Words Matter

Words Matter

Written by Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

Bullying is a pervasive issue that affects individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. It leaves both emotional and physical scars, and its impact can be long-lasting. In order to address this problem effectively, it is essential that we use the right words when discussing or speaking about bullying. Our choice of language not only reflects our understanding of the issue but also shapes the way it is perceived and dealt with by others. It is crucial that we are thoughtful and intentional in our communication surrounding bullying, ensuring that our words empower and support those who have been impacted by it.

Included below are words that are often used in conjunction when speaking about bullying. Choosing our words and phrases wisely ultimately increases understanding about bullying and will help those who are impacted by bullying.

 

Bullying vs. conflict

At BRRC, we are deliberate about how we talk about bullying. One of the things we discuss with our parents is properly labeling an event bullying or conflict. Quite often school officials label events as conflict when it is indeed bullying.

Stopbullying.gov states “bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” The markers of bullying include:

  1. Imbalance of power
  2. Intent to harm
  3. Threat of further aggression

Conflict, on the other hand is a disagreement or argument in which both parties express their views. There is equal power between the children involved and it generally stops when one child realizes they are hurting the other person.

Bullying and conflict need to be dealt with differently. If bullying is happening at school, the adults in charge are responsible to stop the bullying. Conflict however can sometimes be solved by the children themselves, or by some coaching from adults. Conflict can be “solved” whereas bullying must be “stopped.”

 

Victim vs. target

At BRRC, we are very intentional about referring to a child who has been bullied as a “target” rather than a “victim”. Instead of labeling individuals as “bullying victims,” it is more empowering and respectful to use the term “bullying targets.” This shift in language recognizes that individuals who have experienced bullying are not defined solely by their victimhood but deserve to be seen as individuals who have been targeted unfairly. By using the term “bullying targets,” we not only avoid further stigmatizing or marginalizing those who have endured bullying but also encourage a more compassionate and supportive approach to addressing this issue.

 

Taunting vs teasing

The words taunting and teasing are very different from one another. Taunting is the verbal action that involves humiliating, cruel and demeaning comments that are often referred to as “jokes.” When taunting occurs, laughter is directed at the target and is meant to diminish the self-worth of the person being laughed at. Teasing is verbal, playful interactions done among friends. It is not laughing at someone but is intended for both parties to laugh together.

Teasing can cross a line and become hurtful. When there is an objection, the person doing the teasing will stop. With taunting however, when someone gets upset, the behavior will continue. We often hear schools refer to verbal bullying behavior as “teasing” when it should be labeled as “taunting.” Taunting is hurtful and oftentimes can lead to additional bullying behaviors.

 

Flirting vs verbal sexual bullying

There are rather large differences between flirting and verbal sexual bullying. Schools sometimes downplay this form of verbal bullying and it is important to know the differences. Like teasing, flirting has a playfulness that sexual bullying does not. Flirting is an invitation for two people to get to know each other better. Flirting stops when one party declines the invitation. This banter is not intended to harm another and includes flattery, compliments and intended to make the other person feel attractive and in control.

The nature of verbal sexual bullying can be different for the genders. Words used to verbally assault boys in a derogatory manner are terms that define them less than being a male or a boy (sissy, pussy, wuss) or homophobic terms (gay, fag, queer). With females and girls, the verbal assaults will often objectify their body or demean their sexuality (fat, dog, cunt, slut, whore, easy). Many times, the child who is engaging in bullying will state they are just “teasing.”

 

Retaliation vs Defending Yourself

Schools quite often talk about a bullying target “retaliating” in physical incident and therefore inciting equal consequences for both the aggressor and the target. Defending oneself involves taking reasonable and appropriate actions to protect oneself from further harm. The focus is asserting their rights and prioritizing personal safety. Children who are the target of physical bullying behavior will sometimes strike back. It is imperative to investigate bullying incidents and determine if a child was attempting to protect themselves. Retaliation is the action of harming someone because they themselves have been harmed. It is an act of revenge. When a child takes measures during a physical altercation to protect themselves, it should be labeled as defending oneself. If a bullying target plans harmful actions against their aggressor to “get back” at them, then that would be labeled as retaliation.

Using appropriate language about bullying is incredibly important. The correct use of terms and words will better defend a bullying target and opens an opportunity to educate others about the differences in behaviors. We are here to assist in defending bullied children through advocacy, education and proper language.

