Is anyone going to take responsibility for bullying in our schools? Anyone? Anyone?

Blame

Dr. Robyn Silverman

For me, it didn’t have to do with weight or body image.  But for so many, it does.Whatever the reason, we’ve got to do something. Anything. Watching people point fingers and put temporary band-aids in place that aren’t being followed in the first place isn’t helping anyone.  Not the teachers.  Not the bullies.  And certainly not the victims.  When is the time?

When I was in 5th grade, I was bullied.

As a woman in my 30s, I can still say this: It was one of the worst years of my life—perhaps THE worst—because going to school was so horrible and yet I had to do it 5 days a week. I still remember the knots in the pit of my stomach—waiting on line to go into the school—waiting for the laundry list of female relational aggression to start. Everyday was the same. Target…ostracized. Rumors…sent. Eyes…rolled.

The teachers never knew what to do. I’m not sure if they were cut off at the knees, they didn’t have a plan, or the school didn’t have their back.  All I know is that I was labeled “sensitive.” It was my problem—the teachers did feel bad about it but… “kids will be kids.”

So I stood there on the black top during recess, completely alone, clearly unhappy, clearly apart from the crowd, and yet…nothing. The one time something was done, I was sent to the library as the rest of the class sat in the classroom with the teacher and talked about…me. Then one of my “friends” who bullied in me in school came to get me, gave me a stare down before entering the class, told me not to “lie” and left me in her dust. Then the teacher talked to the class with me present. It was humiliating. It didn’t help. At. All.

So when I read yesterday in the Washington Post that the laws that were enacted to cope with the bullying problem, especially since the shootings in the 90s, offer practically no protection—mostly because, well, they aren’t really being enforced, I got that familiar knot in my stomach again. If you’ve never been bullied, it is the most sickening, exhausting, heart-wrenching feeling. You don’t feel comfortable walking around in your skin. You want to be anywhere but there. You want to be anyone but you.

It’s actually one of the reasons I do what I do.  From creating Powerful Words to the work I’ve done with girls to the presentations I do for teachers, coaches and instructors. I want to help kids like me—I want to help kids like those who bullied me—I want to help them early so that maybe…I don’t know…maybe an infiltration of character education, and understanding of how words and actions shape lives, encouragement that adults need to get involved and take responsibility– would help a few people avoid what I went through…or worse.

But what about the anti-bullying laws? And as it is, the laws wouldn’t have even been helpful for someone like me. I was only in 5th grade. The laws only apply 6th-12th. So what about those kids who aren’t yet 12 years old and in the 6th grade? Some will never reach it. Just take a look at these sad cases:

An 11-year-old had complained of teasing and was found hanged in his Springfield, Mass in mid-April.

A 10-year-old boy hanged himself in a restroom stall in a suburban Chicago school,

An 11-year-old boy was found dead in Chatham, south of Springfield,

An 11-year-old daughter hanged in a closet of their Chicago home.

All complaining of bullying before the tragedies.

One of the big problems here is that people are quick to point the finger at who should be in charge of teaching children not to bully and inflicting consequences if there are incidents. Parents point to teachers and school officials to take responsibility, teachers and school officials point back at parents.

“A lot of this has to be handled in the home,” said Peter Daboul, chair of the board of trustees at New Leadership, the Massachusetts school where her son was a 6th grader.

But what happens when the fingers get pointed? Nothing gets done. Result? Kids suffering.

I also find it very frustrating that relational aggression is clearly given “a pass.” Even those states that are doing something about bullying (like threatening that schools will lose their funding if they don’t keep good records and transfer bullies after 3 offenses, such as in Georgia), these departments are only tracking broad offenses like fighting and threats. So much for spreading rumors, being ostracized, and intense teasing. Those wouldn’t qualify or be recorded.

There is still great confusion about how to define bullying, what’s offensive, what’s child’s play, what can lead to tragedy. What counts? Blows to the head? Cyberbullying? Taunts and teasing? “One of the questions is how do you quantify bullying? It could even be as simple as a rolling of the eyes,” said Dale Davis, a spokesman for schools in DeKalb County, Ga., where Herrera committed suicide.

Maybe we should ask the kids…who are being bullied.

“In 2007, nearly a third of students ages 12 to 18 reported having been bullied during the school year, according to data on more than 55 million students compiled annually by the National Center for Education Statistics.”

So where are in this? Just spinning our wheels until something more tragic happens that leads us to wonder if what we are doing already is the right thing to do? I can tell you now—it’s not. I mean, 55 million kids sounds like a lot to me. does it to you?

I don’t know…maybe I’m just being sensitive.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Clique it or Ticket to Loserville? 7 Tips on Talking to Children and Teens about Cliques

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Parents of teens have asked me recently about parenting resources available to help moms and dads talk to their children about cliques. This becomes a very popular issue when body image, teasing, and acceptance is discussed. We know of popular books like “Queen Bees and Wannabees” or “The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander” and recent movies like “Mean Girls” which shows that cliques can certainly become a problem. They’ve been cited as a reason, at least in part, for tragedies like Columbine High and Trumball High School.

