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.

Broken kids are breaking all of us

October 2, 2010

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 watch 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.

UPDATE: 6:49 PM Talk about cyber-bullying, just came back from The Social Network, a cautionary tale from the Real Friends vs. The Other Kind  files. Totally worth seeing.


UPDATE: March 16, 2012 Today, a New Jersey jury found Dharun Ravi, Tyler Clementi’s former roommate guilty of bias intimidation among other charges.

UPDATE: May 21, 2012 Superior Court Judge Glen Berman handed down Dharun Ravi’s sentence: 30 days in jail and 3 years probation after having been found guilty of numerous crimes, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation (a hate crime)


Does she bite?

June 1, 2010

Trust me. I'm a friend.

The developmentally disabled adults sat in front of the church waiting for their bus. “Would you like to say hello to my dog?” I asked the young woman who cautiously eyed my puppy. She recoiled and shook her head. But this pooch takes her job on the Welcoming Committee very seriously so she just kicked the wagging and wiggling up a notch. The woman was finding it hard to resist.

“Does he bite?” she wanted to know.
“Nope. But she’s really into kisses.”
The woman smiled, relaxed and the bonding began.

It’s risky business making a new friend. Especially if you’re a tween or teen who hasn’t had a lot of social success. It would be very cool to find out in advance: “Does she bite?”

From the email I get from kids I know that bullying and/or harassment situations often involve former friends. (AKA, a frenemy)  The betrayal hurts as much if not more than the nastiness.

If only we could find out earlier if she “bites.” Might avoid a lot of drama and suffering.

Filed under: Cruel's Not Cool,Parenting,Teens — Tags: , , , , , — Annie @ 1:16 pm

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?


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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