“Bully” 3

I was first in line to see it this morning. Initially, it looked like I would be the only one there, but thankfully a few more showed up.

Kindness Matters - Photo of My Car Magnet ©DelightfullyDifferentLife

Kindness Matters! It’s just one of the take away messages of the movie, Bully. It is the message that the kids need to get and that some are getting as they join in the cause to help prevent bullying and to support the victims.

There are more important messages for the adults!

  • Blaming the victim for not telling you is not acceptable especially if you gave them empty promises of protection in the past while they continued to be tormented.
  • Scolding them for not forgiving their tormentor is not helpful either.
  • Apathetic attitudes regarding the severity of the problem are not helpful.
  • Excusing meanness that does not result in bloody noses or broken bones is also inexcusable.

We see teachers, parents, principals, vice principals, law enforcement, and bus drivers letting kids down again and again. One child takes matters into her own hands and threatens her tormentors with a real gun. FYI one boy had threatened to sexually assault this teenager, so it is not like she had not been threatened. I do not condone taking a gun to school, but I do understand why she did it, and I found the sheriff to be offensive when he said that she had no cause for this action because she had not been physically assaulted. He thinks she should be locked up for a hundred years despite the fact that the gun wasn’t fired, and she had never been in trouble previously. You’ll find out her fate if you watch the movie.

I will be writing a longer review for Special-Ism for publication on the fourth of May, so I am not going to say more about the movie itself right now. I merely hope schools will encourage their staff and students to see the movie.

Broken Kids Are Breaking All of Us 4

By Annie Fox

This post was originally published on Annie Fox’s blog on October 2, 2010 and is republished here with her permission. I hope you value her views as much as I do. Mahalo Annie!

Yesterday my friend Rachel wrote to find out if I’d blogged yet about the cyberbullying incident that ended in a Rutgers University freshman killing himself. I told her the news had really depressed me but that I didn’t have any insights that couldn’t be found elsewhere. I mean what do you say when (yet another) teen is so victimized by bullies he/she can’t figure out what the hell to do to make things OK again and gives up everything just to end the suffering? I’ve got nothing to say. I’m sitting here crying. The casualness with which these acts of torment are perpetrated absolutely stuns me. But what else is new?

So, no.  I wasn’t going to write anything.

Then I watched Ellen Degeneres on video talking about this senseless act of cruelty. Looking straight at the camera and with obvious emotion Ellen said, “It’s hard enough being a teen and figuring out who you are without people attacking you.” To the adults watching she said, “There are messages everywhere that validate this kind of bullying and taunting and we have to make it stop.” And to the kids watching, she offered this, “…things will get easier. People’s minds will change and you should be alive to see it.”

Still I was not going to blog about what happened to Tyler Clementi and what he did as a result. Even though his death was the fourth in a string of Welcome Back-to-School homophobic attacks on teens that ended in suicide. It all sucks, but what more is there to say?

Then I listened to Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center, a clearinghouse of information dedicated to providing information about  ”…the nature, extent, causes and consequences of cyberbullying amongst adolescents.” Patchin told NPR’s Melissa Block that when he speaks to teens who use their phones and computers to commit these acts of intentional cruelty they “genuinely do not realize that harm could come from it.” He went on to say that these kids “don’t see it as something wrong.” Rather, they think of what they’re doing as “fun or funny” and “not that big of a deal.”

That’s when I knew I needed to write. The tormentors don’t see it as something wrong?! For real?!! If that’s the case then we’re looking at a whole lot of broken kids. Broken in a way that prevents them from thinking beyond the itch of “Hey I got a great idea!” So broken they blithely launch a personally addressed cluster bomb packed with malice and truly believe it’s “not a big deal.”

With kids like that as our only hope for the future we ‘d be in deep doodoo.

Fortunately, these aren’t the only kids out there. There are plenty of kids and adults who aren’t buying into the notion that any of this is fun or funny. They’re deadly serious about fighting back, supporting each other and changing the Culture of Cruelty for any kid, tween or teen who’s catching flak for being different. GLBT teens, check out Dan Savage’s new “It Gets Better” project.

Oh, and by the way, October is National Bullying Prevention Month… Don’t just sit there, be part of the solution.

Annie Fox, M.Ed. is an award-winning author, app developer, and youth empowerment activist. Her books include Too Stressed to Think? and the Middle School Confidential series.  Learn more about Annie’s work with students, parents and teachers at http://anniefox.com

PTSD and Ambiguous Loss 6

In When Someone You Love Suffers From Posttraumatic Stress, by Claudia Zayfert, PhD and Jason C. DeViva, PhD , they define ambiguous loss as a “term used to describe any situation in which a loved one is absent in some ways but present in others.” They further explain that this can be when a person is present physically, but is not participating in family life. This describes my family.

The thing is we are still a family and at times we still act like one. However, there are other times, we are not. This may sound like a typical family with a teenager to some of you. It is not.

I am not talking about typical teenage rebellion or pulling away. I am talking about a talented, kindhearted child, who wants to be alone, yet still wants me to be present. The two are contradictory I know, still there it is. She needs me to be present, yet invisible. She needs control of the boundaries she establishes, while at the same time she cannot accept that I too need boundaries. I frequently walk on eggshells as I try to help her.

