MEGAN LANDRY: “BULLYING IS ABOUT POWER”

Megan Landry

I can’t believe a year has passed since I wrote my first post for this blog. Even though I post only once a week, sadly, bullying is in the news so often I could probably post every day and not run out of material. Mostly it’s distressing news. Today, I’m leaning toward the positive. I’m going to introduce you to a young Canadian who is using her music to battle bullying—and earning recognition for her efforts.

When fifteen-year-old Megan Landry became the target of school bullies, she turned to her singing and songwriting to share her pain. Last April, her song “Stronger” earned her recognition as the “Top Female Artist” in the invitation-only competition “Archimedia STAR,” sponsored by Archimedia Studios, a thirty-year-old branding, marketing, and public relations company. Archimedia STAR focuses on independent, unsigned talent.

Megan’s self-produced video was selected from over 400 country, pop, and rock entries. “Her honest and genuine music and lyrics deliver a powerful message to those that have fallen victim to bullies,” explained Archimedia.

“Bullying is about power,” says Megan. “If people were empowered to be okay with themselves, who they are — comfortable in their own skin — then the bully becomes powerless.  Regardless of where that bully is from … the school yard, the office or maybe even at home … people need to love themselves and don’t let anyone tear them down. That’s what my song is about. ”

Love yourself. Empower yourself. Wise words from a fifteen-year-old. Keep your eyes on this young woman. You’ll be hearing more from her in the future. And I’ll bet those who bullied her will soon regret the actions that kept them from being friends of the famous Megan Landry.

In the meantime, watch her award-winning video.

 

THE BAD, THE UGLY, THE GOOD

I don’t usually write about topics that are currently getting a lot of press or internet attention. I try to increase awareness about people or events that fewer people know about. But today, I’m going to talk about someone who is much in the news: Amanda Todd.

For those who haven’t heard, until last week Amanda was a 15-year-old girl who lived in British Columbia. In seventh grade she became involved in webcam chats, including one with a male who gave her compliments. Compliments make young girls feel wonderful, so when the on-line correspondent suggested that Amanda flash him, she cooperated.

I’m not privy to the technology, but the receiver must have captured the image of Amanda exposing herself. A year later, he threatened to spread a picture of her “boobs” everywhere on the Internet unless she “put on a show” for him. Amanda was shocked to learn that he knew her address, the names of her family and friends, her school, and other personal information. She had no idea how he acquired this information.

Apparently Amanda was wise enough not to comply with his obscene request, because a short time later, her “boobs” were, indeed, all over the Internet. That’s when the bullying by her peers began. I’m not going to go into detail about the bullying itself, but I urge you to watch the heartrending video Amanda made in September that explains what happened.

Sadly, last Wednesday, October 10th, Amanda committed suicide, apparently as a result of the torment she suffered because of one mistake she made as a seventh grader.

But even after the bullying and torment ended for Amanda, it did not end for her family. Hateful comments continued to be posted on line. According to the CBC News, “Images and comments making light of Todd’s death and suggesting she deserved to be bullied are flooding a Facebook memorial page dedicated [to] the teen — so many that Facebook can’t remove them fast enough.”

I cannot even begin to describe how sad this makes me.

So, that was the bad—and the ugly.

Now for the good.

Yes, young people can be cruel and heartless. But they can also be kind and thoughtful. Take the case of 18-year-old Ivan Mendoza, a young man who attends Crawford High School in San Diego, California. Crawford is a school in a lower-income neighborhood with an extremely diverse student body speaking dozens of languages. With its mix of cultures and races, it’s the kind of school that could easily acquire the wrong type of reputation.

But last weekend, Ivan was named his school’s homecoming king. No big deal, you think. Every school has a homecoming king, often a popular senior. But it is a big deal, because Ivan Mendoza stands 4 foot 5 inches tall, has a shock of orange hair on the top of his head—and has Down syndrome.

