Parenting Kids Today to Prevent Adult Bullying Tomorrow: Lessons from the Miami Dolphins bullying case
The independent investigation report into the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal was released today. I blogged about this story a couple of times last November because it really hit me deeply, because we care so much about the bullying problem, and because I’ve published a few academic articles on workplace harassment. I have previously discussed in detail the implications for society stemming from the situation, and also how the relevant institutions may have contributed to the problem.
The new report is pretty eye-opening. Here are the take-home points:
“The Report concludes that three starters on the Dolphins offensive line, Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, engaged in a pattern of harassment directed at not only Jonathan Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman and an assistant trainer. The Report finds that the assistant trainer repeatedly was the object of racial slurs and other racially derogatory language; that the other offensive lineman was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching; and that Martin was taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at times ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.”
“The Report rejects any suggestion that Martin manufactured claims of abuse after the fact to cover up an impetuous decision to leave the team. Contemporaneous text messages that Martin sent to his parents and others months before he left the Dolphins—which have never before been made public—corroborate his account that the persistent harassment by his teammates caused him significant emotional distress. The Report concludes that the harassment by Martin’s teammates was a contributing factor in his decision to leave the team, but also finds that Martin’s teammates did not intend to drive Martin from the team or cause him lasting emotional injury.”
The report concludes with a call to action, asking the NFL to create new conduct guidelines to promote peer respect in that unique workplace environment. I am sure there is more that will still come out, but it seems like Jonathan Martin may have cause to file a harassment lawsuit against the Dolphins. And, more importantly, we have victimization that took place, and continued extensive fallout and negative press for the organization and the NFL.
Okay – how is this relevant to our focus on teens? All of this has inspired me to really try to think through the issues. One thing I’ve honed in on is why some children grow up to be bullies, and why some grow up to be bullied. Perhaps those victimized deal with it during adolescence and then continue to face it during adulthood, without ever really learning what to do in these situations, and without ever receiving the help and guidance they might need. Perhaps children on the receiving end turn into adults who dish it out later in life, once again because they weren’t shown or taught how to cope and respond. And perhaps mean kids just become mean grownups, and stay that way no matter what because they too never got what they needed to change.
We never really know all of the facts (in this case, or in any bullying case), and the situations tend to be complex and laden with emotion. We also know that there are no cure-alls – parents can only do so much, and then have to let go and have faith that things will work out. But if you are a parent, and don’t want your child or teen to eventually behave similarly to Richie Incognito as an adult, you should:
Remain calm. Nothing is going to work if you try to tackle this while internally or externally freaking out.
Cultivate empathy. Get them to understand that words wound, and if they don’t have something nice to say, they really (and frankly) should keep their mouth shut.
Identify their “sore spot” – where they are especially sensitive. Discuss with them how they would feel if someone made fun of them for that personally sensitive issue.
Help them to appreciate all differences (race, religion, sexual orientation, appearance, dress, personality, etc.) and never use them as a reason to exclude, reject, or embarrass another person.
Teach them that their way to be or act is not necessarily the right way. There often is no right way. People should be allowed to be people. People should be allowed to be who they are, whatever that is.
What may be a joke to them may actually be a cruel and hateful act to another. Everyone is wired differently; some can shrug off things easily, while others internalize them. This does not make them soft or weak. Personal traits perceived as a positive may be a negative in some situations, and vice versa.
Determine if they are dealing with any personal struggles which might be manifesting in harmful actions towards others.
The “birds of a feather” adage is typically true. Figure out if those with whom they hang out encourage or condone meanness and cruelty. Counter those messages as best as you can, with the help of others they look up to.
If you are a parent, and don’t want your child or teen to eventually behave similarly to Jonathan Martin as an adult, you should:
Remain calm. If you come to them all riled up and panicky, you’re not going to get through to them.
Teach them to never allow others to disrespect them or tear them down. They don’t have to subject themselves to that, even if it’s done in the name of “hazing” or forming a brotherhood or sisterhood.
