealousy.

It often works well for the bully because they have diminished their target and the talent is now secondary.  Of course, bullying does not always start out with jealousy but it's something we should watch for in our kids.  Some kids just have a more jealous streak than others.

Jealousy, like so many of the challenging traits we're all born with, can be identified and worked on.  It's also one of those traits that you have to be aware of and work on for your entire lifetime.  One of the most satisfying things I have heard as a parent, is one of my children saying, "Oh, I know why I'm so mad.  I'm just jealous."   I applaud that because as long as they know, they won't make others suffer for this mean spirited emotion.

And who hasn't been jealous?  It's something that most of us can relate to and it's a matter of degrees.  (I have to admit to being jealous over people's beautiful houses and I'm not even a material person, necessarily.  It's just that I don't have the domestic talent to pull it off and I have to keep my jealousy in check.)

It's a good thing to explain to kids when they're little.  Thanks to the Berenstein Bears for giving it a name.  Give your kids a big hug when they say, "I'm feeling like the Green-Eyed Monster!"  because once they call it out, the monster moves on.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"We Have Your Back, Miss Klein."

It's nice to know the Marines have our back even when they're home.

I got a lump in my throat when I saw this and realized I had to put it up on the 4th of July.

Nice to see the outpouring of support Ms. Klein received.  Makes you feel that decency is not a thing of the past.

This message from the U.S. Marines from Fort Meade to bullied grandmother Karen Klein might make an impact on your kids if you suspect they might be the bully.   And if they're the one that's bullied, it might be nice for them to see that there are strong people ready to step up to help.  Hoo Ra.

Friday, June 22, 2012

An Elephant in the Room: Reality TV and Bullying

NPR's story: Facing Up  to Bullying Everywhere but on Reality TV brings up something that has bothered my for the past several years.

How is it possible to even make a dent in the bullying issue in schools when kids and parents are watching reality TV?  Reality TV not only makes “mean” acceptable, it glorifies mean behavior.

A common thing I still hear is, “Bullying has been around forever.  Kids just have to buck up.”

Bullying has been around forever.  True.  But first of all, that doesn’t make it any less horrible…and secondly,  it wasn’t seen as “cool” so pervasively and I think we have reality TV to thank in part for that.

And it’s not just kids watching.  It’s parents watching Jersey Shore,  Real Housewives of Everywhere, etc., etc.  Even the cooking shows are mean!  Cupcake Wars.  Really?  Our society has gotten to the point where we can make a cupcake a weapon?  I almost feel sick that we’ve pushed the boundaries so far that now it’s “normal.”

People are afraid of entertainment executives.  Me included.  We should be afraid of a group of people who sit around a room together and decide how to make people cry for fun.  

I only have two pieces of advice.  Turn off the TV…and two, explain to your kids that mean should not be their “reality.” And maybe there's a third.  If you feel the same way I do, send the message any way you can that television has gone too far. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

When You Want to Choke Your Child's Facebook Bully

How many can relate to the mom from St. Petersburg, Florida who was arrested last week for choking her daughter's online tormentor?

From the NY Daily News Report:

"I just snapped," Piscitella wrote on Facebook. "Yes I shouldn't have done that, but you all do not even come close to understanding all the torment they have put my child through."

Piscitella said the boy wrote "disgusting" comments below a photo of her daughter, calling her “a fat f---ing whale” who “didn’t deserve to live because she is so nasty that he wouldn’t even rape her.”

"When someone is CONSTANTLY BULLYING YOUR DAUGHTER for no reason what so ever and NOTHING is done about it EVER is that ok?" Piscitella wrote, adding that her husband had reached out to the student to ask him to stop commenting about their daughter and been met with obscenities.
"It was just vulgar," the girl's father Jim Piscitella told the Times. "It's just mean."

A few hours after the incident Piscitella was arrested on a charge of child abuse, but she was released on bail on Tuesday. The boy’s mother decided to press charges after seeing red marks on her son’s neck.

It's actually hard for me to read this story and not want to be violent myself...and to be honest, I'm a pretty mellow person.