“Words are containers for power, you choose what kind of power they carry.”  ~ Joyce Meyer

Expansion and Purpose: The Need for our Work is Greater Than Ever

Expansion and Purpose: The Need for our Work is Greater Than Ever

Expansion and Purpose:
The Need for our Work is Greater Than Ever

Written by Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

As we close out 2023, we want to share our extreme gratitude for the brave families we get to serve, the growing amount of supporters we have in Colorado and beyond, our generous sponsors, the fantastic resources we get to recommend to our clients, our amazing volunteers, and our passionate board of directors. It takes all of us to “defend bullied children and help rebuild lives” and we appreciate each and every one of you.

Our guiding word for 2023 was “expansion.” This simple word was threaded into everything that BRRC was able to accomplish this year. Some highlights include:

  • We served over 100 new families in 2023.
  • With the help of volunteers, BRRC expanded our community outreach to over 30 new pediatric offices, mental health offices and crisis centers in Colorado.
  • BRRC partnered with the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation program Impact Denver on a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) project. The professionals on the BRRC Impact Denver team successfully identified 35 organizations that serve Coloradans in the refugee/immigrant, disabled, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, low-income and rural communities. It is our hope to partner with these organizations to better serve those in underserved communities.
  • A database was created and launched to assist our advocates with in-taking our clients and collecting all pertinent information to better serve our families.
  • BRRC trained three new volunteer advocates this past year including our first bi-lingual advocate.
  • BRRC collaborated with organizations serving the neurodiverse, mental health and parent communities to provide education and resources for parents and professionals.

BRRC is looking forward to 2024 and the continued need for expansion and solidifying our purpose of serving families impacted by bullying. Children who are deeply impacted by bullying need caregivers who can offer the support, guidance and stamina to walk through the trauma that bullying can create. BRRC offers the support, advocacy and education to the caregivers which in turn greatly helps the child feel cared for and not alone. Our most important marker is to reduce the amount suicides of youth in Colorado.

Our 2024 goals are lofty. Here are a few of them:

  • BRRC will bring on one to two interns to research current state bullying laws across the US to determine if they have had an impact on reducing bullying. Our goal is to eventually help create effective state legislation that will make it beneficial for schools and districts to identify and stop bullying.
  • BRRC plans to partner with the identified DEI organizations from the Impact Denver team to better serve underserved Coloradans.
  • We will be creating education for parents of students K-8 to understand and stop bullying. We know knowledge is key and we feel that providing caretakers with support and education will help as a prevention tool.
  • BRRC will continue to onboard new advocates and continue with our statewide outreach program to grow community partners and better serve families.

The road forward for us is rutted and rocky and needs to be traveled. We are dedicated to reducing the trauma bullying can create and we couldn’t do it without the support, generosity and kindness of so many people. Thank you for being part of the BRRC tribe. On behalf of all of our families and team BRRC, we wish you a wonderful, safe and peaceful 2024.

Ignoring the Bully Makes it Worse

Ignoring the Bully Makes it Worse

Ignoring the Bully Makes it Worse

Written by Dru Ahlborg, Executive Director and Co-Founder of BRRC

Bullying Recovery Resource Center (BRRC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources, education, advocacy and hope needed to stop bullying of school-aged children. Our aim is to stop bullying, stem the long-term effects bullying has on its targets, save lives, and for healing to begin for the family. Our organization began when we identified a need for parents of bullied children to garner support, understanding and education. As we are finishing out our sixth year of existence we have identified an immense problem with many of the schools we attempt to work with – the refusal to call events “bullying.” Until bullying has been properly labeled, the challenge to stop it remains darn near impossible.

The fact of the matter is that bullies are everywhere. They reside in companies, families, colleges, board rooms and in our politics. Rarely can I come across a person who cannot identify a bully somewhere in their life or the lives or their family. Not matter where bullies do their hurtful work, their mission is the same. Barbara Coloroso, internationally recognized speaker, author and bullying expert informs us that “bullying is a conscious, willful, deliberate activity intended to harm, induce fear through threat of aggression, and also to create terror in the target.” Bullying always includes an imbalance of power, the intent to harm, and a threat of further aggression. An additional element occurs when bullying is unabated and that is terror. A bully that reaps no consequences and can reach the point of inducing terror on their target(s) comes to a point where they can act without fear of recrimination or retaliation.

