In Bullying Experts, Expert Interviews

Alexandra Penn on Parent Education

Alexandra Penn, founder of Champions Against Bullying in 2003 and author of the Disney Parent-to- Parent award winning, Ministry of Education recommended interactive CD-ROM, “The No-Nonsense Guide To Kids’ Bullying Solutions,” is a leading expert on School Bullying/Youth Violence.She talks to about Parent Education.

The interview on Parent Education can also be found here and here.

Also Below is a Transcript of the interview on Parent Education: 

Alexandra Penn: Hello, my name is Alexandra Penn and I’m the founder of Champions against Bullying, an international organization and we have been around for almost a decade, 2014 marks a decade of our work trying to… working very hard to heighten awareness and put the brakes on bullying and how we do this is through our workshops for kids, parents and educators and through our award winning resources and also through presentations to associations and corporations and I got into this actually, I like to say I was bullied into it because in a way I guess I almost was but I worked as a counselor, special education counselor for The Board of Education and a crisis prevention specialist.

Now a lot of things that I noticed that went under the radar that needed attention and I thought, this is an area that really needs to be not only explored but kids really need help and I noticed that parents need help and so, do the teachers, the educators.

How do they deal with them and how do they actually identify what a bullying situation is. So, that’s when Champions against Bullying was formed and we have been going to it ever since. We, you know, there are a lot of organizations around these days that I call them pop up organizations because it is very hot or we say almost stylish to be doing this kind of work today.

People think that, you know, it’s a great way to get notoriety or make a buck but let me tell you that is definitely not the case.

Ciaran Connolly: I definitely agree with you there. It is not the quick way to make money, that’s for sure. There is a lot of satisfaction in it and I guess myself being personal, I have 2 younger children and obviously trying to be a better parent and understand what’s happening in the world. For me personally I gain a lot but very interesting to hear that you have been in operation nearly 10 years, it’s a great achievement. Have you seen a lot of changes in the 10 years?

AP: Yes, there have been a lot of changes and tragically not necessarily for the better and so, I think that the good thing about it is the fact, you know, more people are certainly aware of it. However there is still quite a number of people that still believe it’s “Oh, they are just teasing” or “kids will be kids” and they are in denial and that really doesn’t help kids either because what that does, is kids don’t wanna come forward to tell, you know, when the population is in denial, that’s not good because kids are in denial too and kids are often threatened by the bullies that they, you know, they would by lying in stitches and that’s a last thing that these kids need.

So, yes to answer your question most definitely, there have been changes and the numbers sadly are greater and what we need is for people to really believe that this is a very serious issue, very serious, not going away.

CC: Of course and maybe we need to do our own researches on this as well but we see a lot of suicides that are related back to bullying situations and maybe more so, cyber bullying. We have got a lot of media attention focused on them if it happens in The US or here locally. Ten years ago, were people… did you see as much tragic endings as many tragic endings or people committing suicide as much as they were? Was there as much media focused around it or this is something has only happened in the last few years?

AP: Well, suicide is the third leading cause for teens in The US and we can definitely prevent the majority of suicides. One of the big things is to get kids to talk about it and get parents to talk about it but it is one of those topics are hushed and kids internalize. We need to talk about it more and every student really needs to feel that somebody cares.

Children take their lives because they are in such pain that they can no longer stand the pain and they don’t see into it and to tell a child “I know, there is something going around” same to tell kid “It gets better” you know, a kid who is tormented everyday and lives in the silent pain really doesn’t see that.

What they need is help immediately and it’s up to us to be there and really notice children and do something about it immediately and we all play a part in it, parents, teachers, we all play a part and there are lots we can do.

Schools and Parent Education

CC: Very good and in your introduction, you mentioned obviously presenting and schools and corporations. Do you find that schools are very interested and proactive in getting your services and actually listening to the message and want to ensure that the children in their care, hear it and understand it? And I guess my second part of that is, do corporations also calling your services and is it for bullying or is it for mainly schools?

AP: Ok, well, that’s a good question Ciaran. We definitely encourage schools. We like schools to call on us because what we do is, we go into classrooms and we work to mobilize the bystander and rehabilitate the bully and empower the target and the other thing we like to do is train the teachers, advice them how do you know what is bullying, how do you identify it and what can you do about it and if you are seeing a situation, how do you deplane that situation.

So, that’s one part of what we do for schools. A lot of schools say, you know, “Well, then you come in and do an assembly.” And not sort of like a one off program and they think “Ok, well we have done something about it.” But we refuse to do one off assemblies because that involves grouping… kids of all ages together and what are you going to say to a child in grade one, you are not going to deliver the same way as to a child in grade eight for example.

