My Girl Bridget Jones under Siege – Aren’t We Better than That?

Comments today about the actress Renee Zellweger appear to be limitless, both in number and cruelty. Apparently, she has taken some actions that have her looking quite different—some say “unrecognizable”—highlighted by her seemingly wrinkle-free poses on the red carpet this week.

Social media has gone hog wild, taking some pretty brutal shots at this woman. The wave of negativity is unhelpful to Zellweger herself and anyone reading it, particularly young people who are still in the process of solidifying self-image and developing ideas on what kind of behavior is ok. Is harsh judgment about appearance and tongue-lashing (or, should I say, keyboard thrashing) what we want kids to emulate?

It’s hard to watch a mob taking swings at a stranger. In our last post tied to Anti-bullying Month, Dr. Philip Brown asserts that, “Adults should prevent bullying behaviors, not model them.” After all, the fight against bullying needs all hands on deck to reduce its harmful effects on our children, he said.

Instead of judging this talented actress on her looks and possible facial modifications, let’s focus on her talents. In the flash of abuse this week, have any of her critics mentioned that she holds the honor of Academy Award-winning actress for her role in Cold Mountain? As a society, let’s not “pile on” and judge—it wastes a lot of time and energy that could be better utilized tackling our world’s challenges (this is something that everyday heroes—people who are changing the world for the better—recognize and reflect in their actions).

As Jennifer Uffalussy of The Guardian put it, “As disturbing as it may be sometimes to see a public figure physically transform before our eyes, it’s even more troubling to see how effortlessly we rush to say something about that transformation.” Not sure about the rest of you, but today I choose to support my girl Renee and applaud her gifts as an actress. I might even break out some of my Zellweger flicks. Jerry Maguire, anyone?

Choose Kind,
Leigh Ann

P.S. Why ARE WE so concerned with how people look? I submit and ask us to consider very seriously that, instead, we SHOULD be more focused on who the person is at the core and what the person contributes to our society. Sadly, as TIME Writer Brian Moylan pointed out, “There is a very real reason why Zellweger would want a whole new face: we were all incredibly mean to her old one.”

Flickr/S Pakhrin
Flickr/S Pakhrin

“5 Ideas to Help Bring Bullying to an End” from Dr. Brown

Dr. Philip Brown, Ph.D.
Philip Brown, Ph.D.

It’s National Bullying Prevention Month, and this October there is much greater awareness than a decade ago about the serious impact bullying has on children’s lives. As parents, teachers and kids join hands to raise awareness about how to prevent bullying and how to respond when it occurs, here is Wear the Cape’s contribution, our top five tips for understanding and dealing with bullying:

5 Ideas to Help Bring Bullying to an End
By Philip Brown, PhD

  1. Bullying always involves more people than the bully and the victim.

Bullying is a social phenomenon and in order to stop it, everyone needs to be involved. In most bullying incidents, studies show that four or more additional peers are present[1]. Some assist by joining in the ridiculing or cheering on the bully from the sidelines, and others encourage the bully by showing signs of approval such as laughing or just watching and doing nothing.

What to do? Parents and teachers need to encourage kids to play an active part in their school community by providing opportunities to be positive role models of good character, exemplifying the values that connect people rather than divide them. Service projects that engage children across age levels and peer groups break down self-made barriers, create conditions to develop positive peer cultures, and help kids become upstanders rather than bystanders when it comes to bullying.

  1. Adults should prevent bullying behaviors, not model them.

Most parents and teachers don’t want their children or students to be victims of bullying. However, the authority and power adults have and need to guide and protect can also be used destructively. Correcting bad behavior is necessary, but putting kids down and indicating that they are bad kids or mocking their failings is bullying behavior that kids pick up on as okay and will learn to use on other kids themselves.

What to do? Correct the behavior, not the whole child. There is a big difference between “You didn’t do your homework, and we’ve talked about that before. What happened?” and “You don’t listen to me! What kind of a student do you think you are?”

  1. Bullying and conflict are not the same thing.

Conflict inevitably happens between people trying to get their needs met, and this can result in disagreement and hurt feelings. When people have strong disagreements, aggressive behavior and responses result that may appear similar to bullying. But there is an important difference. In situations of conflict, both parties have a degree of power, and there is a dispute over resources or decisions; there is no intention to victimize a person based on some characteristic such as their ethnicity or physical attributes. Another difference is that, for bullies, the reward is largely social – increased status, power, attention or revenge – not about an event or tangible reward. Kids are still learning how to navigate the complex world of friendships, which also leads to disagreements. Part of the growing-up process is learning how to solve these problems.

