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.

If it works in preschool…

September 23, 2013

A friend just informed me that her 14-year-old granddaughter, Samantha, was approached by a few classmates on the first day of school and told, “Everyone hates you, Samantha. You know that, don’t you?”

Apparently Sami was clueless, so the news understandably did her in for the rest of the day. She wasn’t too keen on going to school the next morning, either.

We know kids are kids and they often need our help. So what’s our usual helpful advice in these situations?

A) Ignore those mean girls.

B) Pretend it doesn’t bother you.

C) Give them a taste of their own bitchiness right back at them.

D) Diffuse the tension with humor.

E) If the harassment gets really bad, switch schools.

F) None of the above.

F is the answer, even though most well-meaning adults believe the remedy to bullying is in the hand’s of the victim. (See A-E) Apparently we’re not trying to change the abuser’s behavior… only the victim’s response! Does anyone but me see how crazy that is?

I'm gonna do what I want and you can't stop me!

Think about it this way: If a preschooler brought a baseball bat to school and started beating other kids over the head, teachers would disarm the abuser in a hot New York minute. They wouldn’t waste a second telling the victims to “ignore” the abuse. They’d shut-down the bat-wielder. Then they’d bring in BatKid’s parents and work together to educate that child and help him or her become a caring and responsible member of the school community.  That’s the appropriate and effective way to help the victims and the aggressive child as well.

So what’s in the way of taking the same direct, common sense preschool approach to mean-kid behavior in middle and high schools? Can someone please tell me because I’ve been working on this stuff for over 30 years and I still don’t get why the solution eludes us.

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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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My child? A bully?!! Part 1

July 2, 2010

Me? A Bully? Yeah, right!

This won’t be an easy read. But if the title pulled you in, you may already have some suspicions (or hard evidence) that your kid engages in mean-spirited behavior that hurts others. No parent wants to admit their kid is a bully, but according to a recent U.S. Department of Justice study, 77% of students nation-wide reported having been bullied, verbally, mentally or physically, in school in the past month. Lots of tormentors. Each one is somebody’s child. Would you know if (s)he was yours?

Hints that your child may be a bully:

1. You or your partner is a bully. The family is Ground Zero for learning about emotional responses and relationships. If a parent consistently yells or uses verbal threats, emotional blackmail or physical violence to manipulate family members, that’s what the child learns. And that learned aggression is likely to come to school with him/her. If you’re a bully it may be difficult for you to see it. If you’re wondering, ask your partner or your child “Do you think I’m a bully?” Hopefully they’re not too afraid to tell you the truth.

2. Your child is bossy at home. Is she demanding? Do things have to be her way or she throws a fit? Curses at you? Threatens? Gives you the silent treatment? Refuses to cooperate? Takes it out on siblings? If you made a short list of adjectives describing your child would you paint a portrait of someone you admire? If you admit she’s self-centered, controlling, insensitive at home, why assume she’s consistently caring and supportive at school?

3. Your child’s close friends are not the nicest people. You may not trust them without knowing why. Or you may have good reasons not to respect the choices these kids make.  If so, talk to your child (calmly and respectfully) about these friends. This isn’t about labeling or demonizing. And it’s surely not about getting into a power struggle with your child about who she can and can’t be friends with. This is about understanding your child. Be compassionately curious about his friendships and he’s likely to open up.  Your intent is to find out what your child likes about his friends and which ones, if any, your child may not be 100% comfortable with.

4. Your child makes rude comments about other kids. Tune in to conversations between your child and her friends. What kind of language do they use to describe other kids? How often do you overhear gossip, a rude put-down, or a “joke” being made at someone else’s expense?

Ask your child to tell you about the social hierarchy in her grade. Kids often like to display their expertise and you’ll be surprised at how detailed they get about who’s “in” and who is so not. Some kids will literally draw you a picture of the school’s social landscape! Listen closely as your child describes the kids who aren’t popular. Or the ones who are. Do you hear derogatory language? (“He’s such a loser.” “She’s such an ugly bitch.” “Fat!” “Retard!” “Whore.”) If your kid freely talks this way in your presence, there are no barriers to the hurtful words (s)he’ll say, text or post when you’re not around.

Parents of tweens and teens assume that their days of influencing their children are over. Not so! While it’s a fact that friends’ opinions are important, so are yours. You still have tremendous influence on your child’s values and behavior, and you always will. Even after your kids are grown with kids of their own.

If you are aware that your child is a bully or leaning in that direction, it’s up to you to provide a course correction. When each parent does their job… bullying problem solved.

Next week: What to do if you now realize that you’ve been contributing to a bully-in-the-making? How can you begin to help your son or daughter change… for good?

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