So, really the one-off assemblies are just a way of saying “Ok, I did something.” You know, but you have got kids in the back texting and all kinds of things and that’s not what you wanna do. You wanna be able to impact, to make an impact, you wanna be able to change how people act, how they feel, how they look at things. The only way to do that is in small groups, we can give everybody a chance to be heard.

Teachers, schools and Parent Education

CC: Excellent, it sounds really great and in your introduction as well, you mentioned that… something that I definitely believe, parents, teachers and kids all need help. So, you also believe that parents and teachers not just kids who might be targets or victims and bullies need as much help as the youngsters because for me as a parent, there is no guide book. I’m worried about my own children becoming bullies or being the victims at some stage. So, you find the parents and teachers do need as much help?

AP: Yes, they definitely they need… first of all, they need to know how to identify the signs of bullying. Both parents and teachers need to know about that and then they also need to do, learn how to help the child. How to help the child so that it doesn’t make it worse, that’s one of the reasons to why children don’t tell the parents because they don’t trust.

They feel that the parents will make it worse. So, I think, you know, establishing, I mean, what we have to really do to our children is establish dialogues. We have to communicate with them. We have to let them know that they can trust us. So, that when anything happens, they don’t go off to their friends, you know and tell them but they come to the parents and the parents are the anchor, the parents are the focal point because it’s the parents that will do everything to help them but again the parents need to be informed, they need support.

How do I help my child who is been bullied? How do I do that? You know, this child is… has really lost so much self-esteem and school for him is the daily nightmare he attends. So, how can I make it better? But again the parents have to know.

CC: Very good, and do you see a difference on how bullying happens today? For example, social media and mobile phones, has that impacted how children behave in classes and with bullying?

AP: Yeah, yes, very much so, the thing is as we know with the social media, it’s a place where you can hide. You know, and you know, you hide behind it but in seconds millions of people, you know, know what’s going on in very… well, it’s very… it’s a way that “gazillions” of people, I should say are showing photographs and rumors are spread and for the child who is going through this, again it’s a living nightmare and what happens is… here is the statistics, this is a statistic in The US and it comes from The Bureau of Justice Statistics, The US Department of Health and Human Services and their Cyber Bullying Research Center and 52% of students reported being cyber bullied.

The next statistics, I wanna follow up with, is 52% of these students do not tell their parents. So, you have got 52% reported being cyber bullied and not… these are just the cases, that are reported, how about the ones that never get reported?

These are big numbers and you know, I really think that, you know, we have to pay more attention, we have to be vigilant and I think that researchers also, they know that one way to help begin to lower these bullying statistics is to tell an adult what is happening more and more and more and parents have the big job to do parents, you know, it’s like understanding what the signs of bullying are and listening between the lines and one of the best advises to give to a child who is being bullied, right, one of the best advises is “please tell your parents.”

They are there to protect you and silence isn’t golden when it comes to bullying. The bullies are like sharks, they tour the water looking for easy prey and they look for defensive responses and our workshops teach children safe and healthy ways to respond. How you look, how you talk, how you act matters.

We tell kids to walk with their heads high, their shoulders backward and straight ahead. We give them some comeback lines and give them the tools that they need to make a turn. So, in other words, it’s not just… we are very solutions oriented and not… that’s where we differ from a lot of other organizations.

You know, it’s the kind of thing someone says “You are thirsty” and you say “Well, you should have a drink.” Ok, well that’s fine but you are giving them advice but if you actually give them the drink, you are giving them the solution. So, that’s what we do and yeah and there is… the long term effects on people who are bullied, are huge and of course that would depend on the severity of the bullying and how long the child was bullied.

Parent Education on Bullying

CC: Some very good points raised there, I will come back to them for sure. Do you think the current media coverage on bullying and cyber bullying as I say, I think in the last 2 or 3 years, I have seen cases from The US here on TV and on news, websites here where I can’t remember seeing them that often in the years before. Do you think the current media is helping the situation?

AP: Well, you know again, that’s a very good question, I think in the media in some cases, you know, if it bleeds it leads and so, sometimes it’s sensationalized, it depends, media can be also used for good and otherwise because it can sensationalize but the other thing it can do is inform and so, like technology, it has its pros and cons.

It’s not always the tool that is to blame but how it’s used and the thing is connection through technology don’t allow us to feel empathy for others. Our connecting with technology too often results in a “disconnect to our inners”.

So, empathy is something that is a little harder to contact these days. So, the art of conversation has suffered. So, back to the media, I think that responsible reporting informs and educates and has the ability to insolence our behavior and our way of thinking about certain things.