Help them learn conflict resolution skills, as they may help diffuse small problems before they blow up.
Make sure they have multiple people they can always go to for help – someone who will definitely be their advocate and do everything possible to help them. Identify those individuals, and make sure they “check in” regularly to ensure your child or teen is doing okay.
Continually remain keyed in to their emotional and psychological health to detect warning signs that might point to struggles and issues that could benefit from professional help (counseling, etc.).
Be their biggest fan no matter what, and surround them with others who will pour into them and keep them encouraged in the midst of difficult life situations.
Immerse them in environments (inside or outside of school) among kids of character, where everyone stands up for each other and has each other’s backs.
These strategies won’t keep every kid from relational problems now or when they are grown up, but it will help them. Ideally, it will make them more emotionally healthy individuals who are less likely to be a jerk to others, who understand how they should and should not deal with conflict, and how to lean on others early on for support and assistance before situations get irreparably bad. The bottom line is that we have to be involved, and exercise due diligence now to prevent problems in the future. When you’re dealing with the messy fallout, you end up kicking yourself for not doing all you could to prevent it back when you had the chance. So start now – it’s totally worth it.
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Getty.
Combating Bullying During Kindness Week
In my line of work, I have the amazing opportunity to meet incredibly passionate educators who care so much about students – and do all they can to create and maintain positive climates in which those students can thrive. I’ve known Becky Nahrebeski, a 9th grade Global teacher, for a few years now, and finally had a chance to be a part of a Kindness Week she and her colleagues planned and put together in October. We are all about sharing success stories that encourage other administrators and teachers that bullying and cyberbullying can truly be combatted and addressed in creative and meaningful ways that make a real difference. It does take a lot of work, but it is so worth it when you get to see the results. I’ve asked Becky to share with our readers about the amazing things they’ve done (and are doing), and her thoughts are below:
Hamburg Central School District is a suburban district about 10 miles south of Buffalo, NY. We have a student body of roughly 3700 students K-12. We are a very high-achieving district. We are always ranked in the top 15 school districts for Western New York. We are ranked 81 in New York State and we are in the top 3% (ranked 682 out of 24,000) of schools nationwide and are a Silver Award winner according to U.S. News and World Report’s 2013 school rankings. We have amazing students that, after graduation, make us proud. We have dedicated teachers that love what they do. We have a supportive administration that has the best interest of the students at heart. We have fantastic parents that work with us and support us in any way they can. We have an unbelievable community that stands behind us and helps out wherever they can. Despite all of these fantastic parts working together, we still have students that hurt one another through bullying and cyberbullying.
We, as a district, refuse to ignore this issue. In our district, we have a DASA (Dignity for All Students) committee comprised of counselors, social workers, school psychologists, a teacher, and an administrator to deal specifically with bullying. This committee was started in preparation for the passage of New York State legislation (the DASA Act), and since 2011, we have been working on going through bullying reports to identify “hot spots” and determine our prevention efforts. We have attended countless conferences where we learn the latest research on what is happening. We educate parents, staff, students, and even our bus company on some of the best practices in bullying prevention. We meet monthly to stay on top of everything going on in the district.
One of our most esteemed achievements was the planning of an anti-bullying week for our district K-12. It was a massive undertaking, but well worth the hours we put in planning it. Our preparation leading up to this week included a contest entitled “Create a Culture of Kindness.” Students K-12 could enter the contest and compete in different categories. For example, they could write a poem, essay, or song. They could create an anti-bullying poster or public-service announcement video. The goal was for them to take their skillsets and talents and apply them to help transform our school communities by making it cool to care about others. The response we received was truly incredible. It is amazing how perceptive and intelligent our students are on the issue of bullying. It also became clear that it was an issue that our students cared deeply about, as was evident in some of their project submissions. We had well over 100 submissions and it was very emotional and difficult to choose our winners. If you ever are curious how deeply students care about the issue of bullying, put together a contest and you will see how affected your student population is.
