There’s a reason the word “rage” lives in the word “courage.” It was rage and real despair that led us to start +Works. Becoming activists was a positive way for us to channel our anger over what we saw as a lack of positive attention on bullying in our Houston neighborhood.
When the Houston Chronicle ran a front-page story in March 2010 about a bullied 8-year-old Blackshear Elementary student who jumped off a balcony, we got busy getting serious. We stopped crying in our coffees, put on our professional creative/strategic hats, and got to work.
Here is what we have learned since then:
• Until people are personally touched by a tragedy or near-tragedy, bullying is quite easy to ignore.
• Despite the passionate work of the years-long, anti-bullying movement, we still live in a tough, hyper competitive society, and our kids must learn to survive and thrive in it. While it is important to continue working to create safer, more positive communities, we can best make an impact one resilient child, one resilient parent at a time.
• Our kids need to be “emotionally vaccinated” early and often to build resilience. This happens over many years and is a community’s most important work. Not unlike going to the pediatrician’s office and signing immunization forms, we, as parents need to say “yes” more often to opportunities for our kids to experience adversity, failure, heartache and disappointment to build the resistance and resilience they will need to be successful. This can be a painful process; fellow parents, educators, and coaches need to support students who struggle.
As parents, we need:
• To be more confident and resilient ourselves. We need to reflect on the kind of adults we want to raise, make everyday decisions toward that goal, and connect with like-minded parents for support along the way.
• To follow our instincts and say no — early. The few times we’ve gone against our instincts, we’ve regretted it. Today’s parents have ample opportunities to make The Hard Call: whether or not to allow advanced technology, group and co-ed sleepovers, provocative entertainment, M-rated video games, and underage drinking in our own homes. Saying no to our kids and other parents early vaccinates and strengthens us to make the tougher calls as the years roll on.
• A basic understanding of child development. When we understand what is normal for the age — especially when it’s negative — it is easier to keep our perspective and take age-appropriate actions when things go awry, as they often naturally do.
• ”To see the child in front of us,” quoting Race to Nowhere creator Vicki Abeles. Every child is unique. Not every child will be good at everything, nor should they have to be. We need to support our kids in discovering their interests and talents. We need to embrace the low-cost lessons that come their way.
• To talk to people and not about people. To build more positive, upstanding communities, we need to face our everyday fears and challenges directly with confidence.
Finally, we’ve learned that speaking up can be excruciating, but it’s worth it. And although we still have our moments of rage, we have many more moments of courage. That courage builds the kind of confidence that comes from experience and from hopefully learning from our own mistakes. It’s the kind of confidence we hope to pass along to the next generation.