Our two daughters headed back to school recently, and the experience of sending them off to fend for themselves at the elementary school up the street has been, for me, emotional, amusing, and problematic.
On the morning of the BIG DAY, Grace was awake by 6 a.m., buzzing with anticipation. We had everything in the “go” position: Her outfit was ready, the backpack had been strategically checked multiple times, and we knew what we had to do to get Madeleine ready. Little sister had had trouble getting up in the morning for most of the summer – lazing around in the bed was her specialty. But, to our surprise, we spotted her wandering around squinty-eyed in the hallway at 6:45, trying to figure out what all the fuss was about.
Grace helped her to get dressed, and I got the breakfast ready. As they were eating their yogurt, I made a big production of making their bag lunches for school. We had gone the extra mile and bought Madeleine a new Hello Kitty lunch bag that had caught her fancy. I never understood the attraction of the bespangled patent leather tote in the shape of a cat’s head. Grace took the more understated route and decided to reprise last year’s classic Land’s End lunch sack.
I made Madeleine her summer favorite: ham sandwich on a hamburger bun plus little carrots and a couple of cookies. Oh yes, and a small bottle of Sunny D which, if you read the label carefully, admits that it contains only 5 percent real juice.
In the final drill, Grace and I reviewed once again how she would go to the cafeteria with her classmates and eat her nice lunch. Well, that was the hope.
I took the girls over to the bus stop while Laurent stayed behind in an effort to delimit the chances of boo-hooing once the bus came. There was general excitement among the parents and siblings gathered for this important letting-go moment. Instead of just waving to the kids and sniffling, almost every parent had some sort of tech device with which to capture this fundamental rite of passage: Cell phones were jabbed out into the air for picture taking; someone had a laptop and was making a short movie of the departure.
I took the old-school route and waved and tried to swallow down the lump in my throat. All I could think about was calling my mother and telling her all about it. She passed on two weeks after we returned from China and never got to meet her new, much-anticipated granddaughter.
The house seemed unusually quiet and empty when I got back inside, but I had a lot of work to do so the time passed relatively quickly – though I must admit I wondered a time or two about the homemade lunches with notes tucked inside.
There was a good bit of excitement in the afternoon when the bus was due back at 3. The dog and I took up our position at the intersection and were ready when the big yellow bus appeared on our street.
I could see Grace waving from the darkened window. Then here they came, hand in hand across the street, and Grace looked vexed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked tentatively.
Grace sighed, “Well, I don’t know how this happened, but she didn’t eat her lunch. She went through the line and got a hamburger instead!”
How was this possible? She didn’t have any money with her, I thought stupidly. But the obsession with hamburgers is strong with Madeleine, and when she smells a grilled patty, even of the institutional variety, she has to act.
Grace, of course, was appalled by the impropriety of it all. We got inside and I tried to explain to Madeleine that she was to eat the Hello Kitty lunch, and please not to get into the line again. I tried to show her the school menu and explain that when there was another hamburger day, she could buy her lunch.
In return, I got a stone-faced expression, then a nod yes with the head, then eyes bright with tears.
I felt like a garden variety ogre.
Grace was full of happy chat about fifth grade, how it felt good to have a “mature schedule” where you change from teacher to teacher for the various subjects. Even lunch went well for her, and social aspects can be a challenge due to some embedded cliques among the 10-year-olds.
As for Madeleine, we tried to ask her what she did in her Sheltered English Immersion classroom but we got very little response. Lately it has been particularly frustrating for me to try so hard to speak reasonable Chinese to her and not to get much in return. At times, it can feel as though we are living our lives in parallel linguistic universes.
Day 2 went fine. I sent in $2 to the teacher so she could pay the cafeteria for the hamburger. After school, we did manage to learn that Madeleine had colored a picture of a dog during the day. There had also been some discussion of the numbers five and six. OK, so that’s progress.
By the end of the first half week, everything seemed to have settled into a nice routine. But when the bus arrived in the afternoon, Grace reported gruffly, “Well, she did it again. She got in line for the stuffed crust pizza!”
This time, I must admit I felt a little put out.
If understanding the daily lunch routine in her new American school seemed overwhelming to Madeleine, what hope was there that she’d grasp addition and subtraction taught in English?
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs.
