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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.

Day 16: Kindness and Respect Challenge (You’ve got to be taught)

October 16, 2013

Rebecca Sedwick (2001-2013)

(See UPDATES below) Last month I wrote about Rebecca Sedwick, a 12 year old Florida girl who jumped to her death from the tower of an abandoned cement factory. Rebecca apparently couldn’t imagine another way to end the online harassment she’d suffered for months.

I desperately want to believe that adults who knew Rebecca would have supported her and effectively stopped her tormentors, if only they had known. But she didn’t feel supported. And the tormentors weren’t stopped. Was it because not one adult knew anything about what was going on all that time? I find it hard to imagine that one child in so much pain and a group of other children with so much hate-fueled energy could escape the notice of all the adults around them. But I guess it’s possible. We’re all so busy and kids are pretty good at hiding stuff they don’t want us to know about. But still…

BullyPolice.org, a well-respected watchdog organization that advocates for bullied children and reports on states’ anti-bullying laws, gives Florida an A++ rating. Great work, Florida. Laws change behavior. And yet, at least in this case, the law didn’t deter a group of children from maliciously harassing another child. I could be wrong, but because the cyberbullying took place in public over a period of months, I assume some adults knew who was involved.

According to the AP, Florida’s newly amended cyberbullying law “leaves punishment up to the school, but law enforcement can seek criminal charges.” I don’t know if any kids were disciplined by the school or their parents, but on Monday two girls, a 12 and a 14 year old, were arrested and charged with felony aggravated stalking. The 12 year old was once Rebecca’s friend. The 14 year old allegedly posted this on Facebook last Saturday: “Yes ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don't give a (expletive)]”

This toxic social garage stinks to high heaven. It’s now so typical it’s not really even news any more. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m disheartened. Which means I’m at risk for becoming desensitized to this cruelty. But I’m not going to let that happen. I can’t.

So I read some of the comments posted about this case. Many folks indicated that the girls were “just mean.” Meaning what? That cruelty is their nature and it can’t be changed, so why bother? These are kids, dammit. We are the adults. They learn from us. If we’ve taught them  not to “give a bleep” about anyone but themselves, then we’ve got to teach them something else. Otherwise we’re all bleeped.

Check out Day 17 of the Kindness and Respect Challenge

UPDATE: April 8, 2014 AP reports on Rebecca Sedwick’s case file.

UPDATE: November 21, 2013 Charges dropped against the girls in Rebecca Sedwick bullying case

 

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What to do if your kid is being harassed by a peer

May 18, 2013

"I just want this to stop! But I don't know what to do."

I originally wrote a version of this article for TakePart.com where I’ve contributed education posts. Check out the rest of my articles there.

My email from teens lessens on weekends. This may seem counter-intuitive since kids have more time to connect with friends. But school is where most of the social garbage gets dumped and spread around.

If you read your teen’s texts (I don’t recommend this unless you’ve got real cause for snooping. If not, please respect healthy boundaries.) you’ll mostly find innocuous blips of conversation. But sometimes your child’s circle of friends—and frenemies—can be intentionally cruel and toxic. That’s when parents need to be aware of what’s happening. Our job is to to help kids manage their intense emotions while teaching them appropriate ways to respond to friends who aren’t acting like friends.

Of course, many teens aren’t fans of sharing friendship issues with parents. They assume adult involvement will cause loss of computer and phone access. Or parents’ stepping in will just make things worse. Sometimes those fears are well placed, especially when adults don’t act responsibly. That’s why it’s important to know when and how to help a child who’s being harassed.

More: A Bully’s Paradise: Hidden Halls, Dark Corners and No Supervision

Here are some signs that your child may be having problems with peers. He/she:

  • seems upset, anxious, or worried after reading text messages or spending time on social networking sites.
  • gets defensive or clams up when you ask about school in general or about certain friendships.
  • exhibits a change in appetite, sleep patterns, a dramatic dip in grades, a sudden reluctance to go to school, or a loss of interest in activities he/she previously enjoyed.

