The School Bell is Ringing. Let’s Start the Year Right.

We continue to receive a powerful and positive response to the following Opinion piece we submitted to The Houston Chronicle on Monday, August 15, 2011. Signed by +Works Medical Director, Dr. Stuart Twemlow, this important piece is co-signed by Dr. Brené Brown, Dr. Glen Gabbard, and an impressive group of principals, PTO leaders, pediatricians, mental health professionals, as well as Susan Fordice, EVP of Mental Health America of Greater Houston.

Thank you to everyone who has lent their +Voice and name to this effort. Although we have reached our goal of 100+ signatures, we will continue to add +Supporters to the list. Simply email us at aware@positivethinkingworks.org with instructions on how to present your name. We welcome ALL citizens to join our cause.

BULLYING: WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

In 1999, bullying raised its ugly head at Columbine. Hundreds of well-meaning books, programs, and experts appeared in response. Years later, are we any better off? And if not, why?

We are still drowning in this problem because we refuse to look at it, as a society, in a realistic way. First of all, bullying is not a schoolyard problem, confined to “troubled children.” It is a social process — not a person — and we are all involved. We all bully. We are all targets. We all watch it happen and choose to do nothing. The same goes for our children. Seeing bullying simply as a school issue serves only to avoid our own roles, as adults, in the larger process. Bullies only do what bystanders allow, regardless of age, race, income level. This is a systemic issue crying out for a systemic solution.

Here’s the good news.

There is research and new support for a community-based solution to the bullying crisis. An April 2011 Centers for Disease Control report, published in June’s JAMA, said, “Because bullying is associated with many other risk factors, including exposure to violence outside of the school setting, comprehensive strategies that encompass the school, family, and community are most likely to be effective.”(1) We agree. We are all — families, schools, the community — in this together.

Let’s dispel some other myths. Bullying does not peak in middle school and then dissipate. We, as a human race, have institutionalized bullying. University hazing, private club racism, union blacklisting, harassment in business and the professions all prove bullying is, in this moment, accepted in our system. These grossly negative behaviors are sanctioned by “polite society,” neatly disguised as “part of life,” “the price you pay for speaking out,” “your admission ticket to our exclusive social group or club.” This trickles down to our children.

If you believe bullying is not a problem for you personally, you are mistaken. If you’re human, you’re involved. Whether you’re a student, teacher, principal, coach, parent, grandparent, boss, colleague, or neighbor — if you see bullying and choose nonaction, you are not only part of the problem. You are the problem.

If you see bullying as an issue only for public schools and “tough neighborhoods,” you’re also wrong. Bullying happens in private, public, and parochial schools and in all neighborhoods. In fact, the rash of mid-1990s bullying-related school homicides were all performed by quiet, affluent, intelligent children with no serious history of psychiatric illness, substance abuse, or violence. Post-Columbine, the FBI established a unit to study school shooters. Their determination: no longer could they focus only on children raised in “less than ideal” households. Bullying transcends race, creed, socioeconomics. We are all in this together.

Finally, if you believe bullied children should ignore attacks or fight back, wrong again. Research has proven children, from their youngest years, can learn to speak up in a nonviolent, dignified way. Teaching resilience — “bounce back” — and raising emotionally intelligent children is as important as teaching math and science. Perhaps more important.

As school begins again, let’s own our own involvement as adults in the social process of bullying. Let’s model the positive behaviors we want to see in our children, and say no to gossip, yes to self-reflection, yes to upstanding. Let’s stop labeling children, who all need a chance to learn and grow. And let’s find our own voices and support each other, as adults, in a way that moves our families and communities forward, toward a New Civility, a New Accountability, a New Resilience.

The school bell’s ringing. Let’s start the year right.

SIGNED:

Stuart W. Twemlow, M.D.

A consultant to the FBI on Columbine, Dr. Twemlow is first author of the books, Why School Antibullying Programs Don’t Work (2008) Roman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, Lantham, Maryland, and Preventing Bullying and School Violence (2011) American Psychiatric Press, Inc, Washington, D.C. He is a member of the American College of Psychiatrists, a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Honorary Professor in the School of International and Political Studies, Deakin University, Melbourne Australia, and Medical Director for +Works.

REFERENCE:
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011), Bullying Among Middle School and High School Students — Massachusetts, 2009, Journal of the American Medical Association, 305: (22), 2283-2286.

