Written on October 28, 2012 at 10:00 am , by familycircle
Guest blogger Jay Asher, author of the young adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why, on how to respond when someone who’s been bullied reaches out to you.
I speak at high schools and libraries across the country. It can be so inspiring to hear directly from my readers, both teens and adults, about what they liked and got out of my books. It can also be heartbreaking to hear how many of them have been through similar situations, or experienced similar emotions, as the main characters in my novel Thirteen Reasons Why. The male character is trying to understand and deal with a classmate’s suicide. The female character is the one who felt she couldn’t hold on any longer. The majority of the book is her character explaining the things she went through that brought her to the point of wanting her life to end.
Many times after visiting with my readers, I’ve returned to my hotel room and sat on the edge of my bed (without even turning on the TV!) to let everything I’d heard that day sink in. Readers come up to me after my presentations to get autographs, take photos, ask questions or share why they connected with the book. Sometimes it helped them understand a friend better. Sometimes it made them reconsider how they had been treating someone without knowing what else that person may have been dealing with. Too often, they tell me that my story was the first time they felt someone understood them. That’s always such a beautiful thing to hear, because the hope that there are people in the world who will understand is the first thing someone needs to have before they’ll reach out for help.
The thing that saddens me is that I know those readers are surrounded by people who will understand. So why don’t they realize it? It’s often because of the way we talk about bullying and all its accompanying issues. If they approach a parent, teacher or other adult for help or support after something another person has said or done and they’re told “Just ignore it,” or “That’s an unfortunate part of growing up,” or “I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as you make it seem,” or “Did you do anything to encourage it?” they’ll feel like no one understands. And sometimes they’ll feel like no one cares. Because the first person they turned to, the person they thought was most likely to understand or care, didn’t understand or care. At least, that’s how it appeared.
Yes, sometimes ignoring it is all that can be done. And bullying can be a horrible part of growing up. And many of us can be melodramatic. Sometimes we do things that even encourage bullying. But every situation is unique. Every person has a different threshold for what they can handle. Most people are also dealing with more than just one incident. If someone opens up about a painful experience and the first thing they hear is a cliché that doesn’t address their very real emotions, then the next time something happens, they’ll be less likely to trust that their thoughts will be understood or appreciated.
Those people they turned to probably did want to help, they just didn’t know how. We’ve become so used to falling back on clichéd responses that they’re the first words to come out of our mouths. They are conversation stoppers for conversations that need to be nurtured. The next time someone tells you that they’ve been bullied, stop what you’re doing. Stop the cliché that raced to the tip of your tongue from coming out of your mouth. And listen. Think about what they’re saying. Consider what else might be going on in their life. Realize that this could be the only time they’re going to reach out to someone.
So does how we speak.
Jay Asher has worked at an independent bookstore, an outlet bookstore, a chain bookstore and two public libraries. He hopes, someday, to work for a used bookstore. When he is not writing, Jay plays guitar and goes camping. Thirteen Reasons Why is his first published novel.
Written on October 27, 2012 at 10:00 am , by familycircle
In my new children’s book series, The Creature from the Seventh Grade, protagonist Charlie Drinkwater is mercilessly taunted by his oversize nemesis, Craig Dieterly. Although much of the book is inspired by my own childhood experiences, I am happy to say I was never bullied. Even though as a kid growing up in Chicago I fit the definition of underdog to a T—short, skinny, big-eared, awkward and brainy—I was never bullied. I had the good fortune to attend a tiny private school where I was in the mainstream and the kids on the football team were, ironically, far more likely to be considered outsiders than I was.
Until I saw Lee Hirsch’s deeply affecting documentary Bully last year (now available on Netflix), I was convinced that there were two types of bullying: the time-honored innocuous kind in which stupid overbearing lugs with names like Moose and Biff made a harmless nuisance of themselves as they tried to assert their authority over the weaker, smarter members of the class, and the much rarer, more destructive kind, in which sadistic pain-loving monsters destroyed the childhoods, and occasionally the very lives, of their anointed victims.
Bully obliterates the line between the two and makes it perfectly clear that zero tolerance is the only way to go. It tracks the cases of five abused kids, including two who committed suicide. Bullying is bad. It is never justified. And it isn’t a matter of “kids will be kids.” Its effects range from damaging to fatal. And it’s on the increase. See the movie. Show it to your teenage kids and their teachers. Tell your friends. You’ll be moved. You’ll be shocked. You won’t forget it.