What to do? Don’t assume that every conflict requires identifying a bully and a victim. Conflict is a natural part of being human, and conflict resolution is a skill that children and adults alike need practice navigating with care and resourcefulness. Make sure your family and school teach and have learned basic conflict resolution skills.

  1. To break bullying cycles or patterns, learn to talk compassionately.

One student with a speech impediment is being belittled, teased, and often interrupted during his classwork. To address this pattern, his classroom teacher facilitates an intentional conversation designed to both break the pattern and help the children involved understand the impact of their behavior. In talking about being mean, the teacher also engages and reinforces the natural sense of empathy with which we are all born, but we all have to learn about and practice by being compassionate with different people in different contexts.

What to do? Compassionate communication helps in navigating interpersonal relationships. But if bullying behavior persists, intervention is called for: The victim will need specific support, and the perpetrator will require specific consequences.

  1. Give youth a voice and exercise your own voice, too.

Harassment, intimidation and bullying behaviors among children and youth are a peer phenomenon, and so kids are usually reluctant to talk with adults about it. Families and schools need to build in times and structures to help facilitate youth talking about their experiences, both positive and negative. Young people need to feel like they have an adult to whom they can turn if they are the target of bullying. They also need ways to feel safe expressing concerns about their peers’ bad behavior with adults and their peers.

What to do? Families and schools can create the conditions for youth voice by developing and reinforcing widely-shared, positive social norms (core ethical values), providing ways for all students to make valued contributions to the well-being of others, and implementing programs that regularly give youth a chance to speak their minds in a safe environment. Ask your kids how things are going at school, and stay tuned for signs of trouble with peers. Let them know directly and indirectly that they are not alone and that you are available to help them. Encourage them to be kind to others who are different than they are. Let teachers and school officials know that you support their bullying prevention efforts and programs, and hold them accountable for responding with care and appropriate consequences when bullying occurs.

[1] O’Connell, Pepler & Craig. Peer involvement in bullying: Insights and challenges for intervention. Journal of Adolescence. 1999 (22), p. 437-452.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

From left to right: Ron Litz, Emily Pollard, Katherine Szczubelek, Lauren Mead, and Stephanie Taeschler
From left to right: Ron Litz, Emily Pollard, Katherine Szczubelek, Lauren Mead, and Stephanie Taeschler

When it comes to tackling a giant challenge—say, showing kids across the country that it’s cool to be kind and that good character brings benefits in droves—words of support are HUGE. They’re the fuel to your engine, what you reach for when you need a hand to get back up. But even bigger than words are actions of assistance.

I am so incredibly grateful for the several amazing teachers from Park Middle School in Scotch Plains who have rolled up their sleeves. This awesome crew of five includes some of the key people who helped me launch Wear the Cape and the kidkind foundation almost a year ago and who are still hanging in there with me today!

In addition to their passion and volunteerism, the insight they’ve delivered about very real issues that our children face in schools today has been priceless to me and Wear the Cape’s mission.

I’ve found proof in the pudding. Thank you, my friends.

Choose kind,
Leigh Ann

INSTAGRAM: BE AWARE AND BEWARE, PARENTS

I am so psyched and proud to introduce you to one of my dearest friends on this planet Maureen “Mo” Chamberlain. Mo and I went to college together, and we’ve loyally supported one another through thick and thin ever since. Check out the pic: Mo Mo is the pretty bride who hasn’t changed a bit – no kidding. And even though I’m jealous that she still looks like she’s 25, I love her with all my heart!
LA and MoFast forward 18 years, and Mo is now a dedicated 7th grade-reading specialist in Weymouth, Massachusetts where she teaches at Chapman Middle School.

Do you remember when you were growing up and you found out about an event or party that you were excluded from? I am sure it might have hurt you when you realized you were passed up, but it probably got easier with time…without immortalizing pictures. Our kiddos today are dealing with a lot of rejection on a daily basis, and so much of it is posted instantly while it is happening in REAL-TIME. Suddenly, the haves and have-nots are born based on what has been posted, all during a time in life when coping skills that best support our psyche have not been fully developed.

In this guest blog, I have invited my “bestie” Maureen to share some suggested guiding principles for our readers to support kids with the social media challenges they face.

With gratitude to Mo and to all of the everyday heroes who support and inspire us to do more!
Leigh Ann

Guest blog iconINSTAGRAM: BE AWARE AND BEWARE, PARENTS
by 7th Grade Teacher Maureen Chamberlain

Many things have changed since I grew up in the 70’s. Back in my day, the only way to communicate with friends other than speaking in-person was by calling their families’ house phones or writing notes.