Bullying isn’t about disagreements, anger or conflict. Bullying is about contempt where the perpetrator has intense feelings of dislike toward somebody or a group whom they consider to be worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect. Bullying is not innate but rather a learned behavior. Barbara Coloroso explains in her book, Extra Ordinary Evil, a Brief History of Genocide, “that once human beings feel the cold hate of contempt for other human beings, they can do anything to them and feel no compassion, guilt or shame; in fact, they often get pleasure from the targeted person’s pain.” We unfortunately are hearing about instances of this level of contempt in our media quite frequently these days.

Bullies also rely on bystanders to carry out their acts of aggression. Bystanders will serve in different roles. Some may stand by and watch, others may actively inspire the person who is engaging in bullying and possibly join in, and others may choose to look the other way. A bystander may offer words of encouragement for the bullying or may dismiss the acts of the bully by stating, “They have learned their lesson and won’t do it again.” The acts of omission or commission actually fuel the fire of a person engaging in bullying. They will feel emboldened when no one stands up to them. Omission and commission also impact the bystanders. They will become desensitized to the cruelty of bullying. Bullying will become normalized. Bullying and creating terror are not normal and need to be called out and stopped.

It is not acceptable to allow bullying behavior to continue. It is not okay to label bullying behavior as something else (conflict, disagreement) if it is truly bullying. Especially as adults who interact with school-aged children, it is detrimental to ignore bullying and hope it will stop on its own. It will not. Standing up to bullying and labeling the behavior as hurtful and unacceptable are not easy feats, AND they are necessary. To allow bullying to continue allows the perpetrator to feel that their actions are somehow acceptable and warranted. Bullying left unattended desensitizes all who are witnesses to the violence and causes great harm and trauma for the bullying target.

It is time to make a different choice instead of normalizing the destructive, terror-inducing behavior of bullying.

1. Find courage. “Pay attention, get involved, and never, ever look away.” This is a quote from a Holocaust survivor. Standing up to bullying behavior, especially if it has gone on for some time will require moral strength and perseverance to do what is right. Properly naming bullying and harassment is important and necessary. Bullying in the schoolyard, online and from a stage are damaging acts and require us to stand up and say, “no more!”
2. Become an upstander. A person who is an upstander will speak up or act in support of an individual or a cause, especially someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied. An upstander will also come to the aid of a bullying target. We can all become individuals who do not allow abusive behavior to happen around us. Let others know you are there to help and support them.
3. Be a role model. The more that we as individuals walk in the path of compassion, inclusion and kindness while standing up and speaking out about bullies and their behavior, the more likely others will follow. Be a leader and ask others to join you. This journey is not a sprint but a marathon.

The normalizing of bullying and deviant behavior needs to stop. If you have questions about what bullying is and what it isn’t, please contact us. We are here to defend bullied children, help rebuild lives, and provide support, education and understanding to families impacted by bullying.

“Recognizing a problem doesn’t always bring a solution, but until we recognize that problem, there can be no solution.”  — James A. Baldwin

Upstanders – The Why and How

Upstanders – The Why and How

UPSTANDERS – The Why and How

By Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

A bystander is someone who is present at an event or incident and does not take part. In the realm of bullying a bystander is someone who witnesses bullying either in person or online and does not get involved. Bystanders often have an opportunity to make a positive difference in a bullying situation and become an upstander.  An upstander is someone who sees what happens and intervenes, interrupts, or speaks up to stop the bullying.

“In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”   Martin Luther King Jr.

Adolescents who are targets of bullying often feel even more alone because there are witnesses (bystanders) who do nothing. When no one intervenes, the person who is targeted will feel that the bystanders don’t care of worse, that the bystander agrees with the bullying that is taking place. It is estimated that 80% of the time bullying occurs it is in the presence of bystanders. Bystanders intervene less than 20% of the time.

Why do children who witness bullying, know it is wrong and not intervene? There can be many reasons. They may be afraid of retaliation or becoming the next target of bullying. There may be a fear of negative social consequences. Maybe they feel like the bullying behavior is somehow okay. They may feel that the target did something to deserve the bullying.

There is also the theory of the bystander effect. The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation, against a bully, or during an assault or other crime. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any one of them to provide help to the person in distress.

