Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Artist, Second Ave. Sinatra and Rapper Step Up For Amanda Cummings

They didn't know her. Geoff Rawling, a mural artist, Gary Russo, the 2nd Avenue Sinatra, and Rap artist JoJo Pellegrino came together at a local watering hole in Staten Island to offer their talent to help raise money to help cover the funeral expenses for Amanda Cummings, the 15 year-old who stepped in front of a bus holding a suicide note.

It's believed that bullying played a part in Amanda's decision.

Midland Beach, Staten Island, isn't fancy. It's real...and the reality is that it's a community in shock that one of their own -- and someone so young -- could feel this desperate.

In the midst of this tragedy, it's important to stop and appreciate the people who step up. They don't have to but something in them propels them to lend their talents to help.

They deserve our respect.

Geoff Rawling is an artist specializing in murals. Geoff laments that arts programs are being cut from schools at a time when kids could really benefit from using the arts to express themselves.

JoJo Pellegrino created a rap song, along with NYC Arts Cypher, for Amanda called "Alone." Amanda's mother told me that "Alone" expressed exactly what Amanda was going through. The lyrics ask, "Are we listening?"

Gary Russo believes that making people smile is a privilege and the more you give it away, the more you get back.

So what we wish is that Amanda didn't feel "Alone," and that the beauty that Geoff captured in her mural would have been how she felt inside and Gary's rendition of New York, New York would have made her realize that there is a whole city waiting and willing to embrace her.

Our prayers go out to Amanda and her family. To honor her memory, there are thousands of Amanda's that we can step up for, embrace, understand, mentor and show that they are not alone, they're beautiful and they belong.

Thank you for sharing your talents Geoff, Gary and JoJo and for showing us all that we have something to give.

Monday, January 23, 2012

No Name-Calling Week

Retard. Homo. Lard Ass. Spaz. Ask a middle or high school kid and they can usually come up with many more words meant to be weapons aimed at anybody who seems to be a little different...or maybe even someone that isn't different but inspires jealousy.

This week is No Name-Calling Week. Language is really important and labels usually hurt.

It's a good week to examine what we say and who we may be hurting in the process.

An annual week won't solve the problem but what's important is that we focus our attention to what we say during this week as a start because language is one of the key strings in this tangled mess.

If, after this week, more kids and adults think before they casually throw out a hurtful label, then it's worth building upon and a few more kids won't be heartbroken when they're made to feel like an outcast.

It's also a great opportunity to teach kids how to be upstanders (a bystander that does something to help the situation!). Once when I was in a school, I heard one child call out another child on the spot for calling a classmate a "retard." She simply said, "Do you know what that means?" When the boy just stared at her, she simply said, "If you don't know what it means, then don't say it."

I don't know if she had someone in her family that was mentally challenged... or whether her parents taught her to do that... or whether she had been called names and was just sick of it. But she silenced the boy with one simple question and the target of the name calling continued to walk down the hall with a little more ease.

We can all do our bit to help a child walk down a school hall or stand in line in the cafeteria or get on a school bus without worrying how he or she will handle cruel and intentional name calling.

I wish I knew that little girl's name. She was about 10 years old when I watched her step up so skillfully. She must be in high school now, but this blog is dedicated to her...and if she was a little older I think she should be considered for a Cabinet post.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

U of Illinois Study: Social Goals: How Kids' React to Bullying

This study, spearheaded by Karen Rudolph at the University of Illinois, is worth a read because knowing why certain kids have more difficulty in bullying situations may help us help them much more effectively. Although anyone in the bullying prevention field would like to come up with ways to wipe it off the face of the earth, it will always be part of the human experience to some degree. But what we can do is help kids understand it and deal with it in a way that unburdens them and therefore, blunts the long tail of pain that mean behavior causes.

Originally Posted on Futurity by Diana Yates-Illinois on Tuesday, December 20, 2011:

‘Social goals’: How kids’ react to bullying

Children who want to build positive relationships with their peers are more likely to look for a solution to being bullied than kids who are more interested in status, researchers found.

U. ILLINOIS (US) — Many wonder why bullies bully, but a new study looks at the other side of the equation: How do children respond to bullying and why?

The answer, researchers say, may lead to more effective interventions to reduce the negative consequences—and perhaps even the frequency—of bullying.

