Monthly Archives: August 2016

Teach Your Children Well

School is starting this week all around our area. Parents are running to and fro making sure their children have everything they need on that list of supplies, making sure they still have uniform compliant clothing in their drawers, checking in on any new rules and teachers, and generally driving themselves batty with minutia.

More and more these days, however, there are a few things we need to provide our children with for school that we won’t. Or can’t, in some cases. What they really seem to need is the ability to enter school with confidence, a bit of psychological toughness and some humility.

Or, more clearly, either the capability to endure being bullied, or the values that keep one from becoming the bully.

Yes, I recognize that schools far and wide have what we now call “bully programs,” which in most cases dedicate time in the school week to sitting around talking about being nice to one another and telling on the bullies. Sound good? I’ll let you in on a secret. It doesn’t work.

Here’s why : every possible protection in our school system is given to the bully but almost no consideration to the bullied. Most teachers and administrators don’t want to deal with this, for good reason. The liability in confronting the bully and his or her family can be enormous, especially in a private school where there are entanglements with personal connections and potential for financial support. In the case of the bullied, there can be legal concern if someone is physically or emotionally injured. Best that no teacher, aide, or administrator has knowledge of the situation prior to any escalation. Plausible deniability means less monetary damage.

I’m not blaming teachers and administrators per se. After sifting through bullying issues and consequences, for myself years ago and more recently with both of my girls, I have been unable to discover any real workable solution to this problem. I have learned much about the bully phenomenon, however, and as school starts again, I feel compelled to share some of this with parents. So:

1. THIS HAPPENS IN YOUR SCHOOL. I don’t care where you send your child to school. Bullying happens there. If you think Catholic or Christian school is exempt somehow because children have classes in religion, are compelled to do service and practice the commandments, you are dead wrong. In fact, such schools, which rely heavily on parents for fundraising, donations and volunteer time, may struggle with this even more. Kids are smart when it comes to knowing what they can and can’t get away with.

2. BULLYING CAN BE MORE ABOUT HOME THAN SCHOOL. Carefully examine your child’s home life and experiences outside of school. Bullying is a learned behavior. Is your child in regular contact with someone who puts him or her or other people down? Are they berated, teased or laughed at? Kids imitate. Chances are, if your child bullies someone else, they have experienced it along the way, or have witnessed someone they love doing it.

3. ITS NOT OVER WHEN YOU SEPARATE THE BULLY FROM THE VICTIM Kids who get bullied don’t forget about it. They carry the damage with them, and constantly question their worth and ability as a result. Many will not engage in activities they enjoy for fear they will fail and be laughed at. They will not try new things, speak up, read aloud, or volunteer, and will act completely different at school than at home. They stunt their own personal development to avoid mean kids. I know many parents who think the answer to this is to remove their child from a school where they are bullied. But the stress of starting over at a new school after being abused by other kids only causes more problems. I know a parent who keeps moving her child between schools because she thinks teachers are mean to her when they reprimand her for bad behavior. Now children in multiple schools dread interacting with this child!

4. IT HURTS THEIR CHANCES TO ACHIEVE In the classroom, kids who experience abuse or trauma are known to go into a type of security mode where they think about nothing but avoiding additional damage. They’re learning ability actually shuts off. Catholics, I learned about this during my mandatory reporter training for child abuse. And I’ve experienced it with one of my daughters. After years of above average standardized test scores, hers fell to well below average in less than one year. But she could tell me all the answers correctly when I worked with her at  home. We have a lot to make up academically this year. It’s simply not fair for any child to be terrified of their school work because other kids tease them for getting an answer wrong or taking longer to complete an assignment.

5. BULLIED KIDS ARE NOT WHINERS OR WIMPS I often hear adults say kids who claim they are bullied are just wimpy and need to suck it up. Don’t believe it. These kids are brave and walk into the lions den everyday where people who are supposed to help them simply cannot for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes they do start to believe everyone is a bully, and have to be taught that not every bad thing that happens in their lives is aimed directly at them. But don’t underestimate them. Many are bullied because they are exceptional in some way or talented in another. Or even because they’re ordinary. I’ve seen kids bullied simply because they have both a mother and a father in their household. Or because their parents took them to Walt Disney World. Kids don’t have to have special needs, or be unconventional on some way to be bullied. It can be as simple as being the new kid.

The truth is kids can find lots of reasons not to like someone else when they regularly see adults disrespecting other people. As the adults, we probably don’t even realize that we do it. Do we favor some of our kids friends because they’re smarter, more athletic, more attractive, better dressed, more involved, whatever? Do we disrespect our kids and their brothers and sisters in the way we discipline them? Or maybe we make fun of random people we encounter during the day and invite our kids to laugh with us?  You know, that weirdly dressed woman in Wal-Mart? The kid on the ball team who never gets in to play? The grouchy old man down the street?

