#BeNice: The Power of Youth Voices

I get to work with some pretty amazing young people on a regular basis.  It’s honestly inspiring to realize how many young people are out there in the world, working daily to improve their communities and our society.

Thus, when I got to work with a school in Washington recently, I was expecting to find some pretty phenomenal young people, but I wasn’t prepared for the force for good named Jake.

During our UPstander Intervention Training, I talked to the students at Jake’s school about the idea of being social normers, of being the change you wish to see in your school so that you can inspire others to do the same.  We talked about how social norming helps to change the air students breath in school to make it more inclusive, which makes the other work of being an UPstander far easier.

While talking to these students, though, I didn’t realize that one of the students to whom I was speaking could easily have been up there offering his wisdom.  After all, not long before I came to his school, Jake had made this video:

One of the most common forms of ageism toward young people in our society today is thinking that as adults, young people have nothing to teach us.  Often adults pretend that we have the whole world figured out and that young folks will one day know as much as we do if they make it to the magical world we call adulthood.

In reality, though, young people are often the ones with the most to teach.  After all, they have not been fully clouded by the cynicism or negativity that sometimes comes with age.  Even more, young people are engaging with the world in ways that those of us even ten years older than them could not have imagined at their age.  Youth are inspiring revolutions in the Arab Spring and transforming their communities through activism and servant leadership in every community around the world.  Plus, with the power of the internet that they know so well, they have the ability to learn from other young people as well as from elders in ways I never would have imagined at sixteen.

What Jake reminded me, not only when I met him or when I first saw this video but in our continuing relationship through social media, is that I have a lot to learn.

And Jake reminded me that sometimes the best teachers are those who are many years younger than me.

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Columbine High School – A Community Defined by Unity

I’m pretty lucky.

I get to spend a large amount of my time hanging out in schools where people care really deeply about building inclusive environments where everyone feels safe.  Just this week I got to spend a day learning from some committed educators at the high school I graduated from, educators who are going above and beyond to serve traditionally marginalized students.

Most of the time when I’m working with a school, though, there is a laundry list of problems laid out by students, staff, parents, and administrators: cyberbullying, teachers feeling bullied by administration, students feeling bullied by teachers, students treating other students like crap, students feeling like no one cares for them in the building, etc.

Even if it’s a minority of voices, I can always find people to talk about the trials, the challenges, and the difficult stuff that the community is facing.

Thus, when I was asked to work with Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, I was pretty sure what I would encounter.  What I wasn’t sure about was how Columbine’s history would impact how inclusive it is today.  I had all sorts of preconceived notions about the community based in the media frenzy surrounding the community since the shootings there in 1999, but what would the community actually be like?

No matter what my expectations may have been, what I found was not at all what I expected…

Columbine is proof that when people dedicate themselves to inclusion and building safe educational environments, individuals can have a powerful impact.

In the case of Columbine, this spirit of inclusion grew out of tragedy, but it doesn’t have to be that way for your community.  Need tools for building an inclusive school culture and climate?  Look no further than CivilSchools.

6 Ways Parents Can Address Bullying

If you’re a parent of a school-aged child, it’s likely that you’ve been affected by bullying.

With approximately 30% of students reporting being bullied and far more being peripherally affected or even traumatized by bullying, it’s a weighing concern on parents’ minds.

I often will meet parents when I’m out at a party or on a long flight who, when they hear that I’m a bullying-prevention educator, immediately begin to impart their terrible story of childhood trauma and abuse or stories about their kids being bullied in school.

And while just about every parent cares passionately and deeply about ending bullying, most are unsure of what they can do to protect their child.

That’s one of the reasons that I partnered with Everyday Feminism a few months ago to facilitate a free webinar on how parents can intervene to end bullying.

Knowing that not every parent has an hour to sit down and watch the recording of our webinar, though, I wanted to offer a quick read for parents who are concerned about bullying.

Understanding Modern Bullying

Before parents can effectively intervene when bullying is taking place, it’s important that we understand a few things about the nature of modern bullying.

First, a comprehensive review of the research on bullying from the American Educational Research Association tells us that “bullying is often aimed at specific groups” and is often a direct result of power imbalances.

In short, bullying is primarily a problem of power, not simply random childhood cruelty.

Though not every instance of bullying is directly related to identity, research indicates that it can be important to talk about bullying through the lens of identity.

Second, the nature of bullying has changed tremendously in the last 15 years.

I often have adults say to me, “Man, I was bullied, and I survived! All this coddling isn’t going to help kids toughen up!”

My response is always, “While I’m really sorry that you were bullied, we also need to understand that bullying today isn’t the same thing as bullying when we were young.”

