Summertime: More Bullying For Our Children?

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My friend Rachel called me yesterday and told me a story about a bullying incident that her daughter had witnessed regarding summer camp. A group of teenage girls were gathering for a “get to know each other” dinner prior to a three-week community service camp. Not all the girls going to the camp were able to go to the dinner, but quite a few were present. During the dinner one girl turned to another and said, “Let’s choose a girl to pick on for the summer.” The girl then began looking around the room for her victim.

Rachel’s daughter told Rachel about the incident. She was upset with herself that she hadn’t said anything at the time and didn’t know what to do about it. Rachel sat with her daughter in distress and uncertainty. “Maybe there’s still something you can do,” she suggested, not really sure herself what that might be. Her daughter thought for a moment and then she had an idea. “Maybe I can call the owner and let him know,” she said. Rachel smiled, promptly got the number for her and her daughter called the owner of the camp. She described the incident and, to her surprise, the camp owner’s reaction was, “Girls will be girls and most likely they were just talking about stuff that will never happen.”  After a lengthy conversation in which Rachel’s daughter forcefully convinced him otherwise, the camp owner agreed to speak with the children at the beginning of the trip. Rachel’s daughter hung up feeling much better about her upcoming summer.

I expressed admiration for Rachel’s daughter and Rachel was pleasantly surprised by her daughter’s resourcefulness. I, too, have a daughter who is going away for a few weeks this summer and this story led Rachel and I to a discussion on how we can teach our children to take care of themselves when they are away from home or have a new, challenging experience.  We agreed that most of girls around that table probably knew that it was wrong to pick a target to bully, but we were unsure how many had the strength to stand up and say that was wrong, either in the moment or afterwards.  We wondered how many would follow the bully during the summer if she decided to act on her plan of persecution.  Even if we trust camp owners or program directors, they might not see everything that goes on between certain children or their reaction could be a bit “hands-off” like the initial response of Rachel’s daughter’s camp owner.

So how can we prepare our children to face the bullies whether they are targets themselves or are asked to go along with the crowd this summer? How can we teach our children who a bully really is and bullies are not always as strong and mighty as they seem? Maybe we can take a page out of Rachel’s daughter’s book and look for creative solutions. Maybe, too, we can continuously teach our children about real strength. This will give them courage to stand up for themselves wherever they are and, when necessary, to stand up for those around them.

Here is a set of ideas that I try to teach my children that I hope that you find useful:

  • It takes more strength to stick up for someone than to put them down.
  • It takes more strength to compromise with a friend than to force your way on someone else.
  • It takes more strength to listen to someone with whom you disagree than to ignore them, yell at them or scorn their ideas.
  • It takes more strength to understand someone that is different and try to include them instead of excluding them from an activity.
  • It takes more strength to express yourself with your words than to resort to physical force.
  • It takes more strength to be peaceful, loving and kind in the face of adversity than to yell and scream and hurt the ones around you.
  • It takes more strength to be humble in the face of triumph than to recklessly brag.
  • It takes more strength to act on what you know is right than to follow the crowd.
  • A person of real strength does not need to prove anything. True strength speaks for itself and that is real power.

Many of our children will be in new social situations this summer. My hope is that all our children come to understand their own resourcefulness, that they will appreciate true strength and that their summers will be filled with lasting memories of new friendships, kindness and good times. Maybe, too, like Rachel’s daughter, they are already stronger than we know!

How Barry Manilow Inspired a Young Teen Who Was Being Bullied

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During the holiday break, I had the opportunity to see Linda, a friend who grew up next door to me in Long Island. It had been many years since we’d seen each other and there was so much to catch up on. We started to speak about other people that had grown up on our block and I mentioned a girl named Debbie (her name has been changed for this post). Linda immediately responded that Debbie was so mean and she had been bullied by her in high school. And then she proceeded to share with me the following story.

In 1978, when Linda was 14 years old, she and her friend Mary wrote a Valentine’s Day card to Barry Manilow. On the way to the bus stop she accidentally dropped the card. Debbie snatched it up, opened it and then read it to the entire bus on the way to school. Everyone laughed at Linda and Mary for their sweet wishes to Barry. They tried to stick up for themselves but to no avail. Linda and Mary cried and felt terribly humiliated. Linda’s pain that day was so deep that she could barely catch her breath. After school Linda and Mary ran home from the bus stop as fast as they could and decided all they could do was write Barry Manilow a letter and tell him about the terrible events that had taken place. A few weeks later, this is what Linda received in the mail:

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Linda and Mary’s hearts sang the day they received his letter. He acknowledged their painful experience and showed he cared, and he gave them free tickets to his next New York concert.  In fact, they were four front row seats right next to Barry Manilow’s mother!

