Our great hope

Here’s something that most bullying prevention programs don’t get: the adults don’t see the majority of the bullying.  Most bullying happens behind our backs or in places where we are not present: hallways, buses, bathrooms, playgrounds.  So why do we spend the majority of our time and funding training staff when we need to be winning over and skill-building the on-lookers?

This silent majority of kids who see the bullying wish that the bully would stop, and feel empathy for the victim…but they don’t know what to say and are nervous about speaking up.  Research is showing that we can change that fairly easily by giving them permission and by creating a means.  Here’s just one example of this kind of thing put into place….

“48 Hours” focuses on school bullying: wivb.com


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Lots of talking

Anybody out there besides me getting tired of all the lengthy descriptions of what bullying is, and what the research says, and how kids are affected and…?

I doubt that kids feel much safer when us adults attend workshops, or take good notes, or buy curricula.  I do happen to think they feel lots safer when a bus driver won’t let anyone use put-downs, or when a teacher confronts a queen bee who’s practicing her manipulations…or when a school counselor creates a bullying awareness week. 

Focusing on the power of the silent majority, a school counselor from Kansas named Summer Foster organized this all-out effort that involved bookmarks, posters, banners, high school students, choir, drama club and a human body peace sign.

Exactly what they did and how it works misses the point (well at least my point anyways).  It is that they DID something.  Sometimes we spend so much time and energy looking at that pile of wood that needs splitting that the chuckle of my grammpa Carl Solumn needs be re-told: “Once begun–half done.”

Students watch what we do–not listen to what we say.  And they’ll cut us lots of slack for stupid mistakes when they see that our intentions are good.  Recently I was worrying about a song choice–Everybodyby Ingrid Michaelson–that I was going to perform for a student assembly I was conducting when my daughter, Anna, said “It really doesn’t matter, Dad, they’ll think you’re nerdy whatever you do!  But, you should do it anyways ’cause they’ll respect you for trying.”  So try I did.

Was Summer’s campaign listed in the goverment-sanctioned Best Practices list?  I don’t give a rip–kids don’t either.  But a week’s worth of local action built by those in the know about their community and powered by the energy of peers?  Now there’s something I know made a difference.

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the lost kids

“And please, Gracious God, help all the children of alcoholic parents…” went her prayer.  A member of our church prays this prayer outloud many Sundays.  And I hear it each time–and I pray it back.  But, this time, it shook me deep.  Finally.

Shame on me.  How could I forget my work with these kids?  All through my 20’s and into my early thirties, I dedicated my career to helping these kids.  I was a social worker/school counselor working in say, 3 or 4 different schools each week, and I would shake the schools upside down looking for them (indeed I created a paper-and-pencil survey to give to every student in school to find them).  I ran literally hundreds of support groups for COA kids with 8 kids in each.  Do that math and drop your jaw.

And then I moved out West, traded blue jeans for a suit and tie, and concentrated on working with care givers rather than kids themselves.  And then the bullying craze came along and everyone seemed to forget about kids and alcohol and other drug issues.  In my defense, I did not forget, but schools didn’t really want to go there any more, and conferences thought the topic a bit tired.

But, of course, the COA kids didn’t go away.  There are still as many as there once were, sad to say.  And even more disturbing is my observation that few professionals are working with these kids any longer (thank you to those that are!).  In my travels at conferences, and workshops,  I ask the direct service crowd if they are running support groups for COA’s, or at least doing some one-on-one work.  “Huh?” or “Oh, yeah, I remember when I did that group…” is what I hear.

The crazy thing is these are some of the easiest students to work with–they want help, and you get to see great results.  Think about it: kids who really are searching for answers as to why their mom drinks the way she does; students who, after working with you for a bit, have a spring in their step again and are making better choices.

Well, dammit, I am going to do what I can to remind the care giving community about these forgotten kids.  I can’t do direct services now as I am not working as a counselor, but there is one thing, for starters, I can easily do.

One of my publishers has decided to not re-publish a book of mine after a seventeen-year-long run.  This publication, a workbook written for COA kids, has always been a thorn in the publisher’s (and my) side.  First there was the title: I wrote the book with a working title of Get a Life!  (of your own) a workbook for young people struggling with somebody else’s drinking problem; they insisted the the title be Take Charge of Your Life….sounds like something out of Readers’ Digest, doesn’t it?

And then was the price.  They insisted that the price point be 6.95.  I told them that, at that price, school counselors will buy one workbook and then use the copy machine.  I lost both arguments.

But now I own the copyright again.  I can do what I want with it.  So, what I am doing is giving the book away in an effort to re-awaken the professional community of school counselors, social workers, intervention specialists, therapists, student assistance professionals, youth ministers, teachers, special education staff, aunts, uncles, parent volunteers.  You get the idea.  One does not need be a therapist to work with COA kids –in fact it’s better to not be.  They don’t need fixing–they need an extended helping hand, some information, and someone to listen to them sort it out.  Stick this workbook in their hand and you are half-way home.

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Turning technology inside out

Last weekend my two kids, ages 11 and 7, wanted to sleep outside on the hilltop behind our house–in the middle of winter, no tent, by themselves, on Nat. Forest land, without Dad along.

I think  most parents reaction would be “What, are you crazy?!?!”

And sensing that these may be the words about to come out of my mouth, Anna quickly said “I’ll have my cell phone with, Dad, and I’ll call you if anything bad happens.”

Yeah, right, I thought to myself, so I can quick come and see what’s left of you after the pack of coyotes, or the hungry mountain lion, had a late-night dinner.

But, then I stopped to think about this request in the bigger picture of fostering independence, skill-building, and instilling a love of the outdoors in my kids.  And, I said “Yes.”

The cell phone was the key piece of this.  But now I am thinking about how much I curse cell phones and other high technology for it’s part in the world of bullying.  They are powerful tools for spewing hate and rumors placed in the hands of quick-thumbed bullies, and schools accross the country are groaning as they attempt to keep their internet policies up to date with the latest on-line strategies for gossipping, rumoring, and hurting.

So, what if we were to fight fire with fire?  What if we use these tools to help students who are being picked on?  What if we show them how to use the tools to stay safe and be empowered?

I’m thinking things like this:

  • A cell phone circle where kids who are being picked on can check in with each other
  • School counselors texting students during the school day as a way to check in with them
  • Online support group for victims of bullying
  • A membership-only blog that works like a virtual diary, alowing authors to vent, and others to read and see that they are not alone.
  • Victims could text school admin quietly and quickly when placed in a situation demanding adult intervention.

You get the idea.  Of course this is no substitute for real human interaction, but it could really help increase connction and that sense of “You’re not in this alone, sweetie…”

I’d love to hear from you if you have been experimenting with these new types of approaches.  If I receive enough traffic about this, I’ll compile all the ideas and send them back out to everyone.

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