Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

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.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Weekly Reader's Current Health Steps Up to Address Bullying

Weekly Reader's Current Health Magazine is offering two free online special issues on bullying -- one for grades 4-7, the other for grades 7-12 -- worth reading and using in your classroom or at home. "Facing the Bully" issues are comprehensive and are also supported by an extensive teacher's guide available online.

It's hard for kids to open up about bullying. They're embarrassed and it makes them feel weak and can also make them feel nervous that as adults, we might make it worse. It's great to have a tool -- an article, a television show, a movie -- that gives you a way to start the conversation more easily. And I particularly like Facing the Bully because in Weekly Reader style, it talks with kids...and not at kids.

"There are meaningful steps that everyone can take to combat bullying and we want to reach as broad an audience as possible with this important information," said Erin R. King, Current Health's Senior Editor.

A few of the surprising facts about bullying cited in the special issue include:

The most powerful person in any bullying situation is often the bystander.

Bullies are frequently popular with other children.

Children most likely to be bullied are not the kids at the bottom of the social prestige ladder but actually those somewhere in the middle.

Additional articles define different forms of bullying, expose the myths surrounding cyberbullying, and outline ways to develop empathy in children and teens. Current Health editors spoke with experts and students and compiled a variety of simple steps that children can take to begin to solve the problem such as:

Speak up, stand up. "When one person stands up against the bullies, other people will stand up against them. Anyone could be the hero in the hallway," says New Jersey teen Ashley Craig, founder of Students Against Being Bullied — a group she started after being bullied herself.

Acknowledge your own actions. Children should ask themselves: "Have I done or said something hurtful?" Thoughtless phrases such as "That's so gay" can hurt even when no harm is meant. If children have done or said something, it's never too late to apologize—and change that behavior.

Other advice found in Current Health:

Parents are encouraged to listen carefully to their children's comments about bullying and to take them seriously. Mothers and fathers should avoid making potentially hurtful comments about people, as children mimic adults. Parents can also help their children care about others by volunteering together at a nursing home or animal shelter, as empathy has been linked to lower levels of bullying.

Good advice from Weekly Reader...after all these years, they're still a great resource.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Kids and the Two Sides of Facebook...Feb. 7 is Internet Safety Day

Yesterday I was walking past two boys playing basketball. My guess is that they were about 12 years old and they were having a great time. Laughing and joking around. One of the kids had to leave and as he ran down the street, he yelled back at his friend, "See you online!"

Today I ran across this article regarding the tragedy of a young boy who accidentally shot himself and then what happened on Facebook following the death. It was a series of hurtful comments that got out of control.

Both are examples of how kids' online lives are simply an extension of their offline lives. It's one neighborhood for them. The same rules that apply during a pickup game of basketball should apply online. The same rules that apply to talking to someone in person, should apply online.

Parents and teachers don't have to be online experts to promote the Golden Rule. And just as kids can't raise themselves offline, they often don't know what they're doing online.

So I have a question. Why isn't it a requirement for all students, including and perhaps most importantly, young kids, to have digital citizenship lessons in computer class?

There are some great resources for parents and teachers to help our children learn how to have a safe, happy online life.

Common Sense Media is one of those resources. And check out Technology for Teachers on Safer Internet Day -- tomorrow (February 7th!) They have a fantastic list of online safety resources.

(P.S. Kids are supposed to be 13 to be on Facebook...)