Friday, October 4, 2013

The Power of Words

As a research-minded person, I am on the computer for several hours a day several days a week.  In my recent efforts to locate information about websites that are dangerous for adolescents and teenagers, I found a few that parents must be aware of in order to monitor the activity of their child(ren) on-line. These websites promote behavior that is not healthy for adults, let alone children, and promote unhealthy life habits.

These websites have been linked to multiple teenage suicides over the past few years. ASK fm was founded in 2010 and as of this past summer has 65 million users. FormSpring was launched in late 2009 and currently touts 29 million users. These social media sites allow users to relate their ideas and opinions on any topic and not take responsibility for their words. Users do have the ability to block people and disallow anonymous questions; however, most adolescents do not take advantage of this feature. Interesting as well is the fact that ASKfm does not seem to offer anything by way of parental controls including any tracking and reporting as other social media sites offer. A television news spot can be viewed about ASKfm at

This site has been used to communicate vile and abusive information and offers the open forum for people to say what they want, when they want, at the expense of whomever without taking responsibility. While I do not believe it was the sole responsibility of any one party for the deaths these sites were linked to, I do believe it is imperative that parents know what social sites kids are on and what the user agreement is for being a member of a particular website.  Our kids, especially our adolescents and teens, are not capable of making some of the decisions parents leave them to make for a variety of reasons, including physiological development of their brains and the ability to discern some harmful behaviors. Since most social media sites allow anonymity (I say most as I have not researched all of them) it is left to the user to know when to shut something down, especially if the site is being used as a venue to communicate vicious openness.

This site blew me away. It is a site for people over the age of 16 and refers to those users as adults. The subject of this site is coined a “fashion game” and allows users to create their own bimbo by purchasing fake breasts, a better attitude, and even provocative clothes. It also encourages users to give their doll diet pulls for crash diets to keep up a “target weight” in order to be considered hot and find that rich boyfriend. In the company’s terms and conditions the user is the sole person responsible for the control and management of the information, and Miss Bimbo is released of any and all liability. It does note in the terms/conditions under the category “exclusion/suspension” that a user’s privileges can be suspended for not sticking to a level of “good moral standards” or if someone posts something that “causes harm to a third party.” This site can totally impact the mind of a young girl. The opening “warning” indicates that users should turn back if they are “easily offended by jokes, banal humor, and political incorrectness.” This is an obvious sign that the site is not healthy for anyone, let alone our younger minds and hearts.

There is a final web topic that I would like to bring to the attention of parents. Pro-Ana and Pro Mia websites focus on the tragedy of the illness Anorexia and Bulimia (thus, Ana and Mia). One of the primary websites has been featured on the Dr. Oz show, and these videos can be seen at the Dr. Oz website or by linking to
The videos broke my heart. The glamorization of these two wicked eating disorders is criminal and sickening. The targets are not only young girls but also older women and even men. These websites actually promote the lifestyle of eating disorders and provide users photos of bony fashion models on a link called “thinspiration”. There are supportive websites that offer support for people who are trying to recover and get healthy from an eating disorder, but these particular sites glorify stick thin body structure and would not fall into the “support group” category as most of us know it.

While I am certain there are more websites that promote unhealthy behaviors than I can imagine these are just a few that could send messages to our young people that promote a way of thinking and subsequent behaviors that are not healthy. As parents and providers, we know most young people cannot manage such powerful messages on an ongoing basis, especially if they are vulnerable for a variety of other reasons; thus, the reference to suicide as a direct result of bullying (be that in person or in cyberspace).Websites that are available to our young people mean parents have to be vigilant and informed about the on-line activities of their kids. We may not be able to shut down the website because of someone’s constitutional right to speak in a specific forum, but we do have the right and responsibility to provide guidance for our children from being both the target and/or person who could cause harm to others.
Be involved. Be responsible. Be educated.



Monday, July 15, 2013

Money for College? Start NOW!

If you are planning to attend some sort of post-secondary educational institution and are uncertain how to fund this endeavor, and if you are a senior in high school or the parent of a senior in high school this information is especially pertinent to you. Competition for scholarships is intense; the more money at stake, the more students who apply. To stand the greatest chance of securing a scholarship, especially one that is local, preparation is important.  You have to make yourself attractive to the people awarding the money. Would it surprise you to know that colleges want students who will become a distinguished alumni and give back to the school either through monetary means or through achievements earned that can be attributed to the college/university? Recognizing what you have to offer a college is important. Assuming you have identified how to sell yourself to a college of your choice, the challenge is securing as much funding as possible. Right out of the gate, lots of scholarships and grants are offered to students who are above average students, academically. Grades are not the only factor, but many scholarships use grade point average to narrow the application field. However, the categories that seem to carry more weight than grades include: ethnicity, financial need, service, special need, and character. Rarely does a scholarship application not include an essay question or two about an experience that happened from which the applicant grew/matured. Relying solely on your ability to get scholarships, though, is not wise. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). To help families with post secondary education expenses each year, the federal government gives out roughly 70 billion dollars. The free form is available from most guidance offices or it can be secured on line as well at  You can also complete the four-page form on-line. The time to begin hitting the FAFSA hard is right after the first of the year. Don’t delay in submitting this initial form. Sometimes an estimation of tax information is best as you can correct any errors or bad estimates later on. Delaying the completion of the FASFA form until late April (for example) could eliminate you from state aid for that year. Since FASFA requires a lot of information in order to be able to compute a legitimate picture of your family’s net worth, having the following information prepared in, say December, will help expedite the FAFSA process: social security number, current bank statements, investment accounts, mortgage information, and school codes. Additional information such as income tax returns for both you (if you work) and your parents and all associated W2 forms will come after the last day in January. It is good to begin to prepare by creating a file specifically for this information. You can also use this file for scholarship information. While these processes (scholarship applications and FAFSA) are not overly difficult they are time consuming.  The goal of all this time and energy is to get as much money as you can. The government’s goal is to do what they can to get money to the most needy and most deserving people. I do encourage you to consider the on-line completion of the FAFSA. It is a much quicker process because fewer steps are involved, and you won’t worry about the safe and prompt delivery of your important document by way of the postal carrier and various trucks.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Report, Investigate, Support

