Three Things

Three Things

 Three Things

I know I’m probably not unique in reflecting about family, tough situations and school at this time of year.  With another school year for my kids closed, I find myself looking back at where we’ve come from as a unit.  I have a son who has graduated from high-school and is starting college out of state next fall.  I find myself looking at the charity I helped to visualize and manage, Bullying Recovery Resource Center.  I see how far we have come, and how far we have to go.  I am filled with gratitude and a bit of sadness.

It wasn’t that long ago, five years ago, that our family’s lives were in complete disarray.  My son had just completed his 7th grade.  He had endured months of relentless bullying.  He was physically, emotionally and verbally berated daily at his former school.  He was starting to slip away from the energetic, gregarious and humorous boy he was into a shell of survival.  The bullying he tolerated was eating him alive before our very eyes.  He was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, PTSD and had thoughts of suicide.  He was slipping away, and the rest of our family was desperate and frightened.

I am unable to recount all the strife he endured due to legal reasons.  That isn’t really the purpose of this anyways.  His road back to himself was filled with peaks and valleys.  It included mental health professionals, medication, two parents a sister and extended family who sought to comfort and prod him forward, a new school, and some of the most amazing teachers I have ever met.

The last five years we at BRRC have become experts about bullying.  Our charity has been blessed to help people across the state who were in the same exact shoes we were.  The families who contact us are desperate, exhausted, and dumbfounded.  We let them know they are no longer alone, and we work together to keep their children safe and to find solutions that will work for their family.

If there are only a few things I could impart to others about taking a bite out of bullying, it would be the following:

Upstanders.  Become one.  Teach and coach your kids to become one.  Acknowledge those who are.

The dictionary defines an upstander as “a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.”

My son had two students that we later learned were upstanders when he went through the bullying.  These children reported the abuse he was enduring to school administrators.  One child was so impassioned that he brought his mother with him.  We knew nothing of these events until we had left the school.  When my son learned that he had allies that cared enough to speak out about what he was enduring, he felt empowered and much less alone.  In my opinion, upstanders save lives.

If your child shares with you that they are being bullied, drop everything, and truly listen.

A young person’s job is to attend school successfully.  That includes more than academics.  Being bullied and harassed feels like a failure.  It can be extremely difficult for a child to tell his or her parents about the challenges they are having at school.  Take the time to listen, stay calm, ask open-ended and non-judgmental questions, and to come with ideas and plans together. 

I also tell parents that the whole story can come out it pieces over an extended period of time.  Family and home are a bullied child’s safe zone.  They very likely will talk about a piece of what they are enduring to “test” the family and see how it will be received.  Listening with love and compassion cannot be over emphasized.  They are counting on you to help and not make things worse. 

Bullying must be STOPPED.  It is not negotiated, and it is not dealt with using conflict resolution tactics.  An apology and a handshake don’t STOP bullying.

The new legislation that we helped create, Jack and Cait’s Law, addresses conflict versus bullying in Colorado.  Bullying always includes a difference in power and an intent to harm.  When these are present, it is bullying, and the target needs to feel safe, and the instigator needs a reasonable consequence.  Both target and the provoker need help.  It cannot be ignored.  It is up to the adults in charge to make it stop.  It is up to the parents of the target to make sure it is addressed.

I wish you and your family a safe, fun, and healthy summer.  We are here in the summer too for any questions or needs you may have.  http://www.bullyingrecoveryresourcecenter.org/  303-991-1397.

 Bullying Legislation in Colorado 2021

 Bullying Legislation in Colorado 2021


 Bullying Legislation in Colorado 2021

By Dru Ahlborg, BRRC

As our nation and our state begin cautiously to emerge from the pandemic, we are starting to congregate and socialize and children are heading back to in-person learning on a permanent basis. While most kids (and their families) are delighted at this development, many, unfortunately, are not.

Bullying, always a problem in our society, changed its shape during the lockdown as in-person bullying took a hiatus and cyberbullying saw a significant uptick.  Now in-person bullying is expected to come roaring back as schools once again open their doors and children come flooding in after a very stressful time for many families. 

The good news for children in Colorado is that we are finally recognizing that bullying is an epidemic in our state and our country.  The Colorado Model Bullying Prevention and Education Policy was adopted in July, 2019 to provide guidance to school districts in developing bullying prevention and education.

