Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Guest Posts: Bullying

I have very special guest posts on the blog today
all surrounding an extremely important topic: 

 Bullying. 
 
 I believe the more attention we can give this frightening epidemic, the better.  
My guests are three women of varying ages, from different backgrounds, sharing their thoughts and experiences. I hope these ladies' posts will touch your hearts as much as they touched mine. 

The first post is from Heidi at Rainy Day Ramblings.  Heidi and I have been friends since our pre-blogging days when we would send private messages on Goodreads, gushing about our favorite books and planning for our future blogs. We don't always share the same opinion on our books - she abhors cliffhangers and love triangles and I live for them, but we always enjoy each other's thoughts and what the other brings to the table.  Heidi wrote a couple of posts a short while back for Cambria Hebert's Tell Me Something Tuesday meme.  She spoke about bullying and social media, and I was so impressed with her posts, I asked her to share her thoughts here:




Take a Stand Against Bullying

I am thrilled that Michele invited me here to talk about bullying. I recently ran a post on my blog as part of a weekly meme I participate in called Tell Me Something Tuesday. I was astonished at the number of painful stories that people shared with me about their own bullying experiences, making me realize that this epidemic is far wider than most people realize (myself included). I was thankfully never bullied in school, but that doesn't mean that this issue doesn't speak deeply to me. As a mother of a four and two year old, I know I must prepare myself for the time when my children must go out and face the real world daily. No longer will I believe that taunting and teasing is a part of growing up. My older brother teased me relentlessly as a kid, and I think for the most part my parents overlooked it thinking it was just part of being a kid, and wrote it off as sibling rivalry. I know we have all experienced the pangs of growing up. The problem with this old belief is that constant teasing and tormenting over time can cause big problems. I can say that while my brother's tormenting was never physically harmful, emotionally and mentally it was hurtful. After awhile it got to the point where I could not stand my brother, in fact I hated him. I know that is harsh, but unfortunately it is true. I carried that baggage around for years until finally in my mid twenties I let it go, and what a weight off my shoulders. I am happy to say that we have repaired our relationship and get along great now, I only wish that we could have been closer growing up. Those petty names and belittling did a lot of damage.

It is never an easy road to adulthood and there are sure to be plenty of bumps along the way. I think that for generations people have been brought up to believe that bullying and teasing was all part of the process. Kids were likely to encounter the mean boy or girl in the school yard, but it was no big deal. Tangling with a bully would thicken your skin and it was best to adopt the old adage: Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. The problem is: names do hurt. Constantly subjecting someone to name calling over time can be detrimental. So much so that it can lead to depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, cutting, suicidal thoughts and death. I know we have all seen the headlines and heard the stories of teen and even preteen suicides that are the result of bullying. Today it is even worse with social media. Youth like never before can be intimidated and made fun of online by anonymous attackers. Imagine being bullied everyday but by an unknown assailant? Even worse being bullied by a faceless enemy on a public stage? It is a sickening thought! We are finally starting to see some action taken to curtail this behavior, but it is not moving fast enough. We all need to do everything we can to help stop this abhorrent behavior.

So what can we do?

Take a stand. Start fighting against the bullies. Monitor your kids, especially their online activity. Make sure they aren't participating in these heinous acts or worse that they are the victims. Talk to your kids, make it known that it is not okay to bully and be mean. Teach them to walk away and not partake in bullying and get help for someone in trouble. Furthermore, lead by example. Keep your thoughts and tongue in check, in your personal, public and online life. This includes refraining from gossip, making snide comments about people, talking behind someone's back, even if they are on tv, and not judging people based on appearance. I know this sounds ridiculous, but your kids are like sponges, if they are hearing you constantly talking bad about people they will think it is perfectly acceptable to adopt this behavior. Setting a positive example is the first big step.

Next, you can help promote anti bullying and spread the word. It is time to change the thinking on bullying. Taunting, teasing and tormenting is not acceptable and it won't thicken your skin. We live in a small world and with the rise in social media our world is smaller than ever. Messages good and bad can have far reaching consequences. Do your best to spread positive words and help make the world a little brighter. I know that it is easier said than done and those of you out there who have suffered through bullying may think I am overly optimistic, maybe I am, but a big wave starts as a small ripple. I am not willing to stand back and let this current trend of bullying continue to grow. I want to do what I can to make the world a better place and the first thing I will do is start at home with my children by teaching them to be positive, kind people. Another thing that I can do is spread the word on my blog. I think as a blogger one of the things that bothers me the most when reading books especially in the YA genre is the constant use of the mean kid theme. It is alright to a point, but I have read numerous books where the mean kid does not see the consequences of their behavior or the protagonist keeps quiet and watches others bully. I am not okay with books that let this issue slide. An author has a chance to speak out and let their message be heard. No one should sit idly by and watch others terrorize someone. No one deserves to be tortured and made to feel inadequate. I plan to continue in the upcoming months to spotlight books that deal with this tough topic.