Take some time early this school year to remind your children that everyone has value, no matter how different or odd they may seem. Every child in their class and school deserves their respect, if not their friendship, and the opportunity to come to school every day without fear.

There may be little we can do to erase bullying’s impact once it occurs. But we can do a lot about our adult behavior, and how it influences the way our kids treat others. And we can serve as a reminder to them every day that the world takes all kinds of people to turn, and that everyone of them, rich, poor, cool, nerdy, acne-prone, tomboy, and on and on, deserves the most basic respect.

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Golden Evangelism

Rio de Janiero is, quite literally, a city watched over by God. The remarkable monument of Christ the Redeemer, completed in 1931 and renovated in 2010, looks over the rich and poor, Rio’s infamous festivals and parties, and, this summer, the Olympic Games.

All of my life, I’ve loved the Olympics. I have wonderful memories of watching. I still remember my father, who lived in Romania before emigrating to the United States, telling me someday he’d show me the country where Nadia Commanichi grew up. Watching Mary Lou Retton score a perfect 10 with my childhood best friend. The Miracle on Ice. Greg Louganis, Flo-Jo, Carl Lewis, Tommy Moe, Shaun White.

More recently, I’d lost, my enthusiasm for the Games. Watching pros decimate small countries in basketball wasn’t my thing. I was sick of doping scandals, host country bashing, trash talking, and whining. Considering the media beating Rio took before the Games even opened, I was very uninterested in this year’s Olympics. I knew we would be watching in some form, but I wasn’t really paying attention.

But then something happened that hasn’t happened in a long time, if it ever really had. God came down off that mountain in Brazil, and became part of the Games. Like I did as a child, my girls, and countless young people around the world, we’re watching. And the very heroes of the hour – the BIG names – started thanking God, talking about their faith, and, in the way only they can, began inspiring people to trust in the Lord.

The first story I saw on this was about gymnast Simone Biles finding time to attend Mass in Rio amid an absolutely crazy schedule of practice, competition, interviews and events. I was impressed – I know I myself haven’t always been as diligent on my travels. Initially I chalked it up to her mother. But by the second week, Biles had me chuckling with delight. When Bob Costas asked her after winning her fifth gold medal what she was going to do in Rio with gymnastics competition wrapped up, she enthusiastically told him she was going to eat junk food and visit Christ the Redeemer. Like a true American journalist, Costas couldn’t shut her up fast enough about her religion. He was outmatched.

Michael Phelps himself spent a lot of time talking in his interviews about how he found God in the midst of severe depression, which allowed him to return to the Olympics once again and add even more medals to his incredible collection. Watching him kiss his infant child poolside after one race was an incredible moment. I often thought of him before as a swimming machine – someone with a singular purpose in life. I wasn’t even sure I liked him – he didn’t even seem to have a personality. Amazing in his greatest success, he has become an evangelist to the extent of God’s love for His people.

And who could forget Simone Manuel’s surprise at winning her first Olympic gold, and exclaiming “God is great!” Katie Ledecky looking back over the pool for her competitors. Or African track and field runners carrying pictures of the Virgin Mary? Or decorated beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings proclaiming she was born to play volleyball and have babies? Then there were American synchronized diving silver medalists David Boudia and Steele Johnson declaring their Christian identity, and Usain Bolt carrying his Miraculous Medal. Add in Gabby Douglas traveling with her Bible, her teammate Lori Hernandez, gold medal swimmer Maya DiRado and track and field superstars Allyson Felix and English Gardner (my favorite name of the Games this year!) and children everywhere must be learning about and witnessing the power of faith.

When has that happened recently in such a high profile venue, with so many human role models putting their clout behind God? I can’t recall a time in my life.

Granted the entire Rio games have not been about goodness and the power of God. When athletes stunt their own dreams so they do not have to compete against a person from an “enemy country” or trash players on another team because that team unexpectedly upset their chances at a medal, the world still has a long way to go.

But when truly famous people who will spend a good deal of their time in the near future entertaining proposals to sponsor products and services, are not afraid to speak their minds and hearts about their personal faith in God, something is going right in the world. Even if Bob Costas would rather talk French fries and Zac Efron.

Thank you Simone, Michael, Simone, Kerri, Allyson, Usain, David, Steele, Gabby, Maya and so many other incredible athletes for inspiring children not only to excel physically, but spiritually. You are all truly Golden. God bless.