Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Untangling the Mess of Bullying

When Emily Bazelon's new book, Sticks and Stones, recently came out, it reignited the bullying prevention conversation.  It comes in ebbs and flows.  I can't comment on the book yet.  I'm hoping to get my copy soon but a recent interview in the Huffington Post made me want to pick up the phone and call her.

Why?  Because her answers were very balanced and reinforced the feeling I have about the entire subject.  She actually said "untangle" and of course, that made me want to read on.

We're doing our children a disservice if we look at this as a problem that we can just use a check list to fix.

Please read the piece.  It's short and to the point.  One of the questions asked is about the role of parents and I couldn't agree more.  We are giving the majority of the blame to schools and not talking about parents or the home...or I dare say, EARLY prevention.

So many books have come out lately about bullying.  I think that's great.  Awareness is the key but the next really important step is to start using ALL the tools at our disposal and start YOUNG.

There are so many reasons to start instilling leadership skills when children first start coming to school.  We can talk about bullying until we're blue in the face but if we don't start giving children skills to help them step up for themselves and for others when they're young, it's difficult to turn that ship around when they're in middle school.  Not impossible...but very difficult.

It's also a perfect age to engage parents in the leadership and learning process.  Parents tend to pay attention when their "little cupcake" is just starting out.  If we can help them make it a priority and part of school readiness, we'll be ahead of the game.  Parents grow right along with their kids.

As Ms. Bazelon points out, kids know the difference between "drama" and "bullying."  But do they know the difference between indifference and stepping up?  That's where we need to place our energies.

Leadership is the anti-bully.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Leader In Me

By now, most people have heard through the news that Pennsylvania 12-year-old Bailey O'Neill died of injuries believed to be the result of physical bullying.  He tried to walk away but found himself being attacked and his head slammed to the ground.  He passed away days later. A day after his 12th birthday, his parents removed his life support.

As I sat in a recent The Leader In Me conference, I couldn't help wishing that all schools were required to go to a conference like this.  Leadership is one of the key strings in the tangled ball of bullying.  Bullying often becomes a one-note conversation and those that need to be listening the most, tune it out. I thought about the boys who attacked Bailey and wondered if they were ever encouraged to be leaders.

Based on Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, The Leader In Me is not a program necessarily, but the foundation of positive school climate.  

Amazingly, even pre-schoolers are effectively trained to:

•  Be Proactive

•  Begin With the End in Mind
•  Put First Things First
•  Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
•  Synergize
•  Sharpen the Saw (Take Care of Yourself -- i.e., Exercise, Eat Well)

Part of the conference included school visits, as well as young students presenting at the conference itself.  I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it for myself.  Kids can be taught to be compassionate, work as a team, plan, prioritize, step up, and take responsibility for themselves.

It just makes sense.  There is a leader in every single child.  

(Awesome students from P.S. 20 in Brooklyn entertained us with the 7 Habits theme.)

There were many fantastic, inspiring speakers and presenters but perhaps the standout was a young girl in her early teens who was obviously very shy and reluctant to speak.  Out of the eight or nine kids in the group, she said the least...until the final question of the session was asked.  "Has The Leader in Me program affected you personally, and if so, how?"

You could almost see that her brain and her heart were struggling to decide whether she had the courage to ignore her fear and stand up in front of the nearly 200 people in the audience and answer.  She suddenly stood and said something like, "Before this, I was doing bad in school in every way.  I wasn't studying and I was getting into trouble.  Since the chance to learn how to be a leader came along, I decided that if I could learn how to do better, I could (then she began to cry) make my mother proud of me."  (Believe me, everyone cried with her as we all encouraged her with applause.)

When I heard about Bailey's death, I thought "Poor baby."  When I think of the boys who are responsible, I think "Poor babies."  They're all children who need to be taught skills and how to take responsibility for their lives.  Shame on us, if  we ignore the basics because it doesn't fall under a category that can be measured by testing.

There are schools answering that call.

What if each child was encouraged to tap into their strengths?  What are the chances that pervasive bullying would survive in that environment?  

What's there to lose, excepted wasted time disciplining?  What's there to gain?  Ask Bailey's parents.