What drives me insane is that the boy's "red marks on his neck" may be nothing compared to the scars on this girl's -- and mother's (and probably father's) hearts. It will be a horrible memory for the rest of their lives.  No one ever talks about the long tail of pain -- and now embarrassment -- that this family feels because this boy has crossed every line possible when it comes to civility.

Debbie regrets what she did which brings up another really important issue.  We tell kids to tell their parents or another trusted adult.  In this case, the daughter told her mother and it didn't end well.  This is one of the most important gaps in bullying prevention efforts.  Most adults are well-meaning...but we don't always know how to handle this emotionally filled and complicated issue.  Kids don't tell adults because they fear things will get worse and they are often right.

Kathryn Otoshi, award-winning author of One, and I developed the Be the One Go-To Adult certificate and tips for parents of kids in K-5 and there is additional advice on what parents of older kids can do.

Many of us can relate to how Debbie reacted but we can learn from it, too.  After this horrible incident, what's her advice?  Go through the proper channels...and monitor your kids on Facebook.  (But she had something interesting to say about the proper channels, which she says she tried first.  "They have all these bullying laws but when it comes down to it, it falls on deaf ears."  Do you hear that schools?  These laws will backfire if we don't start training administrators and teachers about bulling -- offline and online.)
If there is anyone who has watched their child be demeaned and emotionally crushed, I think you can relate to the rage Debbie Piscitella felt when she saw that boy.  Of course, I'm not saying she should have choked him.  I'm saying that I understand the pure anger she must have felt at that moment.

For anyone going through something similar, you have my empathy.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fat Boy Chronicles

Ever since reading the delightful and insightful Fat Boy Chronicles by Diane Lang and Michael Buchanan,  I can't stop thinking about it and why it hits home for me.  The main character, Jimmy Winterpock is an overweight boy who lets us into his high school life through journal entries, an assignment given to his entire class by an enlightened teacher.  The teacher tells them that if they write something they don't want her to read, then to fold the page over and she won't read it.   Of course, those are the journal entries that draw you in and make you remember every nuance of high school life. (At one point, I felt like I was in gym class again right along with Jimmy.)

Why do I think this is a great resource for kids, parents and teachers?  Although Jimmy is relentlessly teased about his weight (and everyone in the bullying prevention field knows that overweight kids are teased more), you get to know who he is, how his family works, overcoming humiliation, the turmoil that some of the kids with less visible imperfections experience, and the sometimes funny and often poignant journey of a teenager.

I love Jimmy Winterpock...and I suspect if you read the book and/or watch the movie (now available on DVD and at stores like Walmart and through Net Flix) you'll love him, too.  If you're a teacher, curriculum is available and there are at least a dozen lessons hidden in the storyline.  Of course, it's about bullying but it's also about parenting styles, the value of a good teacher, character, silent pain, the need for friendship and connection, sibling relationships, love, perspective, motivation, humor and the bravery of getting through four of the most confusing times in a person's life -- high school.

When I spoke to co-author Michael Buchanan, he told me that Fat Boy Chronicles is based on a true story.  I wasn't surprised.  Michael was kind enough to answer these questions:

1.)  Why do you think the Fat Boy Chronicles resonate so much for kids AND adults?

Even though the main character is an overweight boy, Diane and I wanted to point out that everyone has something that weighs on their soul. And regardless of how popular you are, or may have been, in school, there are those dark days in which you felt alone. We all understand that. With the response we have received, it seems that everyone sees themselves in the story. We’ve had people in their 70s tell us about events in their childhood that left a permanent scar on their heart, and kids will come up after a school talk to tearfully tell us how they are treated. Just like Atticus Finch said, “You never really know a man until you walk around in his shoes for a day.” To see the world through the eyes of Jimmy helps others understand how their actions, or lack thereof, can affect a life forever. It causes reflection on the moments when we were the victim, bystander or bully.

2.)  What do you want the book and the film to accomplish?