Moving from a witness/bystander to an upstander takes work, courage, empathy, and a desire to disrupt inappropriate behavior. Lehigh University documented 5 steps to take when witnessing to a problematic or potentially problematic situation:

  1. Notice the event – Pay attention to what is going on around you.
  2. Interpret if it is a problem – Sometimes it is hard to tell if someone is in need of help. Error on the side of caution and investigate. Don’t be sidetracked by ambiguity, conformity or peer pressure.
  3. Accept responsibility – Do not assume someone else will do something. Have the courage to be the first to respond. If it isn’t you, then who?
  4. Know how to help – Don’t put yourself in harm’s way but do attempt to do something. Tactics can be direct or indirect.
  5. Implement the help.

The month of October is Bullying Prevention month and BRRC has included a post everyday about upstander behavior. (#31daysofupstanders) I encourage you to look at our BRRC Facebook or Instagram page to learn more facts, actions and benefits of being an upstander. The best reason is that upstanders can save lives.

Moving from being a bystander to becoming an upstander may not happen overnight. It may start with becoming more aware of bullying behavior and how it is affecting the lives of our peers.  Upstanders are able to see the pain the target experiences and take action.

Stompoutbullying.com offers ways to bridge behavior to becoming an upstander:

  • Don’t laugh
  • Don’t encourage the bully in any way
  • Don’t participate
  • Stay at a safe distance and help the target get away
  • Don’t become an “audience” for the bully
  • Reach out in friendship
  • Help the victim in any way you can
  • Support the victim in private
  • If you notice someone being isolated from others, invite them to join you
  • Include the victim in some of your activities
  • Tell an adult

We can model and speak to our children about upstander behavior.  Doing nothing about bullying sends a message to the bully that their behavior is acceptable.

Talk to your children about what it means to be an upstander.  Ask them if they have witnessed bullying.  Brainstorm ideas about how they might engage the next time they see someone in need of an upstander.  When we all feel empowered to take action – even a small one – we build a world of upstanders.

It is important to deal with the bullying your child is going through. Looking the other way or ignoring it can be incredibly detrimental. The process of working through the bullying and stopping it can be long, challenging and tedious. We recommend always placing the needs of the bullying target first and make sure they are safe. Consider obtaining mental health services if your child is depressed, anxious or suicidal. We recommend never ignoring the threat of suicide as it is always a cry for help.

At BRRC, we are here to help when your child is being bullied and the school isn’t doing the right thing, or anything about it. We are here to help empower you to hold the school responsible to stop the bullying. We are here to assist you in supporting your child.

We stop bullying today to begin recovery tomorrow.

 

The Intersection of Bullying and Youth Suicide

The Intersection of Bullying and Youth Suicide

The Intersection of Bullying and Youth Suicide

By Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

September is Suicide Prevention Month. It is a month that is dedicated to starting the conversation about suicide, providing support and directing help to those who need it. It is about all of us making efforts to prevent suicides and save lives. It is month to learn that help is always available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 988 and can be accessed by phone or text at any time. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.

There is a link between bullying and suicide. It is a topic that is challenging to discuss and too important not to. Stories about bullied teens taking their lives permeates the news we read and breaks the hearts of countless family members and friends. It is important to contemplate the complexity that drives bullying targets from depression and hopelessness to ideation and action.

Bullying targets are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-targets according to a Yale University study.

Suicide on its own is a complex issue affecting our youth at alarming rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report nationally “youth and young adults ages 10-24 years account for 15% of all suicides. The suicide rate for this group is 11.0 suicides per 100,000 and is the 2nd leading cause of death for this age group. Additionally, national suicide rates for this age group increased 52.2% between 2001-2021.” The numbers closer to home are even bleaker. According to the Colorado Children’s Campaign, “In 2020, Colorado’s teen suicide rate remained at a historically high level: a rate of 21.6 suicides per 100,000 teens ages 15-19, representing 83 young people who tragically lost their lives by suicide.”

Many times, but not always there are other factors that play a part in teen suicide. Such pre-existing conditions can be mental and behavioral disorders, childhood trauma or severe nutritional deficiencies. Also, bullying can be a catalyst for suicide. Bullying targets often experience feelings of powerlessness, anxiety and depression. They may experience PTSD. We know bullying can have a long-lasting negative impact on both the bullying target and the child who engages in bullying acts. It is important to take bullying seriously and to take measures to stop it as quickly as possible.