Silly Mommy. How 2010 of you. Today, baby showers are the least of it.
Or so I learned the other week, lying on that super comfy ultrasound bed for one of the more interesting pre-natal checkups; the one that not only determines whether your baby-to-be has all his/her fingers and toes, but also what sex organs he/she happens to boast.
“Do you want to know what you’re having?” the friendly ultrasound technician asked.
"Heck yeah," I answered. My husband and I were expecting this question, and, not exactly the patient types, already knew our answer. (Check out our post from earlier this year about the stats on who “finds out” and who doesn’t.)
And then she asked: “Do you want me to tell you now or write it down? You know, for your gender reveal?”
(Actually, I thought she said “gender unveil,” but that might have been an accent issue. We’re not from Massachusetts.)
Yes, the “gender reveal,” she explained. It’s all the rage these days. You have a party where your family and friends are dragged once again to pay homage to the bump (OK, she just said “come to celebrate”) and at the best dramatic moment, you open the envelop (or look in the cake, or lift a curtain, or whatever) and discover whether to paint the nursery pink or blue.
Husband and I exchanged looks.
“Really?” I asked.
It was all I could muster.
“I know, I know,” she said.
Like any professional researcher, when I got home I turned immediately to Google. Sure enough, authoritative mommy sites from WhatToExpect.com to BabyCenter.com to Pinterest have lists of Gender Reveal ideas and party tips. There are entire websites and books devoted to this.
“Expecting a new baby is a very exciting time for a couple,” writes www.genderreveal.net. “One of the most thrilling parts of pregnancy is revealing the gender of your beautiful little bundle. Don’t announce it just by making a phone call to your family and friends. Make your baby gender reveal party a big, wonderful, landmark event in your life by holding a well-planned baby gender reveal party. Celebrate the arrival of the newest addition in your family with all your friends and loved ones.”
There are plenty of ideas out there for a rockin’ Gender Reveal. One is to give the secret envelop to the party’s cake maker, who then brings out either a pink or blue cake at just the right moment in the party.
There’s the balloon approach, where the Keeper-Of-The-Ultrasound-Envelope orders a huge box of either pink or blue balloons, to be opened by the parents-to-be in front of guests.
I also saw some people advocating a piñata approach. Apparently guests (or mom and dad) can bash through one of those paper animals – sometimes with a question mark drawn on its side – to reveal a cascade of either pink or blue candy. (Am I the only one to find that one a little disturbing? Especially as my own form begins to increasingly resemble that of one of those piñata donkeys... I mean, really, folks.)
A lot of party planners will encourage parents-to-be to have their guest pick sides, or vote, or otherwise get into the Gender Reveal spirit. You know, pink buttons for Team Girl, blue for Team Boy.
And most importantly – all of this looks really good on Facebook.
Ok. So parents-to-be out there who have embraced the Gender Reveal party, you’ve got to help me out with this. Because honestly, I don’t quite get it.
Sure, finding out the sex of your baby is cool – either at 20 weeks pregnant or on the child’s birth day. But hard as this might be to believe before it happens, it’s a piece of info that way pales in comparison to the actual existence of the kid. (Which is why some people who decide to wait to find out the child’s sex at birth realize later that they never even asked or thought about it in the moment.)
And here’s another thing:
While this little nugget of he/she info is pretty important to parents-to-be (how else to know how to decorate the nursery for Pinterest?), your friends – I promise you – do not care. I mean, they’re interested, sure, just in the same way that they’ll be interested in your first baby pictures and the name you pick and all of that good stuff. They care about the you, and the baby. But for 99.9 percent of the folks in your life, it matters not at all whether the upcoming bundle is a boy or a girl. Even if balloons are involved.
So maybe this is just an excuse for a party. And that’s cool. There have been far sketchier reasons for get-togethers.
But I can’t help feeling (I know, I know, grinch over here) that there’s something just a wee bit narcissistic about the Gender Reveal. We somehow think that our boy-girl moment is something other people should celebrate. It’s an Everybody Gets a Trophy kind of party. (I differentiate this, albeit with scant logic, from the general baby shower, or baby party. Because all babies are worth celebrating. Even if there are lots of them born every day.)
