With the help of bullying expert (and personal hero) Rosalind Wiseman, Dateline did a fabulous hidden camera piece on kids bullying. I strongly encourage you to watch this with your kids. This six-segment series on You Tube is about 40-minutes long and goes beyond making us aware of the extent of bullying, which I think we all already understand. The best thing about this segment is that it gives kids an understanding of the subtle tricks bullies use to pull in bystanders AND shows them ways to squelch a bully’s power. You will see both boy and girl scenarios throughout the segment. This is a must see with your kids.
I’m VERY excited to be partnering with Charlotte_Mecklenburg School District’s Parent University to lead several talks at Charlotte middle schools this fall. The first talk will be at:Carmel Middle School 5001 Camilla Drive Charlotte, NC Tuesday, September 18th 6:00 – 7:30 pm This event is free and open to the public.
I’m here to help you help your child survive and thrive in middle school. Whether you have a middle schooler or an older elementary student, you are probably already dealing with changing friendships, popularity, bullies, pressure to be perfect, body image, cliques, and attitude. All of these are key components of your child’s new social world. I’ll show you how to navigate this world to make it easier on you and your child. Details on my talk are below. I hope to see you there!
In 2004, Michelle Icard launched Athena’s Path, a curriculum that helps girls navigate the tricky middle school social scene. Shortly after, she added Hero’s Pursuit for boys, and in 2011 launched her website for parents of middle schoolers: www.MichelleintheMiddle.com.
Athena’s Path™ & Hero’s Pursuit have been implemented in 30 schools, in five states, and have impacted over 7,000 students. Over 250 teachers have been trained to implement the programs in schools. In addition to an online presence, Michelle regularly speaks at schools and parenting events around the country. She has also written curriculum for other national programs for adolescents. Michelle lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, 12 year-old daughter, and 10 year-old son.
Michelle will present for one hour with an additional minimum 30 minutes for Q& A. Michelle’s presentation style is casual and friendly, and she enjoys taking questions from the audience both during and after her talk. She does not read slides or use information dense graphics. Michelle’s slides are visually rich and they support her talking points.
Flow of Content:
- Michelle’s personal experience…and how it relates to your child
- The importance of resilience in middle school
- How love of a hobby builds resilience
- The #1 fear of middle schoolers and how parents can help
- Then and now: examples from pop culture on how times have changed
- Evolution of the “mean girl”
- Why parents must encourage a culture of vulnerability to raise strong kids
- The hero archetype and its importance in the boy world
- Group Activity: Learned Helplessness
- Demonstrating why your kid shuts down quickly and how to help
- The adolescent brain
- Communication, motivation and discipline – what works and what doesn’t
- The incredible upside to adolescence most parents overlook
- Teaching your child to be a problem solver
- o A five-step process to success
I hadn’t heard the term “necking” since I was a little girl watching The Fonz get ready for a hot date with Pinky Tuscadero. I never liked the term. The onomatopoeia of it…the slow hum of the “n” followed by the smack of the consonants just sounds gross. So I was pretty confused to hear kids in my area from different schools, elementary and middle, have started talking about necking at school and getting necked. Weird. And gross. What’s this all about?
It turns out necking is a popular new activity among the tween set which goes a little something like this:
Necking or “giving a neck” is what happens when one kid determines that something another kid has said is dumb. Occasions on which someone might get “necked” are answering a question wrong, stating the obvious, questioning something everything else understands, being lazy.
If you are guilty of any of these, someone near you will say “that’s a neck” and then swipe their hand across the back of your neck. Usually, I am told, it doesn’t hurt, although on rare occasions kids do swipe hard. It sounds cruel but it’s more about kids beginning to develop their own social environments and exercising their new powers to limit social behavior that isn’t considered cool by the group. That’s a big part of developing identity and relationship to a group. Being necked is clearly a sign that you’re in, not out. They show you you’re cool enough to be included in this ritual and to be physically touched, and you must show them that you’re cool enough to take a little razzing without falling apart. Bonus points if you’re fast enough to call out “self serve” and swipe your own neck before someone else gets you.
Inspired by the documentary film Bully, last night I hosted a meet up for interested parents, teachers, and community members to discuss bullying. I do not claim or aim to be a bully prevention program, but my programs Athena’s Path™ & Hero’s Pursuit help kids manage their middle school social scene, and let’s face it, bullies are a part of that world.
We met at The Wine Shop on Fairview Road and this is not just the wine talking we had an awesome crowd. In attendance: a guidance counselor from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, a psychologist who works with teens, a math teacher from a private school, a principal of a middle school, a handful of moms from public and private school, a concerned aunt, as well as me and my right hand, Quinn Davidson, who many of you know via email, so it was nice to make introductions face to face. What a broad perspective we represented around the table.
Creating our agenda on the fly, we shared introductions, why we were there, and any points we hoped would be covered or questions answered.