In my own case, I was bullied pretty terribly in my youth.

It got to the point that I felt pretty desperate and even suicidal at times. And this was in a time when I was able to take breaks from the bullying.

You see, when I got home from school, the bullying stopped. And every summer break, I got a two-month reprieve from the bullying behavior. And I barely survived!

Today, with the wide accessibility of cell phones and the Internet, bullying can be near constant.

One of the last things young people with cell phones do before bed and first things they do when waking up is check their phone. If they’re being bullied through Twitter or text, that’s how they will start their day.

The scary thing about cyber bullying is that it never takes a break.

Knowing these two things about bullying will help tremendously as you look for the ways to best support your child and intervene when they are being targeted for bullying.

1.  Look for Signs of Bullying

Though it may seem obvious, many of the signs of bullying go unnoticed or written off as moodiness or growing pains.

But there are concrete things that you can look for that will help you to identify when you child is being bullied.

No matter your child’s age, ask yourself these questions:

Has your child…

 …stopped doing things that they enjoy?

Students who are being bullied tend to express greater self-consciousness, and as a result, they may suddenly stop doing things they enjoy.

Maybe they’re being mistreated at baseball practice, so they no longer want to play baseball. Maybe they’re being bullied for their interest in Magic the Gathering, so they suddenly stop playing the game that they love.

…expressed a sudden or progressive sad or sullen attitude?

Maybe this is a sign of seasonal affectedness, or maybe this is because the teasing has finally broken through your child’s defenses. Once the poison of bullying gets inside, it often will show up through progressive or sudden sadness.

…expressed a sudden or progressive angry attitude?

Similarly, bullying can also lead to sudden outbursts of anger.

This is important to recognize because it can often end up leading to your child“passing on the hurt” by bullying other people.

For me, I was terrible to my parents and best friends when I was being bullied in middle school.

…expressed sudden or progressive self consciousness about their identity?

Because much bullying is identity-based, it can lead to students feeling more self-conscious about the aspect of their identity that is being targeted.

In the case of heterosexist/homophobic bullying, it can lead targeted kids to express self-consciousness and to project their understandings of heterosexuality in extreme ways.

…been reluctant or afraid to attend school or activities?

Maybe they’re just hitting that time of year when nothing can make them want to go to school, or maybe they’re being mistreated in some way. But sudden reluctance to attend school or activities is a good sign that bullying could be taking place.

 If your answer to any of these questions is yes, talk to your child.

The more open and honest you are with them about your concern, the more likely they will be to talk to you about what’s hurting them.

And even if they don’t end up sharing everything with you right then and there, bringing it up helps them understand that they can come to you for help.

2.  Engage Your Child’s Digital World

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism

Being an UPstander to Bullying: First Responders

Ending Bullying Requires Addressing the Root Causes of Bullying Behavior.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working hard with a fantastic team to prepare for our pilot launch of A Culture of Civility, a comprehensive bullying prevention program for 6-12 schools.  I’ve long been passionate about finding more innovative and high-impact ways to address bullying in schools for two main reasons.

First, I was bullied heavily in late elementary school and middle school, so I know first hand the short-term and long-term effects bullying can have on young people.  Second, as a diversity and inclusion consultant, I’ve seen too many times with the way that bullying prevention approaches (whether formal or informal) treat bullying as if it is some sort of general problem requiring general solutions.

Quite to the contrary, bullying is a specific problem of student diversity that varies drastically from school to school.  In some schools, students might be more likely to be targeted for their race or their sexual orientation.  In other schools, students might be more likely to be targeted for their ability or disability.  Still in other schools, students might be targeted for their weight or body image or family income.

The point here is that there cannot be a “one size fits all” approach to bullying.  It does not and cannot exist!  Schools need to design school-specific interventions to their school-specific manifestations of bullying that bring the entire community on board.

Interested in Full Access to the Culture of Civility Program?

A Culture of Civility LogoPilot the program in your school in the 2013-2014 school year!  We’re still looking for 3-4 middle schools or high schools to pilot the program in the coming year.

Interested in piloting the program, simply fill out this survey, and we’ll be in touch.

“But what can one person do?” The Story of Audrey

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A Culture of Civility – Bullying and Student Achievement

I’ve been working hard lately to finish writing and shooting the content for A Culture of Civility, a three-part video seminar series for schools aimed at understanding and preventing identity-based bullying.

Whenever I talk to students about this project, they immediately get it.  They are excited about a new approach to understanding bullying in schools, and they recognize the need for building a culture and climate of inclusiveness.

