Monday, December 16, 2013

Small Acts of Kindness: Counteracting Bullying

Though the holidays seem to be the season in which kindness abounds, kindness should be a part of the very nature of our everyday lives. Before retiring from teaching, one of the projects that I assigned my students each year was my Random Acts of Kindness lesson plan. I required the students, for a period of two weeks, to practice at least 6 random acts of kindness. Three of those acts were to be acts of kindness demonstrated to a stranger (with all precautions for safety and parental guidance being taken into consideration).  I also asked the students to introduce an element of “paying it forward” in hopes that the recipient of their act of kindness would respond by doing an act of kindness for someone else. At the end of the two- week project, the students were to report to the class what their acts of kindness were and what, if anything, the responses were.
Of course some students took it more seriously than others, and the project was a success with them. With others, I decided, it was going to be a work in progress. I persisted in doing the project each year, though, as I saw it as a way of helping children to look outside of themselves and their own little worlds to see that kindness and compassion should always be an important priority. I wanted them to realize that even one little kindness can make a difference in someone’s day and, yes, possibly even in their lives.
In learning of a new study about small acts of kindness, I feel that my student project over the years may not have been an exercise in futility. New research conducted jointly by the University of B. C. and the University of California found that children who perform  small acts of kindness tend to bolster their own sense of happiness and well being. The researchers also surmised that such acts of kindness may even help to counteract bullying behavior.
Approximately 400 Vancouver elementary schoolchildren were asked to report on their happiness after four weeks of participating in one of two scenarios. One group of the nine to 11-year-olds were asked by their teachers to perform acts of kindness, such as sharing their lunch or giving their mom a hug if she appeared stressed. The second group was asked to keep track of pleasant places they visited, such as a playground or their grandparents’ house. While both groups reported a boost in happiness, the children who were kind said they wanted to work with a higher number of classmates on school activities.
The study found that being kind had some real benefits to the happiness of the students. It also had some real benefits to the school community and community at large. Professor Kimberly Schonert-Reichl stated that those findings mean it’s likely teachers can create a sense of connectedness in the classroom simply by asking students to think about how they can act kindly to others and that may help reduce bullying behavior.
 The take-away from this is that parents and teachers can help foster the personal happiness of children, as well as make a positive impact on dealing with the bullying problem in schools by stressing to their children and students the importance of demonstrating kindness and compassion to others, and that can, in turn, help to reduce bullying behavior.

Picture credit: Julie Ellitot-Abshire

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Suicide from Bullying: Should the Bullies Be Held Legally Accountable?

            Tragically, in September, a 12 year-old girl jumped to her death from a tower after being a victim of prolonged bullying and cyberbullying. Like many children who commit suicide when the bullying becomes overwhelming, Rebecca Sedwick apparently decided that taking her own life was the only solution.  Statistics show that victims of bullying are up to nine times more likely to consider suicide as a solution. Not only does bullying need to be addressed and dealt with in schools, but also by parents. No child should ever have to resort to such desperate measures as taking his or her own life. Is holding the bullies accountable and legally liable for the suicide of someone who was a victim of their tormenting the answer? This solution is controversial, but some believe it may be necessary in order to better address the bullying pandemic and possibly save lives.  

Two girls were arrested by the Polk County Florida sheriff and charged with felony aggravated stalking in Rebecca's death. The sheriff has also stated that he believes that the parents of the two tormenters should also be held accountable on a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He also believes the administration of the school also should be held accountable for failing to properly address the victimization of Rebecca. The Polk County sheriff made the arrests because, post the suicide, the bullies seemed to show no remorse. He said that the older suspect was gloating on Facebook, after the suicide, about bullying Rebecca. He believes the arrests have the potential of sending a much needed message to children and teens who bully and torment others in schools, the community, and on the Internet.

The alleged bullying of Rebecca started in December 2012 when she and the two suspects were students at Crystal Lake Middle School. According to a statement from the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Rebecca was bullied online for 10 months and had been physically attacked five times before that. 

The two teen bullies allegedly sent Rebecca menacing messages on Facebook calling her ugly, telling her to "drink bleach and die," and encouraging her to kill herself, according to police reports.  The 14-year-old suspect also allegedly bullied anyone who was friends with Rebecca, according to police, and even encouraged the 12-year-old suspect, who had been Rebecca's friend, to turn on her, as well. 