We want the book and movie to continue to create empathy for those feeling left out of the world. Both versions have been out long enough for us to have received many emails and comments about how the book and/or movie have changed behavior. Whether that change is to be healthier, speak up for someone who is a victim or stop being a bully, we have seen the impact Jimmy Winterpock makes on people, young and old. For those who are the bystander: heroes can be any age—a simple act of kindness today can mean more than you could ever imagine, perhaps for the rest of their life.

And, most importantly, we want anyone who reads or watches the story to know that they are not alone, that tomorrow can be better, and that they, just like Jimmy, should never give up hope.

My best friend in high school -- Kevin Bittles -- was a lot like Jimmy. Kevin was a bit chunky, a little shy, but in his own way, the most mature, good-natured person I ever met.  He saved me from the feeling of being an outsider.  Underneath it all, he was comfortable with being himself.  He allowed me to be light-hearted by being 100% genuine in his friendship.  Kevin didn't make it to his 18th birthday (unfortunately, he lost his life in a car accident during a cross country trip) but Fat Boy Chronicles gave me comfort and made me smile because the world needs more Jimmys and more Kevins.

Thank you Diane and Michael for letting us get to know Jimmy and reminding us about the power of empathy.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Goodbye to My White House Pal

Yesterday on Twitter, my son had posted, "A fond farewell to my mom's 'White House buddy.'" That's how I found out that Maurice Sendak had died.

I met him years ago when I worked for Shirley Katzander.  And although part of me admired Shirley,  I still think that the "Devil Wears Prada" movie was really about her.  Shirley was a dynamo.  (For example, I'll never forget the day she let Mike Wallace have it.)  Her clients ranged from Playboy to  Simon and Schuster to Reading Is Fundamental (quite a leap from Playboy to RIF.)

During the 1979 International Year of the Child campaign, RIF sponsored a day of reading at the White House.  Jimmy Carter was in office and Rosalind and Amy were our hostesses.   That's when I met Maurice Sendak.  He was commissioned to do a Where The Wild Things Are poster and he was the special guest at a White House press conference and reception.   Other guests were NBC's John Chancellor,  tennis champ Arthur Ashe, and comedian Carol Burnett (who went out to the hall and called out AAAAAAAMY in the direction of their private quarters to make sure the teen was on her way down so the festivities could start.)

As I mentioned, Shirley was a piece of work but getting to go to this event was worth every grueling minute I worked for her.  Maurice and I got along right away.  He was like a little kid himself in his excitement over being there.  He had become a bit of a recluse so being at the White House where everyone was so thrilled to be with him, was adding to his exuberance.

Towards the end of the day, Mrs. Carter asked Maurice if he wanted a private tour of the White House...and he turned and said, "Come along with me."  So Mrs. Carter took Maurice Sendak and I around the White House, pointing out tidbits about the different china and why the "blue room" was special.  Every time she turned around, Maurice and I would look at each other and mouth, "Are you believing this???!!!!!  It's Rosalind Carter showing us around the place!!!!!!"

The tour ended and so had the event.  When we got back to the lobby, everyone was gone. We walked outside expecting to see our limo.  No limo.  No Shirley.  She was annoyed so she just left us.  The guest of honor...and me.

We got to the end of the driveway having no idea of how to get to our hotel and we had no money.  My purse was in the limo.

So Maurice and I walked a block, then sat on the curb and laughed our heads off.  So much for special treatment.  

When we got our bearings, we kept walking and talking about life.  About what success is and how hard it is to put yourself out there.  I was about to get married and we talked about that...and we talked about how much trouble I was going to get into when we got back to the hotel...and about how you need people even though sometimes people are hard to understand.  He talked about how the day had made him feel more like getting back into the world after his work had been criticized.  (That didn't last long because he is now considered to be one of the most important children's authors of all time.)

We got back to the hotel and of course Shirley was mad but Maurice magically made that all go away by telling Shirley that it was his fault and that he was grateful that I came with him...and then he drew one of his wonderful monsters on one of his posters and signed it to me, "To Susie, My White House Pal  October 11, 1979."