 It is time, though, to improve this document.  Colorado House Bill 21-1221 (Jack and Cait’s Law) will utilize the stakeholder process when updating the model policy and must include parents of students who have been bullied.  The bill also requires schools to report bullying and provides clarification of conflict versus bullying. The role of cyberbullying during online instruction is also addressed. 

Jack Padilla and Caitlyn Haynes, the Colorado children for whom the bill is named, tragically ended their lives after being relentlessly bullied.  The suicides of Jack and Cait are illustrative of a much larger problem, however. According to the 2019 National Center for Educational Statistics, one out of every five (20.2 percent) students report being bullied. 

The Cyberbullying Research Center breaks down bullying by states and in 2019, 83.5 percent of Colorado students reported having been bullied at some time, and 65.8 percent reported being bullied in the past 30 days (A significant jump from 2016 when it was reported at 51.5 percent).

The Center for Disease Control tells us that students who experience bullying are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement, and dropping out of school. 

Additionally, there are alarming statistics about the link between suicide and bullying.  A Yale University Study found that bullying targets are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-targets and a study in Britain revealed that at least half the suicides of young people are related to bullying.

We as a state must take a stand against bullying and teen suicide.  It will take legislative action   to ensure that bullying is properly reported, that bullying is properly addressed, and that fine-tuning the Bullying Model Policy includes adults whose lives have been strongly impacted.  It is time to reduce bullying and teen suicide in our state. HB 21-1221 will be a great start!

For kids who are being bullied – and their families – please know that there are ways to get help now! Here is a list of resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day via phone or chat: 1-800-273-8255

Colorado Crisis Services is available 24 hours a day via phone: 1-844-493-8255 or text “Talk” to 38255

Safe 2 Tell receives anonymous reports about anything that threatens you, your family or your community: 1-877-542-7233

Bullying Recovery Resource Center aids children and their families through education and advocacy who are dealing with bullying.  303-991-1397 or www.bullyingrecoveryresourcecenter.org

Bullying and Autistic Children

Bullying and Autistic Children


Bullying and Autistic Children.  Why it Happens, and How to Help Prevent and Stop it.

By Dru Ahlborg, BRRC

“It’s really cool that everybody’s a little different, but the same, too.”
– Julia the four-year-old girl with autism on Sesame Street

 

According to Psychology Today, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is “a developmental disorder that involves impairments in social interaction and communication, challenges with sensory processing, and repetitive behaviors.  The term ‘spectrum’ reflects the fact that symptoms vary across different individuals, ranging in type and severity.”

Our organization, Bullying Recovery Resource Center works with families whose child is or has been a target of bullying.  A large population of the parents we have spoken to and assisted have a child who is on the Autism Spectrum Disorder.  In more simple terms, a child with autism generally has difficulty communicating and understanding what people think and feel.  This makes it challenging for a child on the spectrum to respond to gestures, facial expressions, touch and even language.

The statistics surrounding children diagnosed with autism and related disabilities in relationship to bullying are alarming.  They are 2 to 3 times more likely to get bullied than other typically developing children.  In fact, according to organization Autism Speaks, nearly two-thirds (63%) of autistic spectrum youth have been bullied.  To make matters even worse, according to one study, when reporting bullying, youth in special education were told not to “tattle” almost twice as often as youth not in special education.

There appear to be several reasons why autistic people are targeted by bullies.  Bullies many times choose targets who have a perceived inability to respond assertively to bullying.  Children with autism generally do not recognize sarcasm and subtleties of speech and perpetrators of bullying will frequently mock and publicly humiliate the target.  Many autistic children are somewhat socially cut off from their peers, already have feelings of inadequacy and poor self-esteem and sometimes show limited control of what is happening around them.  Bullies are known to target children who exemplify these behaviors.

Strategies to disrupt the bullying of autistic children can be addressed in three different areas:

Preventing bullying, teachers helping to prevent bullying of autistic students and tips for parents for autistic children.

 

Bullying Prevention and Strategies:

Preventing bullying for autistic children requires two needs to be addressed.  The first is to address the needs of the autistic community and the second is addressing the attitude and environment that leads to bullying.

