By Rob Watson
“Making headway, one step at a time”. This was the last communication from Joe Bell on his epic quest to walk across the United States and do everything within his power to end bullying, intolerance and suicide. His journey was not the result of an idealistic publicity stunt. It was a mission. A truck whose driver allegedly had fallen asleep at the wheel struck Joe down yesterday killing him as he fought in valor as a dad, and a hero.
Our country’s values had fallen asleep at its own wheel long before this accident. Jadin Bell, Joe’s 15 year old son, tragically took his own life earlier this year. Jadin hung himself after a barrage of bullying that even continued in the local paper while he hung on for days in a coma. One commenter, for example calling himself “PuzzleFighter” wrote in the thread commemorating Jadin, “BTW, some guy who hugs me for no reason deserves a punch in the face.”
Others gave insight to the environment the Bells faced. “ CMar74” addressed this by stating about La Grande, “the culture of intolerance in that town is horrific and am thankful we removed our family from it.
The loss of Jadin was a loss to the world. According to a family friend, he elevated those around him with a “couple quick words and everybody would just forget about their problems and smile. He just had a gift.” That loss could not have been felt more deeply than in the heart of his dad, Joe Bell.
As a dad, I relate to the soul that I know was in Joe. I know the feeling of looking at my sons and experiencing a love beyond that which I could ever dream possible. It is a love in which you want for, you would die for, that person to get every wish, every hope, every accomplishment they imagined. It is a love which puts the other person first unequivocally and calls for any sacrifice to keep them safe, healthy and well.
On the day Jadin died, I know as I breathe, part of Joe’s soul had to have been decimated. Mine would have been. According to his Facebook page, Joe “figured he had two choices, lay down and give up or stand up and walk.” For me, as it was with Joe, in that situation there are only two choices, lay down and die or fight to the death against the thing that killed your kid.
So Joe walked, and he walked hard. He traveled from Oregon to Colorado speaking to groups who would listen all along the way, including a youth group the evening of his death. “This is what I am out here for,” he said in a self made video a few days before. “I am out here to make Change.”
Moments before Joe was killed, he looked at a sign that said “Wild Horse 7”. Life, the ultimate wild horse, was about to knock him down, and end the pain and mourning that he still must have been carrying in his gut.
This is not the end of Joe and Jadin Bell however. As the horrible news of Joe’s death has spread, a common theme has left the lips of many : “We will continue the walk.”
We will walk. We will fight. We will love with a force that will eradicate fear, homophobia and the individualized terror known as “bullying”. We should have done it earlier so Jadin would not have had to die, and Joe would not have had to walk.
We can do it now, however. It is not too late. I wish we could have done it for Jadin, but as Joe knew, there are more “Jadins” out there, and we can do it for them.
And now, we can also do it for Joe.
To Joe, from me, and many dads out here: You died in the line of duty of being a dad. Rest in peace, man, we will not let you go in vain.
By: Rob Watson
Jasmyn Smith committed suicide. According to her family and friends, she had endured “a year and a half of being heavily bullied, both at school and online”.
I cannot stand that this happened. I cannot stand that she was only a year older than my sons. I am sure that every one in Jasmyn’s life is trying to understand what happened, what could have been done… what should be done to stop this from happening again.
We all have to address the fruitful environment where bullying flourishes. Certainly the homophobic and misogynistic voices in our society feed it… they give direct rationalization to those looking to beat up on someone who an “acceptable” target. Parents and school personnel have been lax with the idea that bullying is just a rite of passage and ignorable.
Another contributor to the environment is one that currently enhances the inspiration to bully, when it could be used instead to diffuse it. That contributor is the pre-teen, “tweeny”, medium on television and movies.
When my kids were in pre-school, the doled out programming they saw seemed to have high input from developmental professionals. The Sesame Streets, Backyardigans, Mickey Mouse Playhouse and others had deliberate socialization values built into them. As I watched these shows with my boys, I could see them picking up good ideas on how to interact with others. The shows taught them how to collaborate, how to use imagination and how to problem solve.
Now they qualify for a different level of programming and the offerings have no such filter, even age appropriate ones, in place. Mostly set in high school, these shows depict cool, but slightly vulnerable leads around a set of misfits. There is usually one “strong” character that performs humor that should it be delivered without the laugh track, would basically be…abuse. This plays out in both direct and subtle ways and is often set up to give the impression of justification. Those cast in these shows as misfits are the recipients of jibes, remarks and insults. These “misfits” are usually overweight, nerdish, effeminate (if male) and butch (if girls). If the put downs for these characters are not coming from other characters, they are byproducts of the plots themselves in the guise of humiliating situations, demeaning costumes and embarrassing behavior. The shows nod to political correctness by making sure that effeminate recipients are clearly identified as being “not gay” and the quip turning bullies have shots at other “bad” bullies to show that they are in fact…the good guys. Yet the result is the same—find the acceptable target and denigrate them.
