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I am in the home stretch of my 52 books in 52 weeks The God Project blog..only 4 books to go, and I have chosen to finish up with 4 children’s books.  Two of them were already on my reading list, but the other 2 I found on the shelf and found to be very important reads.

My Princess Boy is one of them!

This year we have seen so  many young men kill themselves because of anti-gay bullying.  This brought on the “It Get’s Better” YouTube channel and project.  It spurred rallies all over the country.  And it really stirred me.  As I have said before in this blog, I was bullied my whole childhood.  I know what it is like.  I watched my own children get bullied for various reasons.  I have seen it from both ends, and its ugly.  So when I saw the title of this book, I HAD to pick it up and choose it for this blog!  The message is IMPORTANT and timely.

This book is a true story written by a mom who’s 4-year-old son loves to dress in girls clothing.  Instead of forcing her hand and saying..”No!  Little boys don’t dress that way!” she has embraced his creativity and reinforced her love for him.  As a  matter of fact, his whole family has embraced him and loves him for who he is and has no plans on changing him any time soon!  This is so refreshing!

Love & self-esteem start at home!  We as parents need to nurture our children and love them for who they are.  Give them the space to figure it out for themselves.  We need to be able to let go of what we think we want for our children and give them space to be themselves.  Why do we as parents insist on living through our children instead of letting them live their own lives with our loving support?  And it goes beyond what happens at home.  I know some parents will say, “Well its okay to dress like this at home, but when you are out in public, that’s a different matter.”  No!  It’s not.  What does that tell the child?  That you have to pretend to be something you are not so others will not laugh at you and like you?  Talk about starting your child off with a complex!  And it tells your child that you don’t support them and that they can not come to you with their true feelings and issues.

I know how hard it is to watch your child being bullied.  I know how hard it is to see them come home in tears and refuse to want to go to school.  This book is such an inspiration to parents who’s children are being bullied.  It’s an inspiration to kids who just want to be themselves!  It’s such a great tool for the school to use to show the individuality we each have and should be shared and celebrated instead of bullied and put down!

I applaud Cheryl and her family for being such great parents.  And I applaud the school their child goes to for supporting this little boy in his individuality and creativity!

Please visit http://www.myprincessboy.com to learn more about this amazing book and the family behind it.  There is also an amazing interview with Cheryl and her son on YouTube that you can check out!

So I leave you with this question:  How do you support the children in your life in their individuality?  What do YOU do when you see a little boy in the store dressed up like a princess or a little girl in the store who is dressed like a boy?  Or let’s take it a step further…what do YOU do when you see ADULTS who dress like the other gender?  Be honest.  What do you think (even to yourself where no one else can hear you)?  Just some food for thought!

Blessings!

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It’s October 7, 2010, and it seems as though everyone on Facebook is talking about the bullying that led to the suicides of 6 gay boys/young men.  Okay, I stand corrected.  Not everyone on Facebook is talking about; it’s mostly my LGBT and supportive friends.  They are outraged, as well they should be!

But shouldn’t we ALL be?

One post today said, “it makes me crazy that no one has said anything about this before “.  Another one said, “I am telling ya—Gay parents are better than straight parents any day of the week. Gays will go to the mat for rights that straights take for granted and they stand up for what they believe in.”

Okay, these are just TWO responses in a long strand of comments in a very serious conversation happening on Facebook.  Please do not get all up in arms about things and starting saying it’s stereotyping.  I actually addressed stereotyping in that post.  The important thing here is that it’s NOT a gay/straight issue.

Yes, these 6 young men were gay and that is what they were bullied for and that is why they killed themselves.  But our youth have been killing themselves for years….because of bullying and/or depression.  I remember several years ago there was a rash of suicides due to bullying/cyber bullying, and there was an out cry then to stop bullying.  Back then, those kids weren’t being bullied over their sexual orientation; it was something else.

There are several thoughts going through my head right now.

