Bullying is Serious: What’s a Parent to Do?

Untitled design-3

Remember the scene in Back to the Future when Marty McFly dodges mean ol’ Biff and his gang? On a homemade skateboard, Marty turns at the last second, and Biff runs his convertible into a truck full of manure. Who didn’t cheer for Marty?

In the movies, bullies often get what’s coming to them amidst a cheering crowd. One of my favorite middle school movies was My Bodyguard, a story about a middle school boy being bullied who stood up for himself and befriended a slightly odd fellow who happened to be twice as big as the bullies. In that movie, the bullies got what was coming to them, and we all got a good laugh out of it.

In real life, bullying is more serious. The standard definition of bullying is behavior that involves unwanted, intentional, aggressive physical or verbal behavior that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power and is repeated over time (Olweus, 1993). The American Educational Research Association (2013) opens a comprehensive report on bullying with the following quotation: “Bullying presents one of the greatest health risks to children, youth, and young adults in U.S. Society” (p. 1). This indeed is serious and apparently widespread.

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, an estimated 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of another student (Fried & Fried, 2003). Ninety (90%) percent of 4th through 8th graders report being bullied. Seventy-five (75%) percent of school shootings that have occurred over the past decade have been linked to harassment and bullying. Researchers at Yale School of Medicine analyzed studies from 13 countries and found signs of an obvious connection between bullying, being bullied, and suicide. (Kim & Levental, 2008).

For most of these beaten-down kids, there is no bodyguard to save them. There are no cheers in the theaters or cafeterias. Some children endure bullying their entire educational lifespan.

I cannot think of one thing worse than being bullied…except, learning that your own child is being bullied.

Over the holiday break, my daughter let it slip that a girl in her class keeps taunting her and embarrassing her in front of her friends. I know this child fairly well as my daughter and she ran around in the same circle for a while. She is a very pretty girl, who is always surrounded by a group of girlfriends, and her personality can be little intimidating. She meets the typical criteria of a bully. My daughter is shy and somewhat insecure. She doesn’t ever want to make waves socially. I am guessing my daughter is an easy target also because she has been in special education classes and struggles to read.

During the break, I talked with my daughter to give her some ideas on how to handle herself. I gave her the you-need-to-stand-up-for-yourself lecture and the only-way-to-handle-a bully-is-to-bully-them-back talk. Neither seemed to be a viable option for her. Almost every day since returning to school, my daughter tells me that her bully was at it again intentionally embarrassing her:

  • Are those your real nails, or are you wearing fake nails?
  • What is up with your hair today? Did you just come out of the river?
  • Why are you wearing those shoes?
  • I can’t believe you got such a low grade on the test.

Each question/statement is made with smirk and followed by a belittling laugh. The other day she asked my daughter why she was wearing a bandage on her arm. When my daughter explained she had scrapped it when she fell out of a tree, this girl just fell on the ground laughing.

I say, “Just ignore her.” I can’t. “Why?” It hurts, and it won’t matter. She’ll say stuff anyway.
I say, “Answer her questions with a question of your own, you know, push back a bit.” I could never do that. She’s surrounded by her friends.
I ask, “What do your teachers say or do?” Nothing. She’s real sneaky. She knows just when to say something when the teacher isn’t around.

I ask, “Do you want me to talk to her mom?” No, that will just make her mad, and it will be worse.

So, now what?

I want to tell my daughter this will pass, but if they go to the same high school, it may not pass. This behavior could escalate and become more violent or psychologically torturous. This bully could take her campaign to the World Wide Web or a viral text. She could post something nasty about my daughter on Facebook for the whole world to “Like”. I am relatively sure my daughter has the resilience to handle this abuse, but one never knows.

I remember back in 2010 being stunned by a suicide in a small town named Hadley in Massachusetts. It was right next to Amherst where I lived for four years. Phoebe Prince, a young girl who had recently moved to Hadley from Ireland hung herself after three months of relentless bullying. She briefly dated a boy, which angered some of the other students. The bullying that ensued was horrendous. She was verbally harassed at school, physically assaulted, and victimized over the Internet. At the time, I was sickened by this event. It was so difficult for me to wrap my mind around how cruel people could be to another human being. Phoebe must have been in a hopeless state of mind to see suicide as her only way out. I wanted to shake this girl and say, “Hey, it’s only high school. It’s a small blip on the timeline of your life.” Yet, for the victim it must have felt like a life sentence with no parole.

Lesson learned: Some people are not resilient enough to handle bullying.