That poster hangs on my wall and although slightly damaged, it gives me total joy.  When I need a laugh, I think about walking down the White House driveway with this great artist and author, who took himself lightly that day.  

I'll never forget it, Maurice.  Thank you.  And I must remember to always take myself lightly.  It's so much more fun.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Bullying and a Lesson in Forgiveness

On Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of speaking at St. John's University. Along with me, were four other presenters, including Hashim Garrett, a Guardian Angel, an outstanding speaker and an unforgettable person.

He spoke about his experience as a young boy looking to belong...so he joined a gang. At the age of 15, he was shot 6 times in the legs and spine by someone looking for revenge. He spoke about "dying" and his soul separating from his body but the sound of his mother's voice in the ambulance, doing what he says mothers do best -- nagging -- brought him back. And he was grateful. He said that as he lay dying, it wasn't his fellow gang members he thought about. It was his mother. (He also made me laugh when he said that one of his thoughts as they put him in the ambulance was that his mother would be proud of him because he was wearing clean socks!)

After 6 months in the hospital, he was sent home to cover both physically, emotionally and spiritually. Since then, he has spent his time talking to kids about FORGIVENESS. As a teen, he was able to dig down as deep as a person can go to find the courage to forgive the person who shot him. But even more important, he says, he forgave himself. He forgave himself for the bad choices he made as a 12-15 year-old who chose the wrong path in order to belong.

His talk came at the end of four presentations about the tangled mess of bullying, cyber bullying and suicide. Although forgiveness wasn't necessarily something I thought of as part of the bullying prevention dialogue, it was the perfect thing to round out the evening.

One of the strings in this tangled mess is forgiveness and growth. These are kids. Kids make mistakes and hopefully, they don't all have to learn through drastic means, that you learn from your mistakes.

You can overcome mean behavior, you can respect others and grow from being that child who tries to belong any way possible. That's our job. Whether they're the bully, the target or the bystander, we need to help them grow...and be kind...and forgive.

Why forgive? It breaks the cycle. It brings new life.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

No Such Thing As A Bully

The reason I invested so much of my time in The Bully Project in it's development stage is because I feel strongly that people need to see the problem in order to fix the problem. Bully allows us to see and feel a child's pain and now we need to do something about it.

My goal is to share info on good tools and resources for homes and schools so that after the movie leaves the theaters and the press around the issue dies down, you'll have what you need to make a difference.

I've been following the "No Such Thing As A Bully" campaign for a while. Founders Kelly Karius and Ron Graham have a compelling approach. Their tag line is Shred a Label, Save a Child. They clearly focus on the behavior and allow children to grow in the process. They feel that so much can be accomplished through skill building. It's one thing to tell a child to not to bully -- or to stick up for themselves -- or step up for one another, it's another to train them how to do those things.

Check out their resources. The introduction to the parent's resource guide says that it's a lifetime resource. Bravo Kelly and Ron. This is a lifetime issue and in just recognizing that fact alone and helping a child develop lifetime skills, gives me hope.

I've never met Ron but have talked to Kelly several times and follow her on Facebook. She has great perspective and (thank, God!) a sense of humor, but she got serious when talking about their new No Such Thing As a Bully program:

What inspired you to create your own bullying prevention program?

When I was a brand new social worker, I was asked by 20 sets of parents to advocate for their children, who they felt were being bullied by an adult in the school. What I lived for the next two years astounded me. I saw bully actions in every level of the school, from students, to adults, to bureaucracy, to government. I saw a lack of skills like listening, problem solving, negotiating, empathizing, and understanding. It made me realize that we can't focus a resolution to bullying on what we think kids need to learn. Walk away, ignore and tell someone....those are tools that only work if the adults around children have a certain skill set. I saw the need for a program that was not only comprehensive, but also easy to use and integrate into every day life.

What is at the core of the program?

