Middle school is tough. Suddenly, your little kid is almost as tall as you. They greet all family activities with an eye roll and a heavy sigh. Every time you look at them they are texting their friends. There always seems to be some sort of drama happening at the middle school. Someone said something or someone was upset because they were not invited somewhere.
Today, cliques and drama are not limited to the school halls. It goes on 24/7 with the pictures of the party they were not invited to on Instagram or the list of the 5 prettiest girls/cutest boys on Facebook. And sometimes, middle school drama can escalate to the point where a kid feels powerless and bullied. According to the School District’s 2012 Healthy Youth Survey, 27% of 6th graders and 24% of 8th graders at IMS reported being bullied in the last 30 days.
On May 16th, the IMS PTA is hosting a parent education night to discuss bullying and cyberbullying. We will be using the book Sticks & Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon to guide our discussion. We will talk about the stories in the book, and we will explore how we teach our kids empathy, foster resilience and create an accepting community. The challenge is how to do this in the age of the internet, where peer relationships and social jockeying occurs 24/7.
We are using excerpts from the book to kick off our discussion, but you are not expected to have read it. Some of the ideas, we will be discussing are:
“Bullying is pressing in on us partly because the rise of the Internet forced us to see it up close, in printouts or screen shots or video clips, and partly because of the stubborn nature of the problem, across cultures and centuries. And it merits serious and sustained attention, because awareness is the first step to preventing bullying and to helping kids through it. But–and this is a big caveat–we need to be smart in our choice of strategies. That starts with taking care not to over-diagnose the problem”
How do we separate bullying from teenage conflict that is not actually bullying but drama?
“One of the lessons of this book is that kids often bully because they stand to gain by it, in terms of social status. Maybe they’re after a laugh from another kid they want to impress, or induction into a clique; maybe they want to publicly distance themselves from a friend they sense is now seen as a loser.”
How can families and schools dismantle that kind of informal reward system? How can we convince kids that they can do well by doing good?
“Emily asked middle school and high school students whether they’d rather be suspended from school or from Facebook, most of them picked school. Pew Internet asked middle school and high school students what would deter them from bullying other kids online, and the answer the teenagers ranked first was parental discipline in the form of taking away access to social networking sites.”
In the digital age, should we and how do we effectively use digital grounding? How can parents balance privacy and monitoring?
If you are a parent of an IMS student, we hope to see you on May 16th. If you want more information on Sticks & Stones, NPR has an excellent interview with Emily from last February, the New York Times also has a great book review or check out Emily’s website for a list of articles and other resources.