It’s fair to say that bullying has been around for as long as mankind has walked the earth. Remember the story of Cain and Able? Bullying was certainly part of my childhood from the first day I went to school through my teen years. Mostly it was limited to verbal attacks (mean jokes and teasing), but on rare occasions it could cross the line to something physical.
It’s important for parents and educators to recognize, however, that even when bullying doesn’t become physical, words can hurt. Verbal abuse and bullying can cause serious emotional damage over time. Today bullying has crossed another threshold, the internet, with the advent of social media. Hateful speech, photos, and videos–all posted for everyone to see and share–these are the new tools for causing human misery and angst.
Cyber-bullying is a growing problem that has tragically resulted in an alarming number of teen suicides. According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year and for every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying. Click here to read some bullying statistics.
What can parents do to help their children deal with peer pressure and bullying in all its many forms?
Because October is Bullying Awareness Month I’d like to share with you two Moms’ Choice award-winning books about bullying and peer pressure.
The first is a picture book for young children called Shelby the Cat. Shelby loves to read and tell stories. He makes friends with birds, mice, and even dogs. This makes the alley cats look bad, so they try to force Shelby to be more like them. Shelby refuses. He knows who he is and won’t let anyone pressure him to be different. This is a great book to start conversations about dealing with bullying and peer pressure.
Watch the Shelby the Cat video trailer.
When parents read Shelby the Cat with their children they can use the story to help their children develop coping skills. The book includes questions at the end of the story to give parents a jumping-off point for starting discussions with their children. Having conversations with kids about peer pressure and bullying before they start school will help them to be better prepared to recognize it when it happens, better equipped to deal with it, and more likely to keep parents informed.
The book I recommend for tweens and teens (and parents too!) is called The Greenlee Project by Amanda M. Thrasher. This remarkable work addresses the issue of cyber-bullying. Amanda has agreed to be interviewed about The Greenlee Project and to tell us what inspired her to write the story.
Don: Did you ever experience bullying when you were young?
Amanda: We moved several times when I was a child. So yes, I was exposed to bullying. Unfortunately one time in particular I was involved in a physical encounter with another student. I can honestly say things were so different when I was growing up, truly. I grew up in England. Small schools, uniforms, scripture readings, and service, all before class started. If a problem occurred we were taught to figure it out. Handle it. And we did. It wasn’t pretty. I’m a small adult, but I was a tiny girl. Standing up for myself shocked the other student involved. We both came out of it and were friends after that. The situation was addressed once. Once. It’s not like that today; it goes on and on and on. Therein lies the problem; the damage caused by technology is continual, uncontainable, and horrific.
Don: Where does your interest/concern about bullying originate?
Amanda: Most parents worry about bullying at some point during their children’s school years, and I’m no exception to that rule. I don’t want my kids to end up victims, and I certainly do not want my kids to participate in such awful acts. But my concern has been heightened due to the horrendous accounts in the news, locally, nationally, and internationally. Kids are inflicting irreversible damage upon each other through bullying acts that attack their characters, reputations, and more.
Bullying has been around forever, yes, but it didn’t go viral. When it does, the humiliation is tenfold. Our kids have powerful tools in their hands—smart-phones, tablets, laptops, apps, etc.–and they are using them irresponsibly. The kids on the receiving end of the damage are too young to weather the storm, and are tragically opting to end their lives. Children killing themselves over texts and videos is atrocious to me. And as disturbing as this is, it’s just as disturbing when a twelve- or thirteen-year-old—a child—is convicted because of a text. What is going on? We’ve got kids killing themselves, and kids being convicted over cell phone texts and videos. Tragic.
Don: What inspired you to write The Greenlee Project?
Amanda: I was inspired to write The Greenlee Project for several reasons. Some of those reasons came from news stories, including the horrific Amanda Todd case. Other news stories that moved me to write involved eleven-year-old kids hanging themselves in the closet because kids said they hated them and a fourteen-year-old drinking bleach because everyone tortured her at school. These are only a few cases. Kids as young as eleven are killing themselves over pictures, texts and videos.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the tragic court case of a teen being punished for contributing to another child’s suicide. The judge was furious because the teen hadn’t shown enough remorse for her actions or for sending the final text that pushed the child over the edge. My first thought, in tears, was for the child that was gone. My second was for the kid in the courtroom. She was a kid. She had no idea of the magnitude of the devastation her actions had caused. When she’s an adult, she’ll have a clue. My third thought was for the families of both of these kids. The Greenlee Project addresses both sides. It’s not a book just for the victim. It’s about the victim, Greenlee, yes. But it’s also about great kids making bad decisions, and through the touch of a button, it all goes wrong. It helps people see how these actions affect the victim, the bully, families, friends, and the community once they realize what’s happened. Topping it off, the resolution is a twist. But I believe this book, of all my pieces so far, has the strongest message, and I hope it’s one that will help prevent kids from being so cruel to each other. It will teach them to think and be kind, before it’s too late.
You can find both books on Amazon.com and other online retailers.