Guest Post: Be More Than A Bystander

12.8.14

Today I’m doing something a little different for you guys. My friend Wendy emailed me and asked me if she could guest post. My answer to that is almost always no but Wendy feels passionate about an anti-bullying campaign and went on to explain to me how she almost lost her daughter. We’re all in this together so it’s my hope that Wendy’s words will touch you as much as they’ve touched me. With only an introduction and with zero editing here is what she has to say. Please listen.  

When I opened the door, I looked into the tormented face of my 13 year old daughter clutching a handful of pills. She was attempting to swallow the pills to help her escape the pain of constantly being bullied. Her life had become too filled with pain and she thought the only way to find peace was to take a bottle of pills to get away from her tormentors, forever. My daughter, Ally, had mentioned that that her friends were being mean. She never wanted to go out, never wanted to have kids over, she just would curl up on the couch or in her room. I thought it was just teen aged angst. I noticed her phone would “ding” and she’d run into another room to read it, only to come out later with red eyes and and a bad attitude. She TOLD me she was being bullied, and I told her what I knew how to deal with bullies from when I was a teen: Don’t pay any attention to them, Ally. Sit with your friends. tell a teacher, just turn off your phone, don’t go on Facebook. Why can’t you just ignore them, Ally? Get a new group of friends. I had a million answers for her, until I had to ask her the unfathomable question:

Why do you want to die, Ally?

What I didn’t know at the time was that my daughter had been bullied for quite a while. Since second grade, according to her story that she shared on her blog, Losergurl. Bullying has changed so much since “we were kids”. When I was a teen, 20 something years ago, there wasn’t social media. Kids who wanted to bully you pretty much had to do it to your face. But now, bullying has changed so much and there is no escape. As a parent, I wasn’t prepared. I was the class mom, the PTA President, who knew every teacher in theschool, but I didn’t know how to talk to my kids about bullying. I didn’t know how to prepare either my son or daughter how to deal with today’s bullies until it was nearly too late. Many adults are as clueless about bullying as I was. Statistics show that more than 1 in 4 children a year (13 million) experience some form of bullying at school, on the bus, and elsewhere, making it the most common form of violence young people face in this country. Research shows that bullying is a concern for parents, but not something they proactively discuss with their children until it directly impacts their child. Bystanders can play a pivotal role—in fact, when a third party intervenes, bullying is significantly more likely to end. That’s why I’ve begun a Change.org petition to gather signature and hopefully funding to help kids be More than a Bystander and stand up to bullies. The “Be More than a Bystander” campaign empowers parents with the information and resources they need to talk to their children about bullying. By engaging with an interactive module online, parents can access fact sheets and watch videos that highlight the safe, simple, yet powerful actions children can take to help prevent and stop bullying. Research shows that when parents talk to their kids about bullying, their children are more likely to take action to stop bullying. And when bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds, 57% of the time.

sign the petition

Imagine if this was your child. Imagine if ONE kid stood up for him?

Please, sign the petition to help support this valuable program for kids and adults alike. And please consider donating to the campaign. Funding will enable the campaign to reach more parents and help more kids.

 

Thank you.

Q&A with Dr. Susan Porter author of Bully Nation: Why America’s Approach to Childhood Aggression is Bad for Everyone

10.3.13

I haven’t received my copy of Bully Nation yet but I was so enthralled by the title that I just had to do a quick Q&A with Dr. Porter. I’m looking forward to reading it and I’ll keep everyone updated on Goodreads. Every time someone says the word bully in my presence I shudder. I want to ask them a million questions like, “Oh it is an every day occurrence? Thrice a day? Do they have power over you? Is it a large pack of kids? No? Then why did you call it bullying?”

Here’s a video I made more than 2 years ago.

I hate that we’ve labeled normal behavior bullying and turned kids into whiny victims hiding in their mothers’ skirts. Finally there’s an academic who sees things similarly (though probably states it with more grace).

Why do you think so many people say they’ve been bullied? If you read blogs you’d think that every human being who ever went to middle school was bullied. 