Our week began on Monday with a staff meeting with Dr. Hinduja. He trained our staff and shared with us important information about school policy and the best prevention and response strategies that have evolved, and how all stakeholders must play a role. On Monday evening, we held a Youth Rally. We had all our contest entries displayed for everyone to see. We had vendor tables set up in our cafeteria for all to peruse. Attendees had an opportunity to create a link in our chain against bullying. Our band played, and our cheerleaders cheered, and it was a very festive and fun environment with snacks and beverages and a celebration of our students’ efforts! We announced all of our contest winners right at the beginning of the evening. Then we announced our guest speaker, Dr. Hinduja, who spoke to our attendees about technology and role of the parents in helping schools to combat the bullying/cyberbullying problem. He also allowed time for Q&A, which was really valuable to our parents.
On Tuesday, we started our day with a survey we gave to all of our students in grades 6-12. We wanted to make sure we could gauge how well all of our efforts were working throughout the course of this year. We plan on doing a post survey later this year to compare our data. All of the questions from our survey came from Dr. Hinduja’s book Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard. Then, Dr. Hinduja spoke to our middle school and high school students. He was dynamic and the kids really got a lot out of his presentation. He addressed everything from being smart online, protecting yourself by keeping your information locked down, and the impacts that bad decisions can have on your life. Students raved about how everything he discussed with them applies directly to them right now. They took a lot away from his presentation.
Students also watched the documentary “Bully.” This was a tremendous empathy-building opportunity. Students really got a strong message about not bullying and also to be a bystander that acts (upstander). They felt such sadness for the kids that were impacted by the bullying and many felt they would not allow something like that to occur in our schools. Students did debriefing activities for both of these activities where they had some discussion, some writing opportunities. They also made Sorry Slips, and participated in a Paperclip Pledge. A Sorry Slip is a slip of paper on which students can anonymously apologize for something they feel bad about. A Paperclip Pledge is where students vow to not bully, and to step in if someone is bullying. They get a paperclip with a ribbon and make a chain of paperclips, which then serves as a visual reminder of their promise. In all, it was a fantastic day.
On Wednesday, Dr. Hinduja, our high school drama club, and our DASA team traveled to all four of our elementary buildings. Dr. Hinduja spoke twice to each building to students grouped K-2 and again to students in grades 3-5. He was great even with these age groups and delivered a message that they related to. Opposite him, our HS drama club put on a performance of a skit they wrote and answered questions that they students had. Then each school had their own plan for the rest of the day. Throughout the rest of the week, our schools did follow-up activities that included pep rallies, classroom activities, and the hanging of visual reminders around the schools. One common thread in all of our elementary buildings was a Create a Culture of Kindness quilt. Each student created their own square by drawing or writing a message they got from the day. The squares were then put together to form quilts. It remains an awesome visual left over from our week.
The work in preparing for this week was intense, stressful, and at times, all-encompassing, but well worth every minute put into it. Our students raved about the week and asked that we “do stuff like that more often.” They made it clear that they don’t want our efforts to end there. As such, we have some follow-up activities loosely planned out for the spring. We are hoping to bring in a speaker for a one-hour assembly that can speak on the merits of being an upstander, and give our students some great ways to “step in” if they see an instance of bullying. We are also working on putting together a panel of students to share with our teachers what is really going on in our schools. We are also hoping to create a Public Service Announcement for our community. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we remain inspired based on all of the progress we’ve made and interest we’ve received! In closing, I want to share the primary message we received from our students: they want to talk about these types of issues; they want to work with the adults in preventing instances of bullying!
New Year Ideas to Make Kindness Go Viral
Our first book for teens (Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral) came out a few weeks ago, and we’re really excited about its potential impact among students who have dealt with online harassment and want to do something meaningful about it (check it out if you haven’t already!). That said, our publisher (Free Spirit Press) recently asked us to write a blog related to our work to encourage and equip educators with some ideas to kick-start 2014 with school back in session! We thought we would share it with our readers below, and so let us know your thoughts….
