Friday, November 26, 2010

A Message from the WASH Staff

by Kathy Foust on behalf of the WASH group

We just wanted to take a minute to wish you all a happy holiday season. As very often happens around the holidays, there are life events that sometimes interfere with doing the things that are so important to us, like keeping up on a blog that is dedicated to sending a positive message. The absence of regular posts this week does not make us any less concerned about the issue of bullying. If anything, it saddens us that some of life's issues can get in the way of pursuing the very things that mean the most to us.

The very fact that posts were missed this week is an indication that doing things like this blog are not the only way that we can make a positive impact on this world. I feel confident that my fellow groups members nod their heads as I say that if we cannot put the effort that is needed into a positive post, whether it be due to physical pain, a broken heart or a need to tend to our own families, then we would rather not post at all. Our goal here is quality information, not random posts stuffed with keywords.

Never fear, we do promote positive living in our own lives, even if we don't post on here. We might instead write an encouraging note to a loved one, give our children much needed hugs or search for something positive to say about a day that seemed to suck the life out of us. With that being said, we ask that you too take time out of your regular schedule to let a child know how important they are, to nurse your own broken heart so that you can remember that you too have value or to even do something as simple as smile at a stranger because you never know, that may be the only smile they get that day.

Mathematically speaking, if we push the positive, we leave no room for the negative. Today, I have posted a link to 'The Secret', a wonderful book that explains a simple concept about how you can draw positive results into your own life and the lives of those around you. I encourage you to look into it and maybe even do what I did with mine. I bought a copy, read it, absorbed it, then passed it on to someone else with the understanding that they do the same.

From the WASH staff, happy holidays to you all. May they be filled with love and hope and may you all embrace your own self worth, no matter what the negative people in your life may present to you. Remember that no matter what happens, people can only hurt the core of you if you give them access.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Scars of Bullying Victims Never Fully Heal

by Saoirse O'Mara

I have been a victim of bullying throughout my whole school life. It began in elementary school. Other children laughed at me, called me names, sometimes even pushed me around. Their reason: I was different. And I was smarter than most of them.

When I changed into the German equivalent to a highschool, I was glad that none of my former classmates were in my new class. I could start anew. My peace lasted over a year. Some time during my second year, my "friends"started to whisper about me behind my back. They didn't want to play with or talk to me anymore. I didn't know what I had done to them and they wouldn't tell me. I was alone once again. Soon after, some of my classmates began to call me names and push me around again. They took my pencil case or school books, they even kicked me during breaks. It became so bad that I was afraid of going to school. The only times I felt secure were when a teacher was around, e.g. in class. I tried to avoid them during breaks but as soon as we had to return to our class, I had no chance to hide. My only hope was that our teacher would arrive pretty soon to stop them.

My daily trials went on for months. I was too afraid to tell anyone, or maybe I was ashamed, or I thought no one would help or believe me. I don't know my exact reasons but I kept silent. Until that day when I was with my best (and at that time only) friend. She was at a different school, and she was the only person whom I told about all that. I was crying that afternoon and we tried to think of a way out for me. We somehow came up with the idea that it would be great if I could just change schools and go to her school. As her mom was teacher, we decided to ask her if such a thing was possible at all. Of course, she wanted to know why we were asking, so one thing after another, I told her the whole story. She explained that a school change was possible but that I had to talk to my parents first of all. She made me promise that I would. Since the idea of changing schools gave me hope again, I told my parents that very evening, with lots of tears and sobbing.

What followed were weeks of insecurity and even more trials but some sliver of light at the horizon too. Now that my parents knew what was going on, they let me stay home when I felt ill in the mornings - and there were lots of days when I woke up sick or with headaches. Normally, those ailments would disappear after I knew I could stay home. At school, my teacher talked to the ones who were actively pushing me around. One of them apologised and left me alone afterwards, but the others only said what the teacher wanted to hear without changing their behaviour. Some weeks later, my teacher wanted to talk to my parents and me about my wish to change schools. She talked about just changing classes until I finally started crying uncontrollably. I couldn't bear it any longer. After that, they agreed that changing schools would be best for me.