Our current definition of bullying is so bloated that I’m shocked everyone isn’t blogging about being bullied. Currently, behaviors such as social exclusion, teasing, name-calling, and persistent unfriendliness are considered to be bullying, which means almost everyone can lay claim to victimhood. Who among us wasn’t teased in middle school? Who wasn’t left out at some point? These are practically rites of passage in middle school; it’s the dark side of this age (is there a bright side?). Much of middle school behavior now falls under the bully umbrella, so it makes sense that many of us look back and see our experiences through bully colored lenses. 

In addition, we give victims of bullying a lot of attention these days. There is glory attached to saying we’ve been bullied, and no one questions what we mean when we say we’ve been bullied. Were we smacked around by a bigger kid? Not invited to a birthday party? Called a slut on Facebook? Who knows, and it doesn’t matter—saying we’ve been bullied is sufficient cause to demand attention. We can blog about our experiences with impunity. No one dares to question a bully tale because that’s blaming the victim, and that is anathema.

Do you think there’s some benefit in a child (or an adult) having their feelings hurt and knowing that they can survive hurt feelings?

Not only is there a benefit to learning how to survive hurt feelings, it is a necessity for developing true psychological maturity. Kids who are protected from their feelings, or who are taught that painful feelings are to be avoided, don’t get the chance to develop real resilience. Imagine if we tried to shield our children from using their legs. Admittedly, using our legs can make us feel tired and achy, but the process also makes us strong, and it ensures that our legs will carry us from danger when necessary. Developing psychological resilience isn’t much different. We need to experience negative feelings sometimes, and often the process makes us feel tired and achy. But just because the process is difficult doesn’t mean it’s wrong. We can’t run a marathon without feeling discomfort, and we can’t develop emotional resilience without feeling discomfort either.

What happens when we send kids out into the workforce who are unable to handle a bully? 

Everyone needs to know how to deal with conflict, and the anti-bullying movement is sending kids the message that they shouldn’t have to tolerate conflict or deal with people who offend them. When kids accept this message, it sets them up for real hardship later in life. Adults must tolerate all manner of conflict, sometimes in the workplace, and we must prepare our children for this. We need to teach them not to be scared of disagreement, and that sometimes they will encounter people and situations that are difficult. We must also teach them to stand up for themselves without having to be victims in the process. This is the mistake we’re now making with our anti-bullying initiatives. Kids are being taught to stand up for themselves as victims against perpetrators; we are dividing their world into black and white. The truth is kids can be strong without being victims. Kids can be hurt without being victims. Kids can even be wronged without being victims. These are the things we need to teach them. When they’ve learned these lessons, they will be able to stand up to anyone in the workplace.

What if you think your child is a bully? What then?  

I personally don’t know any parents who think their child is a bully. Usually, it’s the other kid that’s the problem.

That said, if parents are concerned about a child’s level of aggression toward other children, they should seek help immediately from a school counselor, trusted religious leader or group, pediatrician, or a licensed mental health professional (a pediatrician can provide referrals).

How can parents shift the paradigm so that we aren’t nurturing this bizarre pride in being a victim? 

Parents can do a lot by not using labels: just say no to terms such as bully, victim, bystander, whatever. Labels create something called a fixed mindset, which keeps kids (and adults) stuck as they try to deal with troublesome dynamics. As soon as we label people, we see them in a very limited light, and this determines how we move forward.

Let’s say your child comes home from school complaining about another child. Your child feels hurt, wronged, and bullied by his peer. You have a choice about how to react. You can focus just on his feelings of victimhood—and react as though his emotions are solely the result of another child’s behavior—or, once he’s calmed down, you can ask what happened, try to understand the dynamic that took place between the children, and ask him what part he played in the situation. You can also help him troubleshoot, think about what he needs to solve the problematic dynamic, and identify people (besides you) who can help (teachers, friends, etc.). This communicates to the child that he has some control over the situation, and that he’s not defined by his feelings of pain (which is what the label victim suggests). 

