Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

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.