Ivan was nominated for king by the secretary of the Associated Student Body. And unlike the case of Whitney Kropp, the Michigan girl who was nominated for homecoming queen as a joke, when they heard Ivan was in the running, other boys who might easily have defeated him backed out.

“I’d be happier to see him win than I would be winning myself,” said Kassey Marcus, a basketball player.

 “I just felt like it would be right for him to win,” said Yoel Turcios, a wide receiver on the football team. “He’s outgoing. He’s friendly. He deserves it.”(John Wilkens, San Diego Union-Tribune)

So last Friday, Ivan wore a tux, rode in a convertible, and was crowned King Ivan, proof that all young people are not as cruel as those who seemed to have driven Amanda Todd to her death.

Ivan Mendoza with classmates
(Fox 5 News San Diego)

Ivan is lucky. In almost any school, he could easily have become a tormented target. Instead, he has an entire school at his back.

You can view photos of Ivan at Homecoming in these photos from the Union Tribune. I found especially touching this photo showing an act of kindness from a handsome young classmate of Ivan’s in the days leading up to the celebration.

Amanda closed her video with the words, “I have nobody. I need someone.” I’m certain her parents were there for her, and her mother confirmed she had support from family and some school friends. But sometimes even a loving parent and a few friends can’t overcome the cruelty of those whose aim is to wound.

The man who disseminated the photo of Amanda Todd has not yet been identified. But to him and to those others who took the miracle of technology and turned it into a nightmare of torture for Amanda Todd and others like her, I say, “Shame on you!”

But to the students of Crawford High in San Diego, I say, “Well done! Well done!”

BULLY BUSTER–ELAINE WOLF, THE ANTI-BULLYING NOVELIST

Elaine Wolf

Today, I have as a guest on my blog, writer Elaine Wolf, the author of  the YA novel Camp (Sky Pony Press, June 2012)and the upcoming Danny’s Mom (Arcade Publishing, November 2012), for ages 17+.  Elaine has taken on the mission of making “our camps and schools kinder, gentler places for everyone.” Toward this goal, she fights bullying “one novel at a time,” which has led her to be known as the anti-bullying novelist. What I find amazing is that Elaine is one of the fortunate people—a person who never became the target of bullies. Yet she writes about bullying as though she were. Here, she describes some of experiences she has had as a result of becoming known as an anti-bullying warrior.

 My Neighbor, The Bully Buster

Last night at a community meeting, a neighbor approached me and said, “I have a bullying story for you.” That’s been happening a lot lately: People who have read my coming-of-age novel, CAMP, and people who’ve heard that I’m known as “the anti-bullying novelist,” often have bullying tales to share with me. They talk about experiences they had when they were young –– experiences like those of the brutally bullied teenager in CAMP. People tell me about bullying that their children or grandchildren endured. They share horror stories, which, frankly, sometimes leave me speechless. They ask me how children can be so mean. They ask if I think this bullying epidemic will ever end. And they always ask if I was bullied as a child. When I reply that I’m lucky, that I wasn’t ever bullied, they ask how I was able to write “the realistic bullying scenes in CAMP.” I tell them that, even a decade after I retired from my school district position, “mean girl voices” still thunder in my head. Last night, though, my neighbor shared a bullying story that left me with hope…and questions.

My neighbor Rod is a strapping man with a deep voice and a salty sense of humor –– not the kind of guy I picture telling bullying stories. But Rod was eager to share his with me. As a youngster, Rod said, he was “a really big boy.” And his buddy, Rod told me, was “super strong.” So whenever they saw a kid being bullied, Rod said that he and his buddy would walk right up to the ringleader and quietly say, “Stop.” They would put their arms around the bullied student, and escort him away from the group.

I must admit, it was refreshing to hear about these guys helping bullied students rather than hearing about another brutally bullied victim. It made me happy to hear a story of hope: a story with a moral that kids have the power to say “no” to bullying, that kids can stand up and help the victims.

