Penn Jillette makes a point about suicide and bullying


Check out the comments accompanying the video on YouTube. What do you think?

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Bullied teen develops text-based anti-bullying program: Report and Support

A teen who saved friend from suicide by reporting the friend’s expressed intention of killing himself has responded to her own experiences with bullying and her friend’s despondency by creating a text-based anti-bullying program for her school district to use:

Students Against Being Bullied will incorporate two designated texting systems: The first will be a report line, where administrative heads will be alerted of inappropriate behavior by victims or bystanders. The students’ names will remain confidential unless the situation is life-threatening.

The second is a support line, where counselors will be available to provide resources to benefit the students. The two help lines are strictly for text messaging between the hours of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. An e-mail system will also be in place for non-urgent reports or questions outside the texting hours. Read more

Her program incorporates not only the victims of bullying but also the behavior of bystanders, who, research has shown, can experience negative effects of witnessing bullying.

Story came my way via Twitter, in a tweet from parent advocate and author Sue Scheff and @BradleyHospital.

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For today’s consideration, three questions

Over at ParentDish, a mother asks, Was I right to change my daughter’s school because of bullying?

1. What do you think the parent should have done?

And my newspaper today carried this editorial by Esther Cepeda, “We must learn to look beyond our blind spots on bullying.” She discusses myths about bullying, including the persistent myth that bullying is an affliction of urban or poor schools and the other persistent myth that bullying is physical. Our personal experience negates either of those myths.

2. How do your experiences compare in the context of such myths?

Speaking of our personal experiences, our school–which my middle son still attends–recently mentioned a presentation at a booster club meeting of a “bullying prevention” program. We were invited to contact the counselor for more information, so I did. The “program” consisted of about 10 slides with little information to apply. I asked about a district-level anti-bullying program and was informed that there isn’t one. That is not surprising to me, but bullying is endemic in this district–and has been for decades–and I’d say they’d better develop and implement an anti-bullying program sooner rather than later, or they’re going to regret not taking pre-emptive action.

3. Does your district have a bully-prevention or anti-bullying program? If not, have you asked them to implement one?

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Anti-bullying program reduces malicious gossip on playgrounds

With startling results:

Elementary school students who participated in a three-month anti-bullying program in Seattle schools showed a 72 percent decrease in malicious gossip. More (from a news release)…

And information about the program it describes is available here.

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Traumatized by his own bullying

Back after a hiatus–we’re approaching the new year, and you can look for new updates to come. Meanwhile, we’ve just discovered that one of our children has been bullying a child in his class. Here’s that story:

I’ve blogged about bullying before, primarily from the perspective of a parent whose child has been bullied. This post, however, presents our experience with a child of our own who participated in bullying. Yep. That’s right.

Let me preface this by describing our experiences watching A Christmas Story. The movie has much in the way of figurative language and a number of dream-like, surreal sequences that give insight into the main character’s mind. Our middle son, Dubya, as we watched this movie, required explanation of every single instance. Every figure of speech needed explicating. Every dream sequence left him mystified, confused about why the story had suddenly shifted in that way. He is our most literal child, and he struggles with the figurative. He also struggles with understanding when the things he says might hurt someone’s feelings. To him, what he says is simply true. Why would something true be bad to say? It’s a lesson he needs to learn. To wit:

Dubya, he of the sweet heart and mind, tics, ADHD, and OCD, compulsively tells me everything. Thus it transpired one day after school that he began to tell me all about a boy in his class, Belushi. Belushi has a reputation as a child with “issues,” as we say euphemistically. For reasons we’re still trying to determine, he has specifically latched onto Dubya, wanting badly to be his friend and, as far as we can tell, in that impenetrable calculus of childhood, putting off his targets by “trying too hard.”

We’ve spoken with Dubya about Belushi before, urging him to be civil, to be kind. Dubya notes that when he does so, Belushi takes this as an opening for firm, lasting friendship and latches onto Dubya like a barnacle, urging overnights and other fun, friendship-like gatherings. Again, for reasons Dubya can’t articulate, this urgency puts him off. Bottom line: He does not like Belushi. We’ve told him that it’s OK, that you don’t have to like everyone, but that he still has to be civil, be kind.

That day of compulsive confession, I learned that Dubya and a group of boys in their class have been bullying Belushi. Specifically, they’ve been acting like Belushi has the “cheese touch” and making a production out of any occasion in which Belushi touches them or their things. From what I can tell, these boys are loud and open about this. Up to that moment, we’d been rather pleased that one of our children appeared to be sort of popular, well known in the class for his art and his ninja-like Lego abilities. That he was friends with the, you know, popular kids.

We were now appalled. We were horrified. We asked Dubya, “Why, given all that has happened to your brother, why are you doing these things?”

And his response? A shrug of the shoulders, not to blow off the question but to underscore the ambiguity of the answer: “I don’t know. He’s just…different.” If this is what being one of the popular kids gets you, I’ll take my children as utter nerds, thanks.