  • Autistic children can be educated about different forms of bullying that include unhealthy friendships and romantic relationships. Strategies can be suggested including speaking to a teacher or administrator about bullying incidents as well as self-advocating and asking for intermediation from the adults in charge.
  • Members of the school, church, sporting team, etc. can be informed about the nature of autism and characteristics of autistic children. An environment of encouragement and acceptance of all will lessen the likelihood of bullying.  A culture of inclusivity will reduce the chance that a child is harmed due to a difference in social or communication skills.
  • In schools, assigning proactive hallway monitors and adult buddies to autistic students will reduce bullying during the most chaotic and least structured portions of the day.

Bullying prevention and action for Teachers:

Teachers are the front line of defense for a target of bullying.  Here are some insightful ideas that teachers can adhere to.

  • Follow the school’s outlined procedures for reporting and addressing bullying behavior.
  • Encourage the bully’s target to talk about what happened with you. If the student cannot verbalize about it, encourage them to write, journal or even draw the event.  Reassure them that they are not “tattling.”
  • When you see bullying happen, step up and step in between the two parties. It is your responsibility to make the bullying event stop.
  • Meet with the bully’s target in a safe place and provide support and talk about what happened. Speak to any students who may be witnesses and calmly ask them what happened.

Bullying Prevention and interaction for parents:

It is paramount that parents of autistic children act at the first hint of their child being bullied.  Often times a child, and especially autistic children, may not readily speak up to their parents and let them know they are being harassed, targeted and bullied.  Some warning signs that parents need to pay attention to are unwillingness to go to school, sudden change in routine, stress or anxiety, decline in academic performance or inability to maintain focus, torn clothes or damaged books and unexplained cuts or bruises.

Here are some great ideas for parents to get involved and reduce the threat of bullying for their autistic child.

  • Visit the school often – primarily as an observer.
  • Have frequent conversations with your child and ask open-ended questions such as: “Who did you sit with at lunch? Which friends do you talk to during the day?  What is your least favorite class?  Why?”
  • Have open communication channels with teachers and ask them frequently about your child’s interactions at school.
  • Talk to the school administration about the characteristics of autism.
  • Have open dialogue with teachers about your child’s specific strengths and challenges.
  • Speak to other school personnel (lunchroom monitors, bus drivers, etc.) about autism awareness. You may want to give them a hand-out or brochure to help educate them.
  • If you are concerned or if your child is bullied, make sure you report it to the school and follow up.
  • Consider including bullying in your child’s IEP. Social skills and self-advocacy skill goals should also be included in the IEP.
  • Encourage the school to facilitate a buddy for your child. For any child, especially a child who might be a target for bullying, it is important that they have at least one good friend who can help accompany them during less structured parts of the school day.
  • Mentor your child and remind them of their strengths. Remind them that they are NOT inferior to any other child.  Work with them to build their self-esteem.

Parent of a special needs children are truly superheroes.  Everyday these parents need to put on their capes and become hyperaware and responsive with their children.  It is heartbreaking that children become targets because of their different abilities with interacting with the world and its people.  It is worth the extra time, coaching and communication required to aid in reducing bullying for your child.  They are counting on you.  If you need additional help, or if your child is being bullied, please contact us.  https://bullyingrecoveryresourcecenter.org   No child ever deserves to be bullied.

“Do not fear people with autism, embrace them.  Do not spite people with autism, unite them. 
Do not deny people with autism, accept them, for their abilities will shine.”

-Paul Isaacs, Autism Training, Consultant, Speaker and Author

 

 

The Do-Nothing Principal

The Do-Nothing Principal

The Do-Nothing Principal

Adapted from Dr. Ben Leichtling, PhD
www.BulliesBeGone.com

When my son was in sixth and seventh grade, he was relentlessly bullied.  He was verbally, physically and relationally bullied.  The short version of our experience is that his dad and I reported the bullying many times.  We were met with false promises, excuses, ignorance and rationalizations from the leaders of the school and the school counselor.  We ended up filing a lawsuit, pulled him from school, invested in mental help for all of us, became bullying experts and started Bullying Recovery Resource Center (BRRC) for families who were going through similar traumas caused by bullying in all parts of Colorado and beyond.

We came across Dr. Ben’s YouTube talk about the do-nothing principals shortly after we opened the doors of BRRC in 2017.  As I listened to his list of the five traits he identified, I quickly put a check mark next to every one of them.  I was astounded and vindicated at the same time.  I was not crazy and had been played by the school officials at my son’s former school. BRRC has found this list to be incredibly helpful for parents who are dealing with reluctant school administrators.  What follows are Dr. Ben’s five warning signs of the do-nothing-principal.

