October 16, 2012

No Bullies Allowed.

This month there are a lot of causes to fight for and issues to remember. Besides being Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, it's also Anti-Bullying Awareness month. Don't think it's important? Bullying is an epidemic as old as time, and if you haven't been directly affected by this abuse, the odds are you or someone you love will be some day.

Please welcome my guest today, Shelba Waldron, from Tampa Bay, Florida, a bullying authority and voice for children and families in her community.

Thanks for visiting, Shelba! Tell us a little about what you do--your career and outside activities and interests.

I currently work for the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County, which is in the Tampa Bay area. We are a special taxing district that funds services for children. I work as a program consultant and trainer in topic areas such as nonviolence, bullying, adult/child boundaries and poverty. I’ve been working in the field of human services my entire career and have a strong passion for teenagers, specifically young women.

I really like to teach children that they don’t have to be violent to be human, and I like to teach young women that they can be whoever they want to be without being over sexualized to get there.

In my free time, and what gives me sanity, is teaching winterguard. Winterguard is something similar to the outdoor marching band, but with a lot more dance and dramatics. I’ve been doing it since high school and will probably be doing it until I leave this earth.

What draws you to the anti-bullying agenda? Why is it important to you?

I believe strongly in a world of nonviolence. I believe it’s possible, and it is realistic in our lifetime. I’m drawn to bullying specifically, because I’ve seen first had how it kills the soul of a child. I ran a residential treatment program in Florida for teens before I knew anything about bullying and found myself in the middle of a serious bullying situation. 

In the course of true bullying, adults' perceptions are manipulated, making it difficult to figure out who the bully is and who's the victim. Adults also misjudge the level of the bullying, which keeps them from acting with urgency. Because of this, one of the teens in my program killed herself. I’ve never quite gotten over that situation. Afterwards, I knew it was a cause I had to understand and speak out about.

How did your childhood shape who you are today?

I was never bullied as a child. In fact, I had one of those families that everyone dreams about. They were supportive and loving. Because of that, I was allowed to explore all types of activities. I gravitated toward marching band and colorguard, where you find that you are circled by friends and loving mentors. In essence, there was safety in numbers.

I loved pageantry arts so much that I’m still involved today and an instructor. If I can give the kids I teach just one ounce of the love I felt growing up in the band, then bullying can start to decrease one by one.

What kind of impact has bullying had in the experiences you have observed first hand? 

Bullying is destroying our community. It really isn’t though the bullying problem as much as we are losing a sense of personalizing each other. I have witnessed students as seeing each other as “property” or “less than” simply because someone is gay or disabled or poor.

The biggest problem we are having is with the girls. Somewhere along the lines women lost the gains they made during the women’s movement in the 70’s.  We are dealing with girls who literally tell us that their role as a female is to compete with other females. They see it almost as survival.

Bullying is quite different today than it was in the past, simply by the nature of text messaging and social media. It only takes one text message to destroy the reputation of a child at the school level.

Have you seen positive results from the programs and agendas that are in place today to protect victims of bullying?

The problem with bullying today is that many adults, especially teachers and school officials, feel crippled. The state laws require bullying programs, but a lack of funding and a lack of training make it difficult for bullying programs to be truly effective. With that being said, there are some great programs out there.

The most effective programs work to change the culture of the school with not just the kids, but the teachers and parents as well. The 360-degree approach allows for bullying to automatically decrease, because nonviolence and healthy relationships are a way of life. Good programs out there teach children how to look out for each other and foster a culture of inclusiveness.

Really good programs are teaching adults how to change the culture of fear, and also that we have kids out there who are absolutely afraid to come to school, much like a woman in domestic violence is afraid to come home from work.

The programs that fall short are the ones that don’t ask for change in the school culture. We also seem to want to sanitize the topic for the kids. We need to talk to the kids about why they feel that it is up to them to humiliate and abuse another child because of a perception, such as being gay.

Many of the programs also don’t help adults understand the true issue of bullying, which is power and control. The bully must have power to survive. It really is no different than domestic violence. A bully thrives on creating fear in the victim.

So what do you think needs to be done better?

We need to get past thinking in two dimensional terms. Right now bullying curriculum teaches about the bully, the victim and the bystander. It is my belief that we need to start teaching healthy relationships starting in pre-school. We need to teach our young women that the images they see in the media in places like reality TV such as The Kardashians is not how women act.

We need to teach our young boys how to treat women and how to respect them. Finally, we have to teach our parents how to talk with their children about what their children are hearing and seeing.

Parents are very hard to reach, because of issues of their time, but also you are dealing with deep-seated culture that goes back for generations. Some cultures believe that fighting is a way of life and then pass it on to their kids.

If you could ask yourself one question in twenty-five years, what would it be?

How did I get so old? (Just kidding)…

I would ask if I had made any difference whatsoever. I really believe I can change the world. I don’t think I’m going to do it in terms of Gandhi, but I do believe I can, and I believe everyone else can as well.

My hope is that we can bring the media giants who are displaying these horrible images of women battling each other as a way of life and men who see women as nothing but body parts, to some sort of realization that they are in fact hurting our children and their future.

