Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Victim Mindset and The Power of “NO!”

In Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being, the principal character is a Japanese girl, Nao Yasutani, who has returned to her homeland as a fifteen year old teenager schooled in California. She considers herself a transfer student, already behind in studies and is the object of torture by her peers. She accepts this “ijime”, peer torturing, both physically and mentally by other students as she is considered a “ronin,,,,just means a dummy who screws up her entrance exams”1 (page 673). She walks into the arena with a mind-set of a victim. Nao documents her life, achingly describing every detail in her diary,  chronicling the events that she has determined will justify her suicide. The author nailed the mindset of the victim and the experience of an intelligent young person being bullied to death, with tacit approval of the “system”. One might point a finger at the Japanese cultural norm allowing this, but the heartbreaking reality is bullying, the use of physical and/or mental violence and preying upon the weaker person, as exemplified in the novel, is human nature. Too many recent teenage suicides have been documented in the media, and sadly, this is a universal phenomenon.

Beyond her own acceptance that she somehow deserved this treatment, there are factors that Nao cannot control:  primarily the lack of critical knowledge withheld by her parents who conspire to enforce the victim mindset, and witnessing her father’s demoralizing behavior after he supposedly lost his job in California. But one pivotal point saves her:  she owns her inner strength, empowering her. She herself knows that she has this “superpower”, as she states herself, thinking about her life that she “…grew up in Sunnyvale, in my heart I’m American, and I believe I have a free will and can take charge of my own destiny.”(page 2,003), but it is her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, who gives her the gift of insight.

Two things are going on here:  one, Nao does not have the skills to fight back against the bullies until she steps outside the acceptable role she has been forced into, and, two, it is vital that parents and teachers and family reinforce self-worth in a child and teach life skills. Nao’s  mother, beleaguered by marital and economic crises, does go to the school once she discovers the physical wounds all over her daughter’s body, but, as so often happens, confronting the principal, making a scene, only worsened the situation for Nao; there was no agreement that the situation would change or that there would be consequences for those who participated in the bullying, and no follow-up. Nao’s mother merely threw a Nerf ball at the problem; but fortunately for Nao, her parents had the good sense to send her to the temple where her grandmother lived for the summer. Although this is a fictional account of a young woman’s travail, it is too often the scenario that bullied children endure.

Oh, sure, blame the victim. It seems more than unfair to put all the responsibility back onto the very one who is being targeted, but the truth is only by changing one’s attitude, internalizing “NO!” can the victim step outside the reality of being victimized. Ultimately, Nao could choose to live her life without blame, through enlightenment, or continue down the self-destructive path. This is a lot of responsibility for a teenager, to determine the course of her life when she has the victim mind set.

How can a parent differentiate typical teen angst and drama from serious self-worth issues? That is the most daunting task for a parent, because there are few teenagers who will confide in a parent that he or she is being bullied. Physical signs of abuse--bruising, scarring, withdrawal, anxiety, avoidance behaviors, food issues, change of habits, and deteriorating grades--are certain red flags. A parent must initiate the conversation with reassurance that the child will not be judged, that you, the parent, will listen respectfully, and discuss the course of action to be taken on behalf of your child. Physical abuse is never to be tolerated, but there are many methods of mental abuse including taunting, name-calling, shunning and stalking. The most insidious bully game now is cyberbullying and cyberstalking through social media sites.

While not every child who is bullied has an advocate who is a Buddhist nun, parents can be role models for children, primarily by treating the child with respect and expecting respect from the child. I would not tell my child that he or she could hit, punch, pinch, bite or swear but I would give permission to fight back with words or attitude; if, and only if, threatened with physical violence, then strike back. The one empowering ploy for my child was taking a program in self-defense; although she never had to use it, she knew she had the physical strength and skill to defend herself. The important change was her attitude, her vibes made it clear that she would not be anyone’s victim.

I outlined in a previous article what parents and educators can do. It  bears repeating.  It is in the school classrooms and especially on the playground where a child is most likely to be bullied. It is the primary arena where teachers, principals, crossing guards and supervisors can effectively intervene.  Aggressive behavior cannot be ignored or shrugged off as something that children must learn to deal with--bullying is never a normal experience for children. There is a difference between conflict resolution and bullying; and that must be clearly defined, stated and enforced by teachers, cafeteria workers, crossing guards, playground supervisors, parents, and the students themselves.

Awareness of the problem can be highlighted in the classroom by the teachers openly discussing the effects that bullying has on others. The act of isolating a target, making a child vulnerable to taunts, physical and emotional abuse has to be clearly stated and outlined as unacceptable behavior. Oftentimes, students stand by, not knowing how to help another child who is being attacked verbally or physically, and both the target and bystander suffer from anxiety, fear and insecurity. This has severe consequences on concentration and feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.