The beginning of a new year is a good time to reflect on the previous year while setting goals for the future. Most New Year’s resolutions focus on self-improvement goals (such as dieting, exercising, or learning a new skill). But why not also resolve to work toward an other-focused goal—and do your part to contribute to a better, kinder world? Lots of people share, tweet, and otherwise circulate “feel good” stories on social media about how others demonstrate compassion. The people who circulate them are personally moved. However, have you ever been moved to the point of paying it forward yourself, or—even better—helping to create a legacy of kindness? Your position as a parent or educator offers you the ability to influence legions of kind kids through modeling and intentional instruction.
Interestingly, research now shows that people who learn about, and practice demonstrating, compassion and kindness toward others are more likely to establish long-term patterns of positive behavior. Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and his colleagues have been studying the ways that compassionate behavior actually changes the brain. They found that “participants who learned compassion were more generous” and that “greater generosity . . . was associated with changes in the brain’s response to human suffering in regions involved in empathy and increasing positive emotions.” In short, encouraging kids and teens to be kind and caring can result in neurological changes that may lead to expanded and consistent empathy and compassion toward others.
With that in mind, here are some ways you can encourage the children and teens in your life to delete cyberbullying and make kindness go viral in the New Year.
Set Up a Social Media Compliments Page Most teens have a profile on one or more social networking platforms and are very comfortable navigating these environments. Perhaps you could encourage them to set up a separate account for the purpose of dishing out anonymous accolades to their classmates. This idea was made famous by Kevin Curwick’s “OsseoNiceThings” Twitter feed and Jeremiah Anthony’s “West High Bros” Facebook compliments page. Now dozens of social media accounts have been set up by teens for the purpose of encouraging and praising their peers.
Participate in Random Acts of Kindness More and more individuals in all walks of life are realizing that it’s actually really cool to be kind. It’s even cooler when kindness is dished out anonymously and unexpectedly. Encourage your students or children to engage in random acts of kindness in their school or broader community. Search online for examples of young people being kind to others to give them inspiration. Dozens of videos and even a Twitter hashtag (#RandomActofKindness) can direct you to ideas as well.
Create a Public Service Announcement Many teens have great ideas for promoting positivity that they would love to share with others. Give them creative freedom and let them loose to script out and record a short video with the simple purpose of encouraging others to be kind. They could interview their classmates or “famous” people in their school or community (like the principal or mayor). Leave it up to them about how to approach the activity—they’ll surprise you and hopefully come up with something really compelling! Then you can upload it to YouTube, your school’s Web page, or social media accounts, and otherwise use it as a teaching tool to reach so many others!
Make Posters A simple activity that kids of all ages can tackle is to design inspirational posters that can be plastered on walls around the school. It doesn’t take much artistic talent to inspire others to be kind with drawings or creative slogans. Teachers could work with a particular class or a specific subset of students to produce posters that could be covertly placed all over the school on Friday afternoon or over the weekend. The rest of the student body will return on Monday and be totally inspired by what they see all around them.
Promoting kindness doesn’t have to be a big production. The best ideas are often among the simplest. If you are an educator, maybe spend some time in the classroom brainstorming some ideas with your students. Parents, too, can talk with their children about ways to eliminate cruelty and encourage compassion. Working together, parents, teachers, and kids and teens can make tremendous strides toward combating cruelty in all its forms in 2014. Don’t just share stories of kindness. Make it a priority to write your own, and help others to do so as well!
Image source: http://bit.ly/1cNoNKr
Teens: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral!
Next week, our newest book will be released. And we are seriously pumped! Like all of the others, this one is on the topic of cyberbullying. But this book is not like all of the others. Rather, it is the first book on cyberbullying that we know of that was specifically and intentionally written for teens. Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral represents our effort to give youth the tools and inspiration they need to effectively prevent and respond to cyberbullying. And more than that, it encourages them to utilize the power of technology to spread kindness throughout their schools and broader communities.