I asked Linda if Barry’s letter had made her feel stronger against Debbie and other bullies at school. Linda responded, “Barry’s letter gave me an inner strength, but I don’t think I was mature enough to manifest it outwardly for many years.  Eventually though, Barry’s letter plus his music was the platform for my transformation into the strong person I am today.”

In fact, Linda held on to her love for Barry’s music quietly over the years until with Facebook she was able to transform her love for Barry’s music into a new world of friendships and experiences. She has made so many friends that share her passion and meets many of them at his concerts. It is one of the most cherished and enjoyable parts of her life. She has met Barry several times in person and says he continues to be the most genuine, nicest and talented man she has ever met.

After reflecting more on the experience so many years later, Linda feels a bit softer towards Debbie and more forgiving. During our last correspondence Linda wrote, “There’s a quote of Barry’s that goes…’you give in, you give out but you never give up.’ I love it and live it!”

In that terrible moment on the bus so many years ago, Linda had no idea that her anguish would lead to one of the most rewarding parts of her life. This is a beautiful reminder for all of us, and a lesson that we can teach our children: No matter how painful an experience is in the moment, things will always change and MAYBE lead us somewhere special.  It gives us all hope that the lives we desire can still be waiting for us at DAYBREAK!

A big shout-out to Barry Manilow for being such a kind and dear person to a 14 year old girl who really needed some love and support!

 

Who Is to Blame for all the Bullying?

Last week my daughter and I were shopping in a store to buy horseback riding boots for summer camp. We were the only customers in the store at the time and both the sales clerk and the store manager were helping us. We had trouble making our decision on the boots because her foot seemed to be between two sizes. We kept going back and forth between two pairs and we were in the store for a long time. We bought the smaller size and left the store. When we got home, my 9-year-old daughter told me the sales clerk and manager were making faces to each other and rolling their eyes at me when I was not directly looking at them.

Did these saleswomen bully me? No, but they were showing my child an underlying characteristic of bullying: a disrespect for someone else. As demonstrated by the children that bullied the bus monitor, Karen Klein, seen by millions last week on YouTube, a blatant disrespect for another human being is a major component of bullying. And yet, I bet if you asked these saleswomen if they support bullying in their homes, they would say of course not, but their actions in front of my child speak volumes.

As I read all of the articles and blogs about who is to blame for the bullying problems we face, I can only sit silently today reflecting on my own actions. Through my actions, I try to teach my children love, kindness and respect for themselves and every other individual that walks the earth.  These are my ten commandments that I try to live by every day:

1. I try never to put people down even when I am frustrated and angry. I allow no name-calling and I try to keep to the facts.  Every time I put someone down it is a signal for my children to do the same. I can tell them not to put other people down but in the end they will follow what I do. Continue reading…

Can Our Children’s View Of The Bully Be Tied To Their Future Success?

It feels like yesterday that I was sitting in the middle section of the school bus feeling so uncomfortable. The bullies sat in the back, the majority of the kids were prey in the middle, and the most vulnerable sat up front. It’s a universal seating arrangement known to all kids in any suburb of the United States.

I was not a target on those long bus rides, but I was scared. I was scared for myself and I was scared for the kids that got picked on everyday. I believed that the bullies were strong and could hurt any of us. I bought into the entire power play that they were somehow more sturdy and resilient than me, if only because they seemed to understand how the world works and could control everyone around them. I remember that they yelled and screamed loudly and laughed at other kids for everyone to hear. I was intimidated and that made me feel weak and doubtful.

I never expressed how I felt to anyone when I was young. Perhaps I just felt that was the way of the world or maybe I didn’t understand my feelings. But interestingly, as I aged, bullies still brought out those feelings of inferiority. Whether in a college sorority or a conference room at work, I still felt doubtful and insecure around loud, mean and forceful personalities. Although on the surface I seemed okay, I did not always voice my opinions, even when those opinions were strong. I feared retribution and I doubted myself against what I perceived as power. The grown-up bullies seemed as self-assured as the young ones, able to put others down so easily and manipulate most in the room. I was still buying into the power and control of the bully hook, line and sinker.

As my spiritual life grew over time, love became more important than fear, and fear began to melt away. I started to automatically focus on the true strength of kindness and compassion. I saw that getting angry, lashing out, denigrating and attempting to control other people are products of weakness.   It is much harder to consistently respond to all others with love and understanding.

I realized that someone must have hurt the bully very much for him or her to act that way. Maybe there was a mean parent or sibling, maybe a tragedy at a formative age – who knows?  But the bully is, in fact, really scared. The bully has shut his or her heart and is cruel to the world so the world can’t hurt the heart again.

Here is a set of rules that I teach my children to remember what real strength is when faced with a bully:

It takes more strength to stick up for someone than to put them down. Continue reading…