Clearly, with bullying being an increasing trend and with the statistics showing that bullying has the potential to cause victims to take their own lives, the dilemma needs to be better addressed. Hopefully, the recent arrests of Rebecca’s bullies will send a message to other bullies that such tormenting will not be tolerated. Maybe legal accountability for a bullycide, the suicide committed as a result of being bullied, is an additional answer to such a travesty. What do you think? I would love to read your opinions and comments to this blog post.

Picture credit: sanja gjenero

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bullying: Every Child and Parent’s Nightmare

Reports of children being bullied by classmates, peers and others to the point where such children may be considering suicide is a nightmare scenario and should certainly give all parents pause and concern. This is just one reason, among many, that the bullying problem needs to be addressed.

In today’s society, bullies may come in all shapes and sizes and some remain invisible, cloaked behind a computer screen. Cyber bullying has become commonplace in the age of social media. Demeaning and hurtful messages and gossip are often sent via text messages or posted on Facebook or other social media pages. In addition, bullying seems to be a silent epidemic. Targets of bullying are often afraid to talk about it or tell anyone who could help for fear of exacerbating the bullying. Not enough children stand up for those being bullied because they fear becoming a target themselves.

Children know bullying when they experience it or witness it. Parents and teachers, however, don’t always have a clear picture of just what bullying looks like. In order to intervene, parents and schools need to have a clear definition of the kinds of behaviors that constitute bullying.

The U.S. Department of Education's definition of bullying is clearly stated below:

•Bullying is deliberate. The bully wants to hurt someone. Bullying is usually repeated, with the bully targeting the same victim again and again. The bully takes advantage of an imbalance of power by picking victims he or she believes are vulnerable.

•Bullying can occur through physical, verbal or relational means where bullies try to destroy their victim's relationships through vicious rumors and social exclusion.

•Bullying often occurs in groups and teachers, parents and peers of students being bullied should be encouraged to expose such behavior.

•Students should learn to be assertive and "stand up to bullying" without resorting to violence.

There are times when punishment has to be handed out, but parents, teachers, principals, and counselors should also try to get to the core of why a child is bullying. Efforts should be made, not only to protect the victim, but also to help rehabilitate as well as punish the bully, as the case might require.

Picture credit: sanja gjenero

Monday, September 2, 2013

Bullying: How Does a Parent Know When to Intervene?


            The beginning of a new school year presents to children many exciting possibilities, social interaction with old friends, the potential to make new friends, and many fun and inspiring learning opportunities. The beginning of a new school year, however, provides opportunities for bullies to make life difficult and miserable for kids, as well. What should parents do if they have determined that their children are being harassed or bullied at school? How can parents know when to step in to stop the bullying?
            Dr. Meghan Salyers, assistant professor at the University of North Dakota’s College of Education and Human Development, suggests that parents and children should embark upon a new school year with a positive attitude and expect the best from children, teachers, and the administration. However, she recommends that they plan ahead to prepare for the worst, and to do so, if possible, without their children knowing it. They should think ahead and make an action plan for what they would do if their children should become targets of bullies. Here are some strategies parents can consider for their action plan:
·       Parents first should check with the school to determine what their bullying policy is. They should also determine that, if bullying occurs in the school, what is the typical kind of bullying that takes place.
·       Parents must recognize that they can’t prevent all bullying that may happen at the school and, therefore, should choose their battles wisely.

·       Parents who think their children might be targeted by bullies should talk to their children about what could happen. They then should discuss with their children some ways to handle the harassment or bullying. My anti-bullying book, The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale, though it is a fictional story about bullying, it also offers researched strategies to help children deal with bullies if they are targeted.

·       The first instance of bullying, unless it’s violent, parents might want just to let it go.

·       If the bullying persists and if parents have assessed that the harassment is something that their children cannot handle alone, then it’s time to step in to help. Parents should provide their children with both physical and emotional strategies to handle the problem. They should brainstorm with their children about some statements that children can say to their bullies to stave off a potentially threatening situation. My book The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale, provides child readers of the book with some very effective things that they can say to their bullies that may make them back off and leave them alone.

