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Amanda Todd: Teen Ends Her Life After Relentless Battle with Bullying

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOHXGNx-E7E]

I’m stuck. What’s left of me now…nothing stops.  I have nobody. I need someone. :(

Amanda Todd, a once, promising happy young Canadian girl committed bullycide on Wednesday after relentless, senseless attacks– physical, emotional and psychological– over several years followed her from town to town.

Her horrible story is hauntingly told in a youtube video with cue cards and shaking hands. What began in seventh grade when, she wrote, “I would go with friends on webcam [to] meet and talk to new people.” A stranger made her feel attractive and convinced her to flash the camera.  A mistake that would unravel into years of stalking, black-mailing and bullying, this girl was shamed and made to feel worthless.

Even when moving to place to place to get away from the abuse, the tormenters would find her and continue to cyberbully and physically bully this young woman who was trying her best to find someone who would love her as she is.  She spiraled into depression, complicated by intense and crippling anxiety, self hatred, self harm, and private self-bullying (see the connection between bullying, mental health and suicide here and how to report responsibly on suicide here).

At one point, 50 kids bullied her at one time.  A boy had lead Amanda on, told her he liked her, and slept with her only to gang up on her later with his then girlfriend and friends.  “Just punch her!” they yelled.  The kids filmed it. Her father found her in a ditch later that day.  Even then, she didn’t want to press charges and get anyone else into trouble.  Her self worth was obliterated.  She went home and drank bleach– which landed her in the hospital– and urged on her tormenters to make fun of her that much more– and even urge her to kill herself.

Sadly, that’s exactly what she did.  At the end of this video, uploaded just last Read more

TV Anchor, Jennifer Livingston, Called Fat: Fights Back Against Her Body Bully

(Note; My Today Show Health Report Interview on this topic included below)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdJ2jHii6Y0]

The internet blew up yesterday with applause for Jennifer Livingston, a TV anchor in Wisconsin, who spoke out about fat hatred and what I call, “body bullying” after receiving a derogatory email from a viewer about her weight.

The viewer’s email read;

“Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”

Jennifer fired back with a very thoughtful, stern and directed response.

“The internet has become a weapon. Our schools have become a battleground. And this behavior is learned – it is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that e-mail. If you were at home talking about the fat news lady – guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat. We need to teach our kids how to be kind – not critical and we need to do that by example. So many of you have come to my defense over the past four days.

To my colleagues and friends from today and from years ago…my family, my amazing husband and so many of you out there that I will probably never have the opportunity to meet – I will never be able to thank you enough for you words of support. And for taking a stand against this bully. We are better than that e-mail. We are better than the bullies that would try to take us down.

And I leave you with this… to all the children out there who feel lost…who are struggling with your weight, the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability – even the acne on your face…listen to me right now. Do not let your self worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience that the the cruel words of one…are nothing compared to the shouts of many.”

I was interviewed by the Today Show Health Report about this incident.

Livingston’s move is a step toward civility in a society that thinks a woman’s weight is fair game, said Dr. Robyn Silverman, a body image expert and author of the book “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It.”

“I applaud her for her response,” Silverman said. “It was a very responsible response.”

We’ve become a “fault-finding” society where it’s acceptable to make snarky comments about anyone, but especially those in the public eye, Silverman said.

When Livingston stood up to the mean-spirited viewer, she was helping combat the messages that say it’s OK to judge people based on weight.

“We send the message to our children that they are not good enough, they are not valuable enough, unless they look a certain way,” Silverman said.

While the fat-shaming speaks volumes to the girls and young women today who must constantly hear these messages wherever they go, it wasn’t the direct slams on Livingston’s weight that frustrated her the most.

On the Today Show this morning, Livingston told Savannah Guthrie;

“I can deal with being called fat … with being called obese. It was calling me a bad role model that rubbed me the wrong way, and not only a bad role model for our community, but for young girls, in particular.”

