Back to School is in full swing. This should be an exciting time for students. But for those who are bullied, going to school can be a terrifying or life-threatening experience. Tonight, Friday September 16, at 8:00pm ET, CBS is airing a special 48 Hours,“Bullying….If Words Could Kill.”
Last year, we experienced what I perceived to be “beginner bullying behavior” in Max’s preschool class. I was shocked this could even exist in children as young as 4 years old. Max was upset and angry and so was I. Like most parents would, I did everything I could to help him. I spoke with the school’s administration and teachers and asked for their intervention and help. Luckily, our situation at preschool was addressed quickly and thoughtfully. Parents got involved, teachers listened, responded, and did more to help ALL the kids who were hurting. The ones who were doing the aggressive and mean behavior (hitting, name-calling, etc), AND the ones who were on the receiving end—turns out both were hurting, and both needed more help. Everyone involved was invested in making things better. Cooperation, listening, and working together was crucial. Things were resolved peacefully.
I think it’s never too early to begin teaching children acceptable behaviors and how we should treat each other. How to resolve conflicts with words. How to make choices to be kind, helpful, loving, and inclusive, instead of rejecting, mean and destructive. I also wrote a piece detailing our experience, Bullying Behavior for Sesame Family Newsletter.
My friend, Courtney Knowles, Executive Director of The JED Foundation, co-founded the “Love is Louder”movement. On September 30, they are celebrating their one year anniversary. Here’s a few pictures we had uploaded to their campaign last year. A reminder that love is louder. Love is the answer. Empathy is the answer. It really is. Good laws and enforcing them will also help. If we don’t do what we can to combat bullying, we are diminishing ourselves. All children deserve better.
I was bullied as a child. Several times, both here in the US when I was around six or seven years-old, and then in Israel, soon after we moved there when I was ten. In one case, I was pushed into a bee’s nest. In another, my long hair was chopped off. I remember those incidents (and there were others) as if they happened yesterday. Since then, I learned how to get help and stand up for myself. All kinds of bullies have come and gone over the years. Each time I encountered one, I learned something. How to stand up, walk away, and let go. But I was an adult who had learned to cope. I had language, comprehension, and experiences to draw on to remind me, “it gets better.” I finally learned how to spot bullying behavior a mile away, and can better avoid it now.
I want Max to stay true to himself, be healthy, live a happy life, and continue to be a kind person who cares for others. I don’t want him to be bullied. I’m trying to teach him that while sometimes people might say and do terrible things, he has a choice of how to respond. I don’t want him to become a bully, either. We don’t tolerate name-calling, and even as he’s still learning, and I have to repeat myself over and over, Max is not allowed to call other people hurtful names. Period. When he does, I remind him how he felt when he was called something mean or hurtful. I don’t let it slide. I say something about what is acceptable to me, and what isn’t. I show him another way to express his feelings. Max gets mad at me, and that’s OK. I show him how to tolerate and express anger constructively. He’s learning. I’m learning.
These days, cyber-bullying can be non-stop, 24/7. And children are killing themselves. There are sufficient horror stories of young kids, teens and college students who were (or are) terrorized in their schools, on buses, or online. Each story of bullying is heartbreaking; each one is one too many. I want to help make it better. I believe that each one of us can make a difference in our own homes, schools, communities. All those little moments will add up. And then we’ll see bigger changes. But we have to start where we are, and at home. We need to standup for each other and for those who cannot speak up for themselves. We need to do this for the children who are gone and their parents who suffer from their loss. We need to make this problem obsolete. It should become a thing of the past, not something we accept as an inevitable part of life.
There are many excellent resources out there about bullying, but here’s a few I recommend today: Author, Trudy Ludwig has written great books addressing the topic of bullying and her insights and resources are excellent. Empathy is key! Susan Raisch, the creator of Tangled Ball is a friend and former colleague of mine from Sesame Workshop. She works on bullying prevention and has also joined forces with Kathryn Otoshi, author of the book ONE (which is wonderful). The Human Rights Campaign has a long list of resources and this useful information about Cyber Bullying in the LGBT community.
Until every child can go to school without fear of bullying, we have a lot of work to do. I hope there is not one more child, or teenager or college student who takes his or her own life because suicide seemed like their only way to escape their horrible pain and suffering caused by bullying. As a parent it’s unthinkable. But it is happening, and we all have a role to play to make it better. We have to teach ourselves and our kids how to be kinder to each other. Yes, it starts at home, in the sandbox, on the playground, and then at school. The good news is, we can change this, but we all have to be willing to see what is happening now.
As Kathryn Otoshi writes:
Sometimes it just takes One.