·       Parents, if at all possible, should not be tattletales. This could possibly be a negative threat to their children’s social acceptance in school. However, if the empowerment strategies with which parents have armed their children for protection from bullies don’t work, then parents should find out where the bullying is occurring. Then they should talk first to the teacher and the guidance counselor. Parents might want to encourage the guidance counselor to work with the teacher to help address the problem. The final step in the hierarchy would be informing the principal, if necessary. Never talk to the teacher, counselor, or the principal about the problem in front of any other children though. That is imperative as this, too, could threaten their children’s social acceptance and worsen the problem.

·       Finally, parents should stay informed about if and how the problem is being addressed. Parents should keep open lines of communication with their children. Encourage them to talk about how their day went without appearing to be giving them the third degree.

Parents needing strategies with which to empower their children in the event of potential bullying can purchase The Bully and The Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale, in both paperback and eBook formats through Amazon and Barnes &Noble.

Image credit:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Protecting Children from Bullying with CyberBully Hotline

            Bullying is considered a silent epidemic because, all too often, children who are bullied or who witness bullying don’t report it. They fear retribution from the bully, and they also fear the stigma of being labeled a tattle-tale. The School Reach Program offers a solution to the challenge children face in reporting instances of bullying
            Many parents and schools have embraced the School Reach Parents App as a way to maintain communication between the home and the school. The App is revolutionary in helping schools manage contact information. Parents love the app because they can update their contact information, listen to previous School Reach messages, and change their notification preferences. School administrators love the app because they can review parent updates before any changes are made to the system. This ensures that school notification data is synchronized with school information system data. The handiest aspect of all is the fact that the App allows on-the-go parents to make changes easily.
            School Reach has also addressed the dilemma faced by children and parents regarding reporting of instances of bullying when they created their CyberBully Hotline. The hotline allows children and parents to report bullying and remain anonymous. Now School Reach is releasing an update called CyberBully Hotline v2.0. The new version is an award-winning bully reporting tool used in many K-12 schools. Hopefully, it will eventually be used in all schools. It increases functionality, improves graphic user interface, and introduces keyword flagging technology to their original CyberBully Hotline technology.
With the new version, users will have a more efficient web-based system to receive and manage bully reports and still maintain the anonymity of the incident reporter. Administrators and those responsible for monitoring the hotline will be able to prioritize incident reports with the keyword flagging in the new version. As an example, if a school principal would receive two hotline messages saying something such as, “I don’t like the way someone looked at me in class today” and, “a student has a gun in his locker”, the CyberBully Hotline platform will prioritize and urgently flag the message that includes the keyword “gun.”
There are better collaboration capabilities in the new CyberBully Hotline version 2, as well. School administrators who have access to the CyberBully Hotline will be able to pass private notes back and forth within the system, collaborating on situations and actions taken to resolve issues. The new version is free to current CyberBully Hotline customers.
Ideally, all schools will make it a priority to institute the CyberBully Hotline to better address bullying in their schools.
Picture credit: Shaun Crum

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Youth Violence: How to Prevent School Violence and Bullying