So now I wonder and worry. I have no idea how to help my daughter deal with a bully. Obviously, if it escalates I will involve the child’s parents and the school, but for now I just listen with a sympathetic heart and pray this situation will resolve itself soon.

Sources:
AERA (2013). Prevention of Bullying: Research Report and Recommendations. AERA Issues Report on Prevention of Bullying in Schools and Colleges. Washington, D.C.

Fried, S., & Fried, P. (2003). Bullies, targets and witnesses. New York: Evans.

Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Kim, Y.S. & Leventhal, B. (2008). Bullying and Suicide: A Review. Int J Adolesc Med Health. Apr-Jun;20(2):133-54.

New Year’s Resolutions: Seeking Progress Not Perfection

Christmas_10076013-1115-allint-1_L

With our bellies peeking (or protruding) over belt buckles and the thought of another sugar cookie churning queasiness in our bellies, it is time to drag our overindulged bodies and minds out of the cocoon of denial and start resolving.

I am the first to admit that, just like most holidays this year, I am not ready for New Year’s. My brain is still trying to process where 2013 went. Alas, the day is upon us all, and it would do us well to think about what we want to accomplish in 2016. That’s right. I’m talking to you. Get your mushy tushy out of that warm bed, grab a pencil, and pay attention. (Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I am usually not this bossy.)

Don’t worry. I’m not giving you my list of resolutions. Rather, I thought I would present some questions to think about. These questions came to me a few days back when I was trying to pray and reflect, and I thought I would share them with you. They helped me put my life in perspective, and maybe it will help you too.

  • How am I managing my life?
  • How am I managing my finances?
  • How am I managing my household?
  • How am I managing my work?
  • How am I managing my health and the health of my loved ones?
  • How am I managing my children (or pets even)?
  • How am I managing my spiritual life?
  • Am I being fulfilled intellectually?
  • Am I being fulfilled creatively?

After you answer these questions, go through each one and ask yourself the following: In what ways can I be more effective?

For example, in examining the health of my loved ones, I realized I need to nudge my husband to see a dentist, and my pups are well overdue for a checkup. In thinking about managing my work, I know I need to be more committed and serious about my blog, set and stick to a writing schedule, and learn more about WordPress. Recognizing the areas that I have neglected or put off for whatever reason helps me make a plan.

Now, I have learned a great deal about myself in the past 49 years. I am not the most disciplined person and can easily become overwhelmed, which leads to mental paralysis, which in turns leads to…well…total failure to meet any objectives. (Sounds so serious.) So, I will take baby steps and not create mile-long lists of things to do. I will try to set a few goals for the year and then smaller goals for each month.

Of course, in Blog Land it all sounds so organized. It may all go to “hell in a hand basket,” as my grandmother would say, by January 5. I just need to keep reassuring myself that I am seeking PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.

Send me a note if you were able to garner something helpful from this.

Happy New Year!

Star Wars VII Bridges the Generational Gap

IMG_0979

Dum, Dummmm, dum-dum-dum-DUMMMM-dum…. (Star Wars theme music)

That’s right, I was one of the millions of moviegoers who braved the crowds to see the seventh installment of the Star Wars movies. My husband and son had been anticipating this day for months. They watched trailers, debated possible plot lines, and seemed to develop their own shorthand language for the movie. They were pumped to go. My second child Katie, likewise, caught the Star Wars fever, begging to go on opening day. To be honest, the only reason I went was because my husband proposed it as a family event. And why not? The kids were out of school for the holidays, my shopping was done, and my dirty floors and laundry would live to see another day.

It wasn’t that I don’t like Star Wars. I am proud to say I saw the original franchise in an actual movie theater. (This always impresses my son’s friends: “You DID?” they say in awe.) I mistakenly believed that the whole Star Wars thing had passed me by. My kids watch some cartoon version of it, and it looks nothing like the world of droids and hairy Chewbacas I remembered. And, to be honest, the prequel Star Wars series—although well written–wasn’t as thrilling for me. (It might be because there was no Han Solo—heavy sigh!)

So, I agreed to go, and while my husband and kids waited in the long lines, I stayed back saying something about dirty dishes (my family tend to go brain dead at the mention of dishes). In that time, I feverishly hit Google. Like a panicked high school student who hadn’t read the assigned novel and had 12 hours before the big test, I searched the Internet for the equivalent of Cliff Notes for the last three (or would it be the first three?) Star War movie plots. (Don’t judge me! It had been decades.)