Young girls need to see and hear that they can be and do whatever they dream of in life– that their determination, hard work, smarts and talents will put them in the forefront- no matter what their weight, size, height or overall appearance.  We need more women (and men) like Jennifer Livingston who stand up and tell the world that they are worthy just the way they are– and that bullies should not and will not define them.  But they especially need to hear that as girls and young women, that they are valuable too– that they set their own path and their own definition of worth.  Jennifer Livingston did just that– and for that, I truly applaud her.

Yes, she certainly seems like a role model to me.

Helping Children Deal with Bullying: Creating Social Goals as a Solution

Bullying. There is no magic bullet to deal with it or prevent it.

As you may recall, NJ has implemented more stringent laws to deal with those who bully and to rally those in the schools to be more vigilant and proactive (I spoke about this on Fox news here). As you can imagine, that doesn’t mean that when I speak about bullying to the parents of Morris County, NJ in November, I will say that dealing with bullying is in the hands of the educators.  It can’t be.  When our children are part of the bullying triangle (bully, victim, bystanders), we need a home-school-community partnership just as we need a parent-educator-student partnership.  In other words, it’s everyone’s issue. It has to be.

There are some things we can do. Today let’s discuss one.  Social goals.  Social goals are what we hope to achieve when we are among others, in this case, peers.  In a recent study, researchers found that of the 370+ children they surveyed, social goals fell into three categories; (1) Acquiring social skills to nurture high quality friendships; (2) Acquiring a positive reputation to achieve prestige and “cool” friends; and (3) Avoiding negative reputation and negative judgments to circumvent being named a “loser.”

Now here’s the significant part:

  • Those in the first category (positive friendships), were more likely to more successfully manage their emotions, provide thoughtful and constructive Read more

New Jersey’s New Anti-Bullying Laws: Dr. Robyn Silverman on Fox News

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHgqpZYB2Us]

As of today, NJ will have some of the most stringent anti-bullying laws put into play in our school systems.

Why are they good?

(1) Punctuates the seriousness

(2) Mandates reporting

(3) Mandates training

(4) Mobilizes people to get involved and make them accountable

(5) It acknowledges bullying on/off school grounds affects children’s learning in school.

Why are they tricky?

(1) Money is an issue in schools: We know that many schools have some money budgeted towards anti-bullying programs. But more is needed. That means schools must get creative. Just as everything can’t be placed in the parents laps, the schools can’t shoulder the whole burden. We need a parent- school- community partnership that creates a movement. For example, I’m being brought in to the Morris County School system to speak about bullying on November 17th Read more

The Mean, The Lean, and The Seen Girls: When Your Daughter Isn’t One of Them

Blog_meangirls7 Parenting Tips to Help Your Daughter Deal with Mean Girl Drama, Bullying and Relational Aggression

Brianna, age 14, got in touch with me a few weeks back—right at the end of the school year.

“I’ve never been so excited for a year to be over in my whole entire life.”

“What makes you say that?”

“The girls suck. They’re horrible.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that.  What are they doing that is so horrible?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? I’m not following you.”

“They do nothing. I am nothing. They ignore me.”

Ah. The shut out.  The silent treatment at its worst. Nothing makes us feel more worthless than…nothing. No acknowledgment whatsoever.

Status can be secured by “mean girls” is a variety of ways.  They might gossip, tell treasured secrets, name-call, boss around, roll their eyes, and a host of other relational-aggression based behaviors that send girls reeling, crying, and ruminating about what they have done.  But as Brianna underscored, one of the worst methods of devaluing someone else, is not seeing them at all.

“They’re the cool, pretty girls. They’re all skinny and have the best clothes and everyone thinks they’re so perfect.”

“Do you?”

(Pause) “I guess.”

Yes, amazingly, even though these girls can freeze people out in such a cruel way, they are still wholeheartedly admired. I talk about this in my forthcoming book, Good Girls Don’t Get Fat ,due out October 1st from Harlequin Press.

So what are parents to do? How can they help their girls keep things in perspective when the drama at school can seem so out of control?