 I know that many authors have used their books to speak out on the wrongs of bullying. Goodreads has a list on bullying books. Some titles I plan on reading and promoting:

Dear Bully Anthology, Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, Send by Patty Blount and Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, to name a few.

I know it doesn't seem like much, but every little bit helps, so stand up do your part. Let's take a stand against bullying together. Please weigh in and let me know your thoughts and on ideas on how to prevent bullying. Thanks for hosting me today Michele!

Heidi's Bio: I am currently a stay at home mother of two toddlers, who keep me very busy. I also have a wonderful, supportive husband without whom my blog would not be possible. I am a recent transplant to the rainy region of Portland, Oregon; thus the reason for Rainy Day Ramblings. The many rainy days here provide me ample time to snuggle up under a comfy blanket with a cat and read while the rain drips down my window. I also, when I find time, enjoy baking, candle and jewelry making, cross stitching and spending ample time with family.

Many of you have heard me speak about my next guest, Nyssa.  It is so hard to put into words what she means to our family.  When I was in high school, I began babysitting her when she was only three years old.  I watched her grow into a beautiful, incredibly smart young woman.  Nyssa was in high school when my husband and I welcomed our baby girl into the world.  Nyssa became a baby sitter / big sister figure to her.  My relationship with Nyssa has had many labels over the years.  When she was a child, she was my adopted daughter.  As we both grew older, she became my little sister.  Today, she is my best friend.  I am so proud that Nyssa agreed to share her experiences here today.   


 
A Lesbian’s Perspective on Anti-Gay Bullying


Anyone who has made it successfully through the teenage years can attest to the many struggles endured during this period of time—the acne and awkward body transformations, the juggle of friendships and studying and extracurriculars, all while being trapped on a mental and emotional rollercoaster that turns minor predicaments into earth-shattering melt-downs. I know you might be thinking this description is a bit cliché and overblown, but I definitely remember feeling out of control most of the time in both middle and high school.



Now imagine if you were coming to terms with being gay on top of these every day stresses of being a teenager.

I didn’t know I was gay until I was a junior in high school. Looking back, there were a few signs—flirting with the point-guard on my middle-school basketball team—but it wasn’t until I was at boarding school that I first fell in love with a girl. I didn’t admit it to myself (or anyone else for that matter) until three years later.

There’s a program called “safe-space” that provides LGBT education in a forum-type setting, and one of the first exercises in this program is to write down on a sheet of paper three important things about your life. Then you go around and talk to others in the group, with the one caveat being you can’t discuss those three things you wrote down on the sheet of paper. The desperation to talk about who you are while being restrained imitates the ultimate secret of being gay, the state of being “in the closet.” And what starts as a deep, dark secret often morphs into a giant lie that gets told over and over, changing each time. “No boyfriend yet, but I’m still looking…” and “it’s not what you think…we were just experimenting.” The sheer terror of constantly feeling like someone will out you to your closest friends or parents, and that when this finally happens, their whole perception and treatment of you will change.

And the thing that kept me trapped in this fear-based lie was overhearing the whispering of a few senior girls down the hall in my boarding school dorm one night…“what’s up with those two” and “are they gay?” I guess this second-hand gossip could be perceived as bullying, and although I was never directly confronted and harassed for being a lesbian, this sensed prejudice held me back from embracing who I truly was and thus prevented me from developing a healthy relationship with my partner, friends and family.