Who is cool is clear. Who is not cool is clear. Who deserves humiliation… is clear.
After watching several of these shows, my one son started to mirror different behaviors. A mantra that I had to repeat over and over as a result was “mean does not equal funny”. He got the point, but still the temptation to imitate the cool tough characters kept on. It was not long after that I banned the shows in our home all together.
ImageIronically, that same son got bullied in his summer school this last summer. A girl, four years older than him, started jeering him with lines from a tweeny show. The words and tone obviously embarrassed him and so not only did she persist in badgering him with them, she recruited more kids to do the same. This went on for two days before my son came to talk to me about it, and I contacted the teacher.
She worked with me, and the kids involved and we were able to diffuse the situation.
Jasmyn Smith’s situation was not diffused. Did tweeny television cause her death? I have no reason to think so.
This issue is complex however, and the foundation to impact it is to start with values. Tweeny television contributes significantly to these values, and to the actions around them. In the fabricated world it creates however, those who become victimized by bullying can laugh it off, or have some secret super power, or an even bigger bully best friend to come to the rescue.
Not so in real life. In real life, kids in that situation have depression, lack of self worth and self destruction. Since there is no Hollywood writer who can write their real life happy ending, we need those writers to do a better job up front in the fictional world that real kids emulate.
Bullying, in all its forms, should not be cool.
By Shannon Ralph
Reason #4: We worry about our children.
Ruanita and I take turns worrying about our children. I’ll obsess about Lucas’s lack of vegetable intake in his limited diet, while Ruanita worries about Sophie’s shyness at school. I will worry about Nicholas spending too much time playing video games while Ruanita worries about Sophie not reading as well as her twin brother. Typically, we will worry about different children at different times, thereby protecting our kids from the double whammy mommy fret.
On rare occasion, however, we will both focus our energy on worrying about one child. Right now, we are in the midst of just such a vortex of anxiety. It began recently when we had a parent/teacher conference with Lucas’s fourth grade teacher. All went well, for the most part. He had scored slightly above average on his state reading test and well above average on his state math test. He had a little trouble staying on task in the classroom and there were instances where his anxiety issues had been apparent to his teacher when he wasn’t sure what he should be doing. These reports were not unexpected. And she raved about what a sweet, kind boy Lucas is. We were fairly happy with the overall report until his teacher broached another topic with us.
Basically, in no uncertain terms, she indicated that she was concerned about Lucas being bullied in middle school next year. She recalled an incident in class where another boy had his feet propped up on Lucas’s seat and would not move them. Lucas just stood there looking at the boy’s feet saying nothing. Looking anxious. She made the boy move his feet, but was concerned that Lucas said nothing. She was concerned that some of the boys with “stronger,” more testosterone-infused personalities may see Lucas as the perfect–silent–victim.
Here’s the thing. Lucas is completely 100% non-confrontational. He is not an assertive child. He does not speak up. As a matter of fact, he lives most of his life in his own little world. A world where everyone plays video games and builds robots from cardboard boxes and walks around singing show tunes. He lives in a happy world filled with Einstein and science documentaries and choir and Legos and Goombas and Myth Busters and grilled cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off. He is the quintessential geek. And I absolutely love his geekiness. He is incredibly sensitive and sweet and gentle. And nerdy. And Ruanita and I adore him just the way he is.
Lucas has always had friends in school. He is a pleasant, engaging kid who I think people like. The fact that his sensitivity and non-assertiveness would cause him issues in life simply was not on our radar. We have always relished the fact that he will likely grow up to be a sensitive man. Women love sensitive men, right? I guess we always knew that he wasn’t like other boys, but to actually hear his teacher say the words, “He’s not like other boys” was a bit of a slap in the face. But it is the truth. He’s not rough and tumble. He’d rather sing you a song than wrestle with you. He’d rather watch a documentary about the Earth’s core than ride a bike or play baseball. As a matter of fact, he is almost 10 years old and does not know how to ride a bike. And has no desire to learn. And he has absolutely zero interest in learning to play any sport. Unless you count chess as a sport.