Much discussion ensued, discussion that included, yes, pointing out that he, Dubya, was the pot calling the different kettle black. Much forcing of perspective taking–one of his biggest deficits–bringing him to tears as he realized how Belushi might feel, how his parents might feel, knowing that children are doing these things, saying these things.

And then, the very next day, Dubya did it again. How do we know? Because he’s a compulsive confessor. More discussion about perspective taking. A huge, painful discussion about the other boys involved, about their role as friends–or not–to Dubya himself. And I emailed the teacher and made her aware of the situation.

The day I emailed the teacher, Dubya, in a rush to reach the end of the lunch line–yep, you read that right, the end of the line–knocked into a little girl in his class. She fell, bumped her head on a table, and literally was knocked out cold, at least briefly. My son, having bullied a boy in his class, now had knocked a child out. Good times, these.

Dubya was horrified, in tears, his teacher worried he was traumatized. I sort of hoped that he was. Why? Because he does that kind of thing all the time, rushing past people, pushing his way through, thinking only of what he needs to do, where he’sintent on going. I’m huge compared to him, so when he pushes past me, I don’t go down and sustain a concussion. But this little girl? In the end, she was fine. But Dubya…not so much.

He’s stopped with the cheese touch business. He’s working very hard to say kind things to Belushi. He’s not spending as much time with the other boys who, it seems, are systematically bullying other children in the class, too. He’s realized that kind people don’t behave that way.

The drawback is that now, he’s obsessing (again) over his every word, every move. Knocking a classmate unconscious hasn’t helped any. He comes home daily from school with a list of things he’s said to ask if they were OK or offensive. He genuinely has no idea and needs clarification and assurance. In other words, he’s in his own world and cannot take the perspective of someone else without outside help.

He’s also returned to much of his obsessive behavior, things that had ended when school ended last year, when he was no longer with a teacher who publicly punished him several times a day by sitting him in the hallway to absorb the stares of every passerby. As quickly as school was out, the constant confessing, obsessing, catastrophizing, and other OCD/anxiety behaviors all but ceased. Now, they’re back. We’re talking about why that is–that he’s worried about making a social mistake at school, about accidentally hurting someone’s feelings because he, Dubya, just can’t tell what’s painful and what isn’t when it’s simply all true to him. So much for relying on trauma to fix things.

So…Dubya’s going to social skills class. The class has been such a success with TH that we hope Dubya finds it helpful to him. He’s not going to be participating in overt, systematic torture of a boy in his class even without taking social skills. Not on our watch. But we’re hoping that what he learns will help him stop systematically torturing himself over what’s right and what’s not right to say to someone.

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Can reaching to the Roots of Empathy help end bullying?

The New York Times Opinionator blog has published a post by David Bornstein, “Fighting Bullies with Babies,” with the headline perhaps first conjuring images of babies fired, missile-like, at bullies, but that in fact refers to a program, “Roots of Empathy.” This program is rooted in Canada and has the imprimatur of the likes of the Dalai Lama himself. It covers grades kindergarten through 8, and there is also a preschool program available.

According to the New York Times post, the program goes like this:

Here’s how it works: Roots arranges monthly class visits by a mother and her baby (who must be between two and four months old at the beginning of the school year). Each month, for nine months, a trained instructor guides a classroom using a standard curriculum that involves three 40-minute visits – a pre-visit, a baby visit, and a post-visit. The program runs from kindergarten to seventh grade. During the baby visits, the children sit around the baby and mother (sometimes it’s a father) on a green blanket (which represents new life and nature) and they try to understand the baby’s feelings. The instructor helps by labeling them. “It’s a launch pad for them to understand their own feelings and the feelings of others,” explains (Roots of Empathy Founder, Mary) Gordon. “It carries over to the rest of class.”

The entrenchment in “perspective taking” as part of the interaction with the baby is designed make empathy contagious. But does it work? According to the NYT post, four studies that have evaluated Roots of Empathy have shown effectiveness. Some researchers point to oxytocin, the “trust” hormone, as one possible explanation.  What everyone does seem to recognize is that babies have a softening effect on the children, one that sticks around. I know from my own experience that once I had children, I had a great deal more empathy for the college students I was teaching, grasping better than ever before their feelings and conditions as people, not just as one of the sea of faces in my large science classes.

Read the entire NYT post, top to bottom. Read the comments, also…they’re among the most positive I’ve ever seen online. It’s fascinating and hopeful. It’s also a Canadian program, although the group has piloted some efforts in the United States, in Washington state. Do you think it’s something that could be–and should be–rooted throughout the United States?

Many thanks to Jordan Sadler of Communication Therapy for bringing this story to my attention.

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The roadmap to preventing bullying

The Examiner’s National Autism and Education writer, L. Mae Wilkinson, has posted a clear outline of the three-point plan to address bullying in schools. Recommended reading.

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