(1) Expose your daughter to various groups of friends: It can be Read more

Mean Girls Bully A Girl to Death

relational aggression and mean girl bullying

Can a girl be bullied to death by Mean Girls?

Think it can’t happen? Think that someone needs a weapon to kill? Nope, just a bad attitude and no empathy or respect for anyone else– not even themselves.

Bullying happens. Believe me I know. As you may have read in past articles or in the Patriot Ledger the other day, I was a victim of bullying and the now called “Mean Girls” when I was in fifth grade. Perhaps you’ve been a victim too. You know it was a problem. You know it was poorly handled. You know how alone you felt.

After reading the Boston Globe yesterday, I was back in that place. Truthfully, I felt like I was going to throw up. I could literally feel my stomach churning. An article on Phoebe Prince, a 15 year old girl who was bullied to death by Mean Girls. No traditional weapons required. Read more

Brave, Powerful Boy Donates Hair to Locks of Love

David Stearns, Locks of Love

At a time when most 6th graders would rather crawl up and die than to be seen as “different,” it’s an anomaly that one boy would endure taunts, teasing, bullying and rude comments to grow his hair out “and look like a girl” for a good cause. David Stearns of Appleton, ME,  (Powerful student at Midcoast Martial Arts) recently donated his hair to Locks of Love.

Stearns, who was featured in his local paper, wanted to honor his grandfather who recently died of cancer as well as help someone his age, through locks of love, feel normal and beautiful again. It took his 2 years to grow his hair 13 inches to have it cut and donated to someone in need. Despite being taunted by classmates, told to leave the boy’s bathroom, and called “young lady” by strangers, he endured. Read more

When Are We Going to Do Something Serious about Bullying?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

When I was in 5th grade, I was bullied.

It was one of the worst years of my life—perhaps THE worst—because going to school was so horrible and yet I had to do it 5 days a week. I still remember the knots in the pit of my stomach—waiting on line to go into the school—waiting for the laundry list of female relational aggression to start. Everyday was the same. Target…ostracized. Rumors…sent.  Eyes…rolled.

The teachers never knew what to do.  I was labeled “sensitive.” It was my problem—they felt bad about it but “kids will be kids.”

So I stood there on the black top during recess, completely alone, clearly unhappy, clearly apart from the crowd, and yet…nothing.  The one time something was done, I was sent to the library as the rest of the class sat in the classroom with the teacher and talked about…me.  Then one of my “friends” who bullied in me in school came to get me, gave me a stare down before entering the class, told me not to “lie” and left me in her dust.  Then the teacher talked to the class with me present.  It was humiliating.  It didn’t help. At. All.

So when I read the other day in the Washington Post that the laws that were enacted to cope with the bullying problem, especially since the shootings in the 90s, offer practically no protection—mostly because, well, they aren’t really being enforced, I got that familiar knot in my stomach again. If you’ve never been bullied, it is the most sickening, exhausting, heart-wrenching feeling. You don’t feel comfortable walking around in your skin.  You want to be anywhere but there.  You want to be anyone but you.

It’s actually one of the reasons I created Powerful Words.  And one of the reasons this month’s word, courage, is so important. I wanted to help kids like me—I wanted to help kids like those who bullied me—I wanted to help them early so that maybe…I don’t know…maybe an infiltration of character education would help a few people avoid what I went through…or worse. All children need to learn about respect, courage, impulse control, kindness, and the many other Powerful Words we cover.

And as it is, the laws wouldn’t have even been helpful for someone like me.  I was only in 5th grade. The laws only apply 6th-12th. So what about those kids who aren’t yet 12 years old and in the 6th grade?  Some will never reach it.  Just take a look at these sad cases:

An 11-year-old had complained of teasing and was found hanged in his Springfield, Mass in mid-April.

A 10-year-old boy hanged himself in a restroom stall in a suburban Chicago school,

An 11-year-old boy was found dead in Chatham, south of Springfield,

An 11-year-old daughter hanged in a closet of their Chicago home.