So now what? What can we do as individuals and private citizens to help put a stop to this national epidemic?

We can do several things. The first thing we can do is work to stop watching reality TV. There is research that has been conducted by organizations such as the Girl Scouts that prove the relational aggression being played out on television is playing out in the schools and playgrounds.

Television shows such as Honey Boo Boo, Bad Girls, Kardashians and Desperate Housewives show women in survival mode and as two dimensional creatures that cannot survive unless they are screaming and competing with each other.
The next thing we can do is model healthy behaviors, for our own children and for other children. We need to use teachable moments, such as when a famous sports star is arrested or a television personality calls someone a derogatory name, and talk with children about the reality of what they just witnessed. 

We need to also make sure all children know how to report and that parents understand how to report as well. They need to listen to their children with an open mind and without judgment. The biggest fear for a victim is to hear their parents say that they brought it on themselves or that they should just learn to fight back. 

If you could sit down one on one with a bully (and I believe you have…), what would you say?

The first thing I always ask is, “So tell me what you got out of hurting that child?” I really want an answer to that question, and I don’t let them off the hook easily. I try to humanize the victim for the bully. I use questions such as, “How would you react if this was your little brother or sister?”

Can you leave us with a few signs of bullying? What we can look for in others or our families to recognize they are either victims or perpetrators of this abuse?

Children who are bullied show signs of depression and withdrawal. A strong key indicator is a victim wanting to stop going to school or quit beloved activities. Victims of bullying often times suffer in silence for fear of more ridicule.

We need to make sure the door to conversation remains open without judgment.  A child who is a bully usually shows signs at home by hurting their siblings or a pet. They usually will start saying comments that are derogatory towards another population… usually gay children. Bullies have no problem using the words “f*g” and “b*tch.” Bullies also have items that were never bought by the parent, indicating it was stolen from somewhere.

To spot bullying, a person must first understand it. The key is that there is a big difference between a “bad day at school” and true bullying. Bullying is long term abuse intended to create a power and control situation for the victim. The power and control is what creates the fear and that is bullying.

Parents and family need to watch their children closely and ask questions such as, “How long it has been going on?” and “Who is involved?” Parents need to document every conversation they have with their child and any school official. They also need to engage a therapist if possible if they believe real bullying is happening.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Shelba, for your frankness and depth. You do wonderful things and are someone to be admired for your courage and commitment. Best of luck in all you do.

~Danielle Thorne

Why does anti-bullying mean so much to me? Although I was blessed to have wonderful friends and family growing up, I was a victim of what would now be defined as bullying and sexual harassment while I was in high school because I refused to date a member of the football team. Seems silly now, but as a mother of four children, two of whom were bullied to the point of emotional and physical harm, I know the pain and damage this abuse can wreak on a person's spirit. Because of this epidemic, I still continue to heal the harm done to my own children who were not protected by adults or the law enforcement system.

Have you ever been a victim of bullying? Feel free to share your comments below.

About Our Guest

Shelba Waldron is a Sr. Program Consultant for the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County (JWB), a special taxing district whose mission is to fund services for children and families in need. She works in several specialty areas including nonviolence; which includes bullying and domestic violence, poverty and disaster preparedness for social services and communities in need.
Shelba has worked in the field of human services for over 16 years with a primary focus on adolescence. She is specifically passionate about working to end violence against women and discrimination of women. Her trainings focus on how women are viewed through the eyes of the media and how that plays out with children as they grow up.
She believes in nonviolence as a means to an end of bullying and works with parents and community partners on how to teach nonviolent communication to their children. She is also the co-architect of The Poverty Experience in Pinellas County where participants are asked to look at poverty through the eyes of the person living it by surviving one month on a fixed income. The Poverty Experience was started in 2011 and the Juvenile Welfare Board is looking to take it statewide and ultimately to the national level. Shelba has spoken both locally and nationally on the topics of bullying and the media and will speaking for the second time at the National Bullying Conference in February 2013.
In her free time, Shelba is a director at the Paradigm Performance Ensemble, Inc., which is an entity of the pageantry arts. She has been a part of that organization for over six years and loves working with the young people who join the organization to perform. She has a five-year-old son who is as crazy as she is and loves to peace rallies, concert, and baseball games.
Shelba also writes her own blog on issues related to bullying, domestic violence, and issues related to women.

Visit Shelba and follow her blog at http://shelbawaldron.blogspot.com/


Susan Oloier said...

What an amazing interview! I found this particularly interesting b/c 1) I was bullied in middle and high school 2) my older son has been bullied 3) I have a new book coming out about high school bullying.
Yes, those reality shows are nightmarish! I'm glad we don't have tv in our house.
Thanks for the educational post. I'm actually going to tweet about it. More people need to read this.

Danielle Thorne said...

Thanks for the comment, Susan. I can't give up on the idea that someday everyone will take bullying seriously, and it will not be tolerated. It is abuse--social abuse--and just as damaging to us as abuse that occurs in the home. Good luck with your book!