This weekend, Ruanita and I were shopping for Christmas presents for the kids. In the toy aisle as Target, Ruanita turned to me and said, “Do you think it’s because we don’t let him play with guns? That we won’t even let him have a Nerf gun? Do you think he’d be more assertive if we let him play with toy guns like other boys?” Ummm….no. I don’t think arming him will make a difference. I think he is who he is. I think it is in his nature to be completely, unapologetically Lucas.
Does this mean we will not worry about him? Does this mean we will not obsess over him? And fret about him? And ache in the deepest, darkest parts of our souls for him to have an easy life? A happy life? No. We are his parents and we will worry about him and for him until the day we die.
Worrying about our kids is one more way that my marriage is just like marriage.
Note from the Editors: The Next Family understands that bullying is an important and sensitive topic laced with varied theories, research, and opinions. The viewpoints expressed in this article and those previously published on our site (Bullying Series Part I, Bullying Series Part II, How to Bully Proof Your Child) do not necessarily define or summarize those of The Next Family.
By Meghan Welker
While it’s something that has gained a lot of press in recent years, bullying is not a new thing. In past generations, it was considered a rite of passage, and was something that was simply expected. Today, however, we have a much better understanding of bullying and the lifelong effects of it on both the bully and the victim.
Bullying takes on many different forms. Verbal bullying includes intimidation and threats, name calling, insults about gender, race, sexual orientation, special needs, disabilities, or other personal characteristics, public humiliation, and spreading rumors. Physical bullying includes tripping, pinching, hitting, pushing, and destroying or stealing personal property. Cyberbullying includes harassing emails, texts, and instant messages, and intimidating, harassing, or humiliating posts and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other websites. Cyberbullying can be especially damaging because it continues outside of school hours and off of school grounds, and has the ability to reach a large audience. These attacks can continue to circulate online long after the initial event.
If you think your child is being bullied, you’re not alone. Up to half of all children are bullied at some point during their school years, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Some of the possible warning signs that your child might be a victim of bullying are if your child:
- Comes home with torn clothes.
- Is missing sweaters, jackets, school supplies, or other things repeatedly.
- Has unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches.
- Is afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, or riding the school bus.
- Suddenly begins to do poorly in school.
- Is sad, upset, angry, or depressed when she comes home.
- Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches, being tired, or other physical ailments that would prevent her from going to school.
- Has few friends.
If you think your child might be being bullied, you’re not helpless. There are things you can do to stop the bullying, help your child deal with the after effects, and stop future attacks.
Encourage your child to share her feelings. It’s important that your child has a safe place to talk about what’s happening and how she feels about it. When your child opens up, listen without dismissing her feelings (e.g. “Oh, you shouldn’t get so upset about what she says.”), without downplaying the incident (e.g. “Don’t listen to what that boy says. You’re beautiful just how you are!”) or without assuring her things will immediately change (e.g. “I’ll talk to your teacher and it will be OK.”) Offer empathy and support, let her know you’re on her side, remind her that she’s not to blame for what happened, and work with her to find a solution.
Contact school administrators. You should report all bullying to your child’s school. Many schools have bullying policies already in place so you’ll have a good idea what to expect. Present as many details as you have and ask what actions will be taken. Make sure you follow up and stay up-to-date on how your complaint is being handled. Unfortunately not all principals and teachers take bullying seriously and you may have to be the squeaky wheel to get them to take meaningful action. If your child was physically attacked, talk to the school principal immediately to decide if the police should be involved.
Model an honest yet appropriate response. Of course you’re going to be angry if your child is being bullied. Be honest with your child about how you’re feeling while letting her know that acting on anger, hurt, humiliation or other negative emotions doesn’t solve the problem. Put your energy into working with the school to stop the bullying behavior to ensure the bully is dealt with appropriately and to help your child deal with the emotional toll of bullying.
Boost your child’s self-esteem. There’s no such thing as a bully-proof child, but kids that have high self-esteem, are part of supportive friendships, and are involved in activities they enjoy and are good at are much less susceptible to bullying. In today’s world there’s a group, team, or club for pretty much any activity your child is interested in. Sports, volunteering, music, performing arts, chess, gaming, or outdoor adventure can all help your child avoid or successfully deal with bullying. If her school doesn’t offer anything your child is interested in, look in your local community.
Bullying is a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon. Public awareness, prevention programs, and progressive school policies are making it easier to identify and deal with bullies, but occurrences of bullying aren’t declining. In fact, cyberbullying is increasing at an alarming rate as smart phones become standard equipment for students. As a parent, you have the power to help your child to deal with bullying wherever and whenever she might encounter it.
This article was originally posted on Babysitting.net.