CO-SIGNED:
Stephanie H. Abrams, MD, MS
Amy B. Acosta, Ph.D.
Kristin Rice Allen
Eric Anderson, M.D.
Lara Arch, Associate Director, School Science and Technology, Rice University
Carolyn Aston, Schools Program Director, CASSE AUSTRALIA INC.
Sarah E. Barlow, M.D., MPH, Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Childhood Obesity
Matt and Erika Benz
Jack & Mary Branson
Rachel R. Bray, M.D.
Alanna Bree, M.D.
Sarah Bromley, PTO Board Member, Red Elementary School
Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW
John Browning, M.D.
Wendy Burks, PTO Co-President, Pershing Middle School

Regina Burns

Elizabeth Carruth

Charisse Clark
Kaytha Coker
Michael Connolly, Counselor, West University Elementary School
Amy Dionne, PTO Board Member, Red Elementary School
Michael DiStefano, M.D.
Tarsy P. Dondlinger, MD
Zo Ann Dreyer, M.D.
Eric Feighl
Debra Fischer, Director, St. Paul’s School
Sarah Fisher, CEO & Co-Founder, +Works
Susan Fordice, Executive Vice President, Mental Health of America of Greater Houston
Adiaha Franklin, M.D.
Jennifer K. Fuentes, LCSW
Glen Gabbard, M.D.
Carolyn Galfione, Treasurer, +Works
Louise Goldberg RD, CSP, CNSC
Sharon Grant, PTO +Works Chair, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School
Ann and Luis Guerra, parents River Oaks Elementary
Rion Hart, Ph.D.
William J. Hogan, Jr., M.D.
Sindhu Idicula, M.D.
Tammy Jaben, 2010-2011 PTO President, Poe Elementary School
Billie Willmon Jenkin, Author; Educator; Pro-respect Consultant/Presenter
Gara Johnson-West, AOS Parent and Upper School History Teacher, St. John’s School
Michelle Juden, PTO President, West University Elementary School
Meena Julapalli, M.D.
Moise Levy, M.D.
Robin Lowe, Principal, Pershing Middle School
Denise Kaminski, Magnet Coordinator, Durham Elementary School
Catherine Karmel, M.D.
Charles & Maria Kelley, AOS parents
Lisa Malosky and Don Friedell
Aldo Maspons, M.D.
Jennifer M. Maupin, MS, RN, CPNP
Gretchen Mazziotti, PTO Co-President, Pershing Middle School
Mark V. Mazziotti M.D.
Lindy McGee, MD
Anya McInnis, parent of a college student and 6th grader
Denise Metry, MD., Chief of Dermatology, Texas Children’s Hospital
Carmen Mikhail, Ph.D.
Katherine and John Miner
Susana Monteverde, proud parent & art educator
Trish Morille, Executive Vice President & Co-Founder, +Works
John Morris, LMSW-ACP, LMFT
Crystal Morrison, MA, LPC-S
Benjamin Musher, M.D.
Julieana Nichols, MD, MPH
Krista Olson, M.D.
Nina Otazo, MA
Shea Palamountain, MD, FAAP
Melissa Patin, Principal, Mark Twain Elementary School
Evelyn A. Paysse, M.D.
Gretchen Penny, MBA Parent of 8th and 10th grade boys and entrepreneur
Pam and Jeff Phillips
Janann M. Pittman, parent and PTO Board Member at River Oaks Elementary School
Julian Pittman, parent
Jessica Johns Pool, Blogger for HealthyHoustonKids.com
Christina Propst, M.D., F.A.A.P., Texas Children’s Pediatric Associates – Fannin
Susan Rafte
Michele Rawson, Fourth Grade Teacher & PTO Representative, Mark Twain Elementary
Liz Redmond, Parent, Mary Queen of Peace Catholic School (St. Louis, MO)
Gabriella Cardone Richard, M.D., St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School parent
Ann Baker Ronn and David L. Ronn
Ramiro Salas, Ph.D.
Juli Salvagio, Owner/Operator, Chick-fil-A at Holcombe and Buffalo Speedway
Heather Sasser, PTO President, Red Elementary School
Megan Schroeder, M.D.
Carolyn Sears, Principal, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School
Manish I. Shah, M.D.
Deanna Sheaffer, PTO President, Mark Twain Elementary School
Paul Sirbaugh, M.D.
Chris Skowronek, Principal, St. Michael Catholic School
Patrick and Emily Smith
Corrie Stassen-Melsom
Cate Stewart

Douglas M Suell, M.D.
Mary Nell Suell, M.D.
Ronald Tee, M.D.
Harry Teunissen, parent

Crystal Walter, LMSW, MPA
Matthew Wasserman, M.D.
Regina Williams, IB/Curriculum Coordinator, Durham Elementary School
Shelly Wilke, RN, Pediatric Nurse
Renee Wizig-Barrios, Parent, Mark Twain Elementary School
Carolyn Wolfe, Parent and PTO Board Member, St. Vincent De Paul Catholic School
Terry Yen, M.D.