Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

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.)