Armed with my refreshed knowledge, I texted my husband that I was on my way. Long lines of waiting fans snaked around the inside of the theater anticipating the moment they could rush to their favorite viewing spot. But, when I settled in my little theater, I was surprised that it was only half full. I later realized that is because AMC had a Star Wars movie starting almost every 15 minutes. I am not even sure they were showing other films that day. Once we got through 45 minutes of previews—90 percent of which were about other war movies—the lights dimmed, and the yellows scrolling text so iconic to Star Wars started rolling.

For the next two hours of so, I sat in utter delight—loving every minute of this Star Wars VII movie. It was true to the original storyline, piqued my interest with new mysterious characters, and featured some of my very favorite characters from days gone by. Although aged (as we all have), Princess Leia and Han Solo were still the same. Solo was his old cocky, self-assured self and Leia was serious and still dedicated to her cause. (Incidentally, Chewbaba, R2D2 and C3PO didn’t age much.) I thoroughly enjoyed it. It stirred in me the old feelings of routing for The Force and hissing at the Dark Side.

IMG_0978When the movie finally ended, Annie (my daughter who was utterly clueless about the movie and agreed to go for the popcorn and the Icees) expressed interest in watching the original movies. She wanted to see what Princess Leia and Han Solo were like when they were younger. I told her Han Solo and Luke Skywalker were “hot”. She seemed supremely disgusted that I would use that word. I followed after her saying, “What? I was your age when the first movie premiered.” With wide eyes she said, “You were?” Then I told her how I loved the first movie and could not get enough of it, how I decorated my 6th grade journal with Star Wars cards, how I wanted to be tough like Princess Leia and wooed by a sexy smuggler. For a brief moment, there was a spark of understanding in her eyes, like she really believed I was once a preteen just like she is today. In that instant we bridged the chasm of generational misunderstanding and ignorance. Although it was a fragile and tentative bridge, for that moment we connected.

When I walked out of the theater, still basking in the glow of “the Galaxy,” I noticed many fathers and sons, mothers and daughters waiting in line. It dawned on me how very unusual this experience was. Very rarely do generations share a deep passion for something that spans decades. My son Will and my husband Mike will continue to relive their favorite scenes from the movie, usually the ones involving guns and light sabers, but I will forever share the moment when my daughter and I agreed on something—even if it was that the men of Star Wars are hot.

My Gift for the Baby Jesus

advent_wreath_advent_candles a Christmas gift

This past Sunday was the beginning of what is known as the second week in Advent in my faith. Advent is a season in my church where believers prepare for the birth of Christ. So while the rest of the world is celebrating the Christmas season, technically, our Christmas season does not start until Christmas Day. This is not to say that I don’t decorate or shop or sing Christmas tunes until the 25th—I do all that like most Americans. However, I do need to remember it is a time of waiting and anticipation. This, of course, is difficult to impart on my children, as we are all wrapped up in the tinsel and glitter of the season. I am just as guilty as the next person of worrying so much about choosing the “right” Christmas cards and wondering if I should I replace our ratty old pre-lit Christmas tree that leans a little too much leaving my angel in a precarious position.

I had a bit of an epiphany at the 9:00 A.M. mass this week. Father Jason, our new priest, posed a question in the middle of his homily: What would Jesus want from us for Christmas? Without thinking, I asked my nine-year-old, and he said, “A bicycle?” We both laughed softly trying not to disturb the more serious church-goers. I pictured Jesus in his robes riding up the Mount to deliver his sermon. (I digress.)

My very next thought was, “I wonder how the kids would answer that question in earnest? What present would Jesus want from them?” I envisioned a thoughtful conversation over dinner that night. “It would be good for the kids to give this serious thought. They need to think beyond packages, bows and bicycles.” Then something strange happened. The whole church went unnaturally quiet—at least to me. My heart raced a bit, the way it does when I feel guilty about something I can’t exactly place. It felt as if God whispered in my ear, “Hey, Cara, I’m asking you. What do you think Jesus wants from you?”

Gulp.

Deep breath.

This was not a question just for children to ponder. Humbled, I thought about this question throughout the mass and most of the week. It gnawed at me like a puppy with a nice leather shoe, tugging and chewing and not letting go. After trying to ignore it, shoving to the back of my mind, burying it on my To-Do List, I surrendered. “Fine. I will give it some serious thought,” I said to God.

At first, my answer was “a more personal relationship.” That’s what God wants. He wants me to connect with him every day, not just when I am in crisis or sitting in mass. That was a good answer, or so I thought. Sounded good. Then, why did the gnawing continue?

I took inventory of my crazy life, and realized that, yes, God always wants me to beef up my relationship with Him, but this step could not be possible until I did one important and almost Herculean task: Trust.

