Teaching Kids to Be Good PeopleDon’t miss your chance for a free copy of Teaching Kids to Be Good People: Progressive Parenting for the 21st Century, by Annie Fox. Just click the link on Thursday, 10/18/12 or Friday, 10/19/12 for your free book. Note: The link will only work these two days for a free book.  Even if you don’t have a Kindle, the downloaded file will work on your Mac, PC, iPod, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite:

I remember October 1, 2010. My friend Rachel emailed to find out if I’d blogged yet about the cyberbullying incident that ended in a Rutgers University freshman killing himself. I told her the news had really upset me, but I had no insights that couldn’t be found elsewhere. What do you say when yet another teen is so victimized by bullies s/he can’t figure out what the hell to do to make things OK again and gives up everything just to end the suffering?

“I’m sitting here crying,” I told Rachel. “But I’ve got nothing to write.” The casualness with which these acts of torment are perpetrated absolutely stuns me. But what else is new?

So, no. I wasn’t going to blog about it.

Then I watched Ellen Degeneres talking about the tragedy.

Looking straight at the camera, with obvious emotion, Ellen said, “It’s hard enough being a teen and figuring out who you are without people attacking you. There are messages everywhere that validate this kind of bullying and taunting and we have to make it stop.” And to the kids watching, she offered, “Things will get easier. People’s minds will change and you should be alive to see it.”

Still I was not going to blog about what happened to Tyler Clementi and what he did as a result of his roommate’s insensitivity. I wasn’t going to, even though his death was the fourth in a string of Fall 2010 Welcome Back-to-School cruelties that ended in suicide. It was depressing, but what more could be said?

Then I listened to a radio interview with Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center, a clearinghouse of information dedicated to providing information about “the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of cyberbullying amongst adolescents.” Patchin told NPR’s Melissa Block when he speaks to teens who use their phones and computers to commit acts of intentional cruelty they “genuinely do not realize that harm could come from it.” He went on to say that these kids “don’t see it as something wrong.” Rather, they think of what they’re doing as “fun or funny” and “not that big of a deal.”

For real?!! The tormentors don’t view this behavior as wrong?! If that’s the case then we’re looking at a whole lot of kids who are broken in ways that prevent them from thinking beyond the itch of “Hey, I’ve got a great idea!” So broken that they blithely launch a personally addressed cluster bomb packed with malice and truly believe it’s “not a big deal.”

With kids like that as our only hope for the future we’d be in deep doodoo. Fortunately, these aren’t the only kids out there. There are plenty of teens and adults who aren’t buying into the notion that any of this is fun or funny. They’re deadly serious about fighting back, supporting each other and changing the Culture of Cruelty for any kid, tween, or teen who’s catching flak for being different.

If your son or daughter is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (or you suspect s/he may be) it’s possible s/he is targeted at school and/or online. Put yourself squarely at the center of your child’s support network and do whatever it takes to make sure s/he feels your unconditional love and acceptance. Point your child in the direction of the It Gets Better Project (ItGetsBetter.org). And make sure your child is also aware of the awesome online work being done by The Trevor Project (TheTrevorProject.org). If necessary, advocate for your child at school. And do not hesitate to seek professional counseling if you suspect your child may be depressed or at risk for hurting himself/herself, or someone else.

Now let’s address the other side of this issue. Every tormentor is someone’s child. If you see, hear, or sense that your son/daughter, or any of their friends, is or has been harassing someone, step up and teach them, beyond a shade of a doubt, that this behavior is unacceptable.

I just found out that October is National Bullying Prevention Month, which is cool, but what does that make the other 11 months? Look, no one needs a national campaign to be part of the solution here. It starts at home and continues every day. Teach your children good.

Hm. I guess I did have something to write about.

Annie Fox will be at the National Forum on Character Education hosting a workshop (free with full conference registration in the month of Oct.), and a hot topic session. There’s still time to register!