Another way of helping children to understand the effects of harassment is by role playing; having the student act as the target, and reverse the role and be the bully. This can be done in the classroom with the teacher participating in the discussion and redirecting the aggressive behavior towards resolving a conflict, or as a written assignment. Children can be told it is okay ignore the jibes, walk away, say “NO!”, or get adult intervention for a physical threat. Adults must be available and understand it is important for a child to have protection against the bully. The school administration must have and enforce a policy against all forms of bullying, even having students sign pledges that they will not participate or tolerate bullies. A parent can role play at home, literally and figuratively standing behind your child and encouraging the child to stand tall, speak up, speak out, and take ownership of the power of “NO!” Let that be the mantra that changes the mindset of the lamb to the mindset of  a lion.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Anti-bullying Efforts Creating Victims?

Found this article about a recent study that suggests the anti-bullying efforts may actually increase the incidences of bullying or, at the very least, the reporting of incidents. I can see where this could be a concern but I don't believe it is enough of a concern to stop these bullying prevention programs. Perhaps some adjustments are in order?

Bullying Prevention May Have Unintended Consequences
By Rick Nauert PhD, Senior News Editor at

School-based anti-bullying initiatives have become standard across the country, but a new study finds that the programs may increase the risk that a child may be a victim.

This finding from a new study is contrary to the common perception that bullying prevention programs can help protect kids from repeated harassment or physical and emotional attacks.

“One possible reason for this is that the students who are victimizing their peers have learned the language from these anti-bullying campaigns and programs,” said Seokjin Jeong, Ph.D., of the University of Texas – Arlington.

Jeong was lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Criminology.

“The schools with interventions say, ‘You shouldn’t do this,’ or ‘you shouldn’t do that.’ But through the programs, the students become highly exposed to what a bully is and they know what to do or say when questioned by parents or teachers,” Jeong said.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Connecting through Writing

This week teachers, students, writers, and bloggers around the country are celebrating how writing makes connections in honor of National Day on Writing (October 20th). For more information about National Day on Writing, visit the official site.

I love how my writing connects me with  my readers, often in ways I would never have expected. In sharing my ideas and stories through my books and blog, I am slowly exposing bits and pieces of my "self" and my soul. I like to think that my readers can look beyond the words to see the "me" that is swimming underneath.

My writing has also created new connections and deepened established ones with so many amazing people:  other writers at book fairs; parents of my readers at book signings; my editor, publisher, and publicist; old friends and new via social media; family members seeing our shared past through my eyes; and, of course, perhaps the most important connection of all, my inner self.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shifting Viewpoints and Time

In the extraordinary book, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, a diary written by a suicidal Japanese teenage girl, Nao, is found on the beach by a Canadian writer, Ruth. Shifting viewpoints and time, the enthralling story touches upon timeless themes of man against man, man against nature, and man against God.

Nao is more than bullied, she is tortured physically and emotionally at school, but has her Zen Buddhist grandmother to mentor her and show how Nao can discover her personal power, which evolves from her present situation connected to her ancestors. A Tale for the Time Being is a tale woven in the past and present--the now and future--of both place and time.

I found myself pleading with the young woman not to let the bullies take her self away from her, becoming passionately entangled with Nao in a way I rarely do with a character. But, unfortunately, I could not become emotionally engaged with the second narrative voice of Ruth and found myself constantly having to reacquaint myself with her husband, Oliver. He did provide the vehicle for the ecological concerns so well addressed in the story, but it was not nearly as interesting to me. That, however, is a minor road bump in the journey of a thoughtful and beautifully crafted novel. The author, Ruth Ozeki, has received deservedly high critical acclaim for this book, and it is definitely a keeper in my library.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Teens Feel Safer at School When They Have Cross-Ethnic Friendships

It's becoming increasingly clear that the key to preventing bullying among children and teens is to help them build strong communication and relationship skills at an early age. I ran across this interesting article at discussing the results of a recent study that having a diverse group of friends seems to help a teen feel less vulnerable at school.

Cross-Ethnic Friendships Help Teens Feel Safe at School 
By Rick Nauert PhD, Senior News Editor

Middle-school kids are less lonely and feel safer when they have friendships across ethnic groups as the connections help teens feel less vulnerable.

Social support and friendships are important in all stages of life with early adolescence an especially important time as teens need validation and emotional support.

Experts say the findings are important as the childhood population is becoming extremely diverse in the United States and educators need guidance to monitor student interactions.

Read the entire article at>>

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

To the Lighthouse: An Exceptional Piece of Writing

I do love a really good latte in the morning; when I get it to perfection, my whole day resonates with positive energy. It is like reading an exceptional piece of writing, with lyrical prose that plays through my thoughts and in the depths of my being. Virginia Woolf can do that, with a literary voice that is evocative with imagery and intelligent, insightful observations of human nature and perspective. To the Lighthouse is said to be her masterpiece. Done in stream of consciousness, without a plot, and no definitive narrative voice, To the Lighthouse is a dense read, requiring the reader to engage intellectually and emotionally. It is not everyone’s cup of tea, and for myself, I am coffee drinker; but I can appreciate perfection and craft, and I am keeping this book in my library.