Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Beyond Awareness Campaigns: A Step to Stop Bullying

In New Jersey schools this week is the Week of Respect. The Week of Respect is an annual week of awareness, education and action around harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB). It is mandated by New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Law. (Source: Garden State Equality). My kids are spending this week in their classrooms talking about being kind and respectful to one another. 

Coming up, October 15th is Spirit Day, GLAAD's campaign to stand against bullying and support LGBT youth by wearing purple and talking about the issue. You can take the Spirit Day pledge on the site and learn more about GLAAD's resources.

Here's the deal. I've talked to my kids, and we've done the respect activities. I took the pledge, and I'll wear my purple on Thursday. I stand with these efforts. I hope you do, too. I hope you stand for a world where we won't need respect weeks and spirit days to declare our intentions to stand with those on the edges of our communities. I hope you stand against bullying, every day and every week. If you do... here's the biggest thing you, we, can do.

Talk to our kids. Yes, we have to talk to our kids. Not about bullying and respect weeks and spirit days. We just need to talk to our kids about life, about community, about the world. Talk to our kids about people, places, and things that are not like them. 

I urge you. Teach your kids about the world. The whole world. Fill your homes with a respect for those different than you. Plant and nurture seeds of curiosity in your children. Curiosity instead of fear. Fill your bookshelves with what's beyond your four walls, beyond your town, your state, your culture. Read. Read about all the places, people, and experiences you possibly can. Learn WITH your child. You don't need to know it all already. That's exactly the point! Show your children you don't know it all. Meet all different kinds of people. Learn their stories. Acknowledge and celebrate your differences. 

He's only 5. He's not ready for that.

She's only 7. I have time.

But, when will they learn? When will we decide that it's time to teach our kids that not everyone is like them? Will we do it before they've decided that being different must be bad?

That's too young to learn about sexuality. Of course we don't teach young children about sexuality in whatever way you're thinking about. But, we can teach them about all different kinds of families. That will surely make it easier to relate to and understand classmates with two dads or friends who live with grandma.
He won't understand autism or down syndrome. Actually, there are kids in his school, in his class whose brain work different than his, and he knows something is different about them. But he's not sure what, and not knowing is uncomfortable and even a little scary.
This is what I know. We fear what we don't know. When we're scared, we make some pretty ugly choices about how we treat people. So let's know more, let's learn. Those of us who live in the country, let's teach our kids about city life and those with a mom and a dad at home can share stories with our kids of families with two moms and divorced families who live separately and so on. We can seek to hear the stories of others and we can share those stories with our children. We can hear stories of adoption, limb difference, and neuro-atypicality. We can learn about other faiths, cultures and belief systems. And yes, for the sake of my daughter, I hope we can learn that some girls were mistaken for boys at birth and that some boys were mistaken for girls.

There are difficult and heavy things our kids will need to learn about. Injustice, oppression, discrimination, and privilege are just a few. But the idea that people can look, think, and live differently than us is simply not one of those difficult and heavy things. The understanding that some people are differently-abled, transgender, speak with a different accent or in a different languages... that people come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors... and that families are made in a million different ways... this is not the difficult and heavy. If we have any hope of tackling the difficult and heavy (and yes, we most certainly need to), let's start here.

The world is rich with flavor, color, and diversity. There is no time too soon to share that with our children. It's not something that is accomplished in a day or week of awareness. Bullying ends and respect begins when we know that every person has their own story, that every person's story is valuable, and that no person's story can take away from your story. 

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