The bystander is at the core of this program. Which means every child. When I talk to students I don't seek to find out who the 'bullies' and the 'victims' are. I seek to encourage children to become strong bystanders. I tell them, "It doesn't matter if you've used bully actions, or been on the receiving end of bully actions. It's time for a clean start. You are all BYSTANDERS, and I'm going to teach you how to be good bystanders. The program is about skill building, self knowledge and self regulation. When we (adult AND child) can recognize a bully action and feel strong enough to step up and say "Hey, it's not okay to treat (her, him, me) like that", then we're well on the way to solving the problem. The other core part of the program is skillbuilding. When anyone is able to communicate well, manage their fight or flight reaction, balance their thinking and build their own confidence then they are less likely to use bully actions or victim responses, and more able to stand up for others.

What are students getting from it and were you surprised by anything that came out of the program that you didn't expect?

I've been planning really well for this, so there aren't too many surprises, but there are a lot of things that I love. When we piloted our first Community Immersion (a whole week in a school!), the kids were incredible. I love the girl that came up to me and said "Look! Here is my list of 30 ways that I'm going to use the anxiety equation!" I loved teaching for three days, and then hearing the bullying prevention team that was being created use the words "bully action" and create role plays that focused on being a great bystander - without my help. I loved the final assemblies where hands went up and up and up about what they'd learned over the week. I loved hearing children say "I don't have to believe the negative things I think about myself." The screaming applause at the end - THAT was a surprise. I appreciated that for myself because it meant they liked me, but I appreciated it even more because it meant that the kids accepted and needed the material.

And best of all, in follow-up with the school, I know the material is being incorporated into the classrooms, the lessons plans, and one-on-one with students. The solution isn't in the one time appearances. It's in our every day.

So true, Kelly. IT'S IN OUR EVERY DAY.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lessons from Caine's Arcade

Please watch the whole thing. It will not disappoint.

One of the books I recommend for early bullying prevention is Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud. (You can also download great materials for kids ages 4-9. But to be honest, older kids really get this story, too, so have older kids mentor younger ones using this -- you'll be amazed at how it works.)

The lessons are simple but ageless: either you're a person who dips into someone's bucket and takes something away from them emotionally by being mean or you fill a person's bucket with kindness.

The is one of the most beautiful bucket filling stories I've ever seen. Please share it because everyone needs a little bucket filling.

Hope this starts out your Monday with a smile. (And Nirvan, you are so cool. Sometimes it just takes ONE.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

After the Bully Movie

Bully premieres in New York and LA today. (Actually in about 20 min. in NYC.)

I worked with Lee Hirsch (director) and Cynthia Lowen (producer) during the development phase. Actually, it was just the three of us at the time. (My background is television publicity but ever since Columbine, I have had a passionate interest in this issue...because it's not really an "issue," its an irrational crushing of young hearts.)

Now that the film is out, my thoughts go to "what happens next?"

When you see it (and if you're on this blog, there's a good chance you will), you'll be shocked, saddened and I hope inspired to do something.

For those of you reading this and already working in the field -- Thank You. I know it's been hard to be heard. I know it's been hard to raise money and get your message out there and your tools in the right hands. Regardless of discussions on ratings, I know the movie will help the world pay attention so that resources will become more available. You deserve support.

But what do you do as an individual when you walk out of the theater? You'll almost hope that you're in a position to help a child feel less isolated and hurt.

EVERY SINGLE PERSON is in a position to help.

Here are just three of the ways we can all jump in (and more to come):

• Realize that the movie camera has the advantage of doing closeups and gives us a clear picture of the pain in a child's eyes and confusion on their face. Be the camera. If you feel a child may be having a hard time, don't wait for them to tell you (because most don't). Let them know you actually "see" them, ask questions and then listen without judgment and without overreacting. Strategize together.

Bullying Stops In Ten Seconds When Someone Steps In. Be the Upstander.

• If your child is of school age, consider helping the school raise money for training. Every adult in a school building should be trained but they often don't have the funds. No one ever talks about the money. We can't blame schools until we've helped them get help.

• Care about other people's kids. There are a few ways to do this. If you have children, make sure they're not being the bully -- offline or online. (Kids will be kids...but that's what teachable moments are all about.) Step up when you see another child being mistreated or talk to your own children about how to step up in a way that's comfortable for them. Compliment them when they do.