Still, I had obstacles to overcome. The principal of the new school didn't want to take me in as he didn't want to take good students away from the other schools. I was dumbstruck. I pleaded. My parents explained my situation once again. Finally, he agreed to talk to my current principal and make his decision afterwards. He took me in. I was so relieved to get away from my bullies yet I was afraid of what would await me at my new school.

My first day at the new school was difficult. However, I was in the same class as my friend so I knew someone. I soon found another good friend with whom I'm still in contact. I became the victim of name-calling and rumours again too. This time, it was easier to bear with the bullies as they didn't touch me physically. The most important change, though, was the fact that I was no longer alone. My time at school wasn't exactly easy but it was manageable.

Later at vocational school, there were students as well who didn't like me and showed it openly. Again, I had a friend so I could bear with the others. However, I was relieved when I finished my professional training because that day meant that I would never need to go to school again if I didn't want to.

Even now, three and a half years after that day, I feel uneasy when I'm around people who are at my age or younger (teenagers) and look like this type of people who bullied me. I can't bear walking into a highschool while being watched by teenagers. Yes, I have grown emotionally because I had to. But those scars on my soul, they will never fully heal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Are You Teaching Your Child to be a Victim?

by Kathy Foust

You might have read the title and immediately thought to yourself "Who would teach their child to be a victim", but in reality you'd be shocked at how easy it is to create a victim mentality without even meaning to.

Being a victim doesn't just happen. It's a gradual mindset that takes hold and while it can certainly be changed, it's smarter to just avoid ever going there at all. As parents, we have the power to provide our children with the tools to be strong enough to avoid ever becoming a victim. That doesn't mean nothing is ever going to happen to them, but it does mean that they will have the ability to bounce back from life's little twists and turns. A good majority of that ability starts with a healthy self esteem.

One way to create a healthy self esteem is to create a strong family unit that your child is proud to be a part of. I'm not talking about Brady Bunch kind of stuff either. I'm talking about a child who is happy to come home, who knows they have a strong support system and isn't afraid to talk to his or her parents. Below are some suggestions.

Encourage their interests. If you want your child to accept who they are, your acceptance goes a long way toward that. It's always a great idea to have them try new things, but don't condemn their current interests. I personally approach my child's activities the same way I approach dinner time. He has to try everything on his plate, but he doesn't have to eat what he doesn't like. The same goes for his interests. I also don't let him wolf down a bag of marshmallows for dinner, no matter how much he likes them because it isn't healthy.

When it comes to activities, I have no interest in video games, but he does. That means I listen to his vivid descriptions of how he just saved the world, but he has to do other things as well. For instance, he didn't want to join the baseball team because he was nervous. I didn't just make him go to practices. I went with him to every single one. I played catch with him. I bragged about his skills to his dad. It only took a couple of times of us tossing the ball around for him to decide joining the team wasn't such a bad idea.

Provide them with age appropriate tools. At 9 years old, my son is starting to notice girls and to wonder whether they notice him. He has a pretty healthy self esteem, but he's still dealing with all the insecurities that come with being 9 years old. So, I talk to him about how I felt at that age. I also encourage him to read his favorite books, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. It's inexpensive and he really enjoys it. In the meantime, though he doesn't realize it, he learning to relate to other children. He's reading about another child his age and that child's issues. In fact, he got so excited by this series that when we ordered them from Scholastic, he couldn't wait. He went to the library and had every one of them read before his own copies ever came in!

Books like this are great tools for kids. They increase their reading speed, develop comprehension skills and give your child a character that he or she can relate to in their own imagination. Really, a parent couldn't ask for much more than that!

Do things as a family. When you do activities as a family, like family fun nights, you are creating a wealth of experience for your child to draw from. They learn to have fun in a healthy as a family unit. Given the fact that most households are busy trying to make money to pay the bills, parents seem to run on limited time. When your child realizes that you took time out to spend it with the entire family, that shows him or her a certain level of dedication that's ongoing. It builds a strong support system for them to draw their decision making skills from. Prizes for family fun night are always a great motivator as well!