Nearly one-quarter of 10th graders who reported being bullied also reported having made a suicide attempt in the last 12 months according to a Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.

 

Look for signs of bullying:

Parents, caregivers and trusted adults should keep an eye out for sudden changes in children’s moods. Signs that a child might be a target for bullying can include a child appearing more anxious or sad. The adolescent may indicate that they have fewer or no friends or begin having unexplained headaches and stomach aches. A child requesting to not ride the bus or quitting activities may be a sign that they are being bullied.

 

Look for signs of depression:

At BRRC, we always question the parents we serve about the mental health of their child. We know that bullying can lead to depression and hopelessness and it is very important that it is addressed. Some common signs of depression can include a drop in grades, withdrawing, sleeping more, unexplained crying and excessive anger.

 

Look for the signs of suicide:

People who are contemplating suicide may become moody and appear hopeless. They may experience changes in their personality. Many times suicidal people will stop contact with others and lose interest in day-to-day activities. Pay attention if they start to clean out their personal items or give away treasured things.

We strongly suggest that parents who suspect their child is contemplating suicide seek help. It is okay to talk to our children about suicide and ask them if they have a plan. There are wonderful services for mental health both immediately and long-term. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available for caregivers as well: 1-800-273-8255.

Among 15 to 24-year-olds, suicide is one of the leading causes of death according to Suicide Awareness Voices for Education. Additionally, 16% of students consider suicide; 13% create a plan, and 8% have made a serious attempt.

 

 

It is important to deal with the bullying your child is going through. Looking the other way or ignoring it can be incredibly detrimental. The process of working through the bullying and stopping it can be long, challenging and tedious. We recommend always placing the needs of the bullying target first and make sure they are safe. Consider obtaining mental health services if your child is depressed, anxious or suicidal. We recommend never ignoring the threat of suicide as it is always a cry for help.

At BRRC, we are here to help when your child is being bullied and the school isn’t doing the right thing, or anything about it. We are here to help empower you to hold the school responsible to stop the bullying. We are here to assist you in supporting your child.

We stop bullying today to begin recovery tomorrow.

 

Our Why

Our Why

Our Why

By Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

School is back in session for darn near everyone in Colorado. It is a time of year that used to hold the promise of new beginnings and the hope of a few moments to catch my breath before the autumn and winter holidays come crashing in. This year, I don’t have those feelings. Back to school means our advocacy picks up and the phone starts to ring. For thousands of children it means stress, fear and anxiety especially if they have been a target of bullying in the past.

My husband and I founded BRRC after our son was relentlessly bullied in middle-school. We became experts about bullying. We determined what we did well and how we could have improved our actions as we waded through the aftermath of the trauma our family. had endured. My son switched schools and eventually began to acclimate to a new environment. He participated in volunteer work and did a great deal of emotional work as he recovered. My husband and I co-founded BRRC with the aspiration to help other families just like ours who were left hurt, dumbfounded and traumatized. We didn’t want other families to go through the aftermath of severe bullying alone. We wanted to become a life-preserver in the deep-end of the pool. We empower parents and caregivers of children to report bullying and to advocate for the school to stop the bullying. No family should have to go through this alone.

I’ll be honest, this work is challenging. We have many heart-wrenching stories about children across our state that have endured tremendous pain and torment at the hands of someone who exploited their power over them.  Bullying takes place at school, on playgrounds, on the child’s way home and online. Advocating for bullied children is oftentimes highly emotional. Many times, a desired outcome is not achieved. Quite often the child who has endured bullying is the one who moves to a different school, district or to home-schooling. It just isn’t fair that a person targeted is the one who is required to make changes when a school neglects to make school safe for a bullied child.

Our why and our reason for BRRC is always to help a child who is being bullied. Our work with caregivers lets bullying targets know that someone other than their family has their back. They feel less alone. We are incredibly passionate that a bullied child knows they did nothing to deserve to be bullied and that they receive the reassurance and support they need to walk through their trauma.

About a week ago we received news that the child of one of our very first families was moving into her college dorm as a freshman. During her time with us we were quite fearful for her mental well-being, and now she is excited to start her college adventures. We hear about children and young adults we have served that have become upstanders and watch out and speak up for their peers. We have been blessed to learn of first jobs and prom outings from our families. We are making a dent. We are helping to rebuild lives. We thank you for your support and letting us serve many amazing families in Colorado.