Annie Fox's Blog...

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.

Bullying – Talk is cheap

April 27, 2012

As an educator who’s been receiving student email from around the world for the past 15 years, I can tell you that kids are desperately seeking adult leadership to deal with school bullying. (See my review of the movie BULLY) The way 6th-8th graders describe it, in often heart-breaking terms, is that there is “no point in talking to teachers or the principal about this, because they do NOTHING.”

At this point, when the problem has been sufficiently identified so that everyone knows exactly what bullying is, any further talk talk talk is the same as doing nothing. Talk is cheap. School assemblies with outside speakers may not be ‘cheap’ but they do allow a school administration that doesn’t prioritize character education in any discernible way to tell distraught parents: “We’re handling it. We had an anti-bullying assembly.”

Piffle.

Even the most inspirational student assembly has no power to change a school culture. Not by its lonesome. Because a school’s culture is a living, breathing entity. Each school day, moment-by-moment, and each night on social media, all individuals within that school community contribute to the culture. If a school is truly serious about challenging the Culture of Cruelty you’ve got to do way more than talk. You need to call a community-wide meeting and give each stake-holder an opportunity to speak – that includes all students, teachers, coaches, administrators, support staff (bus drivers, office personnel, after school program staff, etc.). Conduct a Truth and Reconciliation session. Get real. Express the hurt. The anger. The frustration. Cop to the injustice. Take responsibility for what you’ve done and what you’ve failed to do. Apologize. Make amends. Work together to develop strategies for moving forward. Once the strategy for a culture of inclusion is in place, do not fail for one moment to foster it so it can take root and thrive.

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Bully – How about a 3rd act with some solutions?

April 21, 2012

In one of the opening school scenes of the new documentary Bully, a kid with a shaken expression and an ice pack on his head is approached by his school principal who asks, “Oh, what happened to you?” To which the kid replies, “Johnny shoved my head against a nail.”

I realize school principals see and hear a lot from students during a typical day and much of it is innocuous. As school administrators, they have to be able to differentiate between ‘drama’ vs the real stuff or they’d never make it to 3rd period with their sanity in tact.  But an upset child with an ice pack requires attention, so the principal examines the back of the kid’s head and blithely reports, ‘Well, I don’t see a hole.”

That was a tip off that there wasn’t going to be a whole lot of empathy from this administrator. In fact, I was half-expecting she’d ask, “And what did you do to make Johnny so mad?” Instead she shooed the kid off to wherever. Another bullying incident swept aside.

That frustrated me. In fact, the whole audience seemed frustrated by a lot of what we saw in Bully. Not that the scenes with the victims weren’t compelling. Oh they were! I winced, I hid my eyes, I cried. But mostly, my fellow-movie goers and I sat incredulous at the consistent insensitivity of folks who are responsible for the safety and well-being of the students in their care.

Which brings up the scenes of violence on the school bus. Truthfully, I’ve seen much worse filmed by security cameras on school buses. But the bus footage in Bully was made by the filmmakers. They were right there, witnessing a child (Alex) being pushed, hit, shoved, choked, and stabbed with a pencil on numerous occasions. I watch Nature documentaries and I understand that when the lion is hunting the gazelle the filmmakers do not interfere with the ‘natural order’ of things. If the prey gets caught, the camera keeps rolling. But we’re talking about people standing by and watching while a child is being hurt. The film crew continued filming for the benefit of their movie. That’s repugnant. At one point, it must have been too much for them because they put up an inter title saying “Because the violence was escalating and we were concerned for Alex’s safety, we showed the footage to his parents and the school administration.”

What the hell took them so long?! Standing back and filming this cruelty felt like a major betrayal to Alex and his parents, who trusted the filmmakers and opened themselves to them . Where were they when Alex needed help? Apparently more concerned about their movie than the child.

The film had its moments. Who could not be moved by a memorial service for a victim of bullying? Or by a parent choking on her broken heart as she describes the angelic child who was her son had until she found him hanging from a rope in the closet? But these scenes do not translate into change. And that’s why I’m frustrated. That’s why I’ve had it with feel good rallies, candle-light vigils, t-shirts, plastic bracelets and balloon releases.