  1. No school-wide programs – There is no school-wide training about bullying for children, parents, teachers, administrators, janitors, bus drivers, etc. All persons associated with the school should be taught to recognize the signs of overt and covert bullies.  Without a school wide program, it is obvious that the school officials do not take bullying seriously.
  2. Make no effort to monitor or investigate – Most everyone knows what areas bullying occurs at their school. School officials will make no effort to monitor those areas.  They will plead ignorance and expect “proof” to come from the target of bullying.  School officials will refuse to investigate bullying claims.
  3. Empathy and compassion for the bullies – School administrators will believe that the best way to stop bullying is for the target show forgiveness, compassion and empathy for the bully. The focus turns to why the bully harasses their target versus stopping the bullying.  These principals favor education and compassion over making the bully stop.
  4. Blame the target – Principals will assume that the target did something wrong to antagonize a bully. They will often not keep the bullying complaints confidential and/or look the other way than to stop the bully.
  5. Use confidentiality to keep you in the dark – To mask incompetence, bias or laziness, school administrators will use confidentiality to avoid transparency and accountability. Many times, they will ask you to trust them while they handle the situation.

If this list pertains to you and your situation, Dr. Ben states that it is time to act.  It is time to force reluctant principals to act properly.  These actions or lack of actions are unacceptable and will only cause more trauma for you child.  Make note that a school fears two things above all else – negative media and legal action.  He suggests four steps that you as a parent need to take to force a school to stop bullying.

  1. Before the bullying even begins, lobby with other like-minded parents to insist that the school provide school-wide programs to prevent bullying. Strongly consider contacting the media about your efforts.
  2. If bullying starts talk to the principal and the staff. Record all conversations.  Pay special attention to the attitude of the school officials and look for ignorance, rationalizations, excuses, and a discussion of what constitutes evidence.  Follow-up all conversations with an email of all the points discussed and any promises that were made.
  3. Give the administration, counselors and teachers one week or so to stop the bullying. Take notice if they accommodate your child (the target) or if they disrupt your child’s schedule and location as a solution.
  4. If the bullying has not stopped it is time to take action. Consider contacting parents of other bullied children, contacting the police, asking for legal help, contacting the media and look for coaching.

Taking action is not easy and will requires firmness, courage, determination and being relentless.  The journey going forward will be frustrating and exhausting.  Realize that every situation is different and will require strategies that work best for your family.  Coaches and organizations like Bullies Be Gone and Bullying Recovery Resource Center are available to help you work through options and strategies that are best your child.

 

Kindness

Kindness

The How and Why of Kindness

“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.”  — Bob Kerry

There are several definitions of kindness that resonate an organization that defends bullied children and helps rebuild lives.  First, being kind means that you think about the needs and concerns of others.  Kind people volunteer, they help others, and they contemplate issues that impact their community.  Individuals who exhibit compassionate thinking and generous acts will also demonstrate kindness. However, probably most importantly is that kindness is considered to be the psychological opposite to bullying and victimization. 

Years ago, upon speaking to my son’s former school about the bullying he endured, I was informed by a school counselor and former teacher that kindness cannot be taught.  I was appalled.  I knew that could not be true.  Kindness can be both instinctual and can also be learned.  In fact, stopbullying.gov tells us that there are key elements in teaching kindness in schools:

  • Include gratitude activities
  • Include volunteer activities or service learning
  • Include students to develop activities to help others
  • Facilitate respectful conversations
  • Generate open-ended discussion questions
  • Encourage working together
  • Teach and model naming and expressing emotions

Yes indeed, experts tell us that kindness can be taught.  The outcomes of teaching kindness with students is astounding.  Stopbullying.gov states that when elementary students are taught kindness they are more empathic, more socially aware and connected, and they receive higher grades too.  Young children tend to help each other and that desire to help seems innate.  They do so without an expectation of praise as the act itself has the built-in reward of feeling useful.  Children who engage in acts of kindness tend to be more connected, have higher levels of peer acceptance and are less likely to bully others.  Kindness helps children in particular see how they are similar rather than how they are different.