Moreover, there seems to be a growing sense that incredible moments are only truly special if they are photo-ready, admired by others and, preferably, color coordinated. Put it in the same category as the professional birth photographers. But with more decorating potential.
But, I guess it’s whatever floats your boat. If the Gender Reveal brings joy, who am I to question it?
Over here, our Gender Reveal happened in the ultrasound room, when the technician asked whether Husband could identify the sex from our baby’s little parts, displayed on the fuzzy, black and white screen. He got the answer wrong. The technician corrected him. And then we went home, happily, to where there was no cake, and to where we could enjoy imagining our future with Baby Two To Be.
It has always been said – kids are cruel. As time goes by, bullying continues to reach new heights, as Whitney Kropp can unfortunately attest. She was the target of the cruelest of pranks, when her high school nominated her as the sophomore representative for their Homecoming Court.
At first, she was shocked and excited by the homecoming vote, until she learned the cruel reality – the students in her school thought it would be funny if an unpopular student won. They wasted no time and began pointing and laughing at her in the hallways and posting about it on her Facebook page.
And the popular football player who was voted to escort her? He withdrew his name because he didn’t want to be linked with her.
“I thought I wasn’t worthy,” said Kropp, 16. “I was this big old joke.” Whitney was devastated and wanted to withdraw, herself. However, at the urging of her grandmother, mother and sister, she planned to attend the game, to hold her head high and not give the bullies that satisfaction.
As word of this quickly spread through her small town, her community rallied around her. Showering her with support, local businesses offered her everything; a new dress, new shoes and a tiara, as well as having her hair and nails done.The town also plans to pack the football stadium for the homecoming game this weekend, wearing Team Whitney shirts, so they can cheer for her when she is introduced at halftime.
Beyond her town, this story has spread online and a Facebook page called Support Whitney Kropp was created 11 days ago, so more people can show her their support. It already has over 46,000 likes.
This story both breaks and warms my heart.
What started out as a heartless and terrible prank on a 16 year-old-girl, has turned into such a positive story because of people willing to take a stand against bullying. I hate to even think about what Homecoming would have been like for Whitney, if her town didn’t rally behind her.
Would the students have further humiliated her by booing when her name was announced? Or would they have done something even worse? This story could have had a very different, very tragic outcome.
I am truly so moved by this town, for taking her by the hand and showing her that she is not a joke … and she is worthy. Good for them.
As for the bullies who calculated this disgusting act? The school district is conducting an investigation. I’m hoping this isn’t the end of the story – that there will be consequences for those involved.
If not, do you think the outpouring of support is enough to teach them a lesson?
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Lauren Parker-Gill blogs at Spill the Beans.
The accusations from California this week that players on a Los Angeles-area high school soccer team had sexually assaulted younger teammates as part of a hazing initiation has garnered a nationwide gasp.
Local families have protested, a lawsuit has been filed, and news commentators have spent the better part of the week wringing their hands and voicing outrage. How, goes the regular refrain, could such a thing happen?
And sure, the case from La Puente High School is extreme. According to the allegations, as many as 10 older students assaulted freshman players in a room next to the coach’s office. Some alleged victims even claim that the coach, who has been placed on administrative leave, helped lure the younger students to the hazing.
This level of abuse is perhaps unusual. But “hazing” overall – from the banal to the gross to the violent – is not.
In 2008, a National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention survey of 11,482 post-secondary students found that 47 percent experienced hazing before coming to college. Within college, researchers found, 55 percent of students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing. And these aren’t just jocks or freshmen rushing fraternities. Hazing takes place for students joining everything from the marching band to the young Republicans, researchers say.
And a good quarter of these initiations – which regularly involve some combination of alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep-deprivation and sex acts – take place in public space.
“Hazing is not the well-kept secret many believe it to be,” researchers wrote. “This study shows that hazing happens in view of adults in the school community.”
But ... then what?
Turns out that hazing, like bullying, is one of those squishy topics for school administrators, students, and parents.
Researchers with the 2008 study, which was led by professors from the University of Maine, have a slew of recommendations for schools and parents to reduce hazing, from differentiating “hazing” from “bullying” in school policies, to minimizing the extent that older students are privileged within the school environment, to making sure that incidents of hazing are dealt with firmly.
