I was flattered when TLC Book Tours contacted me (again) and asked me to review the book Bullied – What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear by Carrie Goldman. I’ve shared with my readers about the bullying that my kids have been subjected too, and even the bullying that I have been victim to, so I was very interested in reading this title. I will admit, I was also skeptical. Would this be a”boo-hoo, my kid was picked on, feel sorry for me” title? Or was Goldman just jumping on the bullying bandwagon? Only time would tell.
I began reading with some trepidation however, I am pleased to present you with Carrie Goldman’s Bullied – What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. Goldman’s book is well researched including first account stories from victims, bullies, bully-victims, parents, teachers, school administrators, counselors, authors and other professionals. The writing flows well and is interjected with, but not dominated by, stories of Goldman’s own experiences with bullies. Her 8-year-old daughter was harassed by her classmates because she chose to carry a Star Wars water bottle. It was a difficult read for me though because it brought up memories of many of my own experiences as a victim of bullying along with my children’s experiences of being bullied.
In the Introduction Goldman writes that “only about 15 percent of kids suffer trauma as a result of being bullied”. She quickly reminds us though that “15 percent is clearly the minority…it still represents millions of traumatized children”. Goldman continues “Studies investigating the neuroscience of bullying have found that bully victims experience anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, difficulty concentrating, headaches and stomach pain as a result of being bullied.” I was impressed, but not surprised, to read that Neuroimaging shows “[t]he brain of a child as a young as thirteen has been shown to react to social pain as if the child were being physically injured.” And “the repetitiveness of it (bullying) – actually alters brain functioning”.
Separated into three parts, Bullied starts with Part One: Katie’s Story (Katie is the author’s daughter); Part Two: Kids at High Risk for Victimization; Part Three: Where Do We Go From Here? Prevention, Intervention, and Reconciliation. Each chapter goes in depth telling about different reasons kids are bullied (in my experience anything will do). I’d like to delve a little into some of the areas that touched on the lives of my family in the Madhouse.
In Part One, Goldman shares in detail her daughter’s distress at being teased about her love of Star Wars. The author also shares the different steps she, as a parent, took to alleviate her daughter’s suffering and the logic behind her intervention. “To dismiss the taunting as ‘boys being boys’ or as a ‘schoolyard rite of passage’ would send the message that the behaviour was normal and acceptable”. I, for one, abhor the term “boys will be boys”. This expression has been used to excuse an entire gender (for generations) from every form of harassment from name-calling to rape. I commend Goldman for not falling prey to an out-dated “norm”.
Goldman spends much time discussing how marketing has profoundly affected societal expectations. How toy companies and department stores have “boy toys” and “girl toys” rather just toys. This hit very close to home for me as most of my friends have sons, while I have a daughter and a son. Rian has been excluded many times because “she’s a girl” and wanted to incorporate her toys with the boys’ games.
My one friend, Amy*, commonly used the “boys will be boys” expression and was adamant that her boys (would) not play with girl toys. When they would come visit the Madhouse they would be exposed to both girl and boy toys which both my children played with simultaneously. It was not uncommon for Barbie to be dining with Transformers and for Littlest Pet Shop to be playing with Pokemon. As a matter of fact, my son loved Littlest Pet Shop (I became addicted to buying them, finding Pets the kids didn’t have, I have since broke the habit). Rather than restrict him from, what I believe was, a neat toy I searched for the least feminine ones or we simply removed the bows. The kids combined their collections creating a Littlest Pet Shop utopia in my basement. (I would like to point out that Amy’s boys loved to play with the Pets at my house and through my encouragement Amy purchased some for her boys and they loved them.)
I have an older brother and growing up I was always a bit of a tomboy. I liked to play in the dirt. I didn’t run from snakes (spiders were a different story, though – they’re just creepy). I rode a BMX bike (remember those?). I wore jeans, t-shirts, ball caps (I wore trucker caps before they were cool). I didn’t care to wear anything frilly (my mom loves lace and frilly, we had many a battle over clothes). I played Barbies, GI Joe, The A-Team (the one with Mr. T.). I coveted my friends’ My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake collections. As an adult I love The X-Men, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings (I’m anxiously awaiting the new Hobbit movie), The Avengers, Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars. I do not believe in limiting my enjoyment of the world because I was born with two X chromosomes. One of my best friends, T., is an avid Star Wars fan and has been since she was a little girl. Her parents would buy her the Star Wars toys without thought to the “gender” issue.
Two chapters in Bullied are dedicated to gender issues. The first focuses on “Geek Girls”. Goldman defines a “Geek Girl” as “a chic intellectual, often working in the fields of science or math, proud of recreational interest in games, fantasy, comic conventions, chess and science fiction”. Goldman explains that mature “Geek Girls” are reaching out and mentoring their younger counter parts – offering solace, reassurance and encouragement to the next generation. She does express some concern that “Geek Girls” may be gaining acceptance through overt sexuality (have you seen the outfits they paint on the female superheros? I mean, come on, what kind of intelligent warrior goes into battle with her shirt cut down to her belly button and only 20% of her flesh covered? As a self-proclaimed geek this has never made sense to me.). However, Goldman also states, “Female Geeks, in owning both their sexuality and their assertiveness, can serve as excellent role models for younger girls who are trying to buck gender stereotypes.” I admire Goldman’s willingness to question if it is the sexuality of “Geek Girls” that has earned their acceptance while acknowledging it as a strength.