First, Suicide:  I’m 41, and I grew up in Richardson, Texas.  The next city just north of us was Plano, Texas.  If you do the math, this makes me a 14-year-old teenager in 1983 when the big news about a cluster suicide happening in Plano, Texas.  A year or so later, the boy down the street from me killed himself.  Heck, I tried killing myself several times.  Depression.  Why do our teens become depressed?  Is it because of bullying?  I remember reading a book on how to prevent your friends from committing suicide.  It was written for teens!  Even our high school teachers were sent to special training on how to recognize suicidal students and how to help them. (Not that it was great training, because I pretty much gave my teacher a suicide note and she did NOTHING!)  It can’t be up to the teachers to prevent suicide, but it would be nice if they would recognize the symptoms.  But let’s face it, in junior high and high school, these teachers have nearly 300 students a day they see and are responsible for.  And they are under paid with all the budget cuts.  Is it THEIR job to watch after each and every one of these children?

Second:  Bullying.  Kids have been bullied for a very long time.  It’s not like it just started happening.  I’m willing to bet it has been happening in one way or another since we started having children and they learned to talk.  It’s not new.  I know I was bullied for developing early, for my dad’s weight, for the condition of my house growing up, for developing early, for OVERLY developing, for the religion my parents raised me in, for being over weight, for being a virgin, for not being a virgin…for anything that made me different from someone else (and they didn’t understand it).  My children were bullied for being the youngest in the class, for not being in sports, for learning disabilities, for their religious (or not religious) beliefs, for just being different from the kid sitting next to them.

My parents didn’t stand up to my bullies.  I DID.  For my children, I am the one who went to the mat to support them and help them through their bullying issues.  I asked the teachers to help.  One teacher actually told my daughter there was nothing he could do about it, and he didn’t even respond to my emails about the situation.

The schools teach character development and along with that goes the anti-bullying segment.  Most schools have a zero tolerance program, but that doesn’t even begin to help.  Eventually, I just had to move my daughter to a different school or different class.

So again, is it the school’s responsibility to stop it?  Is it the teacher’s job to prevent it?  In a perfect would, we would like to think so.  In a perfect world, we would like to think that going to school is a safe and happy place for our children.  But in all reality, sometimes, it’s just not!  So then what???

Like sex education, it really belongs and begins at home!  We as parents need to teach our children how to make and sustain healthy relationships…starting with a relationship with themselves.  If this means sending them to a class at the Boys & Girls Club or Planned Parenthood, then do it!  We as parents need to be open, loving, accepting, supportive of our children NO MATTER what they come home and share with us.  Certainly if it’s the case of them using drugs or some other harmful situation, then step up, take a stand and help them overcome it.  But if they tell us they are different from what we had imagined them to be (sexual orientation, religious preferences, sports minded, educational decisions), then its our job to love and support them through it!  It’s our job to be a safe port in the confusion of growing up!  It’s our job to arm them with education, knowledge, love and support.

Preventing bullying & suicide starts at home!  If we teach them love, tolerance & support, they will take that into the schools.  If we teach them how to stand up for themselves and others, they will take that into the schools.  If we give them a safe place to open up at home, any issues  they may have at school can be brought home to the loving ears and arms of the family and can be taken care of as a team instead of leaving the child to feel like they are alone.  And if you have a warm, loving, accepting, tolerant home…then your child’s friend who may not experience that in their home will likely feel safe to come to yours and express their concerns and you will be able to help them!

There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child.  This is so very true!  It takes a village of loving, caring, supportive adults to stand guard, hold vigil and support that young person to feel free to grow and express him/herself..to be who they will become.  Yes, it starts at home….then it spreads to the village…to the safe neighbors..churches…schools….  And it all starts with LOVE!

My heart breaks for the 6 boys who needlessly took their lives recently.  For that matter, my heart breaks for the untold numbers of youth who take their lives on a daily basis because they felt alone..like they had no one to talk to..not even their own families.  My heart breaks for the children in the schools who are being bullied on a daily basis with no one to stand up and fight for them…my heart breaks for the children being bullied who DO have people who stand up and fight for them.