Reporting a bullying situation can invoke many feelings in people, especially younger students. The line between tattling and reporting can be very gray at times. If a school does its job that distinction will be clear and repeated in order to create a culture that has safety at its foundation. Reporting an incident typically begins with a conversation between a student and a trusted adult. Once a decision has been made to file a formal complaint, a form that asks for standard information is used. This basic information includes a description of the incident, citing times and places the bullying occurred. The more detail about the incident the better.  Names of any witnesses are also important.  Many times targets do not want to name witnesses; however, witnesses, as discussed in a prior article, are also targets and often traumatized by actions of the bully. Witnesses, if they believe they are protected, will often substantiate a target’s report. If a witness feels unsafe or fears retaliation by the bully will not likely want to put him/herself in the line of fire. Once a formal complaint is filed, a school should begin an investigation.
            An investigation done with integrity will include an interview by a neutral party, but a person with authority, of both the target and the bully. Any witnesses should also be interviewed if deemed appropriate. The investigation should begin promptly and be completed in a reasonable period of time.  Once the interviewer has concluded the investigation a written report should be completed and given to the district administrator. Copies of the written report should be kept on file in a confidential location.  If any discipline action is deemed necessary and appropriate, it should be taken immediately following the investigation. Waiting to take disciplinary action sends a message to the bully that the situation is not serious.  Such a decision may actually empower a bully rather than encourage a change of behavior.
A powerful anti-bullying climate will also have interventions for both the target and bully. Both parties need to be engaged in constructive and supportive interventions. Such interventions require patience and persistence. Strategic interventions for the target include listening to his/her story, support the target’s efforts to belong to the school community, request permission to share important information from the target’s story with appropriate school persons, determine when the target’s parents should be contacted, provide long-term supportive interaction with the target. The last thing the target should ever feel is abandoned or isolated. Interventions for the bully are also critical. Critical aspects for strategic intervention include understand the rationale and logic of the bully, listen to the story of the bully, educate the bully on boundaries, involve other team members as appropriate to help with accountability, determine when to contact the bully’s parents, enforce policies, and provide support by not abandoning the bully. There is a reason a person bullies others.  To change the behaviors of the bully, a relationship must be established that is based on the bullying trusting the adult. This takes time and patience. Above all, efforts must be genuine. It is highly probable no one has taken time to support the bully and actually help him or her rather than simply punish the actions he or she perpetuates.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Did You See That?

The third role in the bully tragedy is the bystander. These people participate in ways they may not even be aware, both actively and passively. Active bystanders encourage the bully through words and/or actions. Bystanders are at high risk for becoming bullies themselves and they may not even be aware of what they do or say that may be a part of the problem. Passive bullies encourage the bully (also) through words and/or actions (or lack there-of). 
            Let’s be perfectly clear. There are no innocent bystanders. They can be disengaged on-lookers, believing what is happening is none of their business. They may even want to help the target, but they determine the risk is too great to their own safety or the safety of someone they care for. Regardless of what appear to be legitimate reasons for keeping quiet or staying out of the situation, they are a part of the problem. It is, in part, for this reason that bullying is a cultural issue.  And until bystanders take action to stop the bullying the will continue to poison the environment. In the book The Bully, The Bullied, and The Bystander, an excerpt regarding the stand the Danes took against the horrifying Nazis when they invaded Denmark is an emotionally rendering plea to the moral fabric of humanity. Then seventeen-year-old Preben Munch-Nielson wrote of his decision to defy the Gestapo:
            You can’t let people down. You can’t turn the back to people who need your help. There must be some sort of decency in a man’s life, and it wouldn’t have been decent to turn one’s back. So there’s no question of why or why not. You just did. That’s the way you’re brought up. You help, of course. Could you have retained your self-respect if you knew that these people would suffer had you said, “No, not at my table?” No. No way. So that’s not a problem. You just have to do it.  
This quote (posted at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.) is about a small group of fisherman (of which Preben was a part) who, with the help of others smuggled over 7,000 Danish Jews out of Denmark to safety in small fishing boats and then, in the middle of the channel, larger Swedish ships. The account of how this was accomplished is amazing.
            Chances are if a child is neither the bully nor the target he/she is a bystander.  Consider the word “bystander”. According to it means a person who is present but not involved; a chance spectator; onlooker. Compare that to “witness” which, according to the same source means to testify to or bear witness to. While the difference in wording may be subtle, the difference in implication cannot be emphasized enough.  To be a witness, a person needs to pay attention, get involved, and never look away.  Encourage children, through both words and actions, to act on behalf of others in need. Discuss with them what it is like to go against the grain. Empathize with them in difficult decisions regarding the fear someone feels when a scary situation arises and they find themselves faced with getting involved. Our children need to recognize bullying, refuse bullying, and then report bullying (Steps to Respect bully prevention program).  It is most often necessary for an adult to intervene to stop serious bullying so the reporting step is critical.  Telling an adult is quite a risk, however, and adults must take the information reported seriously and confidentially. Bullying thrives on secrecy and exposing it is key in fighting it. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in one of his many powerful speeches:
            Cowardice asks the question: is it safe?
                  Expedience asks the question: it is politic?
                  Vanity asks the question: is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular…but one must take it because it is right.