If you’ve been observing any of these signs over time, talk with your child, even if he/she insists that everything is “fine.” You know what fine looks like. If what you’re seeing doesn’t look fine, then trust your instincts—but don’t turn this into an interrogation. That will add stress and make it less likely that your child will want to talk to you.

Instead, you might begin the conversation with a straightforward observation. For example: “I’ve noticed that you seem upset whenever you come home from Emily’s house.” Then close your mouth, look into your child’s eyes with compassion, and listen. Hopefully, your calm, loving demeanor will (eventually) encourage your child to open up about what’s going on.

If other kids are targeting your child, be empathetic. Then find out what your child has already tried in an attempt to improve the situation. If he/she has not yet spoken directly to the aggressor, suggest it as an option. Teach your child to let others know that he/she deserves to be treated with respect. Tell your child that staying silent in the face of injustice rarely leads to more justice. On the other hand, when a formerly passive victim stands up for him/herself, the aggressor may realize they’ve been disrespectful. They may stop. Of course, sometimes it takes more than that.

If your child has delivered a clear message repeatedly and the harassment persists, it’s time to get the school involved. If your child wants to talk with an adult at school without your help, let him/her go for it. It’s great training for life. If your child would prefer for you to be there, then be there.

Before the meeting, check out BullyPolice.org and educate yourself on the anti-bullying legislation that exists at your state level. At the meeting, let your child take the lead when talking about his/her experience. Request to see a copy of the school district’s anti-bullying policy.

If the peer harassment persists, demand another meeting with the principal, yourself, and the parents of the child(ren) who has been harassing your child. If the principal and/or the other kids’ parents are unconcerned (“It’s just kid stuff”) or if you feel like you’re getting a runaround (“We’ll work on it”), don’t waste your breath. Go over the principal’s head to the superintendent. Name names. Be a pain. Do not allow yourself to be silenced. Do not stop the pressure until the harassment stops.

Every school has a legal and moral responsibility to make sure that all students are treated with respect at all times. When parents hold schools accountable, schools are more likely to do their job well.

 

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , , , , — Annie @ 6:17 pm
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Helping Kids Deal w/Social Garbage, Online & Off

November 8, 2012

I originally wrote a version of this article for TakePart.com, an interactive publisher and the digital arm of Participant Media.  Check out my weekly Education posts there.

"Help! I'm drowning in social garbage!"

I’ve been answering teen email since 1997. The ongoing Q&A has made me an expert on the social garbage many 11-17 year olds slog through every day. Typical teen questions include:

  • What do you do if your friend is mad at you but won’t tell you why?
  • What do you do if people are spreading rumors about you and no one believes that they aren’t true?
  • What do you do when friends pressure you to do stuff you don’t want to do, but you’re afraid not to because they’ll make fun of you?

Sound familiar? These might be the same issues we once dealt with, but our children aren’t responding to them the way we did before social media. When 21st-century kids experience peer conflicts, online and off, they typically respond with a level of social aggression (aka verbal violence) that damages individuals in profound ways and pollutes school climates everywhere.

In September I spoke with nearly a thousand students at a couple of international schools, one in Singapore and another in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We talked about Real Friends vs. the Other Kind, based on my Middle School Confidential series. In each presentation the kids and I discussed tough issues like: stress, peer approval addiction, and the brain’s occasional habit of working against our desire to do the right thing. Even though I was 7,000 miles from home, the comments and questions coming from these students expressed the same conflicts and emotional confusion I’ve heard repeatedly from kids in San Jose, St. Louis, and Philly.

Back in the last century, when we had a problem with someone at school, we went home for dinner with the family, did homework, and watched TV. Sometimes we even read a book to take our minds off school and social garbage. The next morning in class combatants were usually less combative and we were all better able to concentrate on whatever we were expected to learn.

Today’s kids are mind-melded with peers 24/7. School and home are equally conducive for frantic texting and getting more people involved in the drama du jour. Status anxiety regularly submerges so much mental real estate, our students are often flooded with destructive emotions. They can’t think clearly when they’re upset. No one can. Which is why the adults who live and work with kids need to actively teach kids to be good people, otherwise, their moral compasses will be calibrated solely by their equally clueless peers. (Not a pretty thought!)

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