On the other hand, it can sensationalize, you know, glamorize and fictionalize people or events and make them seem greater or lesser, less serious or more serious than they actually are.

CC: Of course and over your 10 years, have you ever come across severe cases and consequences of bullying? You mentioned in the previous answer about the long term effects of bullying. Have you seen that or come across that in your time dealing with these?

AP:Yeah, yes, you know, severe cases, there is a, you know, the severe cases are definitely the young children who take their lives and the parents who never see them growing to adulthood and you know, I have taught many parents who have regrets about the way the whole thing was handled and they suffer with a lot of guilt and you know, they say “I didn’t protect my child.”

Well, in many cases, they didn’t know, they just didn’t know, they didn’t know what signs to look for either because there are signs to look for when your child is going through something but sadly yes, you know, one of the biggest cases was in Anchorage, Alaska where a young boy, very good student was bullied and so badly beaten that he came to about one half into his life and he was confined to bed and fed through a tube out of his stomach, you know, that case was back… I think that was 2004, cost the school a lot of money, the insurance companies pay for it but you know, that doesn’t bring back the child, that doesn’t bring… and here is a good student.

There been so many of them, you know, cases like that and a few years ago, young 15 years old boy was murdered in his classroom in California for being gay. You know and guns, guns sadly are too easy for children to get hold of. You know, when you have a 5 years old boy coming on the bus with a gun and saying “He is really mad.” You know, we have got problems.

CC: Yeah definitely, one thing I’m glad to say, we don’t have over here, never have is I guess the freedom or the right to bear arms. So, one thing we don’t have a problem with compared to The US and that’s one thing to be grateful for but sadly we do have cases in our past history that guns have been an issue but let’s see what the future hold and hopefully we will be able to avoid that I guess but definitely there is a lot of sad cases out there and we have to try and stop these, I guess history repeating itself in that respect. If a child is being bullied, what will be the best advice to give to them? If there is a child listening to this audio, what should we tell them to do next or how should they feel about it?

AP: Well, I only have to tell the child what is the best advice to give a child, I think is to tell them don’t keep it to yourself, tell your parents, tell your parents especially if it is escalating because they need to protect you and like I say silence is not golden when it comes to bullying and bullies, they are like sharks, they tour the water looking for easy prey.

They look for defensive responses and our workshops teach children safe and healthy ways to respond, how you look and how you talk matters and so, as I say we give them comeback lines and you know, give them ways to… if they are attacked by group for example, we say be sure to try and get away and scream at the top of your lungs.

You know, there plenty of children sadly again who are attacked by groups and kids that usually there are kids that really don’t know how to fight back.

CC: Of course and the matter, child or adult if you are attacked by group of individuals, it’s gonna be very tough to take any action. So, it’s good to hear that’s been covered and do you think again going back to long term effects on young people that are bullied, do you think that can impact people through their later life? Have you seen examples of that?

AP: Yes, you know and again that depends on the severity of the bullying and how long the child was bullied and how quickly the child got help and what kind of help the child was provided with. So, there is all, you know, all those things to consider but how about try, try to trace that.

First of all, there is the statistic… there is quite a bone chilling statistic that goes like this, when kids are characterized in grades 6 through 9 as bullies, they go on or if they have bullying behavior, they go on to become sadly by 24 years of age, they begin to become a victim of the system.

So, in another words, they endure or they accumulate offenses and by 24 years of age, they are already marked. So, these are kids that really never got any help.

CC: Of course and causing society long term problems.

AP: Exactly and so, you know, again it’s really… I can’t stress enough how important it is for kids to get help very early on and a lot of kids, you know, for a lot of kids too, it’s… they need the confidence. They need the self-esteem. They need the resilience to be able to bounce back and know how to defend themselves and that’s the piece that again parents can give then.

CC: Very good and if there is a parent listening to this now as well and just found out that their child is actually being bullied. What is the best way to, I guess engage with the school or what the parent of another child, I guess my own thoughts would be to… I will be very upset and annoyed that this is happening to my own child and it’s hard to keep our emotions in check when something like this happens, what is the best way to approach it? What… without causing offense or more problems and actually getting a resolution in the end?

AP: Right, yes, of course, absolutely, well, number one:

If a parent does know what is going on, you know, a lot of parents, their first instinct is to tell the child’s parents, the bully’s parents, that is not a good idea for starters. The best way really to handle it if it is happening and let’s supposeit is not happening in the school but if it’s happening in the school, the best thing to do is to go through the channels and often it is the teacher and the principal.

They really need to know and so, it’s good to have a face to face conversation with them. Tell them what’s going on and ask them what can be done about it and make sure that the parent documents everything and there should be a time limit that set up that this is taken care of.