When I talk to most administrators and many teachers, though, there’s a disconnect, a skepticism.  And I don’t  blame them.  For those tasked with educating our young people, there are about 25 chainsaws they are expected to juggle flawlessly: state standards, graduation rates, student behavior, state-mandated tests, district-mandated tests, college entrance rates, support for extra-curriculars, parent engagement, and on and on…

Above all, I hear the word “achievement.”  And in many ways, I should.  To quote a famous Bushism, we must ask, “Is our children learning?”  We must ensure that students are prepared for the world after high school, and as such, we need a lazer-like focus on standards and achievement.

But to focus on achievement doesn’t simply have to mean that we focus on tests, standards, and innovative reading, writing, and math instruction.  We need to ensure that students have an environment where they are safe to learn so that our academic work is not in vain.

In their article “School Climate as a Factor in Student Adjustment and Achievement,” (Journal of Education and Psychological Consultation, 9:3, 321-329) Yale University’s Child Study Center researchers Norris M. Haynes, Christine Emmons, and Michael Ben-Avie define school climate as “the quality and consistence of interpersonal interactions within the school community that influence children’s cognitive, social, and psychological development.”  School climate is essentially the sum total of interactions “among staff, between staff and students, among students, and between home and school.”

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Guest Post: What are YOU Doing to Prevent Suicide?

This week’s post is from a guest author!  I love highlighting the ways that amazing and inspiring young people are attempting to change their world, and this week’s post comes from one of those phenomenal young people.

Rachel O’Grady is a junior at St. Ignatius College Prep, in Chicago, Il. She plays basketball, actively participates in Model United Nations and is attempting to gain 100 service hours by next June.

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Two weeks ago, one of my friends texted me the following words: “Suicide scares the sh** out of me.” My immediate response: Well, of course it does. Taking your own life should scare you. One week later, we both received an email from our school, disclosing that one of the seniors had killed himself. Minutes after receiving the email, my friend texted me again “Remember what I said about suicide?” I went back to the email, and re-read it. It hung on my screen for nearly twenty minutes as I re-read the eerie, haunting truth, over and over again. Nearly shaking, and still crying, despite my lack of a close relationship with the student, I responded to my friend’s text: “But it’s real.”

Suicide isn’t something that teenagers can’t grasp. It’s all over the news and it’s become somewhat of a phenomenon on television and in popular culture. It’s not something foreign to many- most have heard of the “It Gets Better” videos, perhaps they know someone who has taken their own life, or maybe they’ve thought of the possibility themselves. It’s not an alien concept. It’s looked upon as cowardly, dumb, even immoral. It’s tragic, and as my friend so eloquently put, it’s scary.

Despite all of that, however, one of the leading causes of death in the modern teenage global community is suicide. Think about that for a moment. According to some sources, you are more likely to kill yourself than to be killed by another person. The leading cause of death for Lesbian and Gay teens is suicide. This birthed the infamous “It Gets Better” videos, featuring celebrities and normal folks professing to the millions that being gay is hard because of they way Lesbian and Gay teenagers are often treated – but it does get better. The verbal harassment that happens to 85% of LGBT students does end eventually. The physical abuse that happens to a whopping 40% of LGBT students does taper off.

The reality is, however, that the words stick. The bruises and scars may not fade, but this is the antithesis of a great high school or college experience. Not surprisingly, teens are still killing themselves. It obviously does not get better fast enough. How sad, desperate, or lonely do you have to be to want to take your own life? How unwanted, bullied, or depressed do you have to feel to change yours and others lives forever? Being a teen is hard. I don’t care if you’re a parent, a teacher, a mentor, anyone – you cannot deny being a teenager is tough work. We have eighty million things to worry about on any given day. Just school alone can yield a whole variety of stress, from the impossible homework to the sudden pop quiz or upcoming ominous test. On top of that, you have extra curriculars or a part time job, which include the pressure to perform every day. And then there’s college. The unavoidable, scary idea of ACT courses, graduating, leaving the place you grew up, and eventually being pushed into the “real world”, despite how prepared or not we are.

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Preventing Bullying: Building a Culture of Civility

In my professional life, I have been working with the folks at Global Ascension Productions to launch a series of video seminars designed to help schools prevent identity-based bullying.  What’s identity-based bullying, you might ask?

The video seminar series, entitled A Culture of Civility (stay tuned . . . the site’s a work in progress), is meant to engage the entire school community in discussion and action to prevent identity-based bullying.

As such, bullying’s been on my mind, and like most people who follow the news cycle, I was shocked to see this:

Pretty terrible stuff.  While I was in Chicago this weekend, I crafted a response:

So this is our call to action.  What are you going to do to begin building a culture of civility in your community?