Here are some of the highlights from our discussion:
- Our kids need to understand what is bullying and what is not. According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is:
An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
- What doesn’t work? Calling parent to parent. Moms and the psychologist agreed that schools can intervene to call parents of a bully, but a parent calling another to complain of bullying behavior does more harm than good.
- Schools have very limited resources. According to the guidance counselor, the choices come down to suspending a kid or not …with very few (if any) options in between. Documentation, corroboration, and investigation of bullying incidents can often be more time consuming than staff or time will allow. Ouch.
- It’s not that administrators don’t care. It just takes a lot of time and effort to get to the whole truth. And sometimes, there’s more to the story than one parent knows.
- Some kids are starting to file bullying reports as a way to bully. Yikes! We are gonna need to build a better mousetrap.
- Lack of empathy seems to be the biggest problem with bullies. How do we develop that? It doesn’t happen quickly but by letting them get raw and vulnerable it can happen. (This is what we do in Ap & HP, by the way.)
- We must educate kids on how to respond as bystanders. Many parents think their kid would never bully but do they understand the role of the bystander as part of the problem? Dateline did a series on this and parents were shocked. Rosalind Wiseman, bullying expert and author of Queen Bees & Wannabes says the key to stopping bullying is to educate bystanders. Watch the dateline videos for yourself. (I’ve linked to the first one, you will need to click on each of the six to see the whole episode.)
- Sometimes it’s not physically safe to say something in the moment. Kids can also approach a victim or aggressor later when things are more calm to express themselves.
- The Butterfly Project is another good way to teach about the power of the bystander.
- What can parents do? Practice ways to respond with your kid. A bully tries to take away your power. A kid with a plan feels empowered.
- Parents should also react with empathy but not overly angry. Many kids don’t tell their parents what happens for fear their parents will “freak out.”
To go against the dominant thinking of your friends,
of most of the people you see every day,
is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.
– Theodore H. White
Trying to process to the movie Bully is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant. There is so much to take in, and I’m afraid I’m going to make a big, fat mess before I can quench my thirst. I want to do and say so much after seeing this film. This is just a start.
First, a summary for those who haven’t seen it:
Spoiler alert, I’m about to describe a few key scenes from the movie. There is no plot to be ruined, but the impact of seeing these stories on the big screen is powerful and if you plan on seeing the movie and don’t want to diminish the shock value of these moments, skip the summary.
Bully is a documentary following the stories of five kids from different small towns across America, although each town appears similar in terms of education and socio-economic level, both apparently low. The downfall of this is that it will be easy for people to watch this movie and think “these people live in trailers, they’re undereducated, they don’t have the same options I do. Surely it’s not that bad here.”
The Kids Featured in the Documentary:
Tyler was 17 when he hung himself in his bedroom closet after years of being tormented by kids at his school. The film follows his parents’ journey as they try to make life comfortable for their other children after Tyler’s death and as they fight, in Tyler’s memory, for other bullied kids.
Alex, age 12, was born at 26 weeks and you can see by looking at him that he developed differently in this world. When filmed alone or with his youngest sibling he appears to be a strong and kind caregiver. But because he has always looked different, he has been treated as an outsider. Alex is repeatedly stabbed, strangled, and punched on his bus. In one heartbreaking scene, even his little sister calls him “creepy” and says she doesn’t want to go to middle school where she will be known as his sister. At one point, Alex mumbles, “They punch me in the jaw, strangle me, they knock things out of my hand, take things from me, sit on me. They push me so far that I want to become the bully.”
Ja’Meya, age 14, is spending time in a juvenile detention facility for bringing a loaded gun onto her bus to “scare” off the kids who bullied her on the hour long ride to and from school each day. She is visited frequently by her adoring mother, and she clearly tries to stay strong but longs to go home again.
Ty was 11 when he shot himself after years of being shoved into lockers and humiliated at school. His best friend shows the film makers their secret fort, remembering nostalgically…“We could spend five hours here and it would feel like 30 minutes.” (That quote crushed me.) In a later scene we see that same friend, a boy pallbearer among five men, helping them carry Ty’s casket after his funeral.
Kelby is a 16-year lesbian who, since coming out, has been ridiculed and ostracized by students and teachers at her school. She tells the film makers about her teacher calling role, first the boys, then the girls, then Kelby in a separate category. A group of boys in her home town purposely struck Kelby with their car as she was walking down the road.
The stories are painful and important but the most compelling moments of the film are those when we follow the assistant-principal at Alex’s school in Iowa. This woman could be none other than the strange love child of Delores Umbridge and Sue Sylvester. People in the theater with me were actually throwing their hands in the air in utter disgust at how she treated the kids in her school.
Responding to Alex’s parents when they described his treatment on the bus she cooed, “Noooo, those kids are good as gold!” In another scene she tries to settle a fight between two boys, telling them to shake hands and get past it. The bully quickly stands up straight and offers his hand for a shake. The victim cannot look him in the eye and holds out a half -limp hand just to get it over with. The AP won’t have it. She pats the bully on the back, tells him good job, and sends him on his way. Leaning in the little boy’s face she asks why he can’t be man enough to shake the other boy’s hand. Choking back tears, he tells her that every day that kid punches him and calls him a “p-u-s-s-y.” He says he can’t take it anymore. She tells him if he can’t shake hands like a man and let it be water under the bridge, he’s “just as bad” as the other kid.