Victims believe they are defined by their negative feelings and by other people’s behavior. If we want to raise children who feel empowered, we must teach them how to manage their negative feelings and negative interactions with others, all without feeling like victims

bully nation

 

What Bullying is and What Bullying is Not

03.25.13

In the last two years the use of the B word has become explosive. In addition to absolutely every blogger ever claiming geek or nerd status in high school (I was fat/unloved/pimply/awkward/alone) they were also bullied. Relentlessly.

Of course if 100% of the people you know were bullied someone is lying. Because in order to be bullied someone’s got to have power of them. 100% of the population can’t be powerless, can they?

Bullying matters. I think that what we adults forget about the school years (mostly middle and high school but also sometimes elementary) is that the day ended. If you were having a hard time with someone at school, like the time Cym hated my rainbow pocket Dittos and teased me about them all day day, you’d go home maybe have a good cry and then spend the afternoon with your friends or your family. Now when kids go home from school everyone is very plugged in and the day doesn’t stop. It’s relentless for them.

Last month I met a rapper Lil JaXe. Lil JaXe is my daughter’s age and has a stutter. Not a little stutter but a debilitating stutter where I feel myself holding my breath waiting for his next word to come out. It’s the kind of stutter where you hold yourself back from finishing his sentences because you know that too many people have done that before and you know that your stress will only add to his.

When Lil JaXe raps he has no stutter. I was chatting with him for about 20 minutes and was really interested in his story because my daughter had a severe speech impediment until about age 6 but hers was undetectable when she was on a telephone. We practiced speech therapy on pretend phones from ages 2-5.

Back to Lil JaXe. I asked him about his rapping and he talked about the need to educate kids and adults about bullying. I rightly assumed that an adolescent boy with a stutter a beautiful face would take some heat on the school yard but what he told me shocked me. He was bullied by his teacher. The final straw came just a year or so ago when his teacher announced to the class, “I dont’ know what’s more annoying, your stutter or your laugh.” I commend Lil JaXe’s mother. Had it been me I’d be in prison and that teacher would be decaying right about now. So he’s home schooled.

This is the child who stutters. I dare you to not smile when you watch this.

Online bullying is difficult to define. The intent is there but the methods may change. What does need to happen with a bullying in any arena is that there’s an imbalance of power.

defining bullying

Bloggers love to say that they are bullied. Often times someone disagrees with them publicly the dissenter is labeled a bully. That is not bullying.

The weekend’s KFC fiasco quickly morphed into a discussion about how Leah Segedie is a bully. Well, if you’re KFC then yes, Leah is going to be a real thorn in your side. If you’re another blogger notsomuch. The problem with all the shrieking about bullying is that it diminishes the emotional impact of stories from people like Lil JaXe. You see Leah can’t bully KFC, it’s not possible. KFC has billions of dollars (that’s billions of bird beaks kids) and more than six million facebook fans. Leah is a gnat on an elephant’s ass.

When bloggers took a trip from KFC and Leah asked the hard questions about the brand it was time for KFC to answer some questions. It wasn’t time for bloggers to moan that their vacation was being ruined by a bully. Folks, when you take a junket you’re working. Some days work is really easy, other days it’s going to feel like work. When you sell junk food to blogger’s kids on twitter be assured that it will always feel like work. Leah and Kim will always be there asking the tough questions.

When I asked my facebook friends about why people cry bully I got interesting responses.

Del Williams says: People like to be victims. Allows them to shift blame for their fuck ups

Jenny Decki says: People need bigger vocabularies is the main problem. The hash tag thing was classic trolling. People do it all the time but when someone’s feelings get hurt and they feel outrage that you’d dare to question them, they want it to be bigger and more meaningful than it really was to justify some kind of backlash they feel is deserved. Being butthurt on twitter does not automatically mean someone got bullied.

Serena Erlich says: Bullies have the power to activate others against you. That is why many cry bullying. It’s not that one person did it, it the people who were incited into joining in. Power can be measured in many ways these days.

My friend Mark who doesn’t blog:  People in general have become pathetic and weak and can’t take a hit of any kind. They actually believe they have the right to “NOT” be offended. Whatever! Grow up! Take a karate class!