But this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder: What if Rod and his buddy wouldn’t have been “really big” and “super strong”? Would they have stood up to the bullies? And if they had, would they have become the next targets?

We have an obligation to teach our children when to intervene and when to walk away and seek help from adults. And we have to let our children and our students know that each of them has a moral imperative to seek us out when they witness bullying; they have an obligation to be “upstanders” –– not bystanders. And we, as adults, have an obligation to help end this epidemic by being available to our children and our students when they call on us. We must expect nothing less from each other. Like my neighbor, we all must be bully busters. Together, we must stop the bullying epidemic.

Upstanders, not bystanders. I like that.

Elaine Wolf,  through her books and her reputation as the anti-bullying novelist, is, herself, a bully buster. It’s a goal for all of us to strive toward.

For more information about Elaine and her books, be sure to visit the

Elaine Wolf website.

Now get out there and be a bully buster!

AND THE WINNER IS . . . !

Thanks to all the readers who left comments and entered the contest for a free copy of Bully at Ambush Corner. I didn’t get enough entries for a packing crate, but that’s okay. Here’s a photo of the tooled leather box from Africa I used for the contest entries. (No, I haven’t been to Africa, but it was a gift from friends who have.) I’m including it simply so you know I did actually put the names in the box and draw one out–without peeking.

And the winner is–drum roll–Shelley Spencer.

I’ll be getting in touch with Shelley to let her know.

Thanks, again, to those who participated.

IT’S H-E-E-E-ERE! GET ONE FOR FREE

Bully in print

To celebrate the arrival of the print edition of Bully at Ambush Corner, I’m holding a contest to give one lucky reader a free copy. Or is it only one lucky reader?

(Be sure to read all the way to the end or you’ll be sor-r-r-y. Not to mention you’ll miss some of my superbly superb writing.)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Bully at Ambush Corner would soon be available in print. That day has arrived. Bully is now for sale on:

Amazon and Createspace.

In order to get the launch off to a running start, or at least to a strolling start, I’m giving away a free copy of Bully to a lucky reader who posts a comment on this blog. Since I’m not very savvy about online random number drawings, the winner will be determined by the very precise, scientific method of someone (me) writing each participant’s name on exactly the same size of paper, and with eyes tightly closed, drawing it, not from a shot glass, but from a cereal box, from a mixing bowl, or, preferably–in order to accommodate the massively massive horde of entries–from a packing crate. I know there will be a horde of entries, because each one of you is going to spread the news of the contest via word of mouth, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, e-mail, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. (I’m channeling the King of Siam here. If you don’t understand that reference, watch the movie “The King and I.” You’ll enjoy it.)

The contest will run until October 1 at 5 p.m. PDT. Naturally, I have the option of extending it, but I certainly won’t end it early, since I want to give everyone plenty of time to come up with a clever comment to post.

For those of you who don’t want to wait and learn if you’re a loser or a winner, feel free to go online and purchase Bully immediately. Please note, however, that one Amazon seller has the book listed for $47.17. I wrote to him/her and asked how s/he arrived at that price, but haven’t received a reply. It left me wondering what else might be included with the book, perhaps his or her firstborn or the cat that keeps missing the litter box. If so, I understand, and even somewhat sympathize, but if the seller doesn’t want the surprise goody, I doubt you do either. So avoid that copy. It would be wonderful if I could sell every copy at that price, but I suspect that what I would sell is—one copy.

Now I’m going to beg. I’m down on my knees, my humble, pleading, aching knees.

(Cute, aren’t I?)

Please, once you’ve read the book, go on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. (Dratted earworm!) Then write a review. I refuse to send out free copies of my book to garner reviews, not because I’m—ahem—cheap. I am, after all, giving away my contest copy for FREE.  I refuse because I don’t like trying to guilt strangers into writing a review. I also don’t send money to any of those sites or publications you pay to write a review of your book—whether or not they’ve read it. (Bet some of you didn’t know those existed. Stick with me. You’ll learn something new every day.) I want regular readers to write my reviews for me, positive or scathing, because I think people trust those reviews. If I get enough reviews—I think the minimum is fifteen—I would also get the option of having my book posted on a free promotional site. (Okay, okay, perhaps I’m not entirely above guilting people into helping out, but if you’re reading this blog, to me, you’re not strangers, at least not total strangers.)