So, in other words “Oh we… it’s not… oh yes, will take of it” but when you will take care of it because my child now is being bullied. So, you know, I think if you give them 3 days, I think that’s plenty for them to talk to the child who is the offender and get something done and if nothing is done, I think that there should definitely be a meeting with the parents, with both sets of parents and the school administration and then… but school administration should be informing the parents anyway right away because the last thing a lot of parents don’t realize the gravity in sending the child right back to school with nothing being done.

So, it’s really important for the bullies to know that things are being done, you can’t do this to child anymore. A lot of kids just keep going back to school and it keeps happening to them and you know, it’s like no definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results.

No, that’s not going to happen so that, we have to make sure that once we tell the school, once we know we tell the school, make sure the school does something about it. If the school doesn’t act and the child is going to school and is still suffering, well, it’s really important that the child get away from it and I think that children, you know, we used to say “Oh but what are you teaching the child if you pull him out of the school?” and this kind of thing, well, you know, there is the pros and cons for that too but we are not sending our children to be cannon foddered.

What we want is for our children to have their education same as anybody else and they are entitled to it. So, if nothing is happening, I think the kid, you know, if the only thing that’s happening to the kid is being beaten up again then you have to remove the child from the situation and you know, sometimes the police will do something, sometimes not but I am an advocate of getting a lawyer, an attorney and possibly the best thing to do is to get a restraining order.

Something that keeps these people away from harming your child because you know, our model is learning is impaired when children are scared. When kids are scared, they can’t learn, all the learning goes on at the front of the classroom, not always looking behind them. They are always living in fear, you know and so, it’s really important to get the hope for your child as quickly as possible.

CC: Excellent, that was great, some amazing advices for anyone that actually suffering from bullying or parents as well. So, again thank you very much for your time and helping us with that and if anyone wanted to reach out to you or to find out more about what your organization does, what’s the best way for them to do that?

AP: I’m sorry, the best…

CC: I’m sorry, what’s the best way for anyone to find out more about what your organization does or even to reach out to you and get more help and advice? What’s the best way?

AP: Sure, the other thing that we do for schools, I just wanted to mention as well, is we really provide a comprehensive program. We develop school safety policies and procedures. We help schools develop anonymous reporting procedures because you know, often kids will not tell because you know, they don’t want it to be revealed. So, we develop anonymous reporting systems. We also go… we also suggest to schools how to do, kind of, safety inspections throughout the school and identify the hotspots. Sort of places where kids are more likely to be bullied, perhaps they need to put another teacher or monitor in that area. Perhaps they even need to light, you know, if it is a dark corner, this kind of things, sort of, to make it more helpful.

So, and more happy, you know, we are happy to help parents, kids and schools, educators, whoever and please, you know, just we have a website and it is and you can also reach us through [email protected]

CC: Excellent, so that’s great and we will have… we will make sure to put in a live link to your website underneath this audio video. So, anyone can click through and reach you very quickly.

AP: Ok, Ciaran, couple of things I did want to mention also, that, you know, parents should be watching out for changes in the child’s behavior because they are warning signs and many need to know what the warning signs are.

So, I’m just going to quickly mention that, suddenly your once outgoing child may become moody, his appétit diminishes, he has troubles falling asleep, staying asleep, he may experience nightmares and his friends don’t come around anymore and he doesn’t go out, the computer suddenly shuts if you walk by and there are a lot of phone hang ups.

The other thing is, you know, her favorite jacket may be missing, clothes may be torn, parents may notice money missing because they… bullies do extort money “Ok, well if you don’t want to, you know, be beaten to a poll, pay me” your child may feign illness or be unusually hungry because perhaps his lunch or his lunch money was stolen. So, these are all things that parents need to look out for these are all signs that your child is in trouble.

CC: Of course and it’s very difficult as a parent seeing the differences and I guess some parents will put down changes and mood and behavior to adolescents or going through a phase but no, some sound advice on what to look out for in the next step and the bigger challenges probably sitting down with a child and actually getting them to open their heart and tell you as a parent exactly what is happening and what is impacting their life and then as you are saying very important and be able to take action but actually knowing that there is something wrong in the first place makes everything has happens. So, brilliant again thank you for sharing that with us, some great advices for anyone that is listening.

AP: You are so welcomed, so I just, you know, enclosing, I want to urge parents to get informed. There is a lot of information out there, our organization is happy to help and communicate daily with your kids. Let them know you are there for them and they can always count on you because kids need to be taught life skills, it’s valuable to them and help them grow with a healthy adult. So, show your kids everyday and every way how important they are to you.

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