Mary brilliantly states: I think a part of what is happening is the confluence of the personal life with work life. I think Mom Bloggers think of themselves as blogging their personal home life. But then this gets co-opted by companies promoting brands. I didn’t see anything that was bullying. You rightly pointed out the problems with KFC but then the moms took it personally as if you walked into their house and criticized their food choices. It’s pretty clever of KFC.

Is bullying an epidemic or is victimhood just too enticing for some people to resist? How do you explain to bloggers the difference between standing behind their words and bullying? How do you tell a kid like Lil JaXe that someone equated a hashtag on twitter that they don’t like with his very real bullying by a teacher in a room full of kids? 

After I Friend My Daughter on Facebook I’m Going to be My Son’s Prom Date

12.26.11

Jane’s big Hanukkah gift this year was Facebook. She’s allowed to be on the social network so long as she uses it appropriately. There are two big rules on Facebook:

  1. Everything you write is always public (even if it’s a private message, even if you’ve blocked someone, even if, even if….)
  2. You cannot be friends with any adults. (not even Mom and Dad)

There was a great article today at Mamapedia about a mom unfriending a nine year old child. The article showed great wisdom in hindsight. A little foresight might have made things smoother in the neighborhood.

Before you friend a child, any child but particularly your own, ask yourself what it might achieve. If your child is under 13 they aren’t supposed to be on Facebook but that’s not because of maturity or Facebook caring about childhood. It’s because Facebook buys and sells your data and it’s illegal to buy and sell data from children under 13. If you don’t want your data bought and sold stay tuned, I’ll provide you with a solution for that little problem tomorrow.

If your child is thirteen and on Facebook I’d like you to answer the following questions with a simple yes or no:

  • When I bring my child to school I hang out with him/her on the schoolyard and chat with the kids.
  • When I bring my child to a school dance I stay for the first song or two, just to see how cute everyone looks all dressed up.
  • I make playdates for my 14 year old because they are not capable of making plans yet.
  • My child is super excited to see me in the afternoon and often asks me to join in games with all the other kids.
  • Sometimes when I’m chatting with a half dozen of my mommy friends I miss my kids and wish they could be there with us.
  • When I go to a luncheon with my girlfriends I pull out my phone and give them a slideshow of my kid’s pictures and they always love it and want more.
  • I need more teenage friends.

If you’ve answered Yes wholeheartedly to any of these questions then we diverge on our parenting. If the answers are no, as I suspect they are for most of us, then I’m confused about why you would want to cripple your child with your presence in their social network.

If you’re worried about stranger danger (not my concern but I totally get it if it’s yours), then why would you introduce everyone you’ve ever met at a conference and all of their friends to your child?

I’m not planning on being at my son’s prom any more than I’d planning on being part of my daughter’s Facebook timeline.

You absolutely may have different ideas about how a parent and child should connect in social media, but I can tell you this one incredibly important thing right now. The authors at Mamapedia talk about kids being teased about their pictures on Facebook. If you have pictures of your kids on your Facebook timeline make sure that they are pictures your children want shared with their classmates.

Women love to connect. We love to share in each other’s joys and uplift one another in times of need. The unanticipated consequence of Mommy Blogging and social networking is that we’re infringing on our children’s spaces and robbing them of the opportunity to make their own first impression. Let’s all step back a moment and think about a few ways we can connect with adults without totally humiliating our children.

And as always if you want privacy keep a journal, nothing here is private. Even if…

Recently I wrote about why I would never fan my child’s school on Facebook.

You Weren’t Bullied

02.18.11

Not all of you. It’s simply not possible that every single person I know was “bullied”. It’s possible that everyone felt fragile, and it’s possible that everyone has met a bully.

In any event, watch, enjoy, and most of all take 3 seconds and hit the subscribe button on my channel so we can continue the discussion.

Do you agree? Disagree? When we tell this many kids that they’ve been bullied does it take away from the seriousness of the situation? I do want to hear your thoughts on this one.