Cliques Defined

A clique is an exclusive group of friends who share common interests, views, purposes, patterns of behavior or ethnicity. Because the group is exclusive, the memebers can take togetherness too far. A clique can alienate other people and look down on others who are outside of the clique.

Tegan, one of the teens in my Sassy Sisterhood Girls Circle told me, “I loved being part of a clique when I was first accepted into one in ninth grade. It made me feel wanted and I never wondered who I was going to sit with at lunch or who was going to talk to me when I entered a room. It took that fear factor out all together.” A clique can often make a teen feel more secure and give someone, who is developmentally striving for approval, a feeling of belonging.

“It’s hard not being in a clique,” Tegan added. “It’s like, if you are not in a clique than you are considered a loser. Some kids can kind of go from one clique to another and be OK but most are like ‘not even there’ in a sense.”

The Research

Recent research that came out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham just a few weeks ago shed some light on cliques. Six hundred boys and girls ages nine to 18 were surveyed between 1995 to 2004 to see how aggression, popularity and academic achievement impacted membership in cliques.

Researchers found:

(1) Girls and boys who gossip, spread rumors and exclude others from their cliques are often labeled as popular by their classmates ;

(2) Nearly all high school cliques are divided along racial lines;

(3) Minority boys who are relationally aggressive gained a lot more popularity over time than any other group, although, they were less likely to use the behavior;and

(4) In fourth grade about half of cliques were of mixed race and ethnicity, but by the 12th grade, nearly 90 per cent of cliques were of only one race or ethnicity.

(5) The study found that physical aggression helped popularity in younger grades but not as the children grew older. Relational aggression became more popular with older children and girls (i.e. gossip, lies, exclusion, silent treatment, taunts, secrets, glares, harassment, etc).

“A lot of popular kids may not be well liked, but they are relationally aggressive and their peers think that they are popular,” researcher Casey Borch from the University of Alabama at Birmingham said in a statement.

7 Tips on Helping Your Children Make Good Choices about Cliques

(1) Start early: Before your children get to an age where cliques are popular, talk to your children about what it means to be part of a clique. Encourage them to call upon empathy and “take a walk in somebody else’s shoes” when they see that someone is being ostracized (i.e. due to weight, special needs, size, ethnicity, etc). Get their take on cliques and give them your view of cliques as well.

(2) Discuss character often: Provide a foundation for your children through books and family discussion. Use the Powerful Words material that you’re receiving from your Powerful Words member academy or from the Powerful Family program as a springboard for discussion. Character education tools on empathy, respect, acceptance, tolerance and compassion (May’s Powerful Word of the Month) will be especially helpful.

(3) Ask questions: Have they ever been left out of ignored? How does it feel to be ostracized? Do they see cliques forming at their school– what do they think of them? When we ask questions, we inspire conversation. When we talk at our children, we encounter resistance.

(3) Help them to become “friend connoisseurs:” Help your children to call upon their intuition. How do they feel when they are around certain people? What kinds of people do they like to be around? Teach your children to trust their intuition and to stay true to their character and values.

(4) Take an interest in their friends and their school activities: Learn more about who they like to be around and how they act when they are around them. Is your child’s behavior the behavior of a leader or a follower? Is it consistent and strong or unpredictable and weak depending on with whom they associate? Helping your children to be true to their heart will be invaluable during these tough years.

(5) Pay attention and give affection: Teens turn to cliques when they are feeling insecure or alone. While it’s normal for teens to spend ample time with friends during adolescence, it’s still advisable to provide parent-child opportunities for unplanned discussions and fun. Allow your teen to talk and express their opinion—you are involuntarily teaching an important skill!

(6) Encourage open-mindedness and diversity: Introduce your children to all kinds of people and allow them to see that you include many different types of people into your life. Talk to your children about how being friends with many different types of people can enrich your life and open your eyes to interesting and new things.

(7) Promote leadership: Encourage your children to have minds of their own. With whom do they want to spend their time? How do they want to be perceived by others? What are their values? Do they allow their friends to influence them in negative ways? Talk to your children about taking a stand, following their own heart, and listening to their gut.

A Note from University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) sociologist Casey Borch , Ph.D.“Cliques aren’t necessarily bad. It just depends on the kind of clique a child is in. The common misconception is that they [cliques] are inherently bad and that kids in cliques exclude other people or that they are separatists or that they’re somehow disconnected from the larger network as a whole and that is fundamentally not true. Kids are good social observers. They know who the aggressive kids are and who’s popular. So listen to your kids. If they say someone is trouble, they may very well be.”

Some resources:

Coping with cliques ; Teen Health

Cliques Online- PBS

Talking to Kids about violence

Best regards,

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