By: Joe Newman, Behavior Consultant
Paul was in the third grade when his grades began to slip. He was attentive in class and a good participant in class discussions but struggled with the reading and writing that was expected of him. In order to help Paul keep up he was often pulled out of non-academic activities (like art and music, which he excelled at) and given extra help in language.
By the start of fourth grade his attitude had shifted. Paul was getting into mischief in class, often interrupting the teacher and clowning around and joking during lessons. By the middle of the school year Paul had been sent to the principle several times for bullying other children. As a penalty for his bullying Paul was suspended from the after school baseball team.
Paul’s acting out in class, bullying, and negative attitude towards school seemed to be in a downward spiral. His parents and the school staff were at a loss as to how to turn things around.
As Paul’s academic struggles grew, his social status at school diminished. And, in their efforts to give him more help and deter his problem behaviors, teachers and parents inadvertently took away many of the remaining avenues he still had to feel powerful at school (like art, music, baseball). It is not surprising that, as his feelings of social power at school disappeared, Paul found less appropriate ways to feel social power.
As school budgets have been repeatedly cut they have eliminated art, drama, sports, woodshop, music, and auto mechanics while increasingly emphasizing academics. This means that avenues for demonstrating social power at school are becoming limited to those students who thrive academically. In the past, these other activities offered students who weren’t the best academically the opportunity to find and demonstrate other skills within the school community.
Children are drawn to social power more than to what they’re told is right or wrong. I’ve noticed that many children who struggle at school are more attracted to the villains in comics and movies than to the heroes. This is because children who don’t see themselves being successful heroes relate to anti-heroes. At least anti-heroes are powerful.
As Paul’s father Dan watched his son’s escalating difficulties, he considered that maybe his son wasn’t so different from himself. He had struggled in school and it was only after he’d graduated and found a job on a film crew that he began to find his own talent. Over the years Dan had worked his way up to become a successful director of photography.
He decided that maybe his son didn’t need to wait until he was in his twenties to find his talents. He knew that Paul was interested in making movies and his class would be studying the founding fathers in the months after their spring break, so he approached him with a plan. They would make a film together about one of the founding fathers.
Paul chose Ben Franklin and recruited some friends to play the various roles in the film. During the first week of spring break (Dan was on hiatus) they shot the movie and during the second week Dan coached Paul through the editing process.
When Paul returned after the break he gave the film to his teacher as a special project. To his teacher’s credit she not only showed the film in class, but also arranged to have it shown in the other fourth grade classes and even at a school wide assembly. At each showing Paul was asked to talk to the audience about how he and his friends made the 15-minute movie. His teacher even arranged for him to go with his father and show the movie at two neighboring elementary schools.
Paul was so busy and proud of the film he’d made and his new found notoriety at school that the bullying and class antics stopped completely. In the months that followed his participation and attitude at school made a big turn around.
When children find something they’re good at, something they like, or something they can contribute, they also find their place in a community. When children have a legitimate place, they’ll have no need to find power through hurting other children and bullying.
By: Joe Newman
Sara, the mother of seven-year-old Aiden told me her son was complaining that his friend of several years, Noah, a boy a year or two older, had been bullying him. Apparently, Noah had pushed him into a closet where he and another boy hit him. This had happened a few times and always out of view of any adults. Additionally, the boy told him if he tattled that he would hit him again when no one was around. This was happening when both boys were at either at Aiden or Noah’s house.
Although the occasional abuse made her son reticent, he still wanted to visit and play with his friend. His mother was concerned because this was one of very few friends Aiden had and she and the boy’s mother were also friends.
What to do?
To understand how to respond to bullying we must first understand its motivations. Bullying is an attempt to exert social power. Bullying is not the result of the bully’s lack of understanding about right and wrong, or their lack of empathy. Quite often a bully is conflicted between his desire for power and his empathy. It’s not that a bully doesn’t understand or feel empathy, it’s just that his desire for social power is stronger.
Social power is increased when a child shows disregard for the opinions of adults. Grade school children are uncertain about who they are, and there is nothing cooler to their peers than a child who shows that he not only doesn’t need the approval of adults but is unafraid of their opinions or outrage.
Consequently, there are generally two effective approaches to handling bullying. One is to consequence the bully and the other is to coach the bullied. The biggest mistake adults make is to intervene by lecturing the bully or otherwise telling him how his or her actions are wrong, bad, shameful, or disapproved of. Berating or lecturing the bully in front of his peers is particularly ineffective as it provides a perfect platform for the bully to display social status and power.
So what to do with Aiden and Noah?
