Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bullying: Overreacting vs. Under Reacting

I've been trying not to share all the brutal bullying stories or at least, not to make it the focus of this blog because I don't think it goes anywhere.  Solutions, including encouraging leadership skills, is my main interest.  That being said, I had to share this story of the 13-year-old who was getting beaten up every day while another bully would take a video and post it online.  This child -- barely a teenager -- is in the hospital after trying to kill himself.

Yesterday, I read the story of a 22-year-old who jumped off a the George Washington Bridge in New York after writing a suicide note asking that her "frenemies" not be allowed to come to her funeral.  It seems that they were embroiled in an online fight and Ashley Riggitano ended up taking her own life.

What is happening here, people?  Are we becoming so desensitized that we no longer think this is a big deal?  For every extreme story that ends up in the news, there are thousands of kids and adults trying to survive this pain.  Are we at the point that we're shrugging our shoulders and saying this is bigger than us or are we willing to drill down and get involved?  Every single person can do something about this.  You don't have to be the parent of a child that is affected by cruel behavior to be outraged.

One of the problems is that there has been so much "bully" talk that schools and parents are getting mixed messages.   In his recent article, John Rosemond, syndicated columnist and parenting expert brings up a good point and one that I hear from schools, as well.  Some parents are overreacting and because they are in constant fear that their child will be bullied, they claim that every interaction is bullying.  (That's why I don't even like the term "bullying."  It's all just repeated mean or cruel behavior.) This is true but I fear that this minority will give schools a chance to under react.

A group of parents overreacting does not mean that there aren't real problems going on with other kids. Some parents are too vocal about perceived problems while others don't say anything because they don't know or they're afraid of being labeled themselves.  (How many times have you heard a child that is on the receiving end of mean behavior called "too sensitive" or a parent who is advocating for their child "overbearing?")

What's a parent to do?   No doubt there are "helicopter" parents but if you truly have an issue, where do you turn?

Parents going overboard is annoying.  Not paying attention to real situations whether they're on the walk home from school or online is a serious problem.   Every school staff member, including lunch monitors, and every parent should have some training.  Seriously.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Love Letter to Myself

What does prevention mean in the bullying world?  Is it that we try to stop people from being mean to each other or is it that we help shield children and adults from the pain it causes.

It's a trick question.  I think it's both.

I was in a situation recently that made me think about the importance of blunting that long tail of pain.  How do we help people who've been belittled feel better?  How do we stop that horrible spiral that leaves you emotionally spent and feeling worthless?  (That's what skilled bullies do.  They're really good at it.  They know just the button and they go for it.)

No one is completely immune.

When it happened to me recently, it caused a horrible domino effect of bad.  No matter how I tried to push it out of my brain, it still caused heartache and doubt.  I wondered, 'How can kids put up with this?  How do they survive it?'  (Some kids don't.)

It sucked the joy out of my life -- temporarily.

It had a hold on me until I remembered something.  I'm awesome!

If we can get kids and even some grown up kids to remember those things about themselves that leave no doubt of their worth, if we can get them to write it down before some cruel person robs them of their joy, that's prevention.

This is what I said to the person who made me feel small:
Hold on a minute.  Do you realize that in my entire life, I've never set out to make anyone feel bad about anything?  I've raised four kids who make it a point to be nice to people.  Along the way, I've worked hard, done some good things and have left a good trail.  I deserve to be treated nicely.  
Phew.  I'm glad I remembered that before I got sucked into the mean vortex.

Now the trick is to get kids to write down why they're so great so when they're in a bullying emergency, they can get to that list and read it over and over.  Let's raise strong kids who never forget why they shouldn't be made to feel like the scum on the bottom of a shoe.

It's ok to say you expect to be treated well.