“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

 

Parent Engagement: A Two-Way Street

imagesI’ve been on a hiatus from writing my blog lately,  a self-imposed exile from doing something that I really enjoy doing, writing and sharing information about health and wellness as it pertains to kids. The reason being? A malady that I came down with a couple of months ago. It left me tired to the bone, anxious, deflated, hopeless, and uncertain of the future. The clinical name for this malady is PVBO or Parent Volunteer Burn Out and I’ve had a pretty bad case of it. It’s only been over the past week or two that I’ve been able to peel myself off the couch and stop my endless re-reading  of”Waiting for Godot”. Parent Engagement is a difficult challenge that School Districts across the nation face. I hear the rumblings in our District on a regular basis. We’ve even got a District appointed Director of Community Engagement whose plate is full when it comes to reaching out to families in our communities. Families whose challenges of everyday life present a greater problem than worrying about the next PTA meeting, whether or not homework is done, or if a child is even on the bus in the morning. Many feel hopeless in their own situations so why would they think their efforts could improve the outcomes in our schools? On the other side of the spectrum you have the actively engaged parents who are ready to do anything to improve schools and they can be counted on for involvement on a number of different levels, joining committees, working on various initiatives, helping to raise money, advocating at Board meetings, etc. You name it and they do it because they believe in getting things done and that change is possible in their lifetimes or better yet in the time that their children are attending public schools.  There are probably a handful of these parents in any given community and they’re probably the last group that you would think would benefit from the acknowledgement that parent engagement is a two way street. Unfortunately it’s a costly mistake when dealing with volunteers and it has a precarious ability to drive a parent to that all-consuming malady, PVBO. I don’t have a one-stop solution to solving the issues that Districts face when dealing with parent engagement but I could try to offer a bit of support and advice. When dealing with our underprivileged and underserved families we need to do a better job of taking services to the affected neighborhoods, breaking down socioeconomic stigmas and language barriers, and learn to communicate effectively to get families the supports they need. As I mentioned earlier in this post, our District has appointed people who are doing just that but the needs are far greater than what a few can fulfill. With the PVBO’s we need to recognize that many are taking time away from paid work or other responsibilities and we need to consistently recognize their efforts. A simple return of a call or an email of acknowledgement would probably suffice for a lot of these parents. When hours of work have been done on  forward thinking initiatives that would benefit the whole school community we should respectfully and openly address why things are not moving forward. It is a poor reflection on any District to have a volunteer, a parent, a person on the “outside” muttering how it’s business as usual, nothing ever gets done and we seem to be stuck in a Beckett world just waiting for Godot.

About Leelah

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Yesterday was the most glorious sunny Sunday in Buffalo NY. The temp hit 30 after about 2 months of bone chilling weather and I walked outside with my daughter feeling happy to be alive. I had just written a blog entry about cyber bullying and my daughter and I were discussing the topic when I told her I wanted to share a story. It was about a girl named Leelah.

Leelah died recently after throwing herself in front of a truck on a lonely, dark stretch of road not far from her house. She did not feel happy to be alive. Leelah had been born, Josh Acorn, a boy, and since the age of 4 she had constantly struggled with gender identity issues.  Her biggest wish in life was to transition to a girl and be accepted as Leelah, a kind, artistic, and intelligent young woman.

Sadly, Leelah’s parents did not support her wish to transition. “We don’t support that, religiously,” is what her mother stated after her daughter was already dead. In an interview she continuously referred to Leelah as her son. No acceptance.

Initially it appears that Leelah found  support amongst her peers. In a school environment where often times it seems  kids are ridiculed for being different as opposed to celebrated for their uniqueness, this is to be commended. But the support waned as her parents cut her off from school, social media, and her friends, and Leelah became more and more isolated.

Had Leelah’s parents not cut her off from everything, would she have had access to a supportive LGBT group at her school, in her community? What resources were available to her? If you go to the school’s web site: (http://www.kingslocal.net/Schools/KHS/Pages/default.aspx), it appears they have a lot of different clubs: everything from ski, yearbook, and philanthropy clubs to film, anime, and self defense clubs. Do they have an LGBT club? Does your child’s school have one? I’d like to think that in the face of this tragedy they’ve begun an LGBT club at Leelah’s school. My daughter’s school has a gay straight alliance and they offer resources for transgender students as well. There is a high level of student involvement within this group.

We need to be doing a better job in our schools and our communities to support these kids. When they come out and live as the person they want to be they need to be fully supported and their commitment to diversity needs to be applauded.

http://www.glyswny.org

http://www.lgbtcenters.org

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Justice-for-Leelah-Alcorn/752262548182134