In a number of ways, anti-hazing advocates take a similar approach as the anti-bullying advocates, in broadening the definition of the offense, suggesting community education and requiring more official policies and reactions.
But perhaps even more so than bullying, the question of what’s “hazing” – and what’s a good old practical joke, or even team-building fun – can come down to perception.
At the extremes, this line isn’t necessarily hard to figure out. Forcing someone joining a group to drink until he passes out: clearly hazing, clearly problematic. (And super dangerous. Although numbers are contested, researchers point to numerous cases of alcohol-related deaths that were caused by hazing.)
Incidents such as the one that made the papers here in my little home town, where high school basketball players made younger members play a “game” that involved bodily fluids on a biscuit (eewwww); also clearly initiation rituals gone terribly wrong.
But the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention describes hazing as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.”
But who’s to say a behavior is “humiliating” instead of “silly?”
Anti-hazing advocates say that just doesn’t matter.
Still, the hazing “victims” themselves disagree.
That’s a pretty wacky statistic, if you think about it.
Does that mean that the students are unaware? Naive? Not recognizing that if you OK one set of initiation behaviors, the dangerous ones are sure to be accepted, too?
Or maybe it is an indication that it is problematic to regulate judgment, common sense, and kindness with rules and institutional policies.
Meanwhile, in California, four students have been arrested and detectives are investigating.
More than 90,000 tons of junk food are being sold in American schools every year, is more than the weight of the aircraft carrier Midway. And that, warns a new study released today by a group of America’s retired military leaders, is a threat to national security.
The group called on Congress to take immediate steps to support initiatives to remove junk food and high-calorie drinks from schools, denouncing the availability of high sugar, salt, and fat snack foods in schools as more to blame for obesity than lack of physical activity.
These former leaders now command the group Mission Readiness, a national security organization of more than 300 retired admirals and generals and other senior military leader, that has classified childhood obesity as “a threat to national security.”
According to the Army’s Accessions Command, responsible for recruiting and the initial training of new Army recruits, “over 27 percent of all Americans 17 to 24 years of age – over nine million young men and women – are too heavy to join the military if they want to do so.”
Whether or not you are interested in your child growing up to serve in a military branch, those are some astonishing numbers.
These former military leaders – including Richard Myers, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ,and James M. Loy, former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security – called today for school districts to limit the sale of junk food and for national legislation to enforce those limits and to fund better school lunch options that are more appealing while still being nutritious.
“This is not a spectator sport. It’s a team sport, a contact sport and we need parents on the team, but the reality is that kids are getting 40-50% of their calories in school daily,” Charles E. Milam, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy said at the organization’s release of the report in Washington today.
“We are working with the National PTA because removing the junk food from our schools should be part of comprehensive action, involving parents, school and communities, to help children make healthy food choices,” said David Carrier, spokesman for Mission Readiness.
This group takes the approach that lack of exercise is not the primary influence in childhood obesity, and the report cites a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Report: “It also turns out that lack of exercise is not the primary culprit. Although children and adults exercise less than they should, exercise patterns have not changed dramatically in recent decades while obesity patterns have. What has changed in recent years is the availability and lower prices of food products that are high in sugar, fat, and salt and the increased pressures on families’ time. Over the past two decades, Americans have increased their daily calorie intake by 250 to 300 calories, with approximately half of the additional calories coming from sugar-sweetened drinks.”
Mission: Readiness spent the past two years concentrating on the issue of how childhood obesity is affecting the military in its state of readiness to fight and the cost of medical insurance and preparedness initiatives that have had to be expanded to fit the needs of less fit military recruits.
According to today’s report by Mission Readiness: “Every year, the military discharges over 1,200 first-term enlistees before their contracts are up because of weight problems; the military must then recruit and train their replacements at a cost of $50,000 for each man or woman, thus spending more than $60 million a year.”
According to Mr. Carrier, the Department of Defense spends an estimated $1.1 billion per year for medical care associated with excess fat and obesity.
The report also maps the problem states; and my state, Virginia, is right up there in the mix. The report shows that over a 10-year period, the number of states with 40 percent or more of their young adults who were overweight or obese went from one to 39.