There is a Budhist prayer that says, “May all beings be free from suffering…..”  This is my prayer today and everyday…

 

This chapter on Suffering was another HUGE chapter where I feel like every single page had something underlined and was dog-eared.   And again, it was very appropriate for what is going on in my life, and maybe even in your life.

In Western Civilization, we tend to push suffering aside.  We put it in nice neat little boxes that we can go visit when we have to, but other than that, “out of sight is out of mind.”  We put our elders in retirement homes or nursing homes.  We put our homeless in the downtown areas or “bad parts of town” away from our pretty little suburbs.

The thing is, our natural compassion jumps into action when we see suffering.  Like with Haiti.  Millions of people were affected by this earth quake.  The pictures we see are horrific.  And instantly, the world jumps into action.  Some people jump into action with the “gotta do” mentality.  It’s an instinct, a gut response.  But is this a reaction because we honestly want to help those hurting, or is it because we, ourselves, are hurting from watching this pain on TV and to  make ourselves feel better, we “gotta do” something to make it better (which helps US feel better).  I think sometimes this “gotta do” response is not really well thought and/or planned out well (like with Laura Silsby and her group who went to Haiti to rescue orphans).  I believe their heart was in the right place.  They wanted to help.  But is it possible they saw the pain and felt the pain themselves and went into “gotta do” mode and in turn made things worse or caused more harm?

My old teacher/mentor (James Arthur Ray) is in jail on 3 counts of manslaughter.  To many of us, who love/d this man, it was quite painful to see him do the “perp walk” and see his mug shot.  It’s our natural compassion at work.  No one wants to see someone they care for in pain (even if they might have done something to deserve it)….like a child who did something wrong, and you know they have to suffer the consequences.  It hurts to watch them learn their lessons, but you know they have to do it.  Well, with James and his students, it’s the same way.  I am not defending him in the slightest, yet for his students/fans/followers (even the ones who are completely against him now) there was a twinge of pain seeing him like this.  But SOME of his still avid fans and followers are talking about raising money for his bail.  Why?  James is in jail because the authorities believe they have enough evidence of wrong doing.  This is James’ process to go through.  He needs to be there to learn his lessons, at least for now.  Wanting to raise bail isn’t about freeing him, my guess is that it is about helping his followers feel better about the situation…so they wouldn’t be faced with the pain.

Then I think about being a mom.  My daughter is 10 years old, in 4th grade, and being bullied.  She has been bullied for most of her years in elementary school.  It is so painful to watch.  This year, however, it has just gotten to be entirely too much.  She doesn’t have any friends she believes she can count on (in school).  She comes home from school crying most days.  She begs me to change schools.  As a mom, seeing her suffering, it would be easy to whisk her away to another school.  Would that be the most beneficial for her?  No, but it would stop the suffering at least short term.  It would stop the pain *I* feel.  It HURTS seeing her hurting.  Yet, I know from my childhood bullying experience, that she needs to learn to stand up for herself.  And that is what I have encouraged her to do.  Today, she is working with the counselor to face her bullies in a positive, safe way.  I am scared for my daughter.  She is scared.  Yet, I know this is a lesson she needs to learn, and as a mom (as a helper), it is my job to support that (regardless of how much I want to put a band-aid on it and move her away from this.)

The thing I believe about suffering is that we are all here on this planet to learn and grow.  I believe that we agreed to certain lessons before we ever took our first breaths for this life time.  I believe that if we don’t learn these lessons, we will keep going through this suffering until we do.  And it is our job as helpers/parents/friend/community service members/health care workers to gently support those we are  helping get through these lessons of life.

It can be hard for us to sit with another human being in their time of need.  Our natural compassion kicks in, and right behind it…fear.  Our fear kicks in and wants us to walk away, or choose a certain amount of time to work AT making something better, or we start labeling the suffering as a means of separating us from the person who is doing the suffering.  Yet, if we could just allow the compassion to flow and sit with that person who is suffering and listen to them and be open to them, we will learn what they truly need and how we can make the most difference in their life during that moment in time.