“The main question we were interested in is how do children go about selecting strategies for dealing with harassment from their peers?” says University of Illinois psychology professor Karen Rudolph, who led the study, which is published in the journal Child Development.

Read the original study

“And what we focused on was an understanding of the goals that kids develop in their social relationships.”

Consciously or not, children tend to adopt one of three approaches, she says.

“Some are focused on developing their relationships. They want to improve their social skills. They want to learn how to make friends.”

Others are most interested in “demonstrating their competence,” she says. They may try to demonstrate their competence by enhancing their status or seeking approval from their peers. “These are kids who say: ‘I want to be cool. I want lots of kids to like me. I want to hang out with the popular kids.’”

Or they may try to demonstrate their competence by avoiding negative judgments.

“These are the kids who say, ‘I’m not going to do anything that’s going to draw negative attention, that’s going to make me look like a loser, that’s going to embarrass me,’” Rudolph says.

A series of questionnaires administered to 373 second-graders and their teachers revealed how many of the children had been harassed (half of the children reported being the target of teasing, gossip, physical intimidation, or worse, at least a little bit of the time), how they responded to harassment, and how each child generally thought about his or her peer relationships.

The researchers then followed the children to determine if, and how, their social goals influenced how they dealt with harassment in the third grade.

As expected, they found that children who were most interested in developing relationships “had more positive perceptions of themselves and were more likely to say that they would cooperate and work to reduce conflict with other kids,” Rudolph says.

When other kids harassed them, these children were “more likely to engage in proactive strategies to solve the problem,” she says. This might involve asking a teacher for advice or getting emotional support.

Students with these goals also were less likely to engage in other impulsive responses to harassment. Children who wanted to be perceived as “cool” or competent “were less likely to use those kinds of thoughtful, careful strategies” when dealing with harassment, Rudolph says, and “they were more likely to retaliate.” These children also had more negative perceptions of their peers.

Those who wanted to avoid negative judgments were less likely to retaliate against their peers. “But they were also more passive. They just ignored what happened,” she says.

This approach might be useful in some circumstances, particularly for boys who tend to be more physically aggressive and more likely to retaliate than girls, Rudolph says. But passive responses also may increase a bully’s willingness to up the ante.

Children who were more bullied in the second grade “were more likely to freeze up and try to escape from the situation, or to ruminate about it, keep going over it in their mind, but not actually do something active about it,” Rudolph says. They also were less likely to show problem-solving type strategies in the third grade.

Understanding children’s social goals may lead to better interventions to change the dynamic between a bully and his or her targets.

“Just telling kids, ‘this is what you should do’ might not change their behaviors because their goals might be different from our goals,” she says.

“So I think understanding where the kid’s coming from and why they’re actually acting the way they do is going to be crucial for changing their behavior.”

The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the University of Illinois Research Board.

More news from the University of Illinois: www.las.illinois.edu/news/

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Amanda Cummings Went to School in My Neighborhood

It's hard to believe that Amanda no longer goes to New Dorp High School. She didn't transfer or graduate early. Carrying a suicide note, she stepped in front of a bus and later died from the injuries.

What will it take for all of us to demand that we address the issue of bullying -- that over the top mean behavior that makes kids want to end it all? For every young child who takes their life, there must be thousands that feel the pain that comes from being taunted, humiliated, made to feel invisible, ostracized, and harassed.

We're not doing enough. This is a tangled mess and every single person has a role they can play to help ease the pain. I'm not saying that we can prevent all bullying. I'm saying that we can ease the pain.

One of the biggest pieces of advice that experts tell kids is to "tell a trusted adult." I have issues with that piece of advice. In many cases, we can't be trusted. It's not that we're not well-meaning, it's that we often handle the conversation in a way that makes kids not want to tell us.

Let's be honest. Most of the time, we either overreact or under react. Most of the time, we don't really understand their world. We don't understand that we can often make it worse by blowing up -- or the opposite, tell them "to just ignore it."

As Aidan McDaniel, a 15 year-old speaker on online safety says, "It's not our problem and your solution. It's all of our problem, and all of our solution."

My vote is that we stop talking to kids and start talking with kids. Ask them. Don't tell them. Sometimes a truly sympathetic ear is much more effective than hours of advice.

In Amanda's words, "'When i say im ok i want that one person t look me in the eye, hug me & say no ur not'

And if we can start engaging them to help each other, maybe we can ease some of that pain...and that's a worthy goal.