So here’s your assignment, should you chose to accept it. (Another reference some of you will recognize.)

1. Post a comment.

2. Spread the word.

3. If you lose the contest or simply because you don’t want me to go shoeless this winter, buy the darn book. It costs about as much as a couple of Caffè Mochas and won’t make you fat.

4. Write and post a review.

(“Dragging myself up off my aching, but cute, dimpled knees now,” she said wearily.)

Boy, this begging wears a girl out.

Until next week . . .

Goodness! Almost forgot. If comments number more than 25, I’ll add a second copy of Bully and a second WINNER!

Admit it. I ROCK!

BULLIED GIRL LEAVES SIMON COWELL SPEECHLESS

I don’t watch the X Factor, so I missed the recent performance by Jillian Jensen that brought all four judges to tears and even left hard-boiled Simon Cowell choked up and near speechless. After the show, he admitted it was the first time he’d felt that way during a performance.

What Jillian did with her voice wasn’t as amazing as what she did with her emotion–poured it into a song that made listeners feel the pain that comes from being bullied. Anyone not moved would have to be made of granite.

I’d love to get some feedback from bullies who watched the performance to learn how it made them feel. Did they finally get it? Did they finally understand how much pain their actions cause?  Because many bullies bully because of the pain they themselves are feeling, did seeing Jillian make them realize they’re passing that pain along, unnecessarily so, and spark a touch of empathy?

Were or are you a bully? I’d love to hear from you after you watch the video. If you had seen it when you were young would it have changed your behavior? If you still bully, will it make you stop and think before you savage a hurting human being?

 

BULLY IN PRINT

Coming soon in paperback.

This is going to be a short post. One reason is a very long to-do list. The other is that it doesn’t take many words to announce that within the next week or so BULLY AT AMBUSH CORNER is going to be available in print. I have had many people request a printed copy, and taking into consideration that not every middle grader has access to an e-reader, I recognized the wisdom of having a paper copy available. So, voila!

I’ll let you know as launch day nears so you can all jump on line and order your very own copy of BULLY AT AMBUSH CORNER.

A girl can hope, can’t she?

STOP HATE TO STOP BULLYING

It being Labor Day, a day in which we were supposed to take a break from work, I’m going with a short post today about an  organization for teens called We Stop Hate. Described as an organization designed for “Building a movement of ‘Boppers’ – teens around the world dedicated to ending bullying through raising self-esteem.”

The site has over 100 videos in different categories, including some from celebrities such as Lady Gaga, so teens are bound to find one they can relate to. The prominent message is that teens first need to love themselves as they are. In other words, “BEYOU(tiful).” There is even a section of letters called “Love Yourself” written by teens to themselves.

This looks like a great site for teens. Spread the word. Their name and their message says it all. Definitely a worthwhile goal.

DO POPULAR MEDIA ENCOURAGE BULLYING?

 

Today’s post isn’t so much about bullying as it is about the media that might be helping to create an atmosphere wherein bullying seems normal and acceptable. It’s also about an experience I recently had that left me shaken.

There is much debate about whether or not watching violence in movies and on television can develop a tendency in young people toward being violent. I believe adults should be able to watch what they choose, but why make graphic violence so prominent? Have we not enough imagination to fill in the blanks for ourselves? And with respect to young people, I abhor the marketing of violent material to those whose brains are still growing.