You need to see it to believe it.
School and youth groups need to see it, too.
Yes, you will cry at some parts but it’s not emotionally manipulative. You can handle it and I think you’ll feel proud that you watched it. I was scared to go, but I left so glad I saw it. You will be, too.
What I Told My Kids
I needed to talk with my kids right after seeing the movie. Watching the security footage of Ja’Meya pointing her loaded gun on the bus terrified me. None of the passengers ducked! They all sat still, stunned, and just stared at her.
The first thing I told my kids: If someone has a weapon of any kind at school, tell an adult. Even if someone is joking about a weapon, tell an adult. And if you EVER see someone with a gun get on the ground.
The second thing I told my kids: I have expectations about your grades at school and I also have expectations about your behavior. I expect that if you see someone being harassed or humiliated at school, you will say something if it is safe to do so. If you don’t think you will be safe when you speak up, it is my expectation that you will go tell an adult. You have a voice and you are strong and you have every reason to be a leader.
This is For Real
After I spoke with my kids about the film, my daughter told me that last week some boys at her school were making fun of an overweight girl. They kept asking her how much she weighed. One boy asked his friend, right in front of her, how much weight she would have to lose for him to date her. “60 – 70 pounds”, his friend said. (These are 6th graders.) To her credit, my daughter said, “That’s mean.” Apparently the boys rolled their eyes at her. I asked what the girl did. “She just laughed,” she said. (Until she got home and cried, I thought.)
Last night I worked with a charismatic 8th grade girl who loves dance and math class, and whose classmates bullied her so badly she switched schools last year. But those mean girls called some friends at her new school and told them not to speak to her when she transferred in. Her main torment these days: “No one sticks up for me.”
I am working with a boy who is teased endlessly by his team mates for having a learning disability and though his parents suspect much of the teasing is “normal boy stuff”, the boy being teased can’t take the constant flow of insults without internalizing them.
A woman I met at the Bully movie has a daughter who is teased for having a prosthetic she received after surviving cancer. A boy on her school bus stood up and announced that she is a freak and belongs in a circus. When this girl’s mom approached the boy’s mom to get him to stop, his mother replied, “What do you want me to do? Send him to cancer camp?! He’s just a kid. He doesn’t know any better!”
A 7th grader brought a gun to a nice, suburban school in our district last week. Someone brought a taser to my daughter’s school.
It’s bad here, too.
Watch The Movie…And Then What?
Here are five things you can do to make an impact:
1) Set the right example. Don’t dismiss this one as obvious. It’s actually much harder than you think. We judge people, out loud, in front of our kids all the time without even realizing it. I can’t explain this any better than Rosie Molinary did in her article “And If You Care, Here’s What’s Up.” Please take a side trip and read her post to better understand how we can make our world more judgement-free.
2) Model empathy. Importantly, let your kids see you helping people who are different than you. I know you bring a casserole to your neighbor when she’s had a baby and you hold the door for the family who enters the restaurant behind you, but do your kids see you interacting with people of different races, sexual orientations, socio-economc backgrounds, religions, and weight, with or without varying coverage of piercings or tattoos? Our kids need to see us walk through life dispensing dignity freely.
3) Set expectations. Your kids should know that you are aware of what happens in school (and out, for that matter) and that you expect them to be a leader not a follower. Kids rise to the level of our expectations, not just when it comes to grades and chores, but socially as well. Give them the words to use if they see someone begin harassed or humiliated. Some options: “Cut it out.” “That’s not cool.” “Wow, you woke up in a bad mood today.” “Stop.” “Leave him alone.” “That’s enough.” “Do you need help?” “Are you okay?” “I’m sorry they said that.”
4) Give kids tools to manage their social scene. Work to change the system by requiring schools to respond appropriately to bullying situations, but more importantly, give kids tools to respond with strength and confidence to bullies. I work with schools to implement social leadership curriculum, host summer camps to help kids navigate the middle school social scene, and coach kids privately via Skype. I also recommend Soul Shoppe out of San Francisco, CA for in school assemblies that really make a difference.
5) Keep the conversation going. If you’re in Charlotte, NC, I’m organizing a meet up to talk about the film, bullying issues, and what we can do as a community to help.
When: Thursday, May 10th 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Where: The Wine Shop at Foxcroft, 7824 Fairview Road
Who: Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or an interested community member, let’s spend some time in good company talking about what we can do to make this right. Come one, come all. I’ll buy the first few bottles of wine and some appetizers!
Where To See The Bully Movie
The film is showing in limited release around the country. Check here for a listing near you. If you are in Charlotte, here are your options:
At Park Terrace, show times are 2:20, 4:40 and 7:00.
At Concord Mills, show times are 11:55, 2:30, 5:00, 7:30 and 10:00.