Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

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.