Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Is bullying the real problem?

About the same time this blog began Lady Gaga was at Harvard talking about the impact of “bullying” and her efforts to make a difference in the lives of young people by partnering with her mother to launch The Born This Way Foundation.

I’d been thinking about a post on this very subject when a friend sent me a February 29th NY Times editorial featuring our Lady. Of all the ways to use one’s celebrity status, this has to be one of the best. And it resonates because I remember as a kid what kind of climate was created when intimidation happened over and over again. As with Gaga, it was a nightmare for me as a boy and worse for those kids constantly put at the bottom of the pecking order.

These days kids often leave school or drink and take drugs to cope, so while fresh cases of PTSD are in the making, our education system is unraveling and the learning process is often very compromised.

One source of the underlying problem as I see it was and is that most adults working in educational settings never recovered from their own direct experience or exposure to bullying, so are not always that effective in stopping it when they grow up and work in these settings. We just don’t think well in places where we’ve been hurt. That’s not to say many educators don’t make a real difference, they do.

It’s just not commonly understood that bullying is a cultural problem, not just a matter of picking out the “bad weeds,” among us, not time after time resorting to a punishment mentality that usually makes things worse and in some places is so extreme schools become more like high security prisons.

Fortunately, Lady Gaga is not the first to get that a “culture of kindness,” as sappy as it may sound to some, is exactly what’s needed. Making it cool for kids to respect and take care of each other and have fun learning is not new. What’s new is the growing awareness that adults in recovery from bullying need a fair amount of support to take action to change their school’s cultures. After all, who is really in charge of these schools?

My wife Dr. Karin Lubin was an elementary school teacher and then principal before we became life and organizational coaches and consultants together. In her schools she very intentionally fostered a culture of kindness and in one school even led a Kindness Club where kids got to think up the most fun, kind and creative things to do for people at their schools. Some of these kids were middle-school age kids headed in not so healthy directions.

One of the most successful programs we know of and used in the school districts where Karin worked was a program called Healthy Play, a program whose main tenets are that we play to have fun and the most important part of the game is “the people.” These two rules and the many dozens of games and activities on the playground and in the classroom have transformed schools around the country that have implemented the Healthy Play program school-wide. That translates to very few visits to the principal’s office, less absences and increased student engagement in the rest of their activities, creating a true culture of kindness.

Of course there are a number of character education programs vying for limited teacher time, attention and school resources, a patchwork that is far better than nothing. Could there be something even more fundamental to what kids and teens really need to thrive and get along, becoming tomorrow’s creative, prosperous and fulfilled adults?

Fairly new and not yet widely known is a process called The Passion Test for Kids and Teens, a simple, fun and easy way for kids to get clear about what they really love, what is most important to them.  Savvy educators know that the best way to get maximum engagement of children in learning is to first find what they are interested in and genuinely excited about. Everything needs to begin there as that is the way we accelerate growth and learning for young people—and build families and schools into a culture of support for expressing each other’s strong interests, dreams and desires.

If we made a full nation-wide commitment to fostering kid’s passions with The Passion Test for Kids embedded in a powerful and well established high achievement program like Bobbi DePorter’s Eight Keys of Excellence backed by a whole school changing program like Healthy Play, I predict bullying would wither as the symptom of frustrated and alienated kids that it has become. There would simply be no more room for those kinds of behaviors. Students and teachers everywhere would all be having the time of their lives. And the national passion statistics of only one out of five adults engaged with doing what they love could be turned upside down.

Eight Keys of Excellence http://8keys.org/Bobbi_DePorter.aspx


  1. This comment posted for Jim HIght, Arcata, CA

    These are terrific insights. Let's make it cool to be kind! Right ON! I've been spending more time with kids in the last few years, mostly in Alateen where an alchemical formula works to foster kindness and respect, something like vulnerability + identification = empathy and caring.

    Keep up the good work Randy.

  2. There is a really big need for kids to have mentors that are helping them embrace the values of empathy and compassion. If we can reach the children we are helping prepare the next generation to live from their hearts and genuinely express "practical love" in their interactions.Love the post.


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