Framed in the context of bullying—both in-person and cyber forms—gay youths are an easy target. The statistics speak for themselves:
· Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) students are 3x’s more likely than non-LGBT students to say that they do not feel safe at school (22% vs. 7%) (The Trevor Project)
· 90% of LGBT students (vs. 62% of non-LGBT teens) have been harassed or assaulted during the past year. (The Trevor Project)
· LGB students were more likely than heterosexual students to have seriously considered leaving their institution as a result of harassment and discrimination. (Miami Herald)

And when the anti-gay bullying becomes too much to handle for these LGBT teens, especially in schools where teachers either turn a blind-eye or are restricted from reacting to such bullying (as in the recent Minnesota cases), these teens often turn to suicide as the final escape.
· 34,000 LGBT deaths by suicide each year (The Trevor Project)
· 30-40% of LGB youth have attempted suicide (Suicide Prevention Resource Center)
· LGBT youths attempt suicide 4x’s more frequently than their heterosexual peers (The Trevor Project)

Every time I hear of another LGBT teen death, I feel sick and angry. The bullies responsible for harassing these youths to the point of death are often not held accountable for their actions, and in some cases have even been caught rejoicing in the death of their peer via social media outlets.

What can we do?

It starts with education. Both the American Psychological Association and the World Health Organization have provided research evidence that homosexuality is a normal and positive variation of sexual orientation; yet, many LGBT youths that have found the courage to come out to their parents have been subjected to “reparative” or “conversion” therapy in attempts to “turn them straight.”

It starts with support programs, like the “It Gets Better” campaign, and organizations, like PFLAG for parents of lesbian and gay youths. The Trevor Project provides additional support specifically for suicidal LGBT teens, and GSLEN and the Human Rights Campaign are LGBT educational sources to help shape classroom discussions on bullying.

It starts at home.

The worst anti-gay bullying I’ve experienced was from my own family members. I’ve gotten several nasty letters informing me that I’m hell-bound, from people who celebrated my birth, who have attended my piano recitals and basketball games and helped me out when I’ve been in a rough patch, whom I’ve spent Thanksgivings and Christmases with. They’ve said that it was “a phase” or some kind of “life-choice” I’ve made, and have spitefully asked what they “did wrong” in raising me. My grandparents have disowned me, while still sending the hate-filled letters, and I can only feel that this unnecessary separation is just wasted time that could be spent making memories and learning about my heritage before it’s too late.

I think the worst was my mother telling me that I had broken her heart. Growing up, I idolized her for being the strong, independent woman who single-handedly raised me, and I’ve always just wanted to make her proud. So in breaking her heart, I had my own broken. Coming out to her was hands-down the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. This form of anti-gay family bullying is often downplayed or overlooked, but had I been younger and heard the same hateful things that have been said to me at 26, I can honestly admit that I may have had suicidal thoughts. When you can’t even find acceptance and support at home, with the people that know you the best, it becomes even harder to admit who you are to classmates or even yourself.

As parents, we must teach our children, both gay and straight, to not only be tolerant of beliefs and worldviews different from our own, but also to stand up against these bullies before more lives are needlessly taken. And most importantly of all, as parents, we must provide a safe environment at home so that children struggling with their sexual orientation can establish a basic support system with the people who matter the most to them, the people who are most likely to catch the “red-flags” before it’s too late.

It starts with you. Please voice your disapproval of anti-gay bullying, regardless of whether you’re gay or straight, because you never know who might be listening and whose life you might help to save.

I have those people in my life (including my wonderful Cheles Bells (Mama Michele), her hubby (Daddy Mike), and Katertot) who truly understand what it means to love me unconditionally. These friends and family members have helped me to not only come to terms with my sexual orientation, but also to confront the irrational fears, to strengthen my courage and pride in who I am, and to ultimately become a role model for other LGBT youth. Today, I’m celebrating the recently acquired domestic partnership with my wonderful Sandy, and I am so proud of how much I’ve grown to get to this point. But there is so much work left to do, and I’ve got to do everything I can to ensure that our children won’t be bullied for having two moms, for being a gay advocate, or for being a transgendered teen; or for being a “nerd,” having a handicap, or falling in love with a person of a different race or the same sex. Because no matter who you are, you don’t deserve to be bullied.

More Information:

http://www.glsen.org/--Educational resources and classroom guides to anti-gay bullying
http://www.thetrevorproject.org/ --Preventing LGBT suicide
http://www.pflag.org/--Resources for parents and friends of the LGBT community
http://www.itgetsbetter.org/ --LGBT teen suicide prevention
http://www.wegiveadamn.org/ -- Raises LGBT support and awareness


My last guest today is one who is near and dear to my heart.  Most of you know her around the blog as "Katertot."  She is my thirteen-year-old daughter, Mckenzie Kate.  I've said many times that, as a parent, we teach and lead our children, but I learn something from this kiddo every day about how to be a better, more loving person.  She's an old soul, and, though I may be biased, I believe she is wise beyond her thirteen years.