American schools are relatively safe, but any type of school violence or bullying and threatening behavior  is unacceptable. There are strategies to prevent school violence. Children, parents and teachers expect schools to be a safe environment for learning. Any acts of violence and bullying in school can negatively impact students, school, the learning process, and the community. Therefore, prevention of school violence and bullying must be a priority.
Children are likely to encounter news stories about shootings or other types of violence in schools. Such reports can make children view school and, indeed, the world as a threatening and frightening place. Consequently it’s natural for children to worry that they could become the victims of school violence. There are strategies for schools and parents to help children deal with such fears and to be proactive in protecting themselves.
Youth and School Violence
According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC: Youth Violence: School Violence, 10/4/10), youth violence is a type of violent behavior starting at an early age and continuing into adulthood. Youth violence can include such behaviors as bullying, hitting, use of weapons or even rape.
School violence is a more specific type of youth violence. School violence involves the same types of harmful behaviors and victimization as youth violence, but it occurs in the school, a place that should be a safe haven for children.
School Violence Statistics
According to the an article on the IES National Center for Education Statistics website ( accessed 10/4/10), the Indicators of School Crime and Safety Report for 2009  shows that there were 43 violent deaths associated with elementary and secondary schools in the United States from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008.
During the 2007 and 2008 school year, 85% of American schools reported at least one or more incidents of violence had taken place in schools. These incidents total about two million crimes in schools. In 2007, 5% of students age 12–18 reported being fearful of attack, victimization or bodily harm at school. Only 3% reported being fearful of violence away from school.
Causes and Risks of School Violence
Decades ago no one could have imagined that violence in schools would have constituted such crimes as murder, rape, arson and other atrocious crimes. Poverty in the urban environment is one cause of violence in schools. The School Violence Resource Center suggests that urban environments present categories of risk factors, such as individual, family, community and school risk factors.
School risk factors are particularly alarming because of the negative impact violence has on students and their learning environment. School risk factors include early delinquent behavior, scholastic failure, lack of interest in education, and a potential for gang involvement. Though urban schools are generally viewed as having a higher risk for school violence, rural schools face risks of school violence as well.
Effects of School Violence
School violence and bullying or any kind of threatening behavior, have devastating, long-term psychological and physical effects on students, teachers and the learning environment. The threat of violence in the school setting has a negative impact on students’ ability to learn. Their inability to learn negatively impacts their future. As a consequence, adolescent violence, particularly in the school setting, is a serious health and safety issue.
How to Prevent School Violence and Bullying
Violence education needs to be addressed within the school system by teachers, school health officials and administration. The Violence Prevention Project of the Health Promotion Program for Urban Youth (accessed 10/4/10) is a good educational model for schools to follow. It involves educating students about the risks of violence and providing alternative conflict resolution strategies and a nonviolent classroom environment that emphasizes violence prevention behavior.
Teaching strategies include decision-making exercises on the consequences of violence and alternatives to fighting. Role-playing activities are used reinforcing nonviolent interactions. This violence prevention education program includes training programs for community agencies to help them identify and make referrals for high-risk individuals and to utilize conflict resolution strategies.
Parents must make their children feel safe by discussing with them what they, as parents, have done, and what the school is attempting to do to keep them safe. Parents can advocate for safer schools by securing reassurances from the schools that weapons are kept out of schools by doing random locker and bag checks, limiting school entrances and exits, and supervising entries and exits. Advocating for the installation of metal detectors is an option as well.
Parents, children and schools must not be silent about bullying either. Not addressing bullying only makes the situation worse. My book, The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale, offers a relatable fiction story for children about bullying , as well as strategies and resources for children, parents and schools to deal with the ever-increasing bullying dilemma. My book website, Melissa Harker Ridenour Books, gives, not only additional information about the book, but useful resources for addressing the problem. It also gives information and resources related to my stranger safety book, What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers.
Readers can purchase The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Readers can purchase What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as well as through Follett, Baker & Taylor and Ingrams catalogues.
Picture credit: Andrew Martin

Friday, June 14, 2013

Developing a Child’s Self-Confidence as a Shield from Being Bullied

     My book, The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale, in addition to being a fictional story for children, also presents helpful information for children, as well as parents and schools to deal with bullying. One of the strategies presented in the non-fiction portion of the book is the importance of self-confidence and self-esteem to better ensure your child will be less likely to be targeted by a bully. I am offering to my blog readers an excerpt from the book that addresses that strategy. After the excerpt from The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale, you will find some strategies for parents to use to help build better self-esteem and confidence in their children.
Excerpt from The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale:

     Children who are confident and have better self-esteem are less apt to be targeted by bullies. Children, with their parents’ or teachers’ help, should try to maintain confidence and a more positive self-esteem. As former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” W.C. Fields’ words are even more relevant: “It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.”

     Children can bolster self-confidence by pursuing enjoyable activities that they do well. They should explore new interests in order to increase their talents and skills. Children should try to make new friendships with other children who have similar interests. They should participate in extracurricular activities, social clubs, after-school programs, church youth groups, or sports teams. Bolstering confidence, interests, and friendships will make a child or teen less of an inviting target for a bully.
     To stave off a bully, a child should behave in a confident manner by standing straight, holding his head up high, and, by all means, making eye contact with the bully. He should remember to walk confidently too. A bully will be far less likely to single out a child as a target if he portrays self-confidence and positive self-esteem.
    A child or teen’s confidence should not be found in the form of any kind of weapon. A child absolutely should not carry a gun or other weapon because, doing so. will not make him any safer. Not only is it illegal for a child or teen to carry a handgun, but guns escalate conflicts and dramatically increase chances of being harmed.