We’ve long advocated that tackling teen tech problems requires a comprehensive and coordinated effort that includes parents, educators, law enforcement officers, and other community leaders. But it should also involve those who are at the very center of these issues: teens! And we know from the many conversations we have had with teens over the last few years that they do want to be a part of the solution. Until now, however, not much was available to help them. This book changes all of that.
Written for Teens
Whether teens are being cyberbullied, or just tired of seeing it affect their friends and school, Words Wound offers real-world advice that they can put into practice today. The book includes dozens of stories from teens who have experienced cyberbullying or who have worked in their communities to fight it in creative and effective ways. Teens are able to learn directly from those who have been wounded by words, but also from many who refused to stand idly by as their classmates were being mistreated. Readers will come to deeply appreciate the serious harm that comes from cyberbullying, but even more importantly learn the strategies they need to do something about it. Specifically, it empowers teens to combat cruelty with kindness, and to harness the power of positive peer pressure to persuade all teens to act with respect toward others, whether online or off.
It was a blast writing this book because it allowed us to get out of our comfort zone and write much more informally than we usually do. It was as if we were sitting down and having a chat with a teen. We get to hang out with students all of the time in schools all across the U.S. (and beyond), so we feel like we have a solid handle on what they are dealing with and how they are confronting online challenges. And we have also heard from them about what works and what doesn’t.
I deliberately tried to get inside the head of teens as I was writing for this book over this past summer by, for example, listening to current pop music by Justin Timberlake, Macklemore, and Lady Gaga instead of my usual favorites from the early 1990s. In fact, Lady Gaga had a small part in inspiring us to write this book. We were invited to participate in the launch of her Born This Way Foundation in February of 2012. The Foundation is all about empowering youth and giving them “the skills and opportunities they need to build a kinder, braver world.” We love this mission! At the launch event, an audience member asked Lady Gaga what she thought was the best way to teach students how to intervene in bullying incidents. In reply, she explicitly called for more resources to be directed to teens to help them navigate these issues (see 1:02:20 in the video). Upon reflecting on her answer we realized that there really wasn’t much out there for teens on how to deal with cyberbullying. We knew they were thirsty for information, and so we wrote this book.
Also Helpful for Adults
Even though this book is for teens, we also see it as a great resource for parents, educators, or really anyone who works with youth to help them navigate the difficult intersection of adolescence and technology. Adults who read the book will learn from teens themselves as their experiences represent the bulk of the book. They will also be given teen-tested and approved strategies for dealing with cyberbullying, and come to appreciate the importance of their role (and responsibilities) as the “Trusted Adult.” We enlisted input from several teen editors to review the content in the book to make sure the suggestions were realistic, appropriate, and relevant to them (special shout out to Kylie and Kevin who went above and beyond in their efforts to help us!).
Moreover, to assist adults, we’ve created a companion Leader’s Guide which will be freely available and allow teachers, counselors, or youth group leaders to use Words Wound to teach teens about empathy, cyberbullying, and digital citizenship. It includes learning objectives, discussion questions, activities, and assessment questions for every chapter. We believe it is perfect for educators who are looking for a teen-oriented book to guide them through lessons on these difficult concepts. This is especially important given the federal mandate that schools teach about cyberbullying awareness and response.
More Than a Book
Ultimately, our hope for this project is to take it well beyond just the book. We really want to create a mindset among teens where care and compassion become contagious and where cruelty is viewed as simply not cool. We know there are pockets of youth out there in their schools actively promoting this perspective, and a few of their stories are highlighted in the book. We will continue to support their efforts by showcasing success stories on our new teen-oriented website www.wordswound.org and popular social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). Be sure to visit those sites, and continue to follow this blog as we roll out exciting new resources and activities to help teens delete cyberbullying and make kindness go viral!
To pre-order a copy of Words Wound, visit Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.