I think Jesus wants my unwavering trust in Him. I have struggled with this for many years now. I think it is because I have discovered that underneath my big smile and quick wit I present to the world, I am really not as laid back as I would have people believe. In truth, I am a control freak.

I shouldn’t say freak. I think the better expression would be I suffer from a case of CNFC—Compulsive Need for Control. This is a little different from a need for perfection. With CNFC, I deep down believe that I have to take the reigns with every project and event so that I can own its outcome. Don’t get me wrong. This CNFC has served me well in my lifetime. I was able to accomplish a lot in my earlier career. It drove me to be “super teacher” working almost around the clock on lesson plans and grading. It allowed me to found a literary/art magazine at two high schools and win scholastic journalism awards. It propelled me to get a doctorate, and then as an assistant professor revamp an entire Department of Education at a university. Of course, a psychologist would probably say that there were other factors like a wacked out sense of perfectionism and need to prove myself. (I don’t deny any of that.)

All those years of extreme hard work, all those years of successes built in me a false sense of self, a foundation made of sand. I began to believe that if I worked hard enough, studied long enough, researched deep enough, that I could control the direction of my life. In a way I was no different from those crazy Old Testament folks building the Tower of Babel, trying to reach God, trying to be like God.

Well, my tower came crashing down when I had children. Ever so busy changing three sets of diapers, I never noticed the cracks in my tower, my world view. I should have spent more time in prayer after having my children—more than the typical “thank you for these blessings” kind of prayer—because I really could have benefitted from a more personal relationship with Christ. I could have gained an understanding that my tactics for controlling the outcomes in my life were a simply an illusion, a mere hologram that could fade with a push of a button.

Continue reading “My Gift for the Baby Jesus”

Smile if You’re Adopted

IMG_1514

Smile! Today is World Adoption Day! It is a day to celebrate the making of families bonded by love not blood. I found out about this by reading my Facebook Page. I had no idea someone set aside a day to celebrate little ol’me. You see, I am adopted.

Really I am not narcissistic enough to believe this day is all about ME. There are a few others out there. The 2010 Census revealed that there were 1.5 million adopted children under the age of 18 and over 545,000 over the age of 18 living in the United States. And you may have heard of some famous people who have/had been adopted: Singer Faith Hill, athlete Daunted Culpepper, technology guru Steve Jobs, President Bill Clinton, author Truman Capote, activist Jesse Jackson, humanitarian Mother Teresa, singer Eric Clapton, and many more. But, I cannot tell their stories. I can only tell mine.

My Adoption Story

I was adopted at three months of age from Catholic Community Services. My parents picked me up on St. Patrick’s Day. Today, those in the adoption circles would call that “Gotcha Day!” All I really know is that I came with a big green ribbon and the knowledge that I was three-quarters Irish by birth.  This explains my love of Celtic music and Guiness beer.

Before you ask…no, I’ve never met my “real” (as classmates use to say) parents.
Yes, I had a normal upbringing—a gift from my mom and dad.  My adoption story–really my life story–is a happy one.

I have always known I was adopted, which was important because I never had an issue with it. Others may have, but I did not. Besides, I would have figured it out in early adolescence when I stood beside my statuesque, flamingo-like cousins. I was the lone duckling among a pat of flamingos.

But, I wasn’t alone. Other adopted children were a part of my every day life: my brothers, a cousin, my next-door neighbor, and family friends. Plus, my father, the legal eagle, handled a large number of adoptions in the South Florida area. Adoption was a common topic at the dinner table. Eventually, I married a man who had two adopted siblings. Surrounded as such, I knew I was not some strange anomaly in the universe.

Most of my life I never wanted to find out about my birth heritage. Partly because I was happy with my life as such and partly because I felt it would be a betrayal to my own parents to seek out information on my birth parents. Besides I was busy getting through school and starting a career. I had neither the time nor the inclination to conduct any searches. As I teacher, we all know I didn’t have a lot of extra money for any private investigators.

Do I have an identical twin out there somewhere?

In my early 30s, I did have a passing fascination with identical twins and thought I might be a separated twin. I loved reading stories about how identical twins separated in early childhood finally met and felt complete. I found it eerie that they had uncanny similarities like one set of twins were both firefighters married to a woman named Linda. They were both overweight, wore their hair the same way and owned the same breed of dog. Really, how cool is that? I often wondered what it would feel like to stare into the face of someone who looked and sounded exactly I did. It wasn’t until I had my second child that I ever saw anyone who looked like me. When I raised the idea of being a separated twin, my mother doubted the validity of my new instinct. She was confident that the adoption agency would have told them that information. So, I let that fixation go. Continue reading “Smile if You’re Adopted”