According to the American Psychological Association, decades of research confirm the relationship between viewing violent media and aggressive behavior. In an article called “Violence in the Media,” Psychologists L. Rowell Huesmann, Leonard Eron and others found that “children who watched many hours of violence on television when they were in elementary school tended to also show a higher level of aggressive behavior when they became teenagers. By observing these youngsters into adulthood, Drs. Huesmann and Eron found that the ones who’d watched a lot of TV violence when they were eight years old were more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for criminal acts as adults. Interestingly, being aggressive as a child did not predict watching more violent TV as a teenager, suggesting that TV watching may more often be a cause rather than a consequence of aggressive behavior.”

In a report in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, researcher Paul Boxer of Rutgers University, concluded, “there currently can be very little doubt that exposure to violence in the media has a consistent and substantial impact on aggressive behavior.”

Another report from the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence revealed the following statistics:

By age 18, a young person will have viewed 200,000 acts of violence on television.

81% of television viewing is unsupervised between the ages of 2 and 7.

Children between the ages of 2 and 17 spend an average of 19 hours and 41 minutes a week watching television.

In one year, the average American child will spend 900 hours in school and 1,023 watching television.

Television ALONE is responsible for 10% of youth violence.

The most recent statistic in that report is from 2000, long before the internet and increasingly violent video games became a daily part of the lives of our youth. If those two pastimes were included, I suspect those figures would be much higher.

When they were young, I told my children that their growing brains were like JELL-O® before it became firm. Anything they put into that gray matter would be there for life, stuck when the gel (their) brain) solidified (matured). So they should be careful about what they welcomed into their brain, particularly anything repugnant or dehumanizing.

There was also an expression we used at that time: GIGO. Garbage in. Garbage out. This expression seems to be in direct contradiction to “what goes in stays forever.” But I see the garbage as being the behavior that occurs as a result of the trash dumped into that immature brain.

I recently had an experience that confirmed for me that our parenting—and the research quoted above—was on the right track. I watched a violent on-line video that was so disturbing it colored the rest of my day. (I’m not going to describe it or provide a link, because I don’t want to be responsible for ruining anyone’s day or giving them nightmares.) But the video not only affected how I felt, it came close to affecting how I behaved. As I drove to a meeting that night, hours after I watched the video, my mood was still so black that I became angry at bicycle riders and at other drivers who I thought were going too slowly or driving in an inconsiderate manner. I wanted to smash into their bumpers or make a rude gesture or yell out my window. If anyone had bumped my car, I feared I’d tear into them in a completely uncharacteristic fashion.

I’m an even-tempered person who isn’t prone to outbursts or angry rants and this was not my normal persona. My mood for most of the day had been cheerful. Nothing nasty had happened to upset me: No rejections from agents or editors. No bad news from family. Only that video I’d watched. But it seemed to have produced such dark emotions in me that I felt the need to wash them out of my system in some manner, wanted to jettison them asap, even if it meant dumping them on strangers by snarling at them and wishing them ill. In hindsight, a good bout of exercise might have accomplished the same, but that wasn’t on the agenda.

I’m not a child or a teenager whose brain is still maturing. If my behavior can be affected so easily by viewing a disturbing scene, how much more must violence on screen affect a young brain? I took in garbage and I spewed it out in my emotions and, almost, in my behavior.

I grew up watching feuding cartoon characters and seeing the Three Stooges bop each other on the head and pop each other in the eye with no ill effects. I remember watching on-screen cowboys and soldiers in the heat of battle. But when my movie villains got shot and died, there wasn’t a drop of blood, or a bullet hole, or a gaping gut, or a bit of brain matter to be seen. Yeah, it wasn’t realistic, but it didn’t have to be. We got the message without seeing the realism. We still felt the horror and the loss. And we were likely more heartbroken at the death of Old Yeller than we would have been had we seen his head get blown off.

I know that, for me, watching a heart-warming story or listening to music that makes me want to dance, has a positive effect on my mood. So why am I surprised that the disturbing video affected me so deeply? Perhaps because I thought I was past the age where they could.