The more I learn, the more I understand and believe me I understand more than most. Yet, I am at risk. I am at risk for what the book describes as “secondary trauma.” Many family members of those with PTSD have signs of anxiety, depression and PTSD themselves. This is why I get angry when I see people related to the year my daughter experienced bullying. They are all moving forward; this includes the bullies and their families.

We have done many things right to help my daughter. She still talks to me, she still has goals. We take baby-steps in positive directions. She has relived the events too many times already, and does not want to talk about it anymore. She received counseling after the event and was doing better until the school that previously had been supportive let her down completely.

She knows in her heart that it is not her fault, but in some ways the school’s failure caused her to start over at square one and to lose the years of progress. All of the professionals who let her down previously make it hard to trust any of them, and I understand this.

Today I found a wonderful book to help her,The PTSD Workbook. I am also trying to take care of myself, so I can continue to help her. My husband gave me a better camera for Christmas and I am taking pictures of nature as I take my walks. Like the faint rainbow above, there is a glimmer of hope.

Sticks and Stones 10

Today I am sharing the first guest post of 2012. I hope you will join me in welcoming Signe Whitson to my blog as she shares a lesson learned from:

A Little Girl’s First Experience with Bullying

My daughter had her first heartbreak at the tender age of four.  During the first week of her preschool class, she met a little girl named Nikki and, as so charmingly happens at that age, the two became best friends within an instant. The girls bonded over their love of Disney’s High School Musical and anything to do with singing and dancing.  They quickly became a package deal inside and out of the classroom, arranging lunchdates afterschool and playdates when school was not in session.

For a few weeks, all I heard was, “Nikki says this” and “Nikki likes that” and “Nikki told me I should do such and such.”  I must admit I was a bit swept up in Nikki-fever as well, enjoying how much pleasure my daughter was taking from the friendship.  Until the day it all ended.

On a brisk October day, my daughter experienced the cold, harshness of relational aggression—better known as bullying.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bullying occurs when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who is weaker.   Bully behavior takes many forms, from hitting, name calling, and teasing to social exclusion and rumor-spreading.  These latter forms are termed relational aggression because of the way interpersonal relationships, most often among girls, are manipulated to settle grudges.

In my daughter’s case, relational aggression felt like a break-up…or more like getting dumped.  The first incident I noticed, from my vantage point in the school hallway where parents wait to pick kids up from class, was Nikki shoving my daughter off of a chair.  Heart in my throat and claws ready to scratch, I calmed as I watched their teacher walk over quickly.  I could hear Nikki explain, “We were just playing,” which seemed to satisfy the teacher, especially at the end of the school day.

When I asked my daughter about what I saw, she seemed unhurt by the fall, but deeply pained by Nikki’s reported words from earlier in class that same day: “You’re not my best friend anymore.”  Sting.  The look in my daughter’s eyes hurt me more than I ever remember being hurt by any mean girl bully from my own youth.  “What did your teacher say?” I asked.  “She didn’t hear Nikki say it,” my daughter explained.  For those keeping score, that’s Nikki 2, Teacher 0.

Relational aggression tends to occur under the radar of adult awareness.  As a form of passive aggressive behavior, the kids who behave this way know how to mask their inner hostility with an outward smile.  If questioned by an authority figure, they create plausible excuses for their behavior (e.g. “It was just a game,” or “I was just kidding.  Can’t you take a joke?”)  Relational aggression is carried out by kids who are cunning enough to behave in ways that are socially appropriate on the surface but searingly painful behind the scenes.

In older kids, social networking sites are a prime arena for relational aggression.   24/7 access to MySpace, Twitter, texting, and instant messaging gives bullies constant access and widespread audiences for spreading rumors, causing humiliation and, when necessary, innocently denying that they ever meant any harm.

In younger children, excluding phrases like, “You’re not my best friend anymore,” and “Only girls with long hair can sit here” are spoken quietly, with an angry smile, right under a teacher’s watchful nose.

The night after “the Nikki incidents,” I heard my daughter crying in her room.  When I went to ask her what was wrong, she asked me in return, “Mama, how can I change to make Nikki like me again?”  This occurred years ago now, and I tell you I still get tears in my eyes recalling the night.  For anyone who says the problems of kids are insignificant, I assure you that the pain caused by bullying at any age is soul-crushing.

The good news is that children are resilient and can move on.  The valuable thing my daughter took from having her heart-broken by a “friend” so early on is that now, she is really good about picking genuinely nice kids to hang around with and she’s the first one at a friend’s side when they are being picked on or feeling down.  I heard her explain to a peer the other day, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can really hurt too, so be careful about what you say.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

Signe Whitson, LSW is the mother of two elementary school-aged daughters, and the author of, Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Aged 5-11 Cope with Bullying.  Please visit www.signewhitson.com for information on her workshops and trainings for parents, professionals, and kids.  “Like” Signe on Facebook, or Follow her on Twitter @SigneWhitson.