Instagram is supposed to be a fun way to communicate with friends, providing a platform to share photo moments and express oneself without words. Sometimes, however, words are not needed to leave kids feeling left out, depressed, and alone. Having two teens myself, I’ve learned a few things about Instagram that I believe parents should know. I’ve also included etiquette tips below that you can share with your kids.

FEELINGS OF INADEQUACY – “DO I MEASURE UP?”

Instagram, unfortunately, has evolved into somewhat of a popularity contest. What does this mean? Your child may feel inadequate if he or she does not get enough “likes” on pictures posted. In fact, kids monitor how many likes they get in the first hour of posting, and if the picture isn’t getting the “rapid-fire” response they want, they may delete the photo. It can be a blow to their egos and make insecurities rise to the surface.

Social media can cause kids (and, frankly, adults) to feel like their lives aren’t as wonderful as everyone else’s. People often question their own happiness when they log on to Instagram or Facebook. Fabulous pictures and status updates can make us wonder why others’ lives seem much more fun, fancy and interesting. If someone is unhappy or insecure, seemingly perfect photos can exacerbate the issues.

When teens post pics of themselves at a party, it often leaves others feeling like they’re on the outside looking in (even in the cases of a quick trip to the mall or a sporting event with just a few friends). There’s usually someone viewing the Instagram newsfeed who wonders why he or she was not included. Back in the 70’s and 80’s growing up, I wasn’t invited to certain things as a teenager, and I remember the feeling: It hurts. But I didn’t have to stare at the pictures, often times while the event is still going on, to make me feel even worse.

TIPS FOR PARENTS:

  • Tell young people that their self-worth should not be directly related to the number of likes they get. They need to find their own inner confidence and realize they don’t need over 20, 50 or 100 likes to convince them they’re awesome or beautiful.
  • Say, “Don’t post a picture so people will like it. Post it because YOU like it.”
  • Remind your children that most people only post positive images of their lives. Nobody has a perfect life. Most of us don’t air our dirty laundry and tell the world about all the lows we experience; instead just the highs in life are amplified. Talk to kids about how they shouldn’t compare their lives to the “highlight shots” of others. Nothing good can come from comparing.
  • Talk to your kids about the appropriate use of photo sharing. Explain that perception is half of reality.
  • PLEASE, repeat yourself again and again about how once a photo is posted, it’s out there forever. It can’t be taken back.
  • Discuss photos someone else has taken with a phone – or that have been sent to someone else’s phone. Your child no longer has control over the image if it’s in another person’s digital possession.
  • Conversely, suggest your child ask permission from all included in a photo before posting it.
  • Finally, encourage that your kids keep their comments positive so Instagram is a place to connect with people in a constructive way. It’s easy to find something nice to say about someone’s picture.

As a parent, I can confidently say that the best way to monitor what’s happening on Instagram is to open an account yourself. Follow your child and his/her friends. Most kids don’t mind.  It gives the child one more coveted follower and, of course, more potential “likes”. I guess we’ve gone full circle on this.

Good luck and hope this helps!
Maureen in support of Wear the Cape/kidkind foundation

Top 10 Reasons to Encourage Your Kids to Volunteer

PRESS RELEASE

Top 10 Reasons to Encourage Your Kids to Volunteer

Wear the Cape’s resident expert on character education sheds light on the value of urging children to become involved in community service activities

Wear the Cape, a brand that gives back and aims to restore the power of kindness and good character with cool, inspirational products and its non-profit the kidkind foundation, today released the “Top 10 Reasons to Encourage Your Kids to Volunteer.” Authored by the organization’s resident expert on character education, Philip Brown, PhD, the Top 10 List shares with parents research-based reasons to urge their children to make time to serve others.

“Back-to-school season ushers in a renewed focus on everything from academics to athletics, but many parents are challenged to find positive ways for their kids to spend time when they’re not on campus,” commented Dr. Brown, who is a senior consultant at the National School Climate Center. “While over-programming your child’s schedule isn’t a healthy option—kids of all ages need free time to play—you should help with structuring some of his or her time to optimize maturation.”

Dr. Brown explained, “As young people get older, they need to stretch their abilities, including their moral sensibilities. Engagement with other kids and adults in meaningful service activities can support healthy development in a variety of ways, providing opportunities for both growth and positive fulfillment.”

TOP 10 REASONS TO ENCOURAGE YOUR KIDS TO VOLUNTEER

#1: Volunteering helps foster empathy.