I wanted more from this film. It was so hyped after an online petition to get the rating changed from R to PG-13 went viral. Hell, I signed it along with 500,000 other people because we felt so strongly that it needed to be seen by as many kids as possible. All of us were hopeful that this film would add something new to the search for solutions. But the film showed absolutely no evidence that any school is doing anything to teach students that cruelty is unacceptable. And yet there are plenty of schools doing the right thing. Schools where administrators, teachers, counselors, parents and students work together to create an accepting school culture– one that does not tolerate harassment. Some of these schools changed themselves after a tragedy. They took responsibility for what happened in their midst and they learned how to become a more caring place. Other schools have never experienced a student being driven to suicide by bullying, but they work proactively on this issue every day, so it won’t happen there.

Aside from the courageous leadership and determination of the parents of two bully-cide victims in the film, there wasn’t a lot to feel inspired by here. And I wanted to feel inspired. All of us who care about kids need to feel inspired and motivated, otherwise we might as well just join the chorus of those who say “Kids will be kids and there’s nothing we can do about our students’ behavior. Let them work it out themselves.” By not providing a look at a positive role model school, it felt like the filmmakers had no hope to offer.

Look, I’m grateful that this film was made. I applaud the filmmakers for creating a free teacher’s guide. I fervently hope that schools everywhere are screening Bully and that follow-up discussions with students and teachers are ongoing. But this isn’t like the early days of the AIDS epidemic. We know a lot about bullying. We know what kinds of environments help it thrive and we know what it takes to teach kids to treat each other with respect. The challenge, it seems, is showing the leadership at school and at home, to consistently walk the walk.

Filed under: Cruel's Not Cool,Parenting — Tags: , , — Annie @ 11:09 pm
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The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism

April 10, 2012

It’s Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month. Excellent, because we all need more awareness and education in this area. I know I sure do. That’s why, a few weeks ago, I interviewed Shannon Des Roches Rosa, self-described “Potty-mouthed Mom” behind the blog, Squidalicious: Parenting, Autism, iPads and Geekery. Shannon’s been writing about her autistic son, Leo, and her parenting journey since 2003. She writes with a level of honesty and humor that grabs me and keeps me coming back. She talks that way too. Here’s an excerpt from our hour-long conversation about her new book The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism.

Annie: There seem to be new books on autism coming out every week. Why did you and your co-editors (Jennifer Byde Myers and Liz Ditz) feel the need to produce yet another one?

Shannon: None of them were books we would have wanted when our kids were first diagnosed. That is, a rational, compassionate handbook that would say: What is autism? Tell me everything I need to know. What are my next steps? And how can I make good decisions?

There are so many competing approaches out there. Some of them are useless at best. Others are actively harmful, like chelation, a medical procedure for removing metals from the body. And a lot of these treatments are so disrespectful to people with autism – treating them as if they’re ‘broken’ and not ‘whole’ people.  And some are just so expensive for parents who don’t necessarily have a lot of money to take out a second mortgage to “cure” their child with an approach that doesn’t even have a basis in mainstream science.

Annie: What struck me from reading several of the essays in the book (there are about 50 and each is a gem), were descriptions of that parental roller coaster ride of hope and expectations, pursuing some of these treatments, followed by frustration and despair.

Shannon: In many cases, all of it  for naught. What we try to do in our book is help people learn to think critically and rationally about autism even when they are in the midst of this whirlwind of new information. So many parents are so distraught when they learn their child is diagnosed with autism. We want to help them through that. And we want to let them know that even though the media tends to perceive people with autism and special needs like this lightning bolt of ‘bad luck,’ people with special needs are part of our community. They’ve always been here. This is just another way of being. These people need more understanding. Yes! They need more support. Yes! But that doesn’t make them “other” or “less than.” These are families that need compassion and understanding, but not pity. We want to help people get past fear, myths and negative stereotypes.

Annie: I just want to say, as a writer myself, that I’m a very critical reader. And in addition to the excellent information you’ve provided in The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, it is a wonderfully written book. It’s very readable and the tone is very reassuring. And if your goal was to share the voices of real people talking about autism with the authority of their personal experience, you have exceeded that goal. I hope you’re very proud of what you’ve accomplished. I also hope that the millions of people whose lives are touched by autism (that includes family, friends and educators) will buy your book. It’s a gift to all of us who consider ourselves to be thinking people.

Shannon: Thank you!

Annie: Thank you so much for spending time with me today and for writing this guide. I’ve learned a lot and I will continue to dip into it because I need to learn more. People often come to me with questions about autism and now I have an excellent resource to offer them. One that offers understanding and support for them and their child rather than treating their child as a ‘problem’ that needs to be ‘fixed.’

Shannon: There’s a big difference between supporting and fixing!

Annie: Agreed. And that very helpful and positive perspective comes through loud and clear in your book!

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