All complaining of bullying before the tragedies.

One of the big problems here is that people are quick to point the finger at who should be in charge of teaching children not to bully and inflicting consequences if there are incidents.  Parents point to teachers and school officials to take responsibility, teachers and school officials point back at parents.

“A lot of this has to be handled in the home,” said Peter Daboul, chair of the board of trustees at New Leadership, the Massachusetts school where her son was a 6th grader.

But what happens when the fingers get pointed? Nothing gets done.  Result? Kids suffering.

I also find it very frustrating that relational aggression is clearly given “a pass.” Even those states that are doing something about bullying (like threatening that schools will lose their funding if they don’t keep good records and transfer bullies after 3 offenses, such as in Georgia), these departments are only tracking broad offenses like fighting and threats. So much for spreading rumors, being ostracized, and intense teasing. Those wouldn’t qualify or be recorded.

There is still great confusion about how to define bullying, what’s offensive, what’s child’s play, what can lead to tragedy. What counts? Blows to the head? Cyberbullying? Taunts and teasing?  “One of the questions is how do you quantify bullying? It could even be as simple as a rolling of the eyes,” said Dale Davis, a spokesman for schools in DeKalb County, Ga., where Herrera committed suicide.

Maybe we should ask the kids…who are being bullied.

“In 2007, nearly a third of students ages 12 to 18 reported having been bullied during the school year, according to data on more than 55 million students compiled annually by the National Center for Education Statistics.”

So where are in this? Just spinning our wheels until something more tragic happens that leads us to wonder if what we are doing already is the right thing to do?  I can tell you now—it’s not. I mean, 55 million kids sounds like a lot to me.

Or perhaps I’m just being sensitive.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Is anyone going to take responsibility for bullying in our schools? Anyone?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

For me, it didn’t have to do with weight or body image.  But for so many, it does.Whatever the reason, we’ve got to do something. Anything. Watching people point fingers and put temporary band-aids in place that aren’t being followed in the first place isn’t helping anyone.  Not the teachers.  Not the bullies.  And certainly not the victims.  When is the time?

When I was in 5th grade, I was bullied.

As a woman in my 30s, I can still say this: It was one of the worst years of my life—perhaps THE worst—because going to school was so horrible and yet I had to do it 5 days a week. I still remember the knots in the pit of my stomach—waiting on line to go into the school—waiting for the laundry list of female relational aggression to start. Everyday was the same. Target…ostracized. Rumors…sent. Eyes…rolled.

The teachers never knew what to do. I’m not sure if they were cut off at the knees, they didn’t have a plan, or the school didn’t have their back.  All I know is that I was labeled “sensitive.” It was my problem—the teachers did feel bad about it but… “kids will be kids.”

So I stood there on the black top during recess, completely alone, clearly unhappy, clearly apart from the crowd, and yet…nothing. The one time something was done, I was sent to the library as the rest of the class sat in the classroom with the teacher and talked about…me. Then one of my “friends” who bullied in me in school came to get me, gave me a stare down before entering the class, told me not to “lie” and left me in her dust. Then the teacher talked to the class with me present. It was humiliating. It didn’t help. At. All.

So when I read yesterday in the Washington Post that the laws that were enacted to cope with the bullying problem, especially since the shootings in the 90s, offer practically no protection—mostly because, well, they aren’t really being enforced, I got that familiar knot in my stomach again. If you’ve never been bullied, it is the most sickening, exhausting, heart-wrenching feeling. You don’t feel comfortable walking around in your skin. You want to be anywhere but there. You want to be anyone but you.

It’s actually one of the reasons I do what I do.  From creating Powerful Words to the work I’ve done with girls to the presentations I do for teachers, coaches and instructors. I want to help kids like me—I want to help kids like those who bullied me—I want to help them early so that maybe…I don’t know…maybe an infiltration of character education, and understanding of how words and actions shape lives, encouragement that adults need to get involved and take responsibility– would help a few people avoid what I went through…or worse.