And finally, Be the One Go-To Adult. If you are interested in early prevention, download the certificate and letter to use at school, girl scouts, boy scouts, after school programs, etc. It's free and there are tips on how to be a person that saves a child from the long tail of pain that bullying causes.

As I finish this post, the movie has premiered. Let me know what you think and how I can help you make a difference.

Sometimes it just takes One.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Another Kind of March Madness

March Madness is a great time of year for me. This past weekend, there was one upset after another. My favorite team, though, survived. The U of Wisc. Badgers are still in it. (Sorry Vanderbilt fans...and stay tuned on Thursday!)

But every time I look at the news about bullying this month, I feel like it's another type of March Madness.

On any given day there are a dozen tragic stories about kids reaching out and nearly screaming for help. It's also the month that Bully will premiere in theaters (March 30th) and the "R" rating issue rages on. Cartoon Network also premiered Speak Up, with a special message from Obama. Awareness of the pain that bullying causes is gaining traction. My background is television so I've been an advocate of getting this issue more mainstreamed in the media. And boy is it ever.

So just as in the rest of life, good and bad are happening at the same time and if we're to take advantage of the good exposure it's getting, we all need to take advantage of all the great tools out there. Let's start paying attention when our kids are little. School climates depend on the type of expectations we have for our kids to treat others with kindness.

Movies wake up the country...and it's the parents, teachers, friends...and anyone witnessing meanness that help preserve the lighthearted childhoods that every single kid has a right to experience.

Bullying stops in 10 Seconds when someone steps in to stop it.

There's hope.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Bully" and the R Rating. What do you think?

The MPAA denied Bully, the new documentary by Lee Hirsch, a PG-13 rating. Katy Butler, a high school student in Ann Arbor, Michigan is responsible for gathering over 200,000 signatures on a petition to the MPAA to ask them to reconsider. The R rating was given due to language.

Seems that everyone is talking about it (including Ellen DeGeneres) but I'd like to hear from parents and teachers of middle and high school students what you think.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Flash Mob of Pink Shirts and a Stand (or a Dance) Against Bullying

Had to share this today. Seriously, what a cool thing. It took major effort on the part of the kids, the teachers and probably some parents to pull this off.

These are people who care and who know what it takes to help kids get the message and feel empowered. Music is so powerful.

Obviously, Lady GaGa knows that. This week she announced her campaign, Born This Way. The thing I liked about it is that she came around to thinking that it's not about bullying prevention. It's more than that. It's about empowerment and the things you do to enrich the lives of others. I could really relate. It's the same thought process I had. Three years ago, I thought it was all about stopping the bully, and it is to some degree because the harshness of some bullying actions border on criminal, but it can't be our only focus. Now I realize it's also about reminding kids about the power they have to improve each other's lives. My focus is now on the Upstander. If you create a culture of stepping in and stepping up for one another, the long tail of pain that bullying causes, will be diminished.

This week I had the pleasure of spending time with Girl Scout Troop 5397. They were bright and happy and not shy about sharing their opinion. When I asked them questions about bullying, they had all the answers. The school has done a good job. They've heard the talks about bullying.

The real conversation came when we talked about what we do for each other. It's one thing not to bully, it's another thing to step in to help someone and to be aware that our actions on the sidelines are the things that are either going to help the most, or hurt the most.

I shared the quote with them that
"If you walk away and go get help, you are part of the solution. If you stay and watch, you are part of the problem."

Sometimes I think the focus from a young age should be less on "bullying" and more on teaching kids specific ways to step in for each other. They're all heroes in training.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Although Isolating, Feelings About Bullying Are Universal

I was writing about this Beat Bullying You Tube video from the UK and then I heard about the shooting in Ohio. Can we fathom the pain that some kids are going through?

It's a terrible question, but for every child who gets pushed far enough to take out a gun, how many others are taking it out on themselves, either by alcohol and drug abuse, cutting, or just good 'ole self loathing and sometimes suicide?