The National PTA, put out a flyer on how parents can get into the loop on school nutrition which suggests: Make sure you know how healthy your school’s environment is and what needs to be improved. Visit the school, talk to the principal, and work with your PTA, school administrators and food service directors to find out: What are kids eating when they’re at school? Is junk food readily available? How much time is provided for physical activity? What can be done to make your school environment healthier?
The flyer also tells parents to find out if there is an existing group working to address nutrition and/or physical activity issues. AND, While policies are being developed at the district level, it suggests working with your PTA to develop a wellness committee for your own school.
I am taking on the final piece of advice offered by the National PTA which is “Spread the Word.” While some might take offense at more people on the parenting dogpile, advising and telling us our kids are facing fit or fat choices, I think there is strength in numbers.
As Cartoonist William Rostler once said, “You won't find a solution by saying there is no problem.” Of course just saying it won’t go far if we don’t exercise and flex those parenting muscles at the same time. Only then will we be able to report that it's "mission accomplished."
With the start of the school year upon us, we have been extra interested in that hot national topic of bullying. After all, parents have heard a lot about bullying this year. Already. There have been speeches by school administrators, informational pamphlets and pledges, peer-to-peer presentations. We know the fight against bullying is a cause célèbre, but what gives with the extra attention this year?
We asked a number of experts about this. It turns out that while the topic is complex, one of the big reasons is that, increasingly, schools are required to adopt anti-bullying policies. By law.
It’s hard to know, of course, which came first: law or social trend. Chances are they have reinforced one another. But for now, we’ll take a look at how anti-bullying legal landscape has changed – rapidly and dramatically – over the past decade or so, and why some people are troubled at what lawmakers and advocates almost always portray as a positive movement against bullying.
Forty-nine states now have anti-bullying legislation in place; Montana is the only state without an anti-bullying statute. This is a huge increase from just a few years ago, and 15 years ago there weren’t any anti-bullying laws at all.
Katharine Silbaugh, a law professor at the Boston University School of Law and an expert on bullying legislation, explains that the first laws against bullying passed soon after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, as lawmakers scrambled to respond to what suddenly seemed to be a shockingly dangerous phenomenon in schools.
(To recap some of what we’ve written before about Columbine: Almost immediately after the shooting, in which two seniors killed 12 other students and one teacher, media reports focused on the idea that the perpetrators were social outcasts who were taking revenge for being bullied. That narrative, however, has been challenged: in his book, “Columbine,” for instance, author David Cullen unravelled the bullied-versus-bully story line, which he found to be almost entirely a media creation.)
The laws spread rapidly across the country. Between 1999 and 2010, according to the US Department of Education, 120 bills were enacted by state legislatures either introducing or amending laws to address bullying and related behaviors in schools.
“To go from zero to every state in that amount of time is unusual,” Ms. Silbaugh says.
While the scope and nature of these laws vary, supporters say they almost always force schools to take bullying seriously, usually requiring some sort of anti-bullying policy and bullying investigation procedures. Too often in the past, anti-bullying advocates say, schools simply ignored this sort of student-to-student harassment and violence, or claimed there was nothing they could do about it. Moreover, by adopting anti-bullying policies, which often include some sort of anti-bullying curricula, many schools end up going through a bullying self-audit. This is important, advocates say, because it forces administrators to recognize just how big a problem bullying is in their communities.
But critics say there are some big question marks here. There’s no evidence that anti-bullying laws actually work. They just haven’t been around long enough for researchers to collect that data.
Moreover, the laws can muddy the conversation about bullying. While at least 41 states provide definitions of “bullying” within their statutes, these definitions differ from one another. They also almost always differ from what those who study bullying call the “research-based” definitions of bullying, which include some key components: a repeated pattern of behavior, an intent to harm and a power differential. These characteristics are important, scholars say, to distinguish “bullying” from drama, teenage bad behavior, and other sorts of conflict.
Or, some say, to differentiate “bullying” from voiced opinions that school administrators just don’t like.
New Jersey, for instance, which is lauded as having one of the toughest anti-bullying laws in the country, has come under fire from free speech advocates for its anti-bullying policies. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education says that the state’s laws, which prohibit speech that “has the effect of insulting or demeaning any student or group of students” in such a way to substantially disrupt or interfere with the “orderly operation of the institution,” cause administrators to over-react to criticism, or even humor, that might include a perceived insult.
