“Unslut”-Sexual Bullying in Schools

Unknown-1The other day on NPR I listened to an interview with a woman who uses the fictitious name Emily Linden and wrote a wrote a book called “Unslut”. The book is a memoir based on Emily’s diary entries when she was between 6th and 8th grades and it chronicles the sexual bullying and peer pressure she faced growing up. If parents, tweens, teens and educators don’t read the book they should at the very least explore the subject matter and its prevalence with our kids in schools today.

Emily began puberty earlier than most of her peers. She had her period when she was 10 and developed breasts soon after. She says that both boys and girls were fascinated with the physical transformation of her body and she was viewed by many peers who had not yet begun to mature as a sexual anomaly. Emily’s curiosity about herself and the opposite sex heightened too as she continued to progress through puberty. She flirted, developed relationships with the opposite sex and experimented by going to “3rd base”.

It did not take long for Emily to find herself caught up in a vicious cycle of sexual bullying because of her perceived actions and the stigma that was associated with her early sexual development. She quickly found herself being labeled a “tease” and a “slut” by her peers, and for many years she lived with the reputation and the pain that ensued.

Emily explains that at the time she too engaged in the sexual bullying that was so destructive to her. She says that there was a culture of sexual bullying in school that seemed like a norm, that no one was immune from it and many would partake in. There was such a need to identify with a group, in Emily’s case the popular kids, that it made her lose site of who she really was and the values that truly defined her.

This culture exists to this very day and the power of social media, where damaging words or images can be spread in a blink of an eye, makes it even more destructive and dangerous.  What can we do as parents? We have to try to break this collective negative culture where it’s cool to put people down, spread rumors, and define a person or a group by one identifiable word.  The jocks, the nerds, the popular kids, the fast kids, the loners, the druggies. When we peg people by one identifiable word we become immune to the fact that people have many positive attributes that deserve to be explored. What about talking to our kids about developing new relationships and breaking down barriers between groups in an attempt to rid themselves of negative perceptions? In the interview Emily states that the people that you’re hanging your identity on really don’t matter and in her case did not remain her friends as she worked on defining her values.

We also need to help to teach our kids about positive and respectful ideas of female and male empowerment.  Girls, it does not come in the form of an Instagram picture of yourselves with pouty lips and cleavage showing and boys, you are not empowering yourselves by posting images of yourselves engaged in the latest make out sessions. But when kids seem to be trying to race to the sexual maturity finish line with the Kardashians and the lascivious fictional characters from Gossip Girls in tow, what should we expect?

The reality is that in the middle school years our kids are coming into a new stage of development and exploration that should be expected by parents and doesn’t have to be negative. It’s up to us to empower our kids by helping them to develop a strong value system and the integrity that keeps it in place as they navigate through the sometimes perilous but often rewarding years of puberty.

http://www.unslutproject.com

 

Planting the Seeds for Greener Schools

Greenhouse.jpgWe laid the groundwork for an amazing playground for the kids of Tapestry Charter School and the surrounding community a few years ago. It was a ton of work but one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been involved with. From the moment it was built you could always expect a  regularly cacophony of shrieks and laughter as the kids navigated and explored their incredible “play and learn” space, the first they had ever had in the Tapestry community.

GLS.jpgWhen I planned the playground I also envisioned a green learning structure, a free standing outdoor classroom for the students to use to learn about weather, sustainability, science, even art with paintable surfaces and an outdoor stage floor for performances. Then I took it even further and won a grant to be used for a greenhouse. What did we end up with? A green learning structure that was underutilized, a green roof that was planted and regularly died and a greenhouse that took time, energy, additional money and commitment to get off the ground. Nothing happened over night, but, after things fell into place, perseverance, a word that is such a strong part of Tapestry’s message, fell into place.

One parent could not make this project work. You have to build a network and that has happened at Tapestry through a strong Americorp volunteer base. This year we’ve had a volunteer who is particularly committed to wellness initiatives and sustainability and that is a big part of the reason this wonderful outdoor learning space has been further developed.

There will always be reasons for not pushing a new learning experience forward but in these days of Common Core and tired and stressed out students and teachers, shouldn’t we take a moment or two to reexamine current learning and  curriculum development structures and think of ways to invigorate and engage students on a new level? Tapestry is doing that and it’s something to pay attention to.

Focusing on the Positive in the Classroom? Who’d a Thunk.

imagesI read something really great in the paper today. A charter school in Western NY has received a $575,000 grant from the US Department of Education to change the way they approach student behavior in the classroom. The school is going to be using a model called “Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support”. Instead of focusing on negative, punitive methods,  a common theme in classrooms nation wide, they will  adopt methods of positivity, praise, and reward to improve student teacher relationships, and the classroom environment in general. In preparation the school has been training faculty and staff on rewards-based solutions for positive behavior.  The idea is that if  kids are praised for a job well done they will feel greater self worth and be more committed to contributing positively in the classroom. This approach is based on the fact that student behavior is influenced by many factors and that we need to look at the individual student as we work towards a very necessary shift towards the model of “Whole Child, Whole School, Whole Community”. A foundation of wellness. Doesn’t it just make sense?

http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/applied-technologies-charter-school-gets-575000-federal-grant-20150505

Girls Will Be Girls

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I was going to do my next article about healthy vending until I had a disturbing conversation with a friend at a party last night.

I was made aware of a twitter account that appears to no longer be in use but is still floating around in cyber space. The account was created by a few girls who wanted to peg classmates as whores and the expletive language holds nothing back. It is raw and does a good job of competing with the choicest language from any XXX web site or publication. It’s shocking and depressing content and what’s worse is that I recognized some of the names of the followers and tweeters. Good kids with engaged parents living in my own neighborhood. Some are even educators.

I don’t know why I’m so shocked. With 2 years under my belt working on student wellness issues you would think that I would have developed a thick skin. I’m aware of the pregnancies! I’m aware of the affluent suburban school district where 5th graders are engaging in oral sex under the staircase or in the janitor’s office.  I know these things! I guess what’s troubling to me is this other dimension that attaches these behaviors to social media. A place where shocking allegations and gossip will go on living forever and ever in cyberspace.

Do you know anything about Snapchat? It’s an app that’s widely used by kids where they can snap a photo or a video, send it to anyone they want, and then choose how many seconds they want it to exist in cyberspace. Ingenious! After just one second the damage is done!

Because of social media abuse I have heard of kids who have developed “reputations” in their communities, had suicidal tendencies, and have even committed suicide. As parents it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about social media and the deep impact it can have on our kids. Below is the list of the sites that your kid might be accessing. Take the time to check them out. Ask your kid if you can “follow” them on Instagram or “friend” them on Facebook (although I’ve been told that FB is for old people like me). If they say no you might want to ask why. Which leads me to another point about privacy. I’m  not the kind of parent who condones sneaking into their kid’s room to read their diary. I’m not the parent who wants to police their every move. I’m the kind of parent who, as uncomfortable as it might be, wants to be able to openly discuss with my children the perils they might face if they engage in abusive behaviors on social media.

http://www.twitter.com

http://www.snapchat.com

http://www.instagram.com

http://www.facebook.com