In Signe Whitson’s book 8 Keys to End Bullying, she advises “instead of the focus on all of the Thou Shalt Nots of bullying, student-led initiatives can promote building school cultures of respect by encouraging fun ways that kids can show kindness to each other.  The trick in these sorts of initiatives is making sure that the students who would benefit from kindness the most do not end up left out in the cold, while students who already enjoy high social status shower each other with adoration.  Adults play a key role in making sure that acts of kindness for some do not end up functioning as acts of exclusion for others.”

Kindness is deeply intertwined with physical and mental health.  The positive impacts of kindness include:

  • Pain – Endorphins are released in the brain which is a natural painkiller.
  • Stress – Kind people age slower and have lower stress.
  • Anxiety and Depression – Kindness will improve mood, depression and anxiety. Kindness will stimulate the production of serotonin which will heal wounds and increase happiness.
  • Blood Pressure – Blood pressure can be reduced through acts of kindness. The hormone oxytocin is released which causes another chemical, nitric oxide, to increase which will dilate blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.
  • Pleasure – Dopamine is released in elevated levels which causes the brain’s pleasure/reward centers to light up. (This is sometimes referred to as a “helper’s high.”)
  • Self-Worth – Kindness will cause one to feel good about themselves and thus increase their self-worth.
  • Relationships – Kindness reduces the distance between individuals thus improving relationships of all types.

The benefits of kindness are endless.  It can be taught and modeled to others.  It is contagious.  Experiencing an act of kindness can improve our mood and also increase the likelihood of spreading that kindness to others.  Individuals who perform acts of kindness are much less likely to bully others.  Kindness causes happiness.  The act of kindness not only positively impacts the giver and receiver, but anyone who witnesses it.

Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible.
—Dalai Lama

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Time to Stop Ignoring the Bully in the Room

It’s Time to Stop Ignoring the Bully in the Room

By Dru Ahlborg, Bullying Recovery Resource Center

Bullying Recovery Resource Center focuses on the bullying of school-aged children.  That is where our expertise lies and that is where we can make the biggest impact and changes.

The fact of the matter is that bullies are everywhere.  They reside in companies, families, colleges, board rooms, and in our political system.  No matter where they do their dirty 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 further 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 it is unabated and that is terror.  A bully that reaps no consequences and can reach the point of inducing terror on his or her target(s) comes to a point where they can act without fear of recrimination or retaliation.  This should send chills down our spine.

Bullying is not 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 news with great frequency these days.

Bullies also rely on bystanders to carry out their acts of aggression. Bystanders come in varying forms and have different roles.  Some bystanders will stand by and watch, some will actively inspire the bully and possibly join in, and some will choose to look the other way.  The bystander may offer words of encouragement to the aggressor or may dismiss the acts of a bully by stating, “he’s learned his lesson and won’t do it again.”  These acts of omission or commission actually fuel the fire of a bully.  The bully feels emboldened when no one stands up to him or her.  These acts also effect the bystander as they become desensitized to the cruel acts of the bully.  The bullying becomes normalized.  Bullying and creating terror are never normal and they need to be called out and stopped.

“Far more, and far more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience that have ever been committed in the name of rebellion.” – C.P. Snow

It is not acceptable to let the bully continue.  It is not okay to brush bullying under the rug and hope it will end on its own.  It will not.  Standing up to a bully and labeling their behavior as hurtful and unacceptable are not easy feats, AND they are necessary.  To let bullying continue allows the perpetrator to feel that their actions are acceptable and warranted, desensitizes all who are witness to the violence, and cause great harm and distress for the target.

It’s time to make a different choice instead or normalizing such destructive behavior.

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 a stiff spine and resolution to speak up.  Labeling it as bullying and harassment is important and necessary.  Bullying in the schoolyard and from a podium are damaging acts that require us to stand up and say, “no more!”
2.  Become an upstander.  An upstander is a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.  An upstander will not only stand up to bullying behavior but will also come to the aid of the target.  Make it a point to be the individual who does not stand for abusive behavior.  Let others know you are there to help and support them.
3.  Become a role model.  The more that we as individuals walk in the path of compassion, inclusion, and kindness as well as standing up and speaking out about bullies and their behavior, the more likely others will follow suit.  This is not a sprint but a marathon.

The normalizing of bullying and deviant behavior needs to stop.  Become part of the solution and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Kindness and respect can be modeled to others and it can start with us today.