I talked to a group of 10 and 11 year olds yesterday. It was a really positive experience except for one small disturbing thing. At the end of the workshop, the kids are asked to think of an adult they would go to if they had an issue with bullying. Nearly all of the girls had someone in mind right away. Some even had several in mind. But there was one girl who calmly but directly, said she wouldn't talk to anyone. Absolutely not. I asked her why not and she said she "doesn't trust anyone." And just the way she said it, I knew she wasn't trying to be dramatic. She believed it. I didn't know what to say.

That's my fear. That for a variety of reasons, kids emotionally go through life alone. The world gets distorted when you do everything on your own.

Bullying is epidemic but so is "aloneness." It's not just "lonely." It's feeling like you're an island and you have to go through life trying to figure it out all by yourself.

Even as adults, we shouldn't be trying to figure it out all by ourselves. How do we help children connect? It's the disconnect that causes so many problems.

I'm horrified for the poor families who lost their children because another child suffering from "aloneness" pulled out a gun. We'll find out more as the story unfortunately unfolds, but they are all children.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Am I Pretty? Girls Are So Vulnerable...

Time Magazine's blog points out a disturbing trend. Young girls reaching out online trying to get reassurance. That spells disaster for a few reasons, including:

• Girls who post videos like this are already feeling unsure of themselves and are desperate for reassurance.

• Not feeling confident seems to make kids more of a target for others to bully them, online and off.

• Tweens and teenagers are more susceptible to drama and high emotion and therefore don't have the emotional tools they need when they ask for reassurance and what they get is someone tearing them down to the ground.

It's so dangerous. Parents beware. It's bad enough for girls 13 (minimum age for Facebook) and up but some girls are even younger.

The story appropriately asks:

The fact that some of the teens can be young as 11 years old signifies something is definitely amiss. Does YouTube need to monitor these videos more closely, or is it part of the need for greater parent vigilance when it comes to their children’s online activities? When every action is anonymous, commenters playing on the insecurities of young tweens is exactly the last thing the Internet needs.

This situation is NOT pretty. What can parents do? Stay close and talk to them about NOT using You Tube or the internet in general this way. Self respect is key offline and online.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Trusted Adults Can Be the Difference Between Life and Bullycide

A new study was released regarding bullying of gay and lesbian kids and suicide. Once again, it was good to have a study to back up what we already know. Perhaps this way, people will start really paying attention to solutions.

What I want to discuss here is something that I think is key -- and perhaps hopeful -- in this tangled mess. It's the power of support from a trusted adult. From the report:

However, those who had social support -- "support from family and peers, meaning that the young person would say they have someone to go to when they have a tough time, someone is looking out for them" -- were less likely to be suicidal, Mustanski added.

Trust needs to be built over time. All kids need to learn how to communicate and share what's on their minds from an early age.

This is one of those tangled strings we can untangle if we just take the time to think about it. Raising awareness in kids and parents from Pre-K will help them in middle and high school with communication and trust. This is not to say that they won't go through the surly pre-teen and teen years but it will be easier to understand the concept of going to someone when they need help.

In middle and high school, it's even more important for adults to ignore annoying behavior and step in to ask if a child is ok. Ask and then listen. Advice may not be as important as sympathy.

Even as adults, when we suffer in silence, bad things happen. Our judgement is clouded. Our emotions run high and we go to a darker place. When someone else seems to care, it's like magic. The load gets lighter, the spirits get lifted and the power returns.

Kathryn Otoshi, the author of One, and I have talked about this gap. It's the gap of the trusted adult. If the advice we're giving to kids is to "go tell a trusted adult," and they don't have one in their lives, where does that leave them? Worse off than they were before.

(We came up with the Be the One Go-To Adult certificate and letter for elementary schools. They're free and downloadable.)

Any other ideas out there on how to inspire parents, teachers, coaches, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends to be that Go-To Adult? Would love to hear about them and share the ideas, tools, books, etc. on this site.

Thanks -- and now go listen to a kid today! You never know what's going on inside and you might be their lifeline today.