Gender Reveal – Did you know cheer-leading, a primarily “girl sport” (a very sexualized one at that), was a male dominated sport until the 1930s? Women were a rare sight in a secretarial pool until the 1940s?
In “Princess Boys and Non-Conforming Guys”. Goldman introduces us to little boys who
love sparkle, pink, and dolls or are sensitive and compassionate. All qualities that have been discouraged by and in “alpha males”. My son is a very sensitive and empathetic boy. I think these are some his greatest strengths, but these same qualities cause him to be a target for bullies. Alexi started Grade 8 two weeks ago and has already missed 3 days of school mostly because of bullying. One of his classmates is taunting him, calling him and his best friend “fags” or “gay”.
This has been going for a couple of years now and when Alexi first confessed he was being subjected to this torment he was very confused. He sat down one day and asked me, “Mom, what is gay anyway?” I told him “gay” was when you were attracted to someone of the same sex. A man would love a man and a woman would love a woman. I used the example of the gay couple, Jason and Brad, who live down the street from us. Alexi said, “Oh,” thought about it for a minute and proclaimed, “I am sooo not gay.”. I told him, “I didn’t think you were, but it wouldn’t matter anyway.” (This was the boy who, in kindergarten, told me he was going to have 5 different wives in 5 different houses. )
Goldman points out that calling boys “fags” or “gay” is not only hurtful to the boys who aren’t gay but is demeaning to the ones who are (I guess that two-for-one bullying).
I think the chapter that struck me the most was Quirky Kids and Kids with Hidden Disabilities. I wondered if she’d met my kids somewhere because she described them perfectly in those few words. Goldman writes, “students with disabilities reported significantly higher rates of victimization when compared to their general education peers”. No big surprise there. I’ve been fighting this battle since JK.
Goldman covers a great range of bullying techniques – the traditional ostracizing, name calling, harassment, physical assault to more modern bullying like cyberbullying and sexting (I have warned young girls not to take photos of themselves and send them in to cyber space, this is so dangerous). She discusses bully-victims – kids who both bully and are bullied (I think Rian could fit into this category; with her limited social skills she failed to see how her actions were a problem – it was a very difficult time for everyone involved).
Goldman talks about the long-term affects on victims. How being bullied can affect their health and how it can affect performance in the work place. That one hit me very close to home as I have been bullied in the workplace. I could not understand why I was being picked on. A co-worker told me she believed I was being belittled because I was “taller than them, prettier than them and smarter than them”. For me, it was worse than high school.
She describes coping strategies that victims come up with – feigning illness (this happens in the Madhouse) or suffering with psychosomatic symptoms; withdrawing socially; cutting and self harm (Rian went through this phase for a couple of years, I’m really hoping she’s not going to go back to it because I have struggled with it too, even now will dig my nails deep into my skin or bite myself – never enough to break the skin but enough to cause pain).
In Bullied, Goldman offers alternate solutions – get your child involved in activities outside of the bullying environment. Enroll them in dance, music, riding lessons, art classes. Many students that she spoke with told her that drawing, journalling or writing poetry helped get them through the darkest days.
In the last few chapters of Bullied, Goldman offers resources for parents. She calls big brand companies to stop gender marketing their products. She calls for schools and communities to take action against raising another generation of bullies. She encourages bystanders and witnesses to take action.
All-in-all, Bullied is an excellent read. I would highly recommend this title to anyone who is concerned about the bullying epidemic.
* I changed my friend’s name
Bullied Tour Dates
Monday, September 10th: Moments of Exhilaration
Monday, September 17th: Mommy Uncensored
Tuesday, September 18th: Voracious For Books
Wednesday, September 19th: The Girl Revolution
Thursday, September 20th: Surviving the Madness
Saturday, September 22nd: A Life Sustained
Monday, September 24th: Between the Covers
Tuesday, September 25th: Here’s To Not Catching Our Hair On Fire
Wednesday, September 26th: Library of Clean Reads
Thursday, September 27th: Misbehavin Librarian
Thursday, October 4th: she treads softly
Date TBD: GeekMom/TotalFanGirl
TBD: Being 5
About the Author
Carrie Goldman blogs about issues related to adoption and parenting for ChicagoNow.com, the online community of the Chicago Tribune. She has been featured on Babble.com, Mamapedia.com, HuffPost Parents, CircleofMoms.com, and other top parenting sites. Goldman received her B.S. from Northwestern University and her M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management. She lives in Illinois with her husband and three daughters.