Bullying often goes unreported and frequently survives the scrutiny of even the most well-meaning parents, teachers and guidance counselors. It is impossible to legislate against. It is considered by many to be a bogus issue invented by wimpy parents and their cry-baby offspring. Much like sexual harassment, it thrives on ignorance and apathy, and the commonly held notion that it’s a natural part of life and its victims are as much to blame for their horrific treatment as the perpetrators themselves. Throughout the documentary well-meaning parents advise their bullied children to “toughen up.” They tell them that they are encouraging the situation by not fighting back, that they have a valuable life lesson to learn by standing up for themselves.
The parents of one particularly abused child, cruelly nicknamed “Fish Face,” are brought to tears when finally shown documentary footage of their child being brutally assaulted on the school bus. They had no idea how serious his problem was. He had complained frequently, but he stopped reporting the incidents after his guidance counselor called him and his parents in to her office. She explained that she had ridden the bus specifically to look for signs of bullying and reported that the other students were polite and well-behaved, and that the victim was obviously confused. Or lying. Kids everywhere are facing the same reluctance on the part of their teachers and parents to take the problem seriously. And yet it is of epidemic proportions.
Bullies don’t exist in a vacuum. They echo the attitudes and prejudices of their parents, friends and teachers. The kids who are witness to their cruel behavior are generally too afraid or too complacent to say anything about it. Their silence is tacit approval and encourages bullies to keep on bullying. But like the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” one lone protesting voice in the crowd really can stop a bully in his or her tracks.
We’ve got to encourage our kids to be that voice, to speak up if they’re witnesses to an incident. We must let them know that when we don’t say something, we become de facto bullies. That, as well as making our school and elected officials and public opinion makers aware of the seriousness and the urgency of the problem, are our best and only lines of defense.
Here is the trailer for Bully. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it. If it moves you, watch it on Netflix, you’ll be glad you did. It’s far more eloquent than I could ever be.
Bob Balaban is an actor/producer/director/writer who has appeared in over a hundred movies, including the recent Moonrise Kingdom. He produced and co-starred in the Academy Award–winning movie Gosford Park, directed the award-winning off-Broadway play The Exonerated and is currently writing the Creature from the Seventh Grade series for Viking Children’s Books.
Written on October 4, 2012 at 10:07 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
A year ago AC360’s town hall special Bullying: It Stops Here premiered. Several experts (myself included) and wonderful, brave children participated that day, and we showed clips of Bully, an extraordinary documentary profiling five young people who had been bullied. Working on that special and supporting the movie have been heartfelt projects for me, and I’ve watched with real pride how both have done an outstanding job of bringing attention to this problem.
I remember when I first saw the movie. I was so surprised, saddened and in some ways relieved that Lee Hirsch had captured on film what I unfortunately see too often: desperate kids, well-meaning adults who don’t know what to do, and parents who are torn between frustration—sometimes at their own children for being silent targets—and helpless fury at school administrators who do nothing, at best.
It’s a painful movie with no happy ending. There are no talking heads offering helpful strategies. For these understandable reasons, many people who saw the movie and would have liked to show it to their kids wanted more resources to pick up where the movie leaves off. That need has been answered: The creators of Bully recently published Bully: An Action Plan for Teachers, Parents and Communities to Combat the Bullying Crisis.
The book takes over where the movie ends. Interwoven with the stories of the children in the movie is advice from experts on how to recognize when your child is being bullied and what we can say as parents and educators. Particularly moving to me are the words of Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers: “Bully probably has been something of a reality check for many classroom teachers. Some teachers who see the film find themselves wondering if they’ve missed bullying in their classrooms and hallways: Have kids suffered because they didn’t notice? Is this behavior happening in their school? The fact that those questions are being asked and that educators are having ongoing conversations about the answers is another example of how the power of this documentary extends far beyond the individual stories it tells.”
In addition, experts such as Dr. Robyn Silverman, Peter Sharas and Michele Borba (as well as yours truly) offer commonsense ways for parents and educators to reach out to kids who are targets, bystanders and aggressors.
Our efforts are making a difference. Just watch this local news anchor passionately articulate her experience of being bullied by a viewer for being overweight. She’s a great example of how each one of us can transform a painful personal experience into a powerful opportunity for leadership. She and others like her are the kind of adults kids need to see more of.
Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.