Actually, I’m relieved that I was so profoundly affected, because our entertainment media have been stretching the boundaries for years now. Like the frog in the hot water, we’ve been watching as on-screen violence gradually has become more explicit and seemingly more acceptable, and as society as a whole becomes increasingly more immune to it.

I feel sorry for today’s young people. EVERYTHING is available for their “viewing pleasure,” if not on television, for certain on the internet. Much of it is reality, not fiction. Nothing is left to the imagination and it worries me that we might be creating a generation that believes violent behavior is the norm, because they’ve seen it happen on the screen every day for their entire lives. It worries me that we might be contributing to further generations of bullies who think nothing of using intimidation and a fist to impart their message.

Perhaps it’s time to let the pendulum swing the other direction.

Let’s return to leaving something to the imagination.

Do you watch violent movies or television shows?

Have you ever had an experience with media that affected your mood or changed your behavior?

USING “NICE WORDS” TO FIGHT BULLYING

Kevin Curwick

“A nice word can go a long ways.”  Those are the words of 17-year-old Kevin Curwick of Osseo, MN. I can attest to their truth.

When I was in my teens, I went with a friend to one of our small town’s pharmacies. I wasn’t there to shop. In those days I had no money. When my friends stopped in at Joe’s Corner Café after school, I went along, but without the necessary dollar, I didn’t eat unless one of them took pity on me and offered me some of their chips (fries) or a drink of their pop (soda.) So, in the drugstore, my friend shopped and I wandered the aisles, while the woman tending the store made small talk with me. I was at an age when I felt like an awkward, unattractive blob, and as I lingered over the eye makeup counter, she told me I had beautiful eyelashes. I knew it wasn’t true, as my eyelashes are very average and they happen to be stuck on the hooded eyes I inherited from my father’s side of the family. Nevertheless, I left that store glowing. Glowing.

It being a small town, I’m positive the woman knew my family history: that my home life was chaotic and that there was little money for the extras a teenage girl longs for. So she offered me a compliment, no doubt in the belief that I needed a bit of cheering. It seemed like a small thing, but the fact that I remember it after many decades speaks to the power of a “nice word.” Thank you Mrs. Holroyd.

I recalled this experience when I heard about the Twitter campaign of Kevin Curwick called Osseo Nice Things. Unlike kids who use Twitter to post negative cybertalk and to bully, Kevin decided to lift the spirits of classmates who were being bullied online by publishing only compliments about them. Comments such as, “Is going to be a famous musician one day. Katie Ray Murray.” Or, “Only knows how to be positive. Gabbi Horsford.”  For once, this is behavior you want to “go viral.” And it has. More and more similar Twitter sites are springing up in Minnesota, across the country, and around the world.

Over the years, I’ve also learned that, while a compliment given directly to someone is appreciated, it carries much more power if it comes from a third party. I can tell my son or daughter how proud I am of them and they’ll likely shrug. After all, they hear it from me as often as they deserve it. So I’ve taken to telling other people how proud I am of them, and, occasionally, the compliment will get passed along as, “Do you have any idea how proud your mom is of you? She just told me about XYZ.”

In the same way, it feels great to have your boss tell you you did a good job. But how much better it would feel if someone you just met said, “Oh, you’re Erik. Your boss told me you did a fantastic job on that Avery assignment.”

A mother, a boss. Anyone. If they think enough of a person to tell a third party, who, in turn, will offer a “nice word” when the opportunity arises, that’s a compliment to take to heart. And perhaps remember. The way I remember the time a considerate shop owner told an unhappy teenage girl she had lovely eyelashes.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, instead of using Twitter to toot our own horn and promote our successes and the minutiae of our lives, we use it to make other people feel good about themselves, the way Mrs. Holroyd made me feel so many years ago?

It’s worth a try.

So go ahead and post something positive about another person. And once in a while, post something positive that a third party told you about someone else. After all, “A nice word can go a long ways.”

Bravo, Kevin Curwick! Carry on.