If it takes a village, where is that village? Reflections on the Dolphins’ bullying case
I’ve been studying the phenomenon of bullying for my entire professional life, and as much as I believe the best about others, I also have discovered that boys, girls, men, and women do not always *naturally* know the right thing to do. To be sure, they eventually learn what is socially acceptable in many situations, but not in all. And as we get older, the situations become more complex, and are acted on by many outside forces such as peer expectations, conflicting worldviews, personal insecurities and dysfunctions, and the sometimes miserably difficult nature of life. And in this murkiness eventually surfaces major problems. I think of teens taking their lives in part because of bullying. I think of child abuse and domestic violence and sexual assault. And I think of many other wrong choices and behaviors where one person ends up really hurting someone else. Like in the Miami Dolphins’ maelstrom involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.
We’re familiar with what has occurred, and the story seems to be getting more complicated and implicating more individuals every day. But let’s take a moment to focus on Incognito and Martin to determine if this could have been prevented (at least in part) if we magically were able to go back in time and influence their lives while growing up. Of course, we can’t, but if something can be learned, it can be applied to the teens we do have in our lives right now. And maybe, just maybe, it will compel us to act in ways that reduce the likelihood of a similar outcome in the future. We must remember that this doesn’t just affect two people, but has reverberations throughout the NFL, sports (with the NBA recently acting to prevent hate and harassment), and adult workplaces in America and beyond, and therefore – by extension – touches every area of our society.
The general sense from media reports about Richie Incognito was that he probably overstepped a line when it came to the way he interacted with Jonathan Martin who – assumedly – was just different in personality and constitution from him (and perhaps other NFL football personnel who believe Martin is soft, weak, and emotional). Perhaps those differences elicited some sort of reaction in Incognito. Some might say that reaction was hateful, but since we still don’t know all the facts, let’s at least agree that it was disrespectful and mean.
Perhaps it’s easy to condone or justify his actions because of a shared group mentality about how an offensive lineman should be, or about how a football player should be, or about how a man should be. However, from our extensive work with teens of all ages who are continually fighting battles to be included in one group and while not excluded in another group, we have learned that discrimination and stereotypical worldviews about how others should or not be, act, speak, or look is one of the major roots of bullying. Somewhere along the way, there likely was a marked failure of social institutions in Incognito’s life (school, family, faith-based organization, sports teams along the way, etc.) to teach and (more importantly) regularly remind him about peer respect, tolerance, and acceptance of individual differences. Would Incognito (and perhaps others) have treated Martin with hate (at worst) or callousness (at best) if those lessons has been deeply branded upon his mind and heart? Maybe, but I doubt it.
On the other side of the issue we have Jonathan Martin, who by media accounts is perhaps more sensitive than many of his peers in football – or, perhaps, is at least more open in vulnerably demonstrating that sensitivity. He may be struggling with some deep-seated issues, or he may simply have been subjected to repeated bullying to the point of breaking him. Here again, I believe that social institutions have likely failed him. Let’s say that he wears his heart on his sleeve. I can relate to that – I’m the same way (for better or for worse). I don’t imagine this is a recent development in his life, and so I will speculate that Martin has been this way and if so, has likely dealt with mistreatment from others before. To me, that means that there were likely opportunities from parents, from coaches, from teachers, and other adults to provide counsel, wisdom, encouragement, and specific techniques and strategies to deal not only with bullies but also with heavy emotions when life gets really hard. The fallout from this case has happened quite suddenly, but I imagine there were requests and cries for help all along the way that were dismissed or ignored. Perhaps this has been the story of Martin’s life. I am not sure; all I know is that this happens. People try to get help, and/or never receive the guidance and support they need, and then a major awful event happens.
For adults like Incognito and Martin (and perhaps for many others in sports and other spheres of life), there has probably been a massive failure somewhere along the line. For Incognito, perhaps no one really taught him how far is too far (and no one seemed to care enough to stop him, either). For Martin, perhaps no one was able to fully be there for him, to counter feelings of exclusion and rejection with feelings of inclusion, respect, and esprit de corps. Both of these failures could happen to anyone, and are happening to so many around us. And all of this begs the question: what are you doing about it?
Photo credit: Lynne Sladky/AP