Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kids will be Kids? I Don't Think So

By Fouzia Ahmad, an MWF parent

To all those who justify their kids' bullying behavior with notions such as 'kids will be kids', let me say this.  Or better yet, let me quote President Obama, who says: “[Let’s] dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.  It’s not.  Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people."

Ever since I can remember, I've been passionate about the bullying issue.  Have I ever been bullied?  No...well, nothing that caused any psychological damage, anyway.  Nor have I been a bully, just to be clear!  Maybe it's all those stories I heard growing up that just stuck in my mind.  The taunting, the slanders, the suicides...

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and it's a great time to raise awareness on an issue that is nothing short of a epidemic in our schools.  I always knew that bullying is a 'problem', but the statistics were quite a revelation to me.  Here are a few facts about bullying that will---if you're like me---make your jaw drop:
  • American schools harbor approximately 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million of their victims.  What?  Almost as many bullies as there are victims?
  • 1 in 7 students in grades K - 12 is either a bully or has been a victim of bullying.  That's a LOT closer to home than many of us may have imagined.
  • About 160,000 children miss school EVERY DAY out of fear of being bullied.   This means that, apart from being a safety issue, it impacts education, too.
  • Revenge for bullying is one of the strongest motivations for school shootings.   If today's bullies are potentially tomorrow's criminals, you'd think they'd take more serious measures to eliminate the problem.

There's a lot of criticism on how schools are dealing with the issue.  And for good reason.  Clearly, something's not right, or we wouldn't be seeing the staggering numbers I mention above, not to mention a rise in cyberbullying, LGBT bullying, and bullycides.  Most schools implement a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying and other violence.  However, research is showing that this policy is not an effective solution when it comes to bullying.  For example, in many cases when bullying incidents are reported to school authorities, both the bullies and the victims get suspended from the school.  Umm, no thank you.  That's definitely not going to encourage a victim to come forward and report an incident.  Moreover, simply punishing the bullies means that we're overlooking what caused them to become bullies in the first place, and that we're not addressing the root of the problem: why did the bully feel the need to bully someone?

Interestingly, 47 out of the 50 states actually have anti-bullying laws (although the terms and clauses vary), but having a law is one thing and policy implementation and accountability is quite another.  Anti-bullying laws can definitely stand to improve and school systems need to get their act together and clampdown on the issue with a more collaborative approach.  Meanwhile though, the bullies aren't going anywhere, and our kids are left to the mercy of, well, us.  So, what can we do to protect our children and our communities from bullying?

I really like the NEA bullying campaign slogan, which says: Bully Free, It Starts with Me.  Just to clarify, I am not endorsing the campaign in any way.  But, ignoring its context within the campaign, I really like how the slogan reads.  Think about it.  We can't fully control the outside environment: the laws, the school policies, the teachers, the bystander students, and definitely not the bullies.  But, what we can have great control over is ourselves and our children, and that's where we should start (i.e. It starts with Me).  I truly believe that we need to make our kids resilient to bullying from the inside out.  So, how do we do it?  One word: SELF-ESTEEM.

Bullying is mostly psychological.  Emotional bullying, which is the most prevalent type, causes psychological damage in its victims.  This is why self-esteem is so important.  Kids with good self-esteem are shielded from bully attacks because they feel good about themselves and who they are, whereas kids with low self-esteem are less likely to stick up for who they are, becoming a prime target for bullies who are looking to pick on someone weaker than them.  You know, as parents, we often think of 'kindergarten readiness' as developing reading, writing, and math skills, whereas we should pay as much attention, if not more, to our child's emotional and social development, at the core of which is self-esteem. 

We should focus on our kids being confident and proud of their individuality, while teaching them to respect others' differences, too.  We should help them develop empathy, communication skills, and sense of self-efficacy that will preclude their ever feeling a need to bully another child.

Here are a couple of resources with info on how to build your child's self-esteem:

On a side note, I personally think that martial arts can also help prevent bullying to some extent.  Not because it provides physical preparedness (although that helps!) but because martial arts gives children the mental strength, confidence, and posturing necessary to project a sense of being in control---tools that are important to ward off that bully looking for potential targets.

Finally, many parents think that bullying isn't something that they need to worry until their kids hit middle school.  Not true.  Cases of bullying are known to happen to even very young children.  A recent survey of Massachusetts third-graders found that 47 percent had been bullied.  This evolution means that parents and teachers need to be on the lookout for cases of bullying that happen even at the preschool age level. 

For more information on dealing with bullying and bullying prevention, you can check out:

Meanwhile, here's leaving you, Explorer parents and teachers, with a few thoughts and questions that I would love to get your input on:
  • Most of us try to prevent our children from becoming the victims of bullying, but how many of us try to ensure that our kids do not become the bully?
  • In the (blessed) scenario where our children are neither the target nor the bully, but just the bystander, have we educated our kids on how to respond when they witness bullying in front of them?
  • How can we identify a bully in the making?  What behaviors can we look at in a child in, say, preschool and say...hey, this kid might end up bullying later.  Let's address this early on, so that he/she never gets to that point?
  • Has anyone had any bullying-related experiences that you could share with us and help educate and prepare us for?

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Obsession with Sugar

By Stefanie Bellucci, 4-day parent and board member

My transition from the Explorer world of healthy snacks into the big-kid, elementary school snacking world has been quite the eye-opener.  Sugar has become my enemy and is constantly in my thoughts.  I am pretty much convinced that SUGAR, in one form or another, is my children’s main food group and source of calories.  Amidst softball game and girl scout camp snacks, frequent birthday party treats, and the seemingly daily celebrations at school and their grandparents' house, my kids have no room left in their diet for the forgotten meat, dairy, and vegetable/fruit food groups.

I often wonder how my family got to this point.  What used to be the occasional treat has not only become daily (and sometimes hourly) but is often a packaged, unrecognizable snack with more ingredients than I can count on two hands.  Looking back now at my pre-kids self, I can only laugh at my naivety, for thinking that I would actually have some control over what my kids ate. 

One of my biggest sources of frustration with the sugar fixation is that among a group of well educated adults at my children's elementary school, I often feel like the lone voice of reason.  Does that parent really need to bring juice, packaged cupcakes, and gummy worms for snack after softball?  And then there is my friend who declares an eat-as-many-as-you-want popsicle day for her daughter when the weather is hot.  I even had a child's family member once tell me that unlimited cookies are "just a part of childhood."  Umm, I thought that childhood was when we learned healthy eating habits?  And with all these constant treats, when do I, the parent, actually get a chance to make cookies with my kids or buy them frozen yogurt without feeling guilty for giving them even more sugar?

Unfortunately, my obsession is becoming a part of every food conversation I have with my children.  I find myself doing all those bad-food-parent acts, such as labeling good food and bad food, struggling with the kids over eating healthy food rather than unhealthy treats, and creating general discontent at the dinner table.  And yet, the words just tumble out.  The irony of the situation is that maybe those parents are right.  Will allowing all the treats and avoiding the food battle make our kids healthier eaters in the long run?  I don’t have the answer and as with all questions kid related, I will continue to figure it out as I go along.  Meanwhile, I would love to hear how you moms in the same boat deal with this.  Do you find yourselves in a constant battle, or do you have a go-to strategy that you know always works?  How do you regulate sugar levels---not to mention sanity levels (umm, your own!)---in your kids' lives?