Bullying is in the news right now — from Harvey Weinstein’s championing of a new film called Bully**, and Lady Gaga’s brand new project, the Born Like This Way Foundation. Every parent thinks about this issue from time to time, whether your child is likely to be a victim, an instigator, or a passive bystander. We have to do our best to talk through these issues with our children. But how?
We try to raise kids to be kind, but they’ll run into circumstances that are not so cut and dried: I recently had a mother tell me about her straight son’s struggle to react appropriately when a gay 9th grader was hitting on him. After many months of working hard not to react, her son finally got in the other boy’s face and said clearly “You have to leave me alone.” Which worked, and they’re now friends. But it’s not always that simple, as a simple peek at the trailer of Bully will demonstrate.
Here is a quote from a child in the film: “Pretty much a good day would be people leaving their hands off me.”
Okay. That got to me.
Who better to to trumpet for the anti-bullying, kindness cause than Lady Gaga, whose passionate explanation for creating the foundation includes hints about how she was persecuted in high school. The mega-star’s highly personal message could come off as the ultimate revenge story but instead she makes it cool to stand up for the kids who are being picked on.
In Gaga’s words — “it’s easy.”
She’s as interested in the bullies as much as the bullied, and has a clarified mission that blows you away. It’s laid out clearly in a radio interview with Oprah, who traveled to Harvard to help Gaga launch this initiative. Here is a poster from Lady Gaga’s website.
Lady Gaga has more Twitter followers than anyone else in the WORLD, so when she tweets or sings or speaks, people listen. Her Foundation incorporates research (from uber-cool bloggers like danah boyd) and the credibility of institutions such as Harvard, and the endorsement of Oprah, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
So… what can we, as parents, do? Especially when kids are texting and FBing without us having any idea what they’re sharing with the world.
1. Come to a Team Tutors meeting on Tuesday, March 20 and hear one of the county’s leading experts on cyber bullying speak on the topic “Peer Harassment in Schools and Cyber Bullying”.
2. Common Sense Media has a Stand Up to Bullying Campaign that advocates parents teaching their kids to stand up against cyber bulling. UPDATE: Here is Common Sense Media’s rating for Bully.
3. Watch a few movies on the topic of bullying with your kids and see what type of conversation arises, often out of nervous giggling. (We like Mean Girls or Easy A, for starters).
4 . Figure out how to talk to your kid. Girls are notoriously easier to talk with than boys, but it’s hard to be around at the exact time when a child wants to talk. Once they’re not locked in a car with you, it’s hard to find a safe environment where the issues can arise organically. I have a friend who literally put a ping-pong table in her LIVING ROOM in order to keep her boys talking with her when they were teens. It worked, sometimes after 5-6 matches, but hey – her game improved, too.
5. I have a 16 year-old son, and was interested to read about 2 new books about the complexity of parenting boys. The first, “The Mama’s Boy Myth” is a reminder that staying emotionally connected to your son is important, despite societal taboos on being really close to a male child. I loved author Kate Stone Lombardi’s excerpt in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal .
And, Annie Lamott, whose story about raising her own son (“Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year“) was a darkly comic look at the perils of parenting, has a new book about watching her son raise a boy, “Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son“.
How do you talk about these issues in your household?
**Harvey Weintsein is protesting the MPAA giving his film an R rating – the argument being that the very kids that need to see the film will be barred from theaters. (The film comes out on March 30, and you can read more about the fight over the film’s rating in Patrick Goldstein’s column in the LA Times).