Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bullying and a Lesson in Forgiveness

On Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of speaking at St. John's University. Along with me, were four other presenters, including Hashim Garrett, a Guardian Angel, an outstanding speaker and an unforgettable person.

He spoke about his experience as a young boy looking to belong...so he joined a gang. At the age of 15, he was shot 6 times in the legs and spine by someone looking for revenge. He spoke about "dying" and his soul separating from his body but the sound of his mother's voice in the ambulance, doing what he says mothers do best -- nagging -- brought him back. And he was grateful. He said that as he lay dying, it wasn't his fellow gang members he thought about. It was his mother. (He also made me laugh when he said that one of his thoughts as they put him in the ambulance was that his mother would be proud of him because he was wearing clean socks!)

After 6 months in the hospital, he was sent home to cover both physically, emotionally and spiritually. Since then, he has spent his time talking to kids about FORGIVENESS. As a teen, he was able to dig down as deep as a person can go to find the courage to forgive the person who shot him. But even more important, he says, he forgave himself. He forgave himself for the bad choices he made as a 12-15 year-old who chose the wrong path in order to belong.

His talk came at the end of four presentations about the tangled mess of bullying, cyber bullying and suicide. Although forgiveness wasn't necessarily something I thought of as part of the bullying prevention dialogue, it was the perfect thing to round out the evening.

One of the strings in this tangled mess is forgiveness and growth. These are kids. Kids make mistakes and hopefully, they don't all have to learn through drastic means, that you learn from your mistakes.

You can overcome mean behavior, you can respect others and grow from being that child who tries to belong any way possible. That's our job. Whether they're the bully, the target or the bystander, we need to help them grow...and be kind...and forgive.

Why forgive? It breaks the cycle. It brings new life.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

No Such Thing As A Bully

The reason I invested so much of my time in The Bully Project in it's development stage is because I feel strongly that people need to see the problem in order to fix the problem. Bully allows us to see and feel a child's pain and now we need to do something about it.

My goal is to share info on good tools and resources for homes and schools so that after the movie leaves the theaters and the press around the issue dies down, you'll have what you need to make a difference.

I've been following the "No Such Thing As A Bully" campaign for a while. Founders Kelly Karius and Ron Graham have a compelling approach. Their tag line is Shred a Label, Save a Child. They clearly focus on the behavior and allow children to grow in the process. They feel that so much can be accomplished through skill building. It's one thing to tell a child to not to bully -- or to stick up for themselves -- or step up for one another, it's another to train them how to do those things.

Check out their resources. The introduction to the parent's resource guide says that it's a lifetime resource. Bravo Kelly and Ron. This is a lifetime issue and in just recognizing that fact alone and helping a child develop lifetime skills, gives me hope.

I've never met Ron but have talked to Kelly several times and follow her on Facebook. She has great perspective and (thank, God!) a sense of humor, but she got serious when talking about their new No Such Thing As a Bully program:

What inspired you to create your own bullying prevention program?

When I was a brand new social worker, I was asked by 20 sets of parents to advocate for their children, who they felt were being bullied by an adult in the school. What I lived for the next two years astounded me. I saw bully actions in every level of the school, from students, to adults, to bureaucracy, to government. I saw a lack of skills like listening, problem solving, negotiating, empathizing, and understanding. It made me realize that we can't focus a resolution to bullying on what we think kids need to learn. Walk away, ignore and tell someone....those are tools that only work if the adults around children have a certain skill set. I saw the need for a program that was not only comprehensive, but also easy to use and integrate into every day life.

What is at the core of the program?

The bystander is at the core of this program. Which means every child. When I talk to students I don't seek to find out who the 'bullies' and the 'victims' are. I seek to encourage children to become strong bystanders. I tell them, "It doesn't matter if you've used bully actions, or been on the receiving end of bully actions. It's time for a clean start. You are all BYSTANDERS, and I'm going to teach you how to be good bystanders. The program is about skill building, self knowledge and self regulation. When we (adult AND child) can recognize a bully action and feel strong enough to step up and say "Hey, it's not okay to treat (her, him, me) like that", then we're well on the way to solving the problem. The other core part of the program is skillbuilding. When anyone is able to communicate well, manage their fight or flight reaction, balance their thinking and build their own confidence then they are less likely to use bully actions or victim responses, and more able to stand up for others.

What are students getting from it and were you surprised by anything that came out of the program that you didn't expect?

I've been planning really well for this, so there aren't too many surprises, but there are a lot of things that I love. When we piloted our first Community Immersion (a whole week in a school!), the kids were incredible. I love the girl that came up to me and said "Look! Here is my list of 30 ways that I'm going to use the anxiety equation!" I loved teaching for three days, and then hearing the bullying prevention team that was being created use the words "bully action" and create role plays that focused on being a great bystander - without my help. I loved the final assemblies where hands went up and up and up about what they'd learned over the week. I loved hearing children say "I don't have to believe the negative things I think about myself." The screaming applause at the end - THAT was a surprise. I appreciated that for myself because it meant they liked me, but I appreciated it even more because it meant that the kids accepted and needed the material.

And best of all, in follow-up with the school, I know the material is being incorporated into the classrooms, the lessons plans, and one-on-one with students. The solution isn't in the one time appearances. It's in our every day.

So true, Kelly. IT'S IN OUR EVERY DAY.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lessons from Caine's Arcade

Please watch the whole thing. It will not disappoint.

One of the books I recommend for early bullying prevention is Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud. (You can also download great materials for kids ages 4-9. But to be honest, older kids really get this story, too, so have older kids mentor younger ones using this -- you'll be amazed at how it works.)

The lessons are simple but ageless: either you're a person who dips into someone's bucket and takes something away from them emotionally by being mean or you fill a person's bucket with kindness.

The is one of the most beautiful bucket filling stories I've ever seen. Please share it because everyone needs a little bucket filling.

Hope this starts out your Monday with a smile. (And Nirvan, you are so cool. Sometimes it just takes ONE.)