This is definitely not the research-based version of bullying that scholars have connected to all those serious health and psychological troubles, it points out.
Regardless of these debates, though, anti-bullying laws have “given salience to the issue and caused [schools] to focus on it when they have a thousand things to focus on,” Silbaugh says. “Can you say whether the law reduces bullying? You can’t say, it’s too short a time. Are schools talking about bullying more than they were five years ago? They are.”
Parents who sent their kids back to school this month have probably already heard a lot about bullying. Not necessarily because their children have encountered a bully, mind you, nor because school administrators suspect that Junior is a bully himself.
No, they will have likely heard about bullying – and may have even read reports, signed pledges, watched awareness videos, and learned about new school rules – because across the country “bullying” has become one the buzz-iest buzz words in education – maybe even in American public discourse overall. (Why else would the question of whether a teenage Mitt Romney was a bully become part of a presidential campaign? And the chair of the US House Foreign Relations Committee even recently called China a “bully” to its maritime neighbors. Take that, Beijing.)
But what’s actually going on with bullying in America?
At Modern Parenthood, we’ve been following the daily flow of bullying-related news items from around the country. But we still have questions: How prevalent – honestly – is bullying in American schools? Has online bullying taken over the lives of teenagers? What should schools (and state legislators, for that matter) do to stop bullying? And while we’re at it, what’s the definition of bullying, anyhow?
Turns out the answers aren't as straight forward as you might think.
Over the past few weeks, we've been reaching out to child development experts, educators and bullying researchers to ask them about these issues. We’ve checked out a number of academic studies on bullying, too. (And there are a lot of them.) In future posts, we’ll share some of what we’ve learned – about anti-bullying initiatives, anti-bullying laws, cyberbullying and various other aspects of what turns out to be a sprawling, complicated topic. (For a preview, check out our Top 5 Myths About Bullying.)
Here's the general picture:
Almost everyone we interviewed agrees that bullying is a problem. As the American Academy of Pediatrics stated in its 2009 policy on youth violence prevention, there's a lot of research that connects bullying to other acts of violence, as well as depression, decreased physical health and long-term psychological challenges. Researchers who study bullying often note how surprised they are to interview adults who have crystal-clear, troubled recollections of incidents of bullying that took place decades earlier.
But the extent of that problem, and what to do about it, well ... that's another story.
There has been a significant cultural shift over the past decade in the way we view bullying. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily new: University of Massachusetts, Amherst Professor Laura Lovett points out that, historically, there have been a number of times public perception has changed about what is “normal” for children. At the end of the 19th century, for instance, writers such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Hughes start questioning in their literary work the “standard” child-on-child violence at boarding schools, she says, which helps lead to a new cultural sense of childhood as a time of life that should be protected.
But now, she speculates, we are in a new phase: one in which people are challenging the assumption that bullying is a "natural" part of schoolyard dynamics.
She also sees a move away from the old narrative of the picked-on child finally coming of age by walloping the bully – something you've seen hundreds of times in movie and TV plots. (Think George McFly finally punching Biff Tannen in “Back to the Future.")
Over the past few years, there has also been an explosion of anti-bullying laws, anti-bullying curriculums, bullying research, and anti-bullying films, as well as non-profits and support groups.
Advocates who have long worked to raise awareness about the dangers and lasting impact of child-on-child cruelty say this new focus is a huge step forward. Lovett tends to agree.
“Young people are more familiar with the term,” she says. “And that means they’re more able to find ways to stop it.”
But others warn that this anti-bullying sentiment is not so straight forward.
There is widespread disagreement about what bullying actually is – and also about what to do about it. Some critics even wonder whether this explosion in attention – or hype, as they might say – is doing more harm than good, blurring the lines between normal developmental child conflict and bullying, tying up educational resources, and putting more pressure on schools to take action, any action, when there is little evidence about what policies encourage or discourage bullying.
(One related tidbit that we found interesting: Research has found that some anti-bullying initiatives, such as peer-to-peer mentoring, can actually increase the rate of reported bullying in a school.)
It’s easy to give lip service about having zero tolerance for bullying. But, some worry, when the term gets so broad it can lose meaning
Check out the variety of recent bullying-related news we've followed over the past months:
• The defense attorney for 15-year-old Perry Hall High School student Robert W. Gladden Jr. quickly mentions "bullying" as an explanation for why his client brought a shotgun to his Maryland school’s cafeteria and started shooting.