Get involved in the community. Every member of any community has a responsibility to draw on their strengths in an effort to do positive things for the community. It doesn't matter if you join a club or if you do something simple live creating service projects together in an effort to support some parts of the community. What's important here is to create a sense of belonging in a larger way than just inside the household.

Don't forget your role. As a parent, you are obligated to fulfill your role no matter how tired or frustrated you may be. Remember, your children didn't ask to be there. Since they are there though, you need to provide them with the skills they need. Talk to your children, not down to them. Learn how to make an impact on your child by sending the right message when you talk to them. Use the resources that you have and do things like play games to increase self esteem, providing words of encouragement and opportunities for success.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thoughts of a Bullied Child

by Saoirse O'Mara

Many children don't tell anyone when they are harassed by peers or maybe even teachers. The question is: Why not? Is their fear so great that they rather put up with their bullies?

Let's have a look inside the head of a bullying victim:

They have hit me again at school. Why can't they just stop? I have done nothing to them ... and my teachers don't say anything. But when I tell them about it, the bullying will only get worse.

I don't want to go to school. I'm sick, my head aches, I feel terrible ... when I only think about school, I want to cry. Why do my parents force me to go to school? Can't they see that I'm suffering?

I wished someone would notice how I feel ... I can't tell anyone. I'm afraid they won't believe me. Why can't mom just hug me once?

Many victims of bullying are afraid - either of their parents (that they don't believe them, that they get angry with their children for being so "weak", ...) or their bullies. That's why they often don't say anything about their suffering. Instead, their bodies send signs: headaches, sickness, depressions.

It is essential that both parents and teachers watch out for signs of bullying because the victims are caught in their fear and won't seek help on their own.

Anyone can become a victim of bullying. The best thing parents can do to prevent bullying is to help their children grow to be self-conscious and develop strong personalities and empathy. Bullies tend to choose victims who seem weak for some reason or other. Weak persons are less likely to defend themselves and thus it is more satisfying for the bullies to harass their victim.

Let's listen to the thoughts of a bullying victim again after someone noticed that he is bullied:

I'm so glad they asked me ... now I could finally tell them. They really want to help me and find a solution with me.

Mom has comforted me all evening after she found out. I'm feeling better now even though we don't know what to do next. At least I'm not alone anymore.

Talk to your children! Most victims won't talk to you unless you ask them but they will be glad when they have finally told you the truth!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Future of Bullies

by Kathy Foust

Why do we think it's so important to stop bullying in schools? Well, for me it isn't just about the here and now. No, I do not like to read or hear about children being hurt or hurting themselves. I hate that. More than hating the acts that are committed, I hate knowing the feeling those kids have when they hurt themselves. I hate the very idea that anyone feels that hopeless because I've been down that road and I wouldn't wish those feelings on anyone. But, even more than that I want to change the future and the way that people think about things. Changes for the future start right here, right now, with our children.

Years ago, Americans stood and fought their own countrymen for what was right. They stood in the face of fear, with mobs condemning them, sometimes to death. Their homes got destroyed and families were torn apart. All because they wanted to do the right thing, something that seems to have been lost in this day and age when people seem to be oblivious to their rights.

We don't stand up anymore and we are encouraged to tell our children not to stand up for themselves, something I absolutely refuse to do. There are so many restrictions on teachers today that I can see where we are creating bullies out of children with special needs who may not even know any better and who aren't being properly instructed so that they can learn better.

We have public officials saying that the people's opinion doesn't matter when it comes to certain laws. We are so duped into submission through the intimidation of law makers that we are now compliant without them even issuing a threat. We have become sheep led by bullies. And yet, we refuse to stand up for ourselves out of fear.

Do I want our children to start a war? No. I hope that my child never has to face armed combat. By the same token, I will encourage my own child to stand up for himself, even if it's to me. And sometimes I make mistakes in my own judgement and I appreciate his brutal honesty that's given in the only way a 9 year old can, without flowery words or pampering, but with simple concepts and home truths. But, if I don't stand up for what's right, how can I teach him to?

