Category Archives: Homegrown Kids

Author Talk: A Conversation about Bullying

 

Pamela Price describes what happened after she gave an author talk on bullying

 

Although we homeschool (thanks, food allergies!), I’m conditioned by my own public school years to see the month of May as something akin to closure.

It’s a good time for reflection and taking stock.

Looking back, one of the standout moments of “my” 2015-2016 year was a school talk I gave about bullying. As a former bully target and as a journalist who wrote a parenting book on the topic, my anti-bullying talk is packaged as an “author chat” that engages students in different ways, I think, than if I came in hard and fast and “preachy” on the topic.

Below are some jottings about the experience, which I’ve edited to share with you.

Today, after my speech and as they were preparing to file out of the auditorium, two girls (one likely prone to mean-girl aggression and her sidekick) animatedly asked me about what to do when someone pushes, touches, hits or shoves. In other words, what to do about physical bullying.

When I told them what practicing martial artists will say–“Walk away”–they got agitated. “NO! You’re a wimp! A sissy!”

I responded that as much as they didn’t want to hear it, it’s true. Yes, one can defend one’s self but that’s not the same as active, routine retaliation.

I could see the second girl was starting to get it, so I proceeded.

“Neurologists–brain scientists–tell us that what fires together, wires together. Imagine if we respond to every slight, real or imagined, in [a hostile, retaliatory] mindset. Then we start to default to the “fight” part of our brains. It becomes how we interact–from a place of anger.”

CLICK.

I could see the secondary girl realize what I was saying. The most aggressive girl? She was visibly uncomfortable that I’d undermined her authority–an understandable reaction.

Watching all of this was a young man who had been seated with the girls earlier, chatting happily. Based on conversations with educators and observation, he appeared to me to be  twice-exceptional and consequently struggling with physical and emotional regulation. (In other words, a part of the demographic I specifically talk about in my book.) He pulled me aside and whispered “It’s like in the Bible. ‘Turn the other cheek.'”

“Yes,” I replied. “There’s wisdom in the Bible* about this kind of thing. About being loving and kind. You can use it as a model, if you want, if that’s what you believe.”

While the girls talked to others around them, I placed my hand on the boy’s shoulder and said “I’m counting on you to take leadership in the movement toward kindness. I think it’s in you.” And he smiled at me and nodded. Then he hugged me.

As they filed out, I could see that the dynamic in the trio’s relationship had shifted, changed, morphed. The lead girl was quiet, the sidekick gave a little side-eye to the lead, and the boy?

He was, for the moment, peaceful, calm.

All three of them are clearly intelligent and capable. They can indeed be forces for change in their schools, in their lives.

All three of them, I think, needed that conversation today.

I know I did. 

Weeks later I continue to feel deeply moved at the power of conversation and connection. It’s bigger and more important stuff than words on a page or slides on a screen–and a nice reminder of how author talks can pave the way for deeper personal inquiry.

*There is, of course,  much wisdom about interpersonal relationships in MANY religions and secular philosophies, but in this instance it as important to validate his revelation in his terms. I met him where he was, to encourage him.

 

***

Pamela Price is the San Antonio-based author of two books, including Gifted, Bullied, Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families (GHF Press, 2015). To inquire about having her speak to your school or group about bullying, click here.

 

 

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Filed under From Blog Post to Bookshelf, Gifted, Homegrown Kids

What We Can Learn From the David Molak Bullying Case

 

Want to stop cyberbullying? Then take a closer look at what you say online.

It’s early January. Typically that’s a slow month here at home, a time to ease out of the holidays and into the new year.

But this week there’s a huge bullying news story here in Texas that is filling my social media feed. It’s about the death of David Molak, the Alamo Heights teen who took his own life after months of bullying via social media.

At first I was hesitant even to speak up publicly. Sure, I spent a couple of years working on a book about bullying within a certain demographic, but this Central Texas story is so unbelievably heartbreaking that I didn’t even know what I could add to the dialogue.

And then, upon encountering another vitriolic political post in my feed–from someone whom I actually like well enough not to “unfriend,” it hit me:

If we grownups want to stop vicious online behavior in teens, we adults need to stop engaging in it.

That’s right. When we openly throw around demeaning terms (“libtards” and “repugs”) or routinely share posts from websites that incite hatred against other humans–politicians and celebrities, too, are human–then we are signaling to our kids that this kind of crass, frankly inarticulate behavior is acceptable. We are saying that we can use our words to cut other people down to size.

Cyberbullying prevention begins with your own keyboard

Does this behavior all qualify as bullying? Not always. Bullying is primarily an issue of power (or in some cases perceived power). If the power dynamic isn’t in place, then the behavior is “ordinary meanness.”

But the words used in both types of aggressive interactions are the same.

There is a place for constructive criticism. There is a place for provocative satire. We need to teach our kids to recognize that context and intent are everything, especially when it comes to criticism. We need to teach them the finer points of communication and interaction while nurturing social-emotional skills.

I’m not just talking about protecting targets. Potential bullies and victims alike  need to learn these things. The more nuanced their understanding of these topics, the more apt teens are to think twice before engaging in online aggression  (“cyberbullying”).

To teach our children effectively, we need to examine our own behavior and perhaps make some substantive changes to it. We need to demonstrate poise and restraint online as well as off. When we make a mistake and become overheated about a topic which we are passionate about, we need to own up to it, apologize, retract. People make mistakes, but we can keep learning, changing, and improving. We need to speak out against the hatred and vitriol–or at least shun the posts that engage in it long enough that they quiet down.

The change we want for our kids and teens?

It begins with us, friends. It begins with us.

Just so we’re clear, I’ll say it again:

Cyberbullying prevention begins at our own keyboards and touchpads.

And it’s time for change.

P.S. Looking for anti-bullying resources? I have a Pinterest board that I started when I was researching my book. You are welcome to use it.

P.P.S. A local news station posted this insightful video to Facebook. There are some good points made in it, so I thought it deserved a share here, too.

P.P.S.2 Alamo City Moms Blog has published a blog post by Denise Moore that covers the topic of bullying–and the actions parents can take to recognize and curb it–here.

 

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