But what about the anti-bullying laws? And as it is, the laws wouldn’t have even been helpful for someone like me. I was only in 5th grade. The laws only apply 6th-12th. So what about those kids who aren’t yet 12 years old and in the 6th grade? Some will never reach it. Just take a look at these sad cases:

An 11-year-old had complained of teasing and was found hanged in his Springfield, Mass in mid-April.

A 10-year-old boy hanged himself in a restroom stall in a suburban Chicago school,

An 11-year-old boy was found dead in Chatham, south of Springfield,

An 11-year-old daughter hanged in a closet of their Chicago home.

All complaining of bullying before the tragedies.

One of the big problems here is that people are quick to point the finger at who should be in charge of teaching children not to bully and inflicting consequences if there are incidents. Parents point to teachers and school officials to take responsibility, teachers and school officials point back at parents.

“A lot of this has to be handled in the home,” said Peter Daboul, chair of the board of trustees at New Leadership, the Massachusetts school where her son was a 6th grader.

But what happens when the fingers get pointed? Nothing gets done. Result? Kids suffering.

I also find it very frustrating that relational aggression is clearly given “a pass.” Even those states that are doing something about bullying (like threatening that schools will lose their funding if they don’t keep good records and transfer bullies after 3 offenses, such as in Georgia), these departments are only tracking broad offenses like fighting and threats. So much for spreading rumors, being ostracized, and intense teasing. Those wouldn’t qualify or be recorded.

There is still great confusion about how to define bullying, what’s offensive, what’s child’s play, what can lead to tragedy. What counts? Blows to the head? Cyberbullying? Taunts and teasing? “One of the questions is how do you quantify bullying? It could even be as simple as a rolling of the eyes,” said Dale Davis, a spokesman for schools in DeKalb County, Ga., where Herrera committed suicide.

Maybe we should ask the kids…who are being bullied.

“In 2007, nearly a third of students ages 12 to 18 reported having been bullied during the school year, according to data on more than 55 million students compiled annually by the National Center for Education Statistics.”

So where are in this? Just spinning our wheels until something more tragic happens that leads us to wonder if what we are doing already is the right thing to do? I can tell you now—it’s not. I mean, 55 million kids sounds like a lot to me. does it to you?

I don’t know…maybe I’m just being sensitive.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Are School Bullying Programs Just Temporary Band-Aids?

Bullied: The Fallout of No Child Left Behind?

Dr. Robyn J.A. SIlverman

Dr. Robyn–One of my daughters (I have 9 yo twin girls) is being bullied terribly. I have spoken to the teacher, principle, adjustment counselor. I have even had Tim and Kim speak with her this week because she brings it home to hurt her sister and disrespect me. How do I get the school to adopt a No Bully policy? Next year will be their last year in elementary school but these children will be moving on to middle school with my girls. It started with just a few children and now the whole class is mean to her. She says she has “no friends” and she doesn’t anymore. She has gone from a confident child to a child that thinks she is ugly, fat and deserves to be treated badly.

–Gail

I’m not a very politically-minded person. I don’t spend hours debating the current campaign or arguing about something George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or John McCain did or said. I do care about children though—and as you know, I’ve got a lot of opinions when it comes to kids and their education. Particularly, my focus is typically on ways to help children reach their potential and become generous, open-minded, respectful, confident, leaders—rather than on who’s getting the most electoral votes.

After reading a brief post in the Washington Post this morning on the importance of teaching the whole child in school, my feelings, as usual, became more acute. We talk about the need for character education and yet in many schools, kids aren’t receiving it.

It’s been difficult to see the emotional fallout regarding the intense focus on academics during the era of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). High expectations in reading and math have left children in an emotional and social funk. I’ve already started receiving requests for bullying and leadership seminars from schools who anticipate a continuation of the bullying trend that’s happened over the last 7 or 8 years. Children don’t know what to do and teachers don’t know what to do– and nothing much is being done in most places.