Thankfully, I’ve never been a victim of bullying, nor have I witnessed it. Often, I lay awake at night wondering how I would prevent someone from mistreating a friend, a classmate, or me. I think about how grateful I am to have parents who have taught me to love everyone, no matter their differences. I think about how unfair it is for so many kids to be going through this with no one doing anything about it. And over things like the way they dress, their race, what they believe, who they love -- even the way they talk or how well they do in school. I could pour my heart into pages of things like this, but my main point here is this: in no way, and under no circumstance, should anyone be treated any differently than anyone else because of something that makes them different from other people.



We are all created equally, and everyone, even young kids, should realize that and think about it before they say something to someone that they can never take back.


A couple of my favorite quotes/lyrics about love and acceptance are:

“Hatred ever kills, love never dies. Such is the vast difference between the two.
What is obtained by love is retained for all time.
What is obtained by hatred proves a burden in reality for it increases hatred.”
 -- Mohandas K. Gandhi

“Imagine all the people living life in peace.”
-- John Lennon

"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life;
love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it.”
-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“You are beautiful, no matter what they say. Words can’t bring you down.”
-- Christina Aguilera

The world and society have been darkened with judgment and bullying. I only hope that, one day, we all have a different way of seeing things concerning other people and ourselves. That’s something else: bullying other people is wrong, but so is bullying yourself. Hurting yourself because of personal problems, starving yourself so you can look like a particular model, or emotionally beating yourself up because you failed at something. My favorite lyric above is the one by John Lennon. If we can all live in peace and get along, the world can be such a beautiful place.

Thank you so much, ladies, for sharing these amazing, heartfelt posts today.

23 comments:

  1. What an amazing post! Katertot and Nyssa you knocked it out of the park! I am speedhless right now, I promise I will get this on my blog soon! Thanks for letting me be a part of this!

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    1. So did you, dear! Thank you so much for sharing your story and your thoughts with us!

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  2. Three incredibly powerful posts there! I think it's great of you to spotlight this, Michele, so thank you to yourself and the girls for doing this.

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    1. Thank you so much, Sam. Such a frightening and sad topic that needs all the attention we can give it.

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  3. I love this post so much, ladies! A few months ago, a kid at the school where my daughter goes had to be transferred because some other kids kept beating him up and school was doing literally nothing about it. Needless to say, a few parents, including myself, made a big deal out of it and called the authorities to handle the parents of those bullies and the teachers that did nothing, but the kid never came back. I suppose his parents felt he was safer in the other school and I can't say I blame them.
    I'm a professor too, and although my students are practically adults, they know darn well I would never tolerate such behavior. So anyone in a position to do something or just to make their opinion clear should do so repeatedly, until it sinks in.
    Okay, I'm done ranting.
    Amazing post!

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    1. Thank you, Maja, and thank you for sharing your story. So heartbreaking! Really happy that you and the other parents took a stand!

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  4. I was just brainstorming on this and I am going to shoot you some ideas....

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  5. Awesome post ladies, we all need to recognize and stop bullying in its tracks.

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    1. Thank you, Kimba! Agreed! <3

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  6. What a wonderful post! I loved hearing the three different perspectives on this most important topic. I think it is great that Heidid and her brother have repaired their relationship. I had to tell one of my brothers to stop calling me names because it hurt my feelings. He seemes surprised- but he stopped right then and there. It taught me that sometimes people don't realize that what they think is a joke isn't being taken that way by someone else. When I read about Nyssa coming out to her mom it broke my heart. I am glad she is surrounded by love from your amazing family. Katertot is such a sweet girl and I am glad she is able to spread so much kindness around. Love the quotes!

    A great reminder to be kind to everyone we meet.
    ~Stephanue

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    1. Thank you so much, Stephanie! We appreciate your kind words! <3

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  7. All the posts were truly inspiring! Yes, there is an epidemic of bullying and placing judgments on anyone that is different than yourself or what you perceive to be the right only way to live. I had experienced bullying in school, but it was waaaaay worse at home with my so-called-family than school itself. I call them my biological family because basically that's all they are to me. They take Christianity to the EXTREME. Because I do not hold their extreme beliefs, and in fact I'm Pagan, they never miss a chance to belittle, place judgement, blah, blah, blah on me. Now, I'm 36 and they're still at it. I know they will never let up. I have to tell you I left home really young and have never looked back. I guess it's been around 20 years since I've actually talked to them. They of course still try to send me emails and phone calls still preaching to me my path to hell and I need to change my life for God. My life has been a lot happier since I left them behind. One can only take so much of being the evil black sheep in the family for years to the present. Do I miss them? No, I can honestly say I don't. They have never excepted me for me and what I believe. *shrugs* I look at it as their loss not mine.
    DeAnna Schultz

