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Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Maybe we’re teaching something else

May 19, 2010

Today's lesson is geography and what else?

A master teacher once pointed out to a group of student teachers: “If you’re not modeling what you teach or what you say you want kids to learn, then you sure as hell are teaching something else!”

Bullying is a systemic problem. Put downs, gossip, snarkiness are all pretty much the air we breathe. Yet when we see or read about mean-kid behavior we’re all righteously stunned. “They tormented the girl so badly that she committed suicide!? Then the perpetrators actually posted more cruel comments on the victim’s Facebook memorial page!!!”

Considering what passes for entertainment and bonding around the water cooler, the sidelines at the game, the teacher lounge, the TV, the blogosphere, why are we surprised? It would be more surprising if kids growing up in our Culture of Cruelty turned out to be something other than cruel.

I know it’s harsh to think that the enemy is us… but we might as well own it because until we do we are cluelessly fueling the problem. And any attempts to minimize school bullying, turn a blind eye, or infer that it’s just “kids being kids” misses the point and blows yet another opportunity to turn the ship around.

Blackberry vines have rooted amongst my rose bushes. If I simply curse them or pluck a leaf here and there, that won’t stop the spread of vines (which will totally take over if I permit it). I’ve got to get in there on my hands and knees, deal with the thorns and dig out those suckers and all their damn roots.

Same applies to bullying. Not only are parents and teachers responsible for rooting out malevolent behavior between kids whenever we see it, hear about it or sense it. But we adults who live and work with kids have the moral obligation of watching our own mouths and attitudes… all the time. Otherwise “Respect, Compassion and Social Responsibility” is just a school motto and the dirty truth is that we’re teaching something else.

Filed under: Cruel's Not Cool,Parenting — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 2:59 pm
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Doing the right thing is its own reward, right?

May 12, 2010

"How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer

How the brain makes up its mind

Last month at a DC bookstore I saw Jonah Lehrer’s bestseller How We Decide and instantly decided to buy it. Now that’s effective marketing!

I’m an anti-bullying passionista currently up to my medulla oblongata in our new Cruel’s Not Cool! campaign. Which is why it’s no surprise that everything I hear lately passes through the “bullying” filter.

So… I’m reading a chapter in Lehrer’s book about decision making and credit card spending and I have a minor epiphany about bullying. (Stick with me for minute.)

Apparently when we buy something with cash we simultaneously feel a loss in the part of the brain associated with pain. “There goes some of my money!” Because it hurts, people who buy with cash are less likely to make those impulsive purchases which can screw you in any economy.

But brain imaging experiments indicate that buying with a credit card reduces feelings in the pain region of the brain and provides you with an instant reward (“I get what I want NOW!”). In other words, when you buy with plastic you don’t feel bad so you spend more without thinking about how you’ll pay. In 2006 Americans spent more than $17 billion in credit card penalty fees. (Ouch!)

So are you gonna play nice, or not?

So are you gonna play nice, or not?

Back to bullying. If you tease someone face to face and see them hurting, you (hopefully) feel some “pain” in the brain which will make you less likely to do it again. We’re not big on punishing ourselves, but we do like rewards. (More on this in a bit…)

If a bully regularly IMs or texts insulting, vile messages, then bullying, like credit card spending and drone warfare, becomes an abstract and “painless” habit so the bully will likely do it more. Especially when there’s a reward.

When it comes to sharing a “joke” with a friend (which involves teasing a third party) vs. not trash-talking… the choice to the middle school student is clear. Her #1 currency is popularity. The emotional pull toward mimicking her friend’s mean behavior is way stronger than the rational mind’s thinking “Hm, this gossiping could come back to bite me.”

The tween brain works against rational thinking when it comes to bullying and a host of other things (including getting a start on that term paper instead of letting it slide until the night before it’s due). Their developing brain matter is notoriously poor at impulse control, planning ahead and being able to predict the outcome of one’s choices.

Bottom line… being thoughtful and rational about bullying is a monumental challenge for 11-14 year olds!

In a typical middle school where bullying is rampant, what’s the reward for not engaging in malevolent behavior? What’s the reward for being a truly nice kid? Until a school comes up with the answer to that it’s not likely that kids will choose doing the right thing over being popular.

Your thoughts?

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Where’d that spider come from?

May 4, 2010

Sometimes spiders just appear

I’m a nice person. Honest. But I easily slip into snark-mode without thinking about it. Like when I’m watching a TV interview with an actor whose been out of the spotlight for a while and instantly I think (and say) “Geez, (s)he looks OLD!” Totally unnecessary and unkind and yet, by no conscious effort, out of my mouth slither spiders and snakes.

I’d never intentionally say or do anything for the purpose of hurting someone. And I tell students all the time not to add to the social “garbage” that passes for conversation at school. So why would I think it’s OK to disparage a movie actor?

I have no clue.

But I do know this, people who are truly self-confident don’t put down others for sport. Not publicly or privately. So I’m outting myself here. Clearly I have some self-esteem issues. But I want to change. Otherwise what good am I as a teacher who helps kids understand that Cruel’s not cool??

Starting today I’m committing myself to become more aware of my thoughts. I’m going to scrutinize the put-downs and insults that instantly come to mind when I see someone whose appearance or attitude or behavior isn’t to my liking. When the judgment call pops up, I’m going to seriously examine why in that moment, I feel the need to inflate my ego by mentally dragging down someone else.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to unplug from my Inner Critic (AKA The Opinion-ator) but I figure the first step is to become more conscious of my unconscious habits.

Wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted.

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: — Annie @ 2:34 pm
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