For a homeless person, it may not be just handing them money.  For them, it may be looking them in the eye and asking what their name is and listening to their story..helping them to feel visible and real.  To the people in Haiti, it may not be taking their children away, but rather getting dirty and helping them clean up a disaster and build them a new home to live in (is this easy?  Is this a short time table?  No..it takes alot more of YOU than you may be willing to give, but it may be exactly what they NEED.)  For James Arthur Ray, it may be letting him sit it out in Jail until his court date (I don’t know this, but its possible.)  For my daughter, it’s about getting in touch with my pain from childhood bullying or when I was abused or raped; it’s about remembering that and what helped ME through that and what I learned.  By doing this, it opens me up and allows me to feel her pain and understand where she is coming from, and only then can I be the loving support that she needs.

By connecting with our own pain and fears, we are able to to truly be of service to the people we want to help.  That is where we need to be.  If we can’t feel our own pain and just start moving to help those who we see hurting, we are not really coming from a place of service, rather we are operating from a place that is truly about US not them.

I will leave you with a couple of quotes from this chapter:

“So I sought to be able to enter into the world of the sick, and to live with the mystery of suffering.  I saw that I had to enter into my experience of pain, and to face up to it, and to allow myself to be changed by it.”

“We discovered that the more we opened to the pain of others, the more we found ourselves in their service.”

The next time we feel that natural compassion to help someone, let’s remember to let go of our fear, sit back and feel our own pain allowing us to open up and feel theirs…this is the space from which we can make the most difference.

This is a story I wrote in preparation for a storytelling gig.  Every time I open a book, I am reminded of my 5th grade year and my amazing teacher.  Since my plan for the year is to read 52 books in 52 weeks, I thought it was only appropriate to add this story to my blog.

TRIBUTE TO MRS. ROHLFS

A True Story by Martha L. Spiva

Anyone who has ever gone to school has had one of these.  No, it’s not a school-age crush or even a best friend.  It’s not a fight with the school bully or an “A” on a report card.  It’s not even the dreaded visit to the principal’s office.  It’s a favorite teacher!  Anyone who has ever gone to school has had a favorite teacher.  This is a story of how in one moment, one teacher completely erased all the negative teachings of the years passed and gave me the self-confidence to pick up a book and explore the world between its covers.

Mrs. Rohlfs was a fifth grade teacher at Canyon Creek Elementary School in Richardson, Texas.  She was an older woman; certainly the oldest teacher I had ever had.  She was 54 years old with wrinkles on her face.  She had short brown hair, the old pointy, sixties style glasses, and she always wore pants that were made from that double polyester material that was in style back then.  The only time I saw her wear a dress was on class picture day, and I still have that picture to this day!

I met Mrs. Rohlfs when I was in the 4th grade.  My next-door neighbor, Carolyn, had her for fifth grade, and every afternoon after the school bell rang, I would take my chances and cross the hall full of stampeding children to get to Mrs. Rohlfs’ classroom.  I would wait for Carolyn outside of Mrs. Rohlfs’ door.  That is where I first met Mrs. Rohlfs.

It was rumored that Mrs. Rohlfs was mean, so you can imagine my surprise when I got to know her and found out just how nice she was.  Everyday while I waited for Carolyn, Mrs. Rohlfs would spend time talking to me.  She would ask me about my day in school, about my favorite subjects, and questions about my family.  She was very nice.  I didn’t understand why everyone thought she was mean.  Maybe it was because she was old and the glasses she wore made her look mean.  Maybe it was because she didn’t wear dresses.  I’m not sure, and I’ll never know.   But, the fact was, I liked her.  At the end of my fourth grade year, Mrs. Rohlfs told me that she hoped I would be in her class the next year. (And secretly, I did too).