• The debate over whether it’s wise to have students across the country the movie watch the movie, “Bully,” which details, among other things, the suicide of a 17-year-old bullying victim. Controversy erupts over whether the portrayal of the school and victim are accurate.
With such a wide scope of behaviors and resulting behaviors, how can lawmakers possibly hope to regulate bullying?
That's the topic of our next post: anti-bullying laws.
The other day, Albie, our half yellow Lab, half Golden Retriever rescue dog, spotted a baby squirrel trying to make its way up a tree in our front yard. Albie circled the tree frantically, occasionally putting his paws on the trunk and stretching as far as he possibly could to try to get at the little creature who remained just beyond his reach. Eventually, the squirrel managed to get to a branch well out of range and remained there for a long while, still as a photograph, while Albie continued his exercise in futility. Nothing, not even a steak, could have distracted Albie from his mission.
Then I noticed this tiny squirrel’s hind legs were dangling awkwardly, and it appeared he’d been crippled, either from birth or in some previous, unfortunate encounter. Since we were outside with Albie the whole time, we knew he hadn’t inflicted the injury. But as long as that squirrel stayed in that tree, Albie was going to be there hoping for a lucky break (for him, not the squirrel).
The standoff continued for well over an hour until the squirrel made an ill-advised decision to try to make it down the tree, clinging to the bark with his front claws, his hind legs dangling uselessly. When he reached the point where I feared Albie might reach him, it was time to intervene. I grabbed an old fishing net, reached up, and easily got the little guy inside. As Judy dragged Albie into the house, no small feat, I released the squirrel in a wooded area behind a neighbor’s house. I don’t know how he’s going to make it on his own, but I really didn’t know what else to do.
Back at the ranch, Albie sat by the front door staring intently at the tree, quivering with excitement. When we let him out a short time later, he made a beeline for the tree and continued to stare, circle, and jump up on the tree trunk in search of a prey that had long since left the building. This went on for hours and for the rest of the day and into the evening he was as amped up as we’ve ever seen him. The next morning when we went out for our walk, he again went straight for the tree, convinced his furry little friend must still be up there. All day he kept checking, though his obsession seemed to fade ever so slightly as the day wore on.
The following day, we took our younger son, a high school senior, to visit the University of Vermont and left Albie in a neighbor’s care. We were gone about 36 hours, and as we neared home I said I expected Albie to still be curious about the squirrel; my wife thought he’d be over it. When we opened the door and let him out to greet us he was, as usual, beside himself with joy, but within two seconds made another beeline for the tree. Of course, one day another squirrel is going to appear in that tree – there are plenty of them around – and Albie will feel vindicated.
It can be hard to reconcile the sweet, lovable dog you know inside the house, the one you think would pick an injured squirrel up gently by the scruff of his neck and carry him five miles to a veterinarian’s office, and the instinctive animal who roams the outdoors like a natural born killer. But he is a dog after all, and dogs will be dogs.
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Pulling up to our son’s Virginia Commonwealth University dorm at 2 a.m. (my spouse works nights so the trip began at midnight), to pick him up for his first weekend home we saw the flashing lights of emergency vehicles and a crew taking a stretcher right to our son’s door.
We held our breath, only to find he helped save the life of a student suffering from potential alcohol poisoning and was not the one in danger.
Knowing alcohol is a college pitfall that can affect grades, lead to injuries, date rape, and even death, we pray our parenting holds them up like invisible training wheels on a bike as they roll away from us their first year of college. However, many things factor into the college equation: increased peer pressure, new freedoms, and the thrill of believing oneself immortal and immune to all fatal harm for young adults.
“He never had alcohol before and went to a party,” my son Zoltan reported after the unconscious boy was taken away by paramedics. “When he came in we didn’t know how bad it was. I asked him what he drank and he just said ‘everything.’ Then I hear the thud and bang, he was out cold.”
This is college, freshman year and many students tend to think a drunken buddy is funny, choosing to scrawl on their faces in marker to photograph for Facebook or Twitter.
According to my son, the resident assistant on duty had done his job: Hearing the boy was drunk, he immediately came to check and, finding him “asleep,” said he would check back in the morning.
