A Parent Primer on How to Deal With Bullies

It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

The moment your wrinkly, wailing baby enters this world, there’s one thing you’re sure of: you’re never going to let anyone hurt your precious child. If they try, they’ll first have to contend with mama bear.
By the time your child enters elementary school there’s one thing you’re sure of: you can’t possibly protect your child 24/7.
You have flashbacks of third grade when you were made fun of for the unlikeliest of things: your name, your lunch, your outfit, your glasses, you name it. While cyberbullying has taken the risks and repercussions to a whole new level, “traditional” bullying is still pervasive with one in three children reporting being bullied in school.
It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

1 | Watch for signs

Sometimes, bullying is not overt and children may not be able to put a label on it. When my son was in Kindergarten, for instance, his best friend would often force him to erase pictures he’d drawn or words he’d painstakingly written. When I asked my son about it, he matter-of-factly replied that his best bud had ordered him to erase his work, “or else he won’t be my friend.” It wasn’t a one time deal. My son couldn’t play with other kids or sit next to anyone else during circle time “or else.”
It wasn’t name calling or hitting but it was a power imbalance that amounted to bullying. Often times, we have to watch for the warning signs which could range from aggressive behavior at home to poor grades at school to something as innocuous as erased pictures. We need to take bullying seriously especially when it’s clearly a pattern of behavior that the aggressor exhibits.

2 |  Don’t confront the bully’s parents

As a parent, you instantly bristle with emotion when you know your child is a pawn in a bully’s hands. You want it to stop and you want it to stop now. But confronting the bully’s parents about their child’s behavior will likely elicit a defensive argument. Now is the time to use one of those “Keep Calm” slogans you see everywhere: Keep calm and talk to the teacher. Escalate the conversation to higher levels of authority like the elementary school coordinator, the school counselor, and the principal, if it’s not tackled at the teacher level. Bullying is not about a kid having a hard day. It’s a community problem and requires the community to come together.

3 | Empower your child

As important as it is to teach your child self-confidence, they also need a game plan for when a bully tries to engage them. Here are some strategies that experts suggest:

Teach them to report the situation

According to stopbullying.gov, only 20 to 30 percent of children report bullying to an adult. That’s a shockingly low percentage for such a pervasive problem. Teach your child to call bullying out, rather than excuse it, and encourage them to tell a parent, teacher, or coach about the problem.

Teach them to stay confident

Train your child to make eye contact and stand tall but never engage physically with the bully. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, it’s best not to encourage your child to fight back, as it could lead to more aggression.

Teach them to stay calm and be kind

This two-pronged approach is advocated by leading social skills communicator Brooks Gibbs. In a widely-viewed video outlining these two techniques, Gibbs teaches children strategies which are perhaps counter cultural.
The first rule – don’t get upset – teaches the child to play it cool. When the child (and this works best with tweens and upward) responds nonchalantly to the bully’s aggression, he or she communicates a simple message: what you’re saying doesn’t bother me one tiny bit. The fallout of this is that the bully gets bored. Once emotion is taken out of the picture, the bully has no ammo to continue his or her verbal tirade.
The second rule Gibbs advocates – treat them like a friend – goes one step further. It means showing kindness to the perceived enemy. And, yes, that’s as hard as it sounds. Gibbs’ theory is that if you respond to a bully’s verbal aggression with kindness that throws them completely off kilter. Bullying, Gibbs says, is an imbalance of power. Kindness unhinges that power struggle.
With a little bit of practice (okay, maybe lots), kids (and grownups) can get emotionally resilient and outsmart the bully. Bullying doesn’t have to be a rite of passage or an incontrovertible part of childhood. Let’s show our kids there are ways out.

Women vs. Other Women and the Myth of the Zero-Sum Game

While she’s waiting, she begins to question the very worth of this victory: If she’s so triumphant why is she alone?

A woman’s primary nemesis is a scale – not the bathroom variety, though its adversarial powers are fierce – I am talking about a balance scale, the kind whose likeness is etched in bronze outside a courthouse. The kind of scale that compares the weight of one thing to another and registers the slightest sliver of inequity by dramatically tipping its arm. A woman imagines herself standing alone in the little gold dish on one side of the scale. She is weighted, grounded, secure. She wins if she is more, and she is more only if the other side is less. Like a zero-sum game, the outcome is distributive, never integrative, never shared. All or nothing, winner take all.
In the second gold dish, on the opposite side of the balance arm, stand other women. Women she knows, women she loves, women she has never met yet knows intimate details about. Women who hurt her feelings back in high school, women who pretend to be interested when she talks, yet can’t bring themselves to ask her about her life. Women who begrudge her success in whatever realm it may be: another pregnancy, weight loss, a promotion, a good manicure. Women who complain about her behind her back, or don’t invite her, or don’t bother to learn her name. Women she is “friends” with, but who won’t give her the satisfaction of “liking” the pictures she posts of her daughter’s first tooth, her 5k run, or her 10th anniversary.
These other women, they weigh against her, weaken her, upset her advantage. Standing alone in her little gold dish, she worries their gain will be her loss. She becomes suspicious, reading maltreatment into motives and assuming the worst. She grows wary and defensive and, by turns, isolated and disconnected. She has invested so much time and effort into this notion of measuring herself against another – surely, it means something. It has to mean something. Only one woman can be the best mom, the most organized, the fittest, can have the cleanest house or the smartest kids. Only one woman can tip the scale.
In the interest of self-preservation, she retaliates, scrutinizing her competition, always looking for a crack. She judges, she’s sarcastic, she’s critical, she arms herself with snark. She withholds compliments lest they detract from her own appearance and give the other side an edge. If there’s a finite amount of admiration or approval in the world, she’s not going to waste it on others. Classic strategy of a zero-sum game, remember?
She plays like she’s been taught, mimicking the catty, spiteful maneuvers of effective women everywhere. She grows a second face to wear, like her mother and her mother’s friends, and keeps it by the door in a skin-deep jar. Beauty, her most valuable asset, is the commodity she traffics. If she wants to win favor – men’s favor, in particular – this is how she must act. Girls compete for self-worth, right? That’s just what they do. That’s what the cosmetics industry, soap operas, “Real Housewives,” Miss Universe Pageants, Angelina vs. Jen, and every season of “The Bachelor” espouse: The only way to win is to make them lose.
She wants to win, and let’s say she does. She tips the scale, and finally, after all that fighting, she can rest on her laurels and receive her prize. She waits in her little gold dish, tired and depleted, thinking “What on earth could be worth all this conflict?” She waits, rehearsing a gracious acceptance speech, and she wishes she had someone to share her good news. She can hear the other women from across the long arm of the balance scale, laughing and talking as if nothing were lost. While she’s waiting, she begins to question the very worth of this victory: If she’s so triumphant why is she alone?
She wonders how winning at the other’s expense could be considered a victory at all.
Still no one comes, and she sears with the growing realization she’s been played. She has been duped by the myth that building someone else up must come at a cost to her, for it doesn’t. Life just isn’t a zero-sum game. There is not a limited supply of goodness and beauty, success or happiness.
The truth is the other women grew exponentially as they gave, their strength increasing with every share. Competing with them only kept her apart. This scale – this rudimentary, archaic device – this scale is her opponent, not the creatures on it. Rivaling did nothing but reinforce the status quo, a status quo that dictates aggressive self-promotion and pits the women against each other, a status quo that levies vulnerability and rewards isolation. Why does she invest in it?
Luckily, there is a way out. An easy, obvious, immediate way out.
She withdraws her fortune from the zero-sum bank, climbs out of the little gold dish, and joins the other women.

According to Study, This Personality Trait Might Bully-Proof Your Kid

Researchers have identified one key personality trait can mean the difference between bouncing back from bullying and being incapacitated by it.

Anyone who’s ever been bullied knows that it’s not an experience you soon forget. At  28 years old, I barely ever think about the awful few months I was bullied in the fifth grade. But when I do, I still feel a twinge of pain recalling how traumatic it was, and I hate to imagine my kids ever going through something similar.
All things considered, though, I overcame being bullied as a kid and blossomed in the years afterward. I recently came across a study that helps explain why that was possible.
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire set out to discover why some youth victims of bullying recover from the ordeal while others are shattered by it. In their new study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, these researchers reveal that one key personality trait can mean the difference between bouncing back from bullying and being incapacitated by it.
That trait is resilience – the capacity to readily recover from adverse events or adjust to change.
Using a validated 10-item biopsychosocial scale, researchers looked at the relationship between the experience of bullying (including cyberbullying) and resilience. The scale contained mantras, such as: “Having to cope with stress makes me stronger” and “I can deal with whatever comes my way.” The scale was intended to evaluate resilience as a protective factor and healing force.
A Science Daily study suggests that possessing resilience can help prevent kids from being victimized by bullying and can help lessen the harmful effects of bullying when it does occur, either in-person or online. Bullying will always hurt, of course, and it should never be tolerated, but data from this study demonstrates how resilience can help kids, in a sense, choose whether or not to permit the pervasive damage it can cause.
Authors of the study, Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D. and Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D. hope that their study will show families, schools, and communities the value of raising resilient children in a day and age when finding effective solutions to bullying is more imperative than ever. The tragic consequences of bullying seem to be in the headlines constantly, and the Internet has created many more avenues through which it can happen.
“We want children to learn and develop the skills they need to deal with problems,” says Dr. Hinduja, as quoted in Science Daily, “and yet we rarely help them engage with those problems so that they can grow in their ability to solve them. Instead, we seek to constantly protect and insulate them – instead of bolstering their self-confidence, problem-solving ability, autonomy, and sense of purpose – which are all innate strengths.”
It’s important, they explain, for parents and other adults involved with children and adolescents to teach them strategies for coping with bullies, for ‘rising above’ the cruelty. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), other ways to foster resilience in kids and teens include helping them learn how to:

  • form connections
  • help other people
  • maintain a routine
  • take a mental break
  • practice self-care
  • create and work toward goals
  • develop a sense of perspective
  • develop a positive outlook
  • see the humor in life and be able to laugh at oneself
  • recognize past accomplishments and history of overcoming obstacles
  • and accept change as a part of life.

Raising compassionate kids and teaching them not to be bullies themselves is also extremely important, but that’s a whole separate post.
Continued efforts are certainly needed to tackle the issue of bullying from all angles. There are no easy answers. But this study does give me hope (and a much-needed sense of control) that by nurturing resilience in our kids, they can learn to survive and thrive at school in the face of adversity – far preferable to keeping them in a bubble.

It's Easy to Ask Why I Didn't Leave the First Time

I said it only takes one time for him to lay his hands on you for you to know he is abusive. Until it actually happened to me.

I never understood how anyone could stay in an abusive relationship. I was independent and strong. I said if a man ever laid a hand on me, even once, I would be gone, no matter what.
I was unapologetic and unforgiving towards victims because I was sure I would never let it happen to me, just like anyone who’s never been abused is sure they wouldn’t let it happen to them.
I said it only takes one time for him to lay his hands on you for you to know he is abusive. I said you should leave right then and there. Until it actually happened to me. You have no idea what you would really do until you are in that situation.
The first time won’t be a hit or a punch. Sometimes abuse is never a hit or a punch. It can be pure emotional and psychological abuse. Sometimes the abuser won’t lay a hand on a woman until she tries to leave. And then he will kill her.
I have been in an abusive relationship for four years. It began with psychological abuse, and then with him breaking inanimate objects. For the first two years, he never laid a hand on me, and to this day, he has never actually hit me.
But he has broken my rib, left bruises up and down my arm, and thrown me onto shattered glass, among many other abuses that weren’t actually outright punching me. He has made it easy for me to defend him and say it was an accident.
But I am not ignorant. I am a smart, educated woman who knows the signs. I can look inside my relationship and see it. I can hear my husband spout off the stereotypical lines of an abuser verbatim. He would tell me it’s my fault, that I shouldn’t have provoked him, that I made him this way, that he used to be a nice person.
Colleen Hoover said in her book “It Ends With Us” that you lose sight of your limit. There’s a limit of what you are willing to put up with before you are done. With every incident, you stretch your limit further and further until you lose sight of your limit altogether.
They say it only gets worse, he will never change. I fully believe that, but I don’t want to.
My partner hasn’t laid a hand on me in three months. Sometimes I think maybe he really is changing. I am a stay-at-home mom to our children. We own our home, our car, and everything is in his name. I have no money and nowhere to go. So I want to believe he is changing.
If you think you would leave right away, you’re wrong. It takes time to leave.
Why, when people hear a woman is in an abusive relationship, do they say, “Why didn’t she leave?” and not, “Why did he hit her?”
It is dangerous for people to have these expectations of victims of domestic violence. It is dangerous for people to make victims believe that it isn’t common, that they are alone in not being able to leave. The truth is you never leave the first time.
People condemn women for staying, but so many circumstances in our society make leaving feel impossible. Sometimes there is no help to be had by the police or court system. The abuser controls everything and will destroy you if you try to leave.
Victim shaming needs to end.
Just because I’m not leaving my children homeless or taking the life they know away from them doesn’t mean I’m not the person and mother that I thought I would be. I am still the same strong person that I was before. Strong comes in many different forms.
Right now, I am doing anything it takes to survive. I do what I have to do for my children.
If you suffer from domestic abuse, you are still beautiful, strong, and capable, no matter what anybody tells you. You are no less because you have stayed, or because you will stay again. You have been through more than some people could imagine. Going through something others haven’t is what makes you strong – not the opposite.
That does not mean you should never leave. Sometimes it means you need to prepare beforehand to leave safely.
I’ll say it again. It takes time to leave. And when you find a way, you will come out even stronger.
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, please consider getting the help you need. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or consult the resources at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Does Giving Your 10-Year-Old a Cell Phone Increase the Risk of Bullying?

In a recent study, kids who owned a cell phone were significantly more likely to be a victim of cyberbullying, especially in third and fourth grade.

Do your kids have cell phones yet? This is a hot topic and can be a point of debate among parents depending on their views. I dread the moment when I have no other choice but to give in and let my kids get their own cell phones. I am holding off as long as possible because of the many concerns I have for electronic distraction and addiction to cyberbullying.
My son is currently in fourth grade and I am no way near being ready for him to have a cell phone, even if some of his classmates are starting to get them. On average, kids in the U.S. receive their first smartphone just a few months after their 10th birthday. Time is ticking for me, as my son turns 10 at the end of the school year. This is certain to become a tense issue in my home soon enough.
However, I know I am on the right track with my cautious approach because a new study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition indicates how third and fourth graders who own cell phones are more likely to be cyberbullied.
Researchers collected survey data from 4,584 students in third, fourth, and fifth grades between 2014 and 2016. Across all three grades, 49.6 of students reported owning a cell phone. The older the student, the more likely they owned a cell phone: 59.8 percent of fifth graders, 50.6 percent of fourth graders, and 39.5 percent of third graders. Of the entire group of children assessed, 9.5 percent acknowledged that they had been a victim of cyberbullying in the past. Yet, the children who owned a cell phone were significantly more likely to be a victim of cyberbullying, especially in third and fourth grade.
The researchers concluded that the heightened risk of cyberbullying related to having a cell phone may be linked to increased opportunity and vulnerability from having the technology in their hand 24/7. The spread of technology has made bullying so much easier because it has removed the traditional barriers of time and space between bullies and their victims. Constant access to social media and texting increases the number of online interactions that children have with their peers, which makes them vulnerable to hate-filled behavior, negative comments and images, or hurtful and abusive messages.
Cyberbullying is a troubling phenomenon and not something to be taken lightly. Nearly 43 percent of kids have been bullied online, according to PACER, the organization that developed National Bullying Prevention Month. Cyberbullying is now the single largest type of bullying, and 25 percent of kids who have been bullied say they have experienced it more than once.
Why are kids being bullied? According to TeenSafe data, 72 percent of children are cyberbullied because of their looks, 26 percent of victims are chosen due to their race or religion, and 22 percent of harassed children feel that their sexuality was the cause of the bullying. Other reasons include weak athletic ability, intelligence level, strong artistic skills, strong morals, refusal to join the crowd, or having a small build (i.e., too short or too thin).
The more we can eliminate the chances of our children being exposed to nasty comments online, the safer and happier they will be – even if that means they do not get to sport the latest and greatest cell phone. Wait Until 8th is a campaign set up to encourage parents to delay giving their children a cell phone until at least eighth grade. The more parents who take the pledge to wait until at least eighth grade, the easier it will be for all children so they will feel less peer pressure to have their own phone. According to the campaign’s website:

“Smartphones are distracting and potentially dangerous for children yet are widespread in elementary and middle school because of unrealistic social pressure and expectations to have one. These devices are quickly changing childhood for children. Playing outdoors, spending time with friends, reading books and hanging out with family is happening a lot less to make room for hours of snap chatting, instagramming, and catching up on You Tube.”

I know I will be taking the pledge!

A List of Hopefuls for the Film, “Wonder”, From a Special Needs Mom

Special needs is a complex entity, a vast network of exposed nerves that must be treated with care. Please, let this story be treated with care.

“Wonder” is coming to theaters in November. You can watch the trailer here. Chances are, if you have kids anywhere from eight to 18, you’ve already heard the premise, which is based on the best-selling novel by R. J. Palacio.
The tale is about a child named Auggie who was born with a genetic abnormality that caused facial deformities among other things. The story follows his first attempt, as a fifth grader, to attend a real school. School is tough for any kid, but middle school might just be the worst, especially for one who looks different from his peers.
The book changed lives. It encouraged kids and adults alike to peek into the world of special needs and consider that humanity there is much the same as anywhere else. This story gave millions an Auggie-eye view on life, and the movie may do just as much, if not more, to bring awareness to what life looks like for families with kids with disabilities.
It was a best-seller because it spun out a story that anyone could respond to: the need to feel connected and to know that you belong.
And yet, I have mixed feelings. As a mom to a son with cerebral palsy and an off-the-map genetic disorder, I can foresee potential pitfalls when Hollywood takes hold of a story like this. I read the book. I see where things might go.
Special needs is a complex entity, a vast network of exposed nerves that must be treated with care. Please, let this story be treated with care.
The things that made the narrative shine are Auggie’s wit and the voices of his friends. They are innocent, even in their unkindness to each other – something that comes out more clearly in Palacio’s follow-up novel, “Auggie and Me”. It is the parents’ cruelty, the bullying by the grownups, that will make your heart seize.
I hope they do it justice. I hope they show Auggie for all he’s worth and do not downplay what happens when adults hold narrow views of those who look different from them. I hope Julia Roberts can carry the complexities of mothering both a child with special needs and a teenage girl. (I will go watch “Steel Magnolias” and “Erin Brockovich” and let myself be reassured.)
I hope that this movie does not sensationalize special needs. I hope my son does not become the new pet project at school because special needs is “trending up.” I also hope this film does not narrow the field of focus too much.
There are kids who look different, like Auggie, and are brilliant and funny like him, too. But there are also kids who look just like everybody else who struggle with learning delays, speech delays, and global developmental delays and require just as much sensitivity from the world around them.
Ultimately, this movie can do a great deal of good. It can turn the light on in the dark corner of the room where children with special needs should not have to bide their time. It can activate that sympathy and empathy that parents diligently strive to promote in themselves and their children. It can put those good vibes to work.
“Wonder” is ultimately a success story and a reminder to those who do not live in the special needs world that it does exist. It is also a reminder to those of us who do live here that we have not been forgotten. The story, if handled well, will be a reminder for all of us to look on every part of humanity with wonder.

One of the Easiest Ways to Teach Forgiveness

Here is the thing I have learned about forgiveness. It isn’t a behavior, it is a feeling.

If you were to reflect back on your childhood, I bet you could think of someone you never gave yourself the chance to forgive. I can think of a few times someone hurt or scared the pants off of me, yet until this day, I am not sure if I really ever forgave them.
There is one moment, however, when I do remember talking about someone behind their back. I still feel bad about doing that. Could it be because I haven’t forgiven myself?
Recently, one of my daughters had a slew of social media posts (untruths) stated about her. It took months for her to tell her father and I. Just as we were gathering the evidence, the person spreading the rumors sent a text to my daughter apologizing for her actions.
“What do I do, Mom?” my daughter asked.
“You accept her apology, let her know this is never to happen again, wish her a good year, and forgive her,” I said.
And that is exactly what she did.
My daughter has seemed to move on unscathed. Could it be the forgiveness that set her free?
Me on the other hand – I still have my mother bear guard up, keeping a keen eye out for my daughter. Perhaps, I should take my own advice and give myself a little of this forgiveness medicine, not just for the other person, but as a way to free up any residue of guilt for not standing up for my girl in the first place.
Here is the thing I have learned about forgiveness. It isn’t a behavior, it is a feeling. Sure you could encourage your child to say I forgive you, but until they feel it, it may not make much of a difference. That said, forgiveness is a personal and powerful decision to surrender and let go. The question becomes how do you teach it?
One of the simplest ways to teach forgiveness is to tell stories. Stories about situations and feelings you have experienced. When you tell a story, you share a part of yourself that is vulnerable, real, and normal. You share moments when you, too, succumbed to peer pressure as a way to cope with the fear, rejection, or sadness.
My husband has a wonderful story about the day he hugged the woman who struck him with her car and nearly took his life. We laugh as he explains how he had to yell loudly to the woman because she is so hard of hearing. I am not sure if the actual words “I forgive you” came out of his mouth. But in many ways, letting someone know you are okay is no different than giving them permission to go about living their life.
It is through stories that we can illustrate what forgiveness looks like in motion. Forgiveness is a movement from your heart. While your head might say, you really hurt me, your heart says, I am okay, and so are you.

The Day My Son Hung out With Hitlr

Kids and those posing as kids have an anonymous space to spew hatred. They also have an arena for recruitment.

Leo hung out with Adolf Htlr in the lobby of his Roblox game. When he told me this, I was uncharacteristically quiet for a minute.

“What?” was my eventual nuanced response.

“Yeah. I told him I was offended by his user name and he asked if I was a Jew. Then I said yes and also said that I thought other people would be offended. So then he said ‘burn all Jews’ and someone else joined in talking about the gas chambers.” He is telling me this in a matter-of-fact tone. Next to him Oliver is nodding his blond head in support.

“It was horrible,” Oliver adds.

Leo continued, “I asked him to go to another lobby and when he wouldn’t, I took a screen shot of our conversation and then I left.”

This sounded like a good start to me.

“Then I reported his user name to Roblox, but I didn’t get a screen shot of the part when they were talking about the gas chambers.”

So there it was. Threatening hate speech targeted at my kid and, possibly worse, a second voice chiming in support for Adolf Htlr.

We’re looking at each other across the table. My boys are calm. I think that my ten-year-old has handled it well. He stood up for himself. When that didn’t work he documented the problem, went to an authority figure (the game moderator), and then left the area. The only thing I wish he’d done differently was talk to me in real time about what was going on. He agrees to do this in the future and turns back to his plate as if things are all tidied up.

I realize that Leo isn’t taking this any more personally than if someone told him his voice sounded like a baby’s. This accusation occurs 20 times to every one time he is told he should die because of his religion. It seems time to review the difference between bigotry and trolling. Together we sit down and I watch him compose a second letter to the moderators of Roblox.

Dear Roblox, I am a ten-year-old boy who happens to be Jewish. I was playing Phantom Forces and I came across a player whose name was xXAdolf_Htlrxx. Now I said to him. “That name is sort of offensive do you think you could leave this lobby?” He told me no and asked if I was Jewish. I told him I thought a lot of people would be offended by that user name. Then Saintsrow3rdfan said “gas all j3ws” and then Adolf said “burn all J3ws!!!!!!!” And slayer32xx345 said “it’s only offensive to certain people.” I said it was offensive to me and they told me to leave. So I took a screen shot of part of it. I like to think Roblox would not allow this kind of hate.

Whether he feels it personally or generally, Leo seems to understand that talk of gas chambers is worse than insulting the pitch of his voice.

For decades I’ve worried about racism, anti-immigrantion stances, homophobia, and misogyny. I knew there was anti-semitism out there but I thought it was the fuzz on the end of the fringe, not even the fringe itself. Yet here it is coming through the computer right into our living room. My only solace is that my son is fighting back with his fingertips and doing it without fear.

Part of Leo’s bravery comes from the same anonymity that allows Adolf to attack him.

On the heels of the “Unite the Right” rally and its associated violence in Charlottesville, I worry even more about the chat rooms in multi-player games. Kids and those posing as kids have an anonymous space to spew hatred. They also have an arena for recruitment.

An August 13th New York Times article about the events in Charlottesville cites George Hawley, a University of Alabama political science professor who studies white supremacists. Hawley notes that many of the far-right members he had interviewed did not inherit their racism from their parents, but developed it online. Many of them had never heard of, say, David Duke, the former Louisiana politician and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

This is how it builds from one person to the next. This is how 12-year-olds find their voices, and sometimes the voices say horrible bigoted things. The New York Times article ended on this somber note: “[O]n the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer, a post promised: ‘There will be more events. Soon. We are going to start doing this nonstop. Across the country.’”

As this disgusting sentiment plays out from chat rooms to Charlottesville, I think the first thing to do is talk to our kids. I ask Oliver and Leo to tell me stories of when people expressed hate online and how they handled it. Their instincts are exactly what I would’ve suggested:

  • Stand up for yourself and what you believe to be fair and kind
  • Document your conversation
  • Call in a grown-up
  • If the threats continue, leave first
  • Report the incident

I want to wipe Skype (and Minecraft and Roblox) from their lives and shelter them from all kinds of ugliness and pain, but I know that turning off their computers is the modern day equivalent of shutting our doors, hiding, and hoping the hate fades away. It’s up to each of us to stand up, speak out, and take screenshots.

This post was originally posted here, on the author’s blog.

Letter to My Baby Daughter: Beware of the Mean Girls

I want you to know that I have the highest hopes for you, my only daughter, and I want you to be prepared for the so-called mean girls.

Dear Riva,
This might be jumping the gun, because for all I know by the time you’re able to read this we could have moved to Montana or Papua New Guinea, far away from our current New Jersey town (my hometown) where many of the girls break off into ruthless cliques and even the speech therapists talk in affected accents.
In case we haven’t moved, I want you to know that I have the highest hopes for you, my only daughter, and I want you to be prepared for the so-called mean girls. To be clear, you’ll encounter some wealthy girls who are not mean at all and some less fortunate ones who are totally mean. It’s all about their entitled attitude and cliquishness and conformity to the mean ideal.
 
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To better explain, let me tell you a story about your mother. As you must know by now, she grew up in a blue collar town and then taught English in Japan and backpacked through Africa and did a bunch of other stuff I would have been far too nervous to do myself. When we moved here, I warned her about mean girl culture and how she shouldn’t assume she’d easily blend in; just because you navigated wild boars in Indonesia, I told her, doesn’t mean you can win over the preschool mothers. She laughed at me, thinking I was being silly and neurotic and that these fellow mothers would openly welcome her.
Well it took about a week of her going to mommy-and-me preschool with your older brother to disabuse her of that notion. And it got so bad that your mother would cry after going to a kiddie birthday party at the local My Gym because no one would have talked to her, except for the one mom from Wisconsin. Your mother was way too earnest and transparent for them, and she didn’t wear the right clothes or sport the proper pout and she was driving our 15-year-old hand-me-down Volvo and she was married to me, a lapsed attorney who wrote weird stories on the Internet.
That’s what we’re up against, sweet Riva. And admittedly there are plenty of nice people in this town who are nothing like that, but you’re going to feel a pull to fit in with these girls. Don’t underestimate that. It seems to start in preschool, which is much worse for girls than for boys (they start forming cliques at age three!), so I’m going to handpick your preschool and maybe send you to one in a barn where the parents are all Phish fans.
I realize that a main driver for the mean-girl phenomenon in our community is the father who can’t stand to let his daughter grow up. So it’s on me to encourage you to talk like an adult, even when I still find your childhood babble so adorable, to discourage you from throwing temper tantrums, even when I view them as quaint and endearing, and to stress independence, even when that means you’re separating from me.
This is obviously easier said than done, Riva, and if I’m failing you in any of these respects, you have my permission to sell my latest iPhone or whatever gadget I’m clinging to at the moment and use the proceeds to start up with a therapist who speaks in dry mature tones and doesn’t wear knee-high boots and drive a GMC Acadia (or the equivalent fads of the day).
Perhaps you’re reading this on the beaches of Papua New Guinea with a nice group of well-meaning friends, but if we’re still in New Jersey, you’re going to need to be especially kind and resilient and unique. Be a free thinker, like your grandmother – my mother – who played the French horn and wrote poetry, and your great great aunt, who was one of the first women to attend law school in New Jersey and was pals with Golda Meir.
I will love you, Riva, even if you do turn out mean. But for the love of God, please don’t.
— Dad

How to Protect Your Empathetic Kid from All the Feels

As great as empathy can be, sometimes you need to turn down the volume on the emotive remote.

Everybody touts the benefits of mastering the art of empathy. Feel your feels! It’s true, this is crucial. Empathy creates compassion, which fuels activism. It creates a fighter for the bullied, the oppressed, and the underrepresented. It builds a barrier against callousness. It’s the perfect vaccine against jadedness and cynicism.

Hence, every parent wants to be an Atticus educating a Scout. We want them to walk in another person’s shoes for a little bit to gain some perspective.

But my daughter cried for three days when the circus clowns pushed Dumbo off the high dive. Three days. “Why did they push him, Mama? Why was everybody laughing? Didn’t they notice he was crying? Didn’t they care that he was scared?” Then she asked to watch it again, a sucker for punishment. She wanted to see all the bullying clichés on repeat. She cried every time, as did I. The apple does not fall far from its weepy mother.

She’s also developed the habit of grabbing my face, staring into my eyes in a sweet-verging-on-creepy way, and asking, “Are you happy now? Sad now? Mad now?” Whatever the answer, I see it reflected back from her, like she got struck by the lighting of my emotions. She sucks it in and suddenly she’s overwhelmed too by the fact that the Keurig died a sudden death or that there’s dog hair all over the couch again. She feels it all, man.

As great as empathy can be, sometimes you need to turn down the volume on the emotive remote, but how do I teach my kid to be a little less empathetic without toughening her too much? Like Goldilocks, what state is “just right” in the softening of a heart without it bleeding out or turning to stone? New York Magazine would argue that there is a way to achieve balance between empathy and sympathy and it’s not as tricky as you might think.

You can, in fact, counteract that emotional heartburn and help them so they don’t “spend their days feeling overwhelmed, hurt, and heavyhearted” by other people’s problems. You just have to teach them to convert some of that empathy to sympathy. Practice, as the researchers put it, “IOPT” (imagine-other-perspective-taking) instead of “ISPT” (imagine-self-perspective-taking). In other words, show them how to envision themselves in that other person’s shoes, but stop just short of strapping those shoes on. They can feel for them, but they need not become them.

Spend time instead “focusing on what the other person is going through without inserting [y]our hypothetical sel[f] into the same situation.” This can create just enough separation to keep the self from crumbling. I believe that this is good practice for adults as well as kids. If you too can’t leave the house without Kleenex or refuse to add anything from the “drama” category to your Netflix queue because you’re not sure your heart can take it, this might be the healthy step back you need.

So the next time we watch “Dumbo” in our house (because there’s always a next time) we will practice feeling sad for that baby elephant without actually becoming the baby elephant. Maybe we don’t need to be standing on that high dive with him just now. Instead we can talk about what someone else could have done to help the poor guy out, perhaps given him a ladder, or his mother, or a free ticket out of the circus circuit. In that way, my daughter can become a fighter and not just a crier. She can cry too, of course, but I want her to be able to advocate with her feels rather than be buried under them. That’s the goal anyway. From one empath to another.