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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Parenting in a New Age

UnknownA 16-year old boy who lived in my community and was a sophomore in high school killed himself last week. His older brother posted on Facebook that he’d been bullied online; he was asked to join a chat group, made fun of, then uninvited minutes later. Apparently, this kind of torture had been going on awhile. The heartbreaking post, which has gone viral, expressed the brother’s frustration with social media and the failure of schools and families to stop this sort of online bullying. I didn’t know this boy or his family, but his story is now familiar to practically everyone in my city of over 1 million. It’s even made national news. I couldn’t help but think it’s because so many of us probably whispered, upon hearing about it, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Those of us who are parents have no doubt witnessed instances of “bullying” behavior delivered via the internet, and witnessed the pain inflicted upon our own children. To a parent, it is incomprehensible. Why would classmates pick out our seemingly innocent child and decide to begin attacking this person? Is it because our child is naive, unaware of social mores in the community, different either intellectually or physically, immature in some ways, insecure, shy, unwilling or unable to speak up and defend him or herself? Probably not, judging from the young man who died last week, who was cute, friendly, outgoing, an Eagle Scout. I think it stems not so much from the attributes or personality of the bullied as from the mindset of the bully; from a longstanding belief that he or she is somehow better or more entitled than others in their community. Someone who already has a following online or in school, and can create a herd mentality that rallies others toward his or her cause of torturing another student.

All of us are asking what can be done to prevent another heartbreaking tragedy. The school district formed a task force, the police department is investigating, friends of one of the brothers started a Go Fund Me page that has already raised thousands of dollars. But, really, how can we stop this online bullying?  We feel so helpless when it comes to our kids’ use of social media. The online world is a strange, new one that we haven’t quite figured out yet. It allows kids to create unreal personas and fictional life stories which prey upon the insecurities of adolescent brains. We can’t even keep up with all the new apps and forms of communicating. But, we must check out our children’s Facebook pages, Snapchat and Twitter accounts. If we see questionable posts authored by our kids, we must take away their internet access, as difficult as that may be. And hold back on gifting our kids with phones in the first place. It may be convenient, but do middle schoolers need phones with unlimited access to the internet? Let’s put that off as long as possible. It’s time for schools to get actively involved. Admittedly, school personnel don’t know about some of this because parents are too scared or embarrassed to admit it’s their child who is being bullied, fearful that reporting will only make it worse. School districts need to stop merely lecturing about bullying and do something to root out and punish the perpetrators. Zero tolerance for cyber-bullying should be our new battle cry at home and in school.

Since it is, seemingly, impossible to control what goes on via social media outlets, let’s get back to things we can control. As parents, we need to realize that this bullying behavior often stems from a feeling of entitlement, superiority, clique-ishness, which often begins at home. We must teach our young children respect and empathy of others, and acceptance of those who are different from us. And, we need to model those attributes by inviting that kid who sits in the back of the cafeteria to our kid’s birthday party. When our children are older, we need to stop hosting parties and after-parties that are designed to be exclusive, that are meant to exclude certain groups. Aren’t we sending our children the message that they’re better than those kids who are aren’t invited? I visit weekly with a group of 7th grade girls in the cafeteria and recently noticed that one of their friends, who was the only white girl at the table, didn’t sit with them anymore. When I asked where she was, a girl matter of factly answered,  “Oh, her mom thinks we’re a bad influence on her, so she moved tables.” Let’s not be that mom.

When a child is being mistreated by another child it can be heartbreaking and overwhelming for the parents, as well as the child. But we have lived long enough to know there will be an end to it someday. The years spent in middle school and high school are just fleeting moments in time that hardly matter in the grand scheme of a long life. College can be a wondrous place where young people can reinvent themselves, gain new friends, build self esteem and deal with less antagonism, meddling, and gossip.  But kids, whose lives are lived mostly at school and online, can’t see this.  Let’s all work together to help our kids get back into the “real world.” What if we all turned off our phones and put them away for hours at a time? Perhaps we could encourage our kids to use that time to interact with the underprivileged while volunteering, to enjoy the outdoors while walking, jogging, or biking, to encourage the reading of books with real heroes and heroines, to participate in our churches, to pray for those less fortunate, to spend time with adults whom they admire, including elderly friends or grandparents, to have regular dinners together? I know this sounds Pollyanna-ish, but isn’t it worth a try? I don’t know what else to suggest.