At VCU a suite is two or more rooms connected by a common bathroom. This boy was not my son’s roommate, but they had a bathroom in common in which the boy had noisily stumbled prior to passing out.
My son, eldest of four boys, a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Blue Belt and a criminal justice/homeland security major in his freshman year said things just didn’t sit right with him, something was off. I’m not saying my son’s an angel, but he is a solid caretaker.
He gathered the other suitemates together and told them he was going home for the weekend and someone would have to watch the unconscious student. During the discussion the boy, spread-eagle on his back in bed, began to choke. "So I rolled him on his side and called the RA and his roommate,” Zoltan explained.
How did he know to do this when the others didn’t? A high school friend had experienced the same episode and he was told about someone else doing it to save him.
According to my son, the RA and others argued about what to do next because the boy would surely be in trouble for under-aged drinking. There was apparently a fair amount of peer pressure on the side of “Let’s just wait and see what happens” and "don’t make waves in a storm thinking." I wonder how much pressure there was on this student to drink, drink, drink!
Something I believe really helped mold my son into a shepherd rather than a sheep, was the Gracie Bullyproof program of jiu-jitsu he began as a sophomore in high school. It instilled the confidence in him to stand his ground in the face of that peer pressure and gave him that core of
authority and confidence.
“I told them he was choking to death,” Zoltan says. “It’s better safe than sorry. We had to get outside help. I’d rather have him alive and in trouble than explain to his parents why we left him.”
“It’s better safe than sorry,” was my grandmother’s phrase, my mother’s and mine, the consummate broken record.
I am not claiming to be the only parent ever to drum in that phrase, just celebrating one of the times when, as the mother of four boys, somebody listened and remembered an important lesson. It’s just validation for every parent who has been that broken record, become their parents and wondered if they should just shut up. The answer is to keep that record playing and pump up the volume.
Here’s why: According to a College Task Force report to the NationalInstitute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “the consequences of excessive drinking by college students are more significant, more destructive, and more costly than many parents realize. And these consequences affect students whether or not they drink.”
Statistics from this report show drinking by college students aged 18 to 24 contributes to an estimated 1,825 student deaths, 599,000 injuries, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year.
The boy called my son two days later to thank him and assure him that he was not expelled, but would receive counseling and support in making more careful choices. Good on you VCU for having those resources and approach.
Our children are going to surprise us for better or worse, and while we love them through it all, it’s never too late to remind them, “It’s better safe than sorry.”
Beyonce – singer and new mom of baby girl Blue Ivy – and her husband Jay-Z hosted a $40,000-a plate fundraiser for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign Sept. 19 with her husband at his 40/40 club in New York and got a presidential endorsement of her own ... as a role model to the first daughters.
"Beyonce could not be a better role model for my girls," Mr. Obama remarked.
Which seems on point, because Michelle Obama has said Beyonce is her role model. When asked in May to choose someone she would like to emulate, the First Lady said, "I'd be Beyonce." And, Beyonce, too, has said Michelle is her role model.
The mutual backscratching has its roots in some wholesome mutual interests:
Beyonce has publicly supported the Obama campaign for years but went above and beyond this April by sending an open letter and video in support of the first lady. Citing Mrs. Obama as "the ultimate example of a truly strong African American woman," Beyonce describes the First Lady as a role model worth celebrating.
The dynamic duo also collaborated on a video entitled "Move Your Body," as part of a campaign designed to get kids fit through exercise. Beyonce even surprised students at Don Pedro Albizu campus in New York City last year by performing alongside them to the official "Lets Move! Flash Workout" for New York City.
Fundraising for the president clearly links her to the Obama brood, but Beyonce also has been active in fundraising for charities throughout her career.
Co-founder of the Survivor Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping victims of Katrina, she was also an ambassador for World Children’s Day in 2005 which takes place internationally every Nov. 20. In 2004, she teamed up with Jay-Z and raised $1 million for the Shawn Carter Foundation, a nonprofit that provides scholarships for low income students pursuing higher education.
Don't forget to add female empowerment to the philanthropic star's repertoire, Beyonce recorded the song, "Run the world (Girls)," a track capable of serenading any young girl whether she’s an Obama or not.