What’s going on now is similar to what happened decades ago– lack of knowledge, lack of no-how, lack of money, lack of listening, and lack of implementation in schools. These reasons, I believe, were the same reasons that I wound up getting horribly bullied in elementary school years ago. Are we still in the same place?

No promotion of positive values—no prevention of alienation, no expectation of character in action– even if today’s bully is tomorrow’s criminal. Perhaps it isn’t hard to believe that this is part of what fuels (and pushed me in the past) to become a child development expert in my adult life. I figured, “I guess I’ll have to figure out the answer myself.” The teachers at that time (and I don’t think it’s gotten better in most cases since), had absolutely NO CLUE what to do about bullying. There was no real protocol and a real feeling of dart throwing in the dark when it came to solving the obvious issue.

Time to let the cat out of the bag…

It was fifth grade when it first happened to me. Admittedly, I was a sensitive girl—very friendly, quite intuitive, and often, too eager to please. This social profile, along with the fact that I had become too close with a girl who was already considered “the best friend” of another bossy, albeit insecure, 5th grader, named Jenny, put me in a precarious situation. I was ready to begin some of the worst days of my life. As an adult, I can still say that with confidence. I was about to become a consistent victim of bullying during this unfortunate year. Boy, do I have some stories that would make your head spin.

While in Martha’s Vineyard this past weekend, I had a great conversation with some of my friends about the tragic sabbatical that children have taken from social and emotional education. On the one hand, the lack of character education in schools is absurd (and why we’re so grateful to Powerful Words Member Schools for supplying it in the after-school arenas).

On the other hand, the children have been robbed of natural social lessons due to the diminishing budget for gym (time when children need to work together outside of the academic world), art (a time when children can express themselves artistically and put their feelings about nonacademic things to paper), drama (an activity that allows children to act out, try out, and get out their feelings in a healthy way), music…and the list goes on and on. And let’s not get started on the fact that children have full access of the computer/internet and no education about the decorum, respect, and responsibility it takes to use it. We can say “it’s got to stop” but without the opportunities for children to learn positive interactions and the diminished focus on providing such opportunities in schools, we’ve got a major problem.

So now what?

I’m troubled and reassured by the schools that are asking to bring me in to talk to the children about bullying —in person, cyber, or otherwise. They may actually be noticing it may be a problem—or they’re simply trying to “shut up” a parent who’s complaining that their child is being bullied (something that is definitely happening in some of these schools). It’s clear that money is tight– since most of it is designated for more math or reading prep– not social education. This has to be a one-shot deal. But what can I possibly do or say in an hour that’s going to change the social climate of the school?

There have been plenty of parents who’ve reached out and written to tell me about their child who has been bullied, teased, terrorized, ostracized, and gossiped about.

I’ve already gone into school to role play strategies that are meant to help children cope when a bully “attacks.” But I’m not really sure that it’s where I should put my focus. Do you? I mean, why give the education to the “victims” when it’s really the leaders and bullies that need the social education —I guess I’d rather “promote” positive interaction rather than “prevent” (which implies the risk is still very much there), negative interaction.

So I’m at a stalemate. I admit it. Since the schools aren’t really asking for it– I’d like to ask you for your opinion. If you had someone go into your children’s school to talk about bullying—or someone who was actually going to make a difference—what would you want them to do or say? My inclination is to talk to the “leaders” in the school (the teachers would have to pick these out) and put them through leadership training.

What do you think? What would you want for your children? I’d like to help but I’m not really interested in putting a temperamental band-aid on a sore subject nor am I interested in being the walking check-mark next to the school administration’s program requirement list for the year.

As educators, our after-school program instructors that constantly keep their eyes on respect, discipline, confidence, responsibility, generosity, and more– we thank you– you are needed more than you can ever know. I wonder how many children you have saved from being the victim as well as the bully– through the consistent use of character education and Powerful Words. Now we need to know how to transfer some of our expertise and programming into the school systems that need it so badly.

Your comments and ideas are respected and very much wanted. Please comment below.