 

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New Year’s Resolutions

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images-2Happy 2016! It’s a new year and time to resolve to make ourselves better people inside and out. No better way to do that than to spend New Year’s Eve with your adult children who will help you come to a clear understanding of what needs to change. I was delighted to spend New Year’s Eve with all three of my kids and my husband in one of our favorite cities, Santa Fe, New Mexico. We went out to dinner and immediately upon receipt of our first glass of champagne, we started sharing our resolutions. One of my daughters said, to my delight, “I’m going to call home more often.” Another said, “I’m going to try to stop gossiping,” and everyone chimed in around the table. Then, suddenly, the focus was on me. “Um, I haven’t really thought about it yet,” I said, taking a sip of my bubbly. It was true. Christmas is a non-stop blur of activity from Thanksgiving week through New Year’s. Cooking, buying, shopping, wrapping, placing under the tree, wait – first decorating tree, more cooking, serving, toasting, grocery shopping again, more wrapping, delivering, greeting, hosting, writing Christmas cards, addressing, mailing, baking, last minute shopping, and finally, wrapping the last few presents. Who has time to think? We continued eating and toasting and went to bed before the New Year dawned, sleepy and content.

The next day we headed up the mountain to ski; the sixteen miles from the city to the ski basin make a fine time to chat. “Isn’t the snow beautiful?” “I’ve never seen so much snow in the city.” “It’s colder than usual, isn’t it?” “I hope everyone has plenty of hand warmers.” That was me speaking, apparently to myself. Everyone stared straight ahead. The kids were plugged into their phones and headphones while my husband just focused on the snowy roads. “Look at all these cars! Why are all these people up here?” Then I said under my breath, “I don’t even know why I said that.” The whole car started laughing. “Mom, why do you always say every thought that comes into your head?” asked one daughter, while the others chuckled conspiratorially. “Really, Mom, you do; you just talk to fill up the silence and it doesn’t even matter.” I do? I hadn’t realized. I thought about it and tried to be quiet the rest of the way up the mountain. I held in such statements as, “Wow, there’s a cross country ski area; that looks hard.” And, “The sun is so intense. I hope we all have enough sunscreen on.” When we got near the top I said, “Girls, I have made my new year’s resolution. I am going to think before I speak. I will not say everything that comes into my mind the second it enters.” My family paused briefly, then one of my daughters said, “But that wouldn’t be YOU, it’s not your personality.” Hmmm. This is worse than I thought.

Since then, I’ve thought hard about my past behavior. I have been a bad listener, and not just with family. I interrupt when friends are speaking. As soon as they tell me something that’s happened to them, funny, sad, shocking, I interrupt saying, “Me too! That’s happened to me,” then I proceed to tell my tale in the middle of what they were saying. Often, my story goes on so long it takes the wind out of their sails and we never get back to the point of their original story. When my kids tell me something about their lives, I often interrupt to give unsolicited advice, based upon my similar experience in 1977 or so. Eyes glaze over and they silently slip from the room while I’m still reflecting and explaining. Then I turn on an old album and find I have the house to myself.

So. You all are my witnesses. I resolve to 1) think before I speak, and 2) be a better listener. You’d better hold me to it. Shortly after I made this resolution, I saw this serendipitous quote from the Dalai Lama in my Facebook newsfeed:  “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. but if you listen, you may learn something new.” (I think it was originally posted by Tommy Chong of Cheech and, but, whatever…)

Happy 2016 y’all!