Empathy is the most critical disposition for responding to the needs of others. We need to be able to imagine what other people may be going through or feeling. Volunteering helps engage our natural empathic sense, but you have to make sure that there are opportunities to talk about the purpose and experience of any volunteer activity if the recipients aren’t visible in the process (making sandwiches for the homeless isn’t the same as helping to deliver the sandwiches to homeless people).

#2: Volunteering helps develop a sense of self-efficacy.

Children may understand that other people need help or that there are projects that could make a community more habitable or productive, but feel helpless or unclear that an individual can do anything about it in response. Volunteering can provide experiences that affirm a young person’s sense that they can make a difference through their own effort and skills. These experiences can empower young people to apply themselves in other contexts, including school and other organized activities, such as faith-based youth groups or scouting.

#3: Volunteers gain experience working with other people.

Social skills are best learned in social situations. When people come together to engage in a meaningful task, issues of communication, power, collaboration and trust rise to the surface in a supportive context. It’s easier, although still a challenge, to learn to navigate these waters with others who may be more skillful and be in a position to offer supportive feedback. It’s a good way for parents and children to see each other in a different light, as well, and learn together.

#4: Volunteering develops new skills.

In addition to social skills, practical experiences of organizing tasks and using physical and mental capabilities to get jobs done is fundamental to successful work of any kind. In school, these skills are often fragmented or unrelated to real-world applications. Service activities offer the chance to apply and test our abilities, as well as learn from other kids or adults in a way that engages kids’ natural drive for competence.

# 5: Volunteering provides the opportunity to explore new interests and develop new passions.

There is nothing more exhilarating than discovering a new field of interest that sparks a real passion for learning and doing. One of the wonderful things about being our species is our inquisitiveness and motivation to investigate and find meaning in discovery. Service activities have the potential to expose us to these opportunities and see how other people live their passions.

#6: Volunteers learn a lot.

In the process of joining with others in service, volunteers learn about their community and the larger world. It takes us out of our own sphere of self-interest and self-absorption and opens us to issues and solutions, as well as other people’s needs.

#7: Volunteers actually make a difference in other people’s lives.

Think about how much more impoverished our communities would be if all of the volunteer services disappeared. This is a lesson that children can be taught early and take with them into adulthood. For example, volunteers are critical in:

  • Helping families (daycare and eldercare)
  • Improving schools (tutoring, literacy)
  • Supporting youth (mentoring and after-school programs)
  • Beautifying the community (beach and park cleanups)

#8: Volunteering encourages civic responsibility.

Community service and volunteerism are a way to teach the importance of investing in our community and the people who live in it. We want our kids to not only be successful in their work and personal lives, but to learn what it means to be a citizen in our republic. The American values of democratic decision-making, social justice and equal opportunity require active participation for us to have a successfully functioning country.

#9: Volunteering offers you a chance to give back.

It’s important for children to see that there are small and large opportunities to support community resources that your family uses or that benefit people they care about. Whether it’s offering to help man a booth to support improvements in a park you use, or joining a fundraising walk to support medical research for a disease that afflicts a family member or friend, children and adults alike can feel empowered through participation.

#10: Volunteering is good for you.

While this is the last reason for volunteering on this list, and may not be the most important, it is good to know that research has consistently shown that acting altruistically has real benefits. Volunteering provides physical and mental rewards; it has been shown to:

  • Reduce stress: When you focus on someone other than yourself, it interrupts tension-producing patterns.
  • Make you healthier: The moods and emotions that frequently come through volunteer service like optimism, joy, and a sense of self-efficacy can contribute to strengthening the immune system.
  • Make you happier: Human beings are social animals. Working closely with others in a common pursuit for the benefit of our fellow creatures can fill us with a sense of purpose, and that can lead us to feelings of satisfaction and true happiness.

“Volunteering with your kids touches hearts, teaches important life lessons and engraves fond, lifelong memories of family bonding,” said Leigh Ann Errico, CEO and founder of Wear the Cape and the kidkind foundation. “Understanding and participating in activities to benefit the community is crucial to weaving one’s moral fiber.”

Errico built Wear the Cape and established the foundation in 2013 after she came up short in her search for resources on kindness and character-building that would appeal to her own four children. Other parents clearly had faced the same challenge; Wear the Cape’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/wearthecape) already has over 1,100 “Likes”, all through organic growth. The idea for the brand was sparked when Errico observed that the chance to wear a cape—the organization’s logo—motivates children to act like heroes, or “Cape Kids,” in order to live up to the symbol of honor.

In partnership with Wear the Cape and the kidkind foundation, Dr. Brown has embarked on a critical mission to help parents across the country support the development of character in their kids.

kids volunteering
Flickr/vastateparksstaff