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    1. As someone who actually has a strong faith and comes from a loving, spiritual background, it breaks my heart when others profess to be believers, but then treat someone the way you were treated. That goes against everything our faith teaches and what I believe. No one has a right to judge you or anyone else. It breaks my heart that your family treated you that way. Very happy to hear that you are happy! *hugs*

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  8. Such a beautiful and inspiring post, ladies- each of your stories and powerful words spoke to me deeply, and Katertot, you are such a lovely young woman! You're mother is very lucky to have you.

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    1. Thank you, Leanne! Katertot sends you a hug, and yes, I am so very blessed! <3

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  9. Great post! I wish it wasn't painful to type, or I'd leave a better comment :)

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    1. Hope your elbow is much better, girl! Thanks so much for stopping by <3

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  10. Great posts ladies. Thanks for sharing!

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  11. Oh, I think I'm gonna cry. How beautiful! Heidi, Nyssa and Mckenzie did such a wonderful job talking about this heartbreaking epidemic. Thank you Michele, I'm so glad to have read this post.

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    1. Thank you, Ana! I'm so glad you stopped by and that the post touched your heart. <3

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  12. WOW! This is a deep heartfelt post that definitely touched me. I agree bullying is series and it causing suicide is a problem, especially with social media. Social media says that someone committed suicide and then maybe a person being bullied sees that and thinks well if they did it I can. I recently read in a book that this happens a lot, if a suicide is a feature story then the suicide rate goes up after. It is a social cue and most people rely on social cues. I didn't think about how bullies in books get away with it a lot of the time. If kids are reading a book where a bully gets no repercussions then they may think they can do the same. I grew up being taught to stick up for myself. growing up people definitely tried to bully me with words and I never just took it, I always stood up for myself but that isn't easy for everyone. I actually was getting bullied in high school and I confronted the person and then she attacked me and I got into a fight in front of tons of people at school. The school wanted to suspend me because apparently I "provoked it" I just stood up for myself but the school wanted me to get in trouble also. My dad wouldn't sign off on the suspension but they still made me take a day off, which I don't think was right... I didn't even get to hit her... When I went back to school everyone knew and my teachers all knew, to me that was embarrassing in a way that teachers could be seeing me in a bad way, which I wasn't. I don't think the school systems deal with bullying the right way sometimes. I was never a person to tell on someone, I would deal with it myself but if it isn'y my fault I shouldn't get in trouble for it. I also had an experience that I stuck up for someone getting bullied and the person I stuck up for was kinda rude to me after... I was like really? I've never been a person who stands on the side lines and takes it or watches. I stick up for myself and my friends and even someone that I don't think deserves it. I'm glad Katertot has never been bullied. HSe has a good view and I love the quotes she picked! Heidi is right about sticks and stones.. words can hurt you, words can hurt more than physical pain.

    Nyssa, your post is brave and heartfelt and one I can't put my feelings to words. People are mean and I hate it. It saddens me that people treated you that way especially your family. I think it was four years ago now when there was voting here for gay marriage, the only reason i went to vote was for that and I was so angry and disappointed when it did not pass. I don't like politics and am never interested in them but that mattered to me. I have had gay friends and at the time worked with a guy that was gay who is one of the nicest people I have met. What happened to "we are all created equal" yah if you are a white straight male apparently which is BS! People need to get their heads out of their a** and get over it. people are created different and they can't change that... as you can tell reading your post has made me angry again. I'm so glad you got through those hard time and are in a place where you can write this post. this wouldn't be easy for other people and I think it is awesome.

    I should probably end this huge comment but I'm so glad you all did this post! It is great and very important and has definitely evoked major emotions from me.

    oh and my story that I started in high school is actually about a girl getting bullied although I wasn't exactly thinking in those terms.

    Michele I'm so glad you put this all together! great post!!!! <3

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  13. Such a powerful post. All 3 were wonderful. Nyssa, I wish I could give you a big hug. Despite those around you trying to change you, you had the wisdom to know your truth. You are strong, wise and beautiful! Thank you for sharing your story.

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