I suggested the mom start by coaching her son in effective ways to handle the situation. Ask him to look out for the first signs of the bullying and when he sees it going that way he should say to his friend, “I don’t want you hitting me. If you hit me I won’t play with you.” Then if his friend does hit him, he should immediately tell the adult who’s at the house that he wants to go home or he wants his friend taken home.
Sara asked me if she should sit Noah down and tell him that she knows about the bullying and that it isn’t okay and I told her no.
There are two problems with Sara, not Aiden, confronting Noah about his bullying. First, it undermines the power of Aiden by demonstrating that he must rely on his mom’s power and can’t assert his own and it denies him the opportunity to assert that power himself. Second, it gives status to Noah’s actions by allowing him to flaunt his opposition to Aiden’s mom’s wishes and approval, inadvertently increasing Noah’s social power.
Then Sara asked me if she should talk to Noah’s mom and have her talk to Noah about his behavior. My answer was no. Again this will increase Noah’s status and show Aiden’s lack of power and status. If she does talk with Noah’s mom it should be to ask for her support of Aiden as he negotiates this problem while specifically asking her not to talk to her son.
This way Aiden can exercise the power of following through with what he said he would do. When Aiden comes to either adult he should be coached to say simply, “I want to go home now” or “I need you to take Noah home now.” And the adults should honor his request immediately without questioning him or reproaching Noah.
The other effective approach to bullying is hard to do in this situation since the boys are always playing alone when it happens. However, in other situations I would advise the adults to stay close and within eyeshot when possible and intervene with an immediate action consequence that lowers social power. Telling the bully to take a break for five minutes away from other children, without discussing with them why, can be a good way to do this. Once the adult says why, or what the bully did was wrong, they inadvertently increase the status of the bully.
My wife told me about a teacher she had as a child who insisted that any child he caught bullying wear a big pink bow for the rest of the day. While I’d never recommend this kind of shaming, her teacher clearly understood the root cause of bullying and attempted to counter it with something that diminished social power and status.
As we move forward in our attempt to eliminate the growing epidemic of bullying it’s essential that we respond with more than simple outrage and moralizing for the bully and empathy for the bullied. Our responses must consider why it’s happening and which actions will undermine, or strengthen, the true motivations for it.
By: Joey Uva
Last Saturday morning Grace was busy playing with her large dinosaur collection while I was making the bed and putting a load of laundry in the washer. I walked down the hallway to stumble across a large Brontosaurus who had a little fuzzy bunny finger puppet hugging its neck. Next to the Brontosaurus there was a Velociraptor with a little fuzzy pig finger puppet hugging its neck. I continued from the hallway to the dining room to find two more dinosaurs sitting with two stuffed animals, a bunny from Easter and a very plush penguin we named Snowball. I then turned around and walked back and into Grace’s room to find her with three more dinosaurs sitting with more stuffed toys, cactus girl, a flamingo, a dragon and Mr. Bed head. I was curious to the various groups Grace had around the house so I asked; “What are they all doing?” Grace looked up at me and said; “They are all different, playing together and getting along!” This statement really struck accord with me, my five year old daughter was in a place where I wish our youth was right now.
You see, the news of gay teen suicide due to teen bulling over the past few weeks has really gotten to me. As a gay man, this really hits home and saddens me that these gay teenagers have come to the conclusion that suicide was the answer. I wish these teenagers were aware of the possibilities, that a more beautiful life would await them and that life would not always be so hard. As a father, my heart is broken for those families that had to lose a child in this way, it’s completely unacceptable.
What turns a child from saying and thinking; “They are all different, playing together and getting along!” to being bullies of kids different from themselves. What have we done wrong as a society to allow this type of bulling to continue? What are parents, educators and role models doing to guide children and teach them moral values and acceptance? How have we let gay youth down in such a way that they don’t know that there is help and people who truly care?
With all the news over the past couple of weeks and then my daughter’s statement, it made me think. What if it was my child suffering? What if I heard all these stories and did nothing? Today I have decided to make a change, to try and help, to try and make a difference even if it’s seems very small in the scheme of this crisis. One day, I sure hope we can all say; we are different and getting along.
The Trevor Project: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/
At The Trevor Project, the leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, we hear from despondent youth every day. We give them reason to smile by reassuring them that there is hope, there is help and they are not alone
It Gets Better Project: http://www.youtube.com/user/itgetsbetterproject
We Are the Youth: http://wearetheyouth.org/
We Are the Youth is a photographic journalism project chronicling the individual stories of queer youth in the United States.
We Give a Damn: http://www.wegiveadamn.org
The Give a Damn Campaign is for everybody who cares about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality.