Category Archives: parenting

My Son Was Bullied. Here’s What I Did And The Reaction I Received From Other Parents

As I drove home from a conference in New York City yesterday, I was listening to “Overcoming” from January 3, 2014 on NPR’s TED Radio Hour Podcast. One of the stories in this particular hour (starts at minute 13:35) was from a spoken word artist, Shane Koyczan, who talks about his experiences being bullied as a child. He discusses how we are expected to define ourselves at an early age – and that if we don’t do it for ourselves, others will. Hence, he let others define him for a while in his adolescence, and became something he despised – from bullied, to bully. He gives a glimpse into his painful experiences in To This Day, his spoken-word poem about bullying, here.

It was particularly interesting timing that I happened to listen to this story yesterday. Later in the afternoon, I picked my 11-year-old up at the bus stop. He got into the car and burst into tears. After some coercing to tell me what was wrong, he admitted that he had been verbally attacked by a group of boys in the locker room after gym class. Apparently, he had the “audacity” to change from his shorts back into his sweatpants in the general locker room area, instead of going into a stall. Therefore, in the minds of 11- and 12-year-olds trying to be cool, he was suddenly considered gay. One boy started out by yelling that he was gay, and a group of more boys chimed in and began chanting, “He’s gay, he’s gay, he’s gay.”

Now let me be very clear on one thing. I openly talk with both of my sons (11 and 8) about what “gay” means. They will tell you two definitions (I know, because I checked yet again with my younger son this morning, and he recited what we’ve talked about):

  1. To be happy or gleeful
  2. A slang term for someone who is romantically interested in the same gender

I also instill in my sons that there is nothing wrong with being gay. We have many gay friends, and we delight in their happiness, support them in their struggles and define them by who they are, not who they love. My sons have been taught to see beyond sexuality, gender, race, etc. At least, it’s an ongoing lesson in our home to love people for who they are, and to try and live outside of life’s enduring stereotypes.

Let me also be clear that I don’t think my son is gay. But I wouldn’t give a damn if he was.

Nonetheless, I was extremely upset about the bullying and the pack mentality. Even some of my son’s “friends” joined in, and this was very confusing to him.

At first, I was shocked. I honestly didn’t know what to say. I was angry. I envisioned myself pulling a Debbie (Leslie Mann) from This is 40, and screaming at the boy who started it all. But obviously, I couldn’t do that.

What I could do was talk to my son. And we talked a lot. We talked about how the scenario made him feel. We talked about why he didn’t stand up for himself more. We talked about being embarrassed and scared and the pit in his stomach. We talked about how I handled my own bullying episodes in high school. We looked at videos and talked about quotes, like “Being brave isn’t supposed to be easy,” from Sam Berns, the 17-year-old Massachusetts boy who recently died from Progeria.

We talked about being gay. We talked about tolerance and acceptance for others. We talked about how it’s so much harder to stand up and do the right thing when jumping on the bandwagon to do the wrong thing isn’t only easier, but considered cooler (at this age).

I am so grateful that my son talks to me and trusts me. I want it to last. I never want him to feel I’ve betrayed him.

And so – what else can I do as a mother to help him? I don’t want to make things worse for him. Would talking to the bully’s parents do that? What about the school? What if they pulled him and all the other boys into the principle’s office and then he was an outcast forever?

There are never clear cut, easy answers in a situation like this.

I decided to keep it simple, yet still take a chance. I took to the Facebook page for the parents of his class. Typical posts are about upcoming events, PTO meetings, fundraisers and the like. But I wanted to ask one simple thing of the parents. I took a deep breath and I wrote,

My son was bullied again today in the 6th grade boys locker room – called “gay” for changing IN A LOCKER ROOM. He identified the boy who started it, but many joined in chanting “he’s gay.”

Please, I implore you to speak to your children about tolerance, bullying and standing up for what’s right – instead of jumping in on what isn’t – just to “look cool.”

Christine

I was nervous. Would I be chastised for bringing such a sensitive issue to a page usually reserved for fun and light hearted posts? Would I be considered an overly sensitive single Mom who seemed to have no one to talk to at home? Would I put my son in a position of being bullied even more for “telling?” Would I come across as upset about the “gay” comment vs the act of bullying?

Within hours the post had about 20 comments (notably, all mothers except for one Dad) and several people reached out to me with private messages. I am happy to report that all of them were open minded and supportive. Most of them said that they had talked to their children about the situation, whether or not they were involved, and met my plea to discuss tolerance and bravery in doing the right thing. Many suggested I speak to the school, and shared their experiences in doing so (positive and negative).

One brave Mom reached out to say that she spoke to her son and he admitted he was not only present, but joined in on the taunting. She said he wanted to apologize. And not only did he do so via phone to my son, but he talked about how he had been bullied for his size before, and that he should have known how much it hurts.

This is why we have to keep talking to our children. They are faced with choices every day to be the brave outlier, or the follower – of both good and bad situations. I encourage you to show them examples over and over again of those who stand up for what’s right. Those who are different or “weird,” as my son is also called, or those who think differently.

I recently watched Jobs with my sons and it’s actually helped in this situation. Seeing that Steve Jobs thought differently, had to fight to get people to understand him, and was fired from his own company but never gave up, has been a great source of lessons for my son. He’s even changed his Instagram profile to read “Considered weird. But so was Steve Jobs.”

Although I’m not as cool as Steve Jobs, I always tell my sons that weird is good. It means you’ve got your own mind and the heart to think for yourself. I never want that to be squeezed out of their personalities.

And although it was inevitable that someone said “kids will be kids,” as adults often do in these sort of situations, I was encouraged by the reactions and responses we received. We can’t take bullying lightly. At such vulnerable ages, bullying can shape someone’s opinion of themselves before they are even sure who they are or what they want to be. And its negative effects can last a lifetime.

We can’t dismiss abusive behaviors and we need to teach children not to jump on the bandwagon. What if the next time that bandwagon is to try drugs? Or beat someone because they’re different? Or to drive drunk? I imagine, like me, you would want your son or daughter to say “Nope, not me. I’m not doing that, I don’t care what you say.” And I would expect my sons to not only not join in on a situation like the one my son faced yesterday – but to stand up against the crowd and do the right thing. To be that brave soul. To lead, not follow.

The bigger lessons start now with even the seemingly “smallest” of situations. Keep talking. Keep teaching. Keep supporting one another. We can make change, together.

The Things They Say

Yesterday was the first day of school for my sons. At the end of the day I interrogated them like all good Moms do, including questions about girls.

“So, are there any cute girls in your class?” I asked my new third grader.

“Nope. There are no cute girls in the whole school.” he replied.

“Really?” I say. “Why, they won’t allow cute girls in?”

“That’s right,” he replies. “So Mom, you can’t ever come to school.”

Oh, this kid is good.

Lessons from Lance Armstrong – Even Heroes are Human

This post was originally published on my Working Mother blog on October 17, 2012

This morning it is widely reported that Lance Armstrong has stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer-fighting charity, and that Nike has severed ties with the athlete due to “overwhelming evidence” provided by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency of illegal doping during his cycling career. All around, what a terrible shame – for Nike, for Lance, for his family, his future – but also for the millions of people who believed in Lance – athletes, cancer victims, children, Livestrong supports and more.

As a Mom, one of the questions that pops up in my mind – and from my children – is “Why?” How do I explain to my children a reason that even I don’t fully understand beyond “greed” and “ego”? What do you say to wide, innocent eyes and trusting souls when their heroes falter – their seemingly-super human facades shattered into bits and pieces of ego, greed and narcism? It’s one of those tough life lessons that as a mother, I would love to gloss over and ignore – but realistically I know that at some point, my kids have to understand that dishonesty and disappointment are a part of life. But how can I turn that into a positive?

“Everyone makes mistakes” is a big part of this conversation. Followed up with points about choosing our own morality and what kind of person we want to be. But more importantly – and where I think Lance fell down (as do a lot of companies) – is admitting these mistakes instead of continually denying them and digging oneself deeper and deeper into a tailspin downward, from which recovery is a longer, harder and darker road than it needed to be. In fact, my oldest son (Richie, 10) and I had a similar conversation at the dinner table just last night. He did something I didn’t like, I saw it and asked “Why did you do that?” He said, “I didn’t.” Which then led into an entire discussion about lying and when to just say, “Yes okay, I made a mistake – I did something wrong and I apologize.”

Other lessons that Lance Armstrong can help us to teach our children:

  • We all have choice – making our own is often the hardest thing to do, but in the long run, the most rewarding.
  • Karma does exist. Remember that for the above.
  • The old adage “Would you jump off a bridge just because your friends did?” still stands (“Everyone was doping.”) Also – drugs are stupid.
  • Faltering is a part of life. It teaches us humility, and reminds us that taking the easy (read: cheating and lying) road isn’t worth it in the long run, and that real heroes – often the unsung type – work hard to achieve what they have. Cheating may accelerate us in the present, but is more than likely to catch up with us in the future. Helping children to understand and embrace this choice is an essential part of parenting.
  • Don’t let your ego get out of control – you are never untouchable.
  • Athletes and celebrities are not always right – and never perfect. Choose your idols carefully and don’t forget that they are simply people, not super heroes.
  • One mistake doesn’t negate all the good you do or have done. The Livestrong Foundation is a great entity that will, I believe, live on and continue to help and inspire others despite Lance’s mistake.

What lessons will you take from Lance’s missteps, and how will you help your children to understand that even heroes are human? I know that I’ll be reminding my boys that while there are many people and good deeds to admire, the best bet is to be their own hero.

10 Things my 10-Year-Old has Taught Me in 10 Years

Today my first born turns 10. The big 1-0, double digits, serious stuff. And while he’s feeling pretty darn proud and excited, I am too – among feelings of disbelief that a decade has already passed.

I remember clearly the feelings of excitement, anxiety, happiness and fear that came with finding out we were having a baby. A baby! I wasn’t sure I was ready – but it’s one of those life experiences, at least for me, that you just have to dive into – I’d never be ready if I kept thinking about it too much. I was never one of those parents that just knew they wanted to have children. I just figured if it was meant to happen it would, and if not, it wouldn’t. (Easy to say when it happens easily – I have a lot of friends who struggled for years to have children and I have all the respect in the world for the heartache those years brought to them.)

It did happen, and I’m so grateful. Not just for this amazing human that’s in my life every day, but in the things he’s taught me and blessed my life with. They say we’re teaching our children every day, which is true – but they also teach us every day – for those who are willing to listen to the lessons. Profound lessons in little packages. Here are 10 interesting lessons my 10-year-old has taught me in the last 10 years. Happy Birthday, Richie. I love you.

  1. Love is the best gift you can give. No amount of Legos, video games or cool trips can top just sitting on the couch together every night.
  2. When there’s a screen on, creativity is off. I’m not a crazy, no-videos-no-TV Mom by any stretch, but I have learned that when our brains are auto-stimulated by someone else’s story all of the time, we don’t spend much time creating our own. Turning off the TV, iPods, video consoles is a big part of keeping kids creative and thinking.
  3. But there are lessons in everything, even the TV. No, not the Lifetime movie kind of lesson, but interest in how things work – like how movies are made, which leads to using tech to create our own, which leads to a lot of laughs.
  4. Speaking of laughs, do it more often. Parenting has taught me to lighten up and try to find the humor in any situation.
  5. Sometimes, cleaning up [or work] can wait. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “Yep, in a minute, right after I [fill in the blank]” only to have missed a moment that I can’t get back.
  6. Don’t just hear, listenIf your son or daughter wants to show you a new trick, dance move or creation – pay attention. How many times have you “uh-huh”‘d them to death while not really listening? I know I want my sons to talk to me openly – as openly as possible – when they get into their teen years, and that setting the stage now means showing them I’m truly listening to what they want to tell me.
  7. Kids deserve the opportunity to express an opinion. Too often we don’t let children say their piece. We’re the parent, we’re the ones who set the rules, they just need to quiet down and listen. Not true. Giving children a voice to express not only how they’re feeling, but how they view the world, is crucial to staying connected with them and helping them to turn into confident young men and women who will lead, not just follow.
  8. Movie nights are made for popcorn. You might have thought it was the other way around. Nope.
  9. Rising early really is nice. I’m a night owl, he’s a morning lark. Which means I used to be a night owl.
  10. A quiet moment can speak volumes. When is the last time you took a walk with your child and just talked? No entertainment, no phones, no iPods. Just you, your child, and the conversation that you’ll be amazed at as it develops. Try it – but don’t forget to listen.

No lazy, hazy days of summer? The Summer vacation quandry in America.

I’m torn about this topic from TIME Magazine. On one hand, I have a hard time believing that four weeks more of school per year sets our country back in education. I think there are a lot of other reasons we are behind in education – over crowded schools, lack of parent involvement, not enough good teachers (and not enough quality pay for them), etc. On the other hand, they talk a lot about underprivileged children here – so is the case really about summer vacation? Or about taking better care of our country’s citizens? Making sure each child has opportunities and care both during the school year and the summer? Shouldn’t we focus on continuing education in other ways for all children over the summer – how can we get kids in camps? Enrichment programs? Learning in other ways all through the year but not stripping them of a perceived “break?”

No easy answers but an important topic to think about – and a good read.

Amplify’d from www.time.com

Blame Tom Sawyer: Americans have a skewed view of childhood and summertime. We associate the school year with oppression and the summer months with liberty. School is regimen; summer is creativity. School is work and summer is play. But when American students are competing with children around the globe who may be spending four weeks longer in school each year, larking through summer is a luxury we can’t afford. What’s more, for many children — especially children of low-income families — summer is a season of boredom, inactivity and isolation.

Read more at www.time.com

Been busy, just not here

I haven’t written here lately because work has been taking off like wild fire, I’ve been traveling a lot and I’ve been writing on other blogs, including a new one: This Mommy Gig with two other women I met online at Twitter. We’re adding other women, too, and giving “working mom” perspectives from around the country. I am taking my mommy rants over there, as a) being responsible to someone else makes me do a better job and b) it’s more fun with a team.

You can also read me here:
Training4Dublin – my Marathon Training blog with my husband as we train for the Dublin Marathon in October 2008

Women For Hire’s Be Gutsy Blog – run by ABC’s contributing Workplace Editor, Tory Johnson (I’m “Balanced Woman”)

PerkettPR’s PerkettPRsuasion – my own company’s blog on PR, social media, technology, client, industry and agency news

Or connect with me here:

Facebook

Twitter

Linkedin

I’ll be back here if the mood strikes me and it’s a topic that doesn’t fit into one of these other blogs.

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you on the other sites, too.