How to Develop Self-Esteem or Confidence in Children:
     A Child’s self-esteem is his core beliefs about himself. A child’s self-esteem is reflected in his or her actions. A child’s self-confidence can vary from time to time, but a child’s pattern usually leans toward a healthy or unhealthy view of himself. With healthy self-esteem, a child is more likely to succeed in life. With self-confidence, a child is better equipped to make friends, and less likely to be picked on by others.
     Developing healthy self-esteem is a lifelong process, but the foundation of self-esteem is established in childhood. A sound foundation can better ensure a child can deal with difficult life issues as they are encountered, including being a potential target of bullying. Parents have the greatest influence on a child's belief about himself or herself. If you, as a parent, let your child know that he or she belongs, is doing well at things he or she tries, and is contributing can help him or her develop better self-confidence.
     Children sense that they belong by the way their parents talk to them and act toward them. As parents, you should show and tell your child that you love and care for him or her. Also, Children learn about how well they are doing by how their parents react to their behavior. Offer praise at least twice  as often (or more)  as you criticize.
     Teach your children cooperation skills and how to work with others. This can be done  by promoting cooperation within your family. To foster cooperation, give your child some age-appropriate household responsibilities.
     Promote, in your children a sense of  belonging, learning, and contributing. If a child feels as though he or she belongs, he or she is better prepared to participate in learning new things. Learning makes a child feel confident in making contributions; making contributions helps secure a feeling of belonging. Developing healthy self-esteem is a process that continues throughout life and helps a person act responsibly, cooperate well with others, and have the confidence to try new things. In addition, such self-confidence is one way of better ensuring your child will not be victimized by bullies.
Picture credit: Penny Mathews


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Welcome to my new The Bully and the Booger Baby Blog Buzz

Bullying is a silent pandemic threat. The statistics on bullying in our schools, communities, and on the Internet are alarming. About 47 teens are bullied every 5 minutes. Victims of bullying are up to 9 times more likely to consider suicide as a solution. About every 30 seconds a teen attempts suicide as a result of being bullied. Nearly one third of school shootings are related to bullying. More than 1 out of 3 students report that bullying happens in their schools. About 56 % of students have reported that they’ve experienced bullying via the Internet. Children with autism, aspergers, and other disabilities are 4 times more likely to be targets of bullying or abuse from other children.
Don’t let your child become a statistic of bullying. My new book, The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale, offers help to children through a fiction story, as well as strategies and resources for children, parents and schools to help address the bullying dilemma.
The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale is not only a fun and imaginative school story about a big bully, the kids he picks on, and a little boy robot who tries to lead the charge to stop the bullying problem in their school, but it is also an informational book. It includes two sections of researched and effective strategies and resources for children, parents, and teachers to help them better deal with today’s ever-increasing bullying problem.
Please read a few truncated versions of endorsements for the book:
“…This book provides practical and innovative strategies to ensure that our youth support each other in developing healthy and long-lasting relationships in and out of the classroom.”                  
            –Dr. Claudio V. Cerullo, Author and President/Founder of Teach Anti-Bullying, Inc.
“…Having been an Intenet Safety Advocate for over 8 years, I feel Melissa has covered the bullying epidemic extensively.
– Bill Latchford, Speaker/Internet Safety Advocate/Founder of Help Protect Our Children Internet safety website
“[This book]…empowers us to take action and help our children become successful, strong, and confident individuals. Everyone should have a Robby.”
 – Dr. Sue Cornbluth, National Expert in Trauma and Child Abuse/Regular contributor to and Parents Express Magazine
This book is available now in paperback on Amazon and will soon be on Amazon’s Kindle and on Barnes & Noble’s Nook.

Check back soon for updated posts about solving bullying problems. This blog also welcomes guest blog posts. If you have a bullying situation to share, please contact me about a guest post to my blog through