In truth, we need to teach our children that sometimes, even when the consequences are harsh, doing the right thing is the only thing to do.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Being a Bully? - No. Having Bullied Someone? - Yes.

by Saoirse O'Mara

Ok ... I admit I have been kind of bullying someone this morning. She had asked for it, really. But I better start at the beginning.

I have worked on a non-fiction book project together with two other authors. I would have been responsible towards our small publisher (a friend of mine) and would edit the manuscript. So far, so good. The project was already on the finish line. I had planned for this book to be published at the end of November or the beginning of December.

This morning, I continued with the second edit of one of the texts. Some facts seemed strange to me so I asked Google to verify the information. You won't imagine what I found out! I stumbled upon a site which read exactly as the text I had just read ... and when I say I stumbled upon it, it was pure luck!

After checking and re-checking it, it was clear: the author had simply copied the text from the website, including even the mistakes, and posted it into her own text. Without naming a source, without even telling me that part of the text might not be her own. She simply stole the text!

So when I found out, I sent her an email. A very angry email. Yes, a bully email. But honestly, a little bit (ok, a lot) of angry writing (I would have shouted at her had she been around) is NOTHING compared to what she had done.

Let's think this story to an end. If I hadn't noticed the copyright infringement by chance, it would have been published that way. Sooner or later, the wesite owner would have found out about it. In the best possible scenario, we might just have got a huge invoice for using the texts. In the worst case scenario, he would have sued us - and won! So we wouldn't have had to pay a huge sum but our reputation would have been crap too. Imagine, that woman risked all this even though she should have known better. After all, she's a grown up woman with quite some education and claiming to be an author as well, so you should guess she knows the concept of copyrights.

And bet what? I regret not having sent her an invoice along with that angry email for all the hours I spent editing "her" text for nothing!

So yes, I guess I have been bullying her this morning. Tell you what, I don't regret it a bit. She asked for it deceiving me like that. But I'm proud that I didn't bully someone else who wasn't responsible for my explosive mood because that's what real bullies do: They bully someone innocent because someone else got on their nerves.

And that's the important difference: I bullied someone but I am no bully. (Or at least I try not to snap at someone who didn't ask for it ... lucky I have been alone this morning ...)

A last thing: Yes, I can bully someone verbally when they ask for it, but I would never turn violent unless being attacked first ...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What is Tolerance

by Kathy Foust

I don't know about you, but somedays it seems as if everyone wants some kind of specialized treatment. Sometimes those that are the loudest about it are the ones who end up being bullied or end up being bullies themselves. With everyone demanding approval for their own lifestyles and us trying to teach our children to develop their own morals, how does a parent know what to tell their children anymore? I think it's time to start taking a look at the difference between tolerance and approval and every individual's right to both.

I personally try to teach my child to be accepting of others. We are not a prejudiced household by any stretch of the imagination. However, from time to time there is some confusion about what's acceptable and what's not. As a parent, I have to be very careful of how I word the difference between being tolerate, approving and contributing. Because you see, I firmly believe that my son should treat everyone with respect, regardless of their personal values. It's up to him to maintain his own values. That doesn't mean he has to approve or like everything everyone around us does.

I think we have in some ways gone too far in asking for acceptance. At all times there is some group somewhere that is screaming to be accepted or approved of. Sometimes it seems to me that they  purposely aim for those that have different values than them. But wait, isn't everyone entitled to their own values? Isn't that the main issue?

Tolerance is that act of accepting the fact that people are unique and have every right to be. That doesn't mean that everyone is going to like them or that everyone is going to approve of them. And while I certainly don't condone any type of harassment, I don't condone antagonizing things either. The double standard has to go. We cannot preach about acceptance and rights, then deny people with opposing views to have their own set of rights and limits of acceptance.

So, for myself, I will continue to teach my son to have respect for people and to uphold his own values, regardless of how anyone else is behaving. I will not force him to accept what to him may be unacceptable and I will not encourage him to try to convince others that his way is the only way either. Because no matter how you slice it, someone is always going to be around to be different than you and that doesn't mean that either of you have to change.