Finally, after a long, hot Texas summer; the class lists were posted on the front doors of the school!  Every kid in the school waited for this day, and when it came the steps were packed with excited children.  I pushed my way through the crowd to find the 5th grade lists, and there it was!  My name was listed under Mrs. Rohlfs’ 5th grade class!  That alone was enough to make me happy, but out of curiosity, I checked the other names on the list. There were several names on that list that I could have lived without (Like Tandy Welborn and Andy Gugick who made it their job to make my life miserable), but the most important name on that list was Kathleen Noelle Herman.  She was my very best friend in 1st grade from a different school.  She had just moved to my end of town, and now she was going to be in my 5th grade class!  I knew that with Mrs. Rohlfs as my teacher and Noelle in my class that this was going to be the best year ever!

See, even though I had lived in the same neighborhood all of my life, I didn’t have very many friends.  I was insecure about being over weight, and I was slow in school.  Children are the cruelest people on earth, and they loved to use those things to pick on me.  All I really wanted out of school was to be accepted by other children and to not have to read out loud in class too often.  The children always made fun of my reading and I just hated it!  I figured with Noelle in my class, I had a friend I could count on and that she would watch out for me.  We could sit next to each other and pass notes during class.  Noelle was very very tall and pretty, so I knew that with her I would make new friends.

The first day of class was filled with energy of 25 kids’ excitement over what was to happen over the new school year.  The children who knew each other were chattering away about their summer activities, and many of them were complaining about having Mrs. Rohlfs for a teacher.  I assured Noelle that the rumors were not true, and that Mrs. Rohlfs was very nice.  I also did what a very best friend should do, and explained to Noelle who the snobs of the class were, and then we giggled as we watched the cute boys from across the room.

Soon the excitement of being in a class with my best friend was scared away, and yes I mean SCARED!  It was time to hand out the reading books.  There were three levels of reading books.  There were the advanced books for the “smart kids”, the middle range books for the “normal kids”, and then there were the lower level books for the “slower kids”.  Every year since the 1st grade, I was the only girl with a group of 3 boys in the lower reading group.  I hated to read!  I was told I was slow and learning disabled, and it was humiliating to be set aside in a small group of all boys to learn how to read.

Anyway, it was inevitable that Mrs. Rohlfs would call my name.  My hands began to sweat and my heart began to pound as I waited.  When she called my name, I dragged my feet to her desk and willed it all to go away.  I didn’t want my best friend to know that I was stupid.  I didn’t want Noelle to see that I had to read the lower level books.  When I got to Mrs. Rohlfs’ desk, I dropped down into the chair.  I’m sure my face showed my fear as I waited for a fate worse than death…the moment in which my reading book was handed to me.

The only thing worse than not being able to read the “normal kids” book is being handed a “normal kids” book by mistake and then having to explain that I could not read it.  And that is exactly what happened.  Mrs. Rohlfs handed me the “normal kids” books.  I felt mortified!  I told Mrs. Rohlfs that it was the wrong book, that I got the lower level reading book.  When she asked me why I always get the lower level reading book, I bowed my head in shame and admitted to her that I was slow and learning disabled.

She looked at me with the most caring eyes I had ever seen and asked me if Noelle Herman was my best friend.  I told her that she was.  Then she told me that she couldn’t separate best friends like that, and since Noelle was new to the school, she would need her best friend to introduce her to the other children.  She also told me that she believed in me and that I could read what was in the middle range book.

In amazement, I held the book to my heart and managed to find my way back to my seat without screaming with joy!  I was so happy to be advanced to the next level of reading.  No longer would I be in a group of all boys to read a book for “slower” readers.  I WASN’T DUM B ANYMORE!

From that day on, my whole attitude about reading and writing has changed.  In one short moment, my life had changed, and I had self-confidence.  I ran home that day to tell my mom what Mrs. Rohlfs had done.  No other teacher before Mrs. Rohlfs (or even after) has cared enough to give me such a special gift!

COPYRIGHT:  Martha L. Spiva  April 25, 2001

Do not copy or use without permission of the author.