Bringing Bullying Back into Perspective

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Oct 21, 2010 @ 11:50 AM

With Rutgers student, Tyler Clementi’s suicide three weeks ago, the anxiety about bullying that has been bubbling up in the culture for quite some time broke the surface. While organizations ranging from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, The Pacer Center and MTV have been on the case for a while, and the CDC has been releasing alarming – shocking even – statistics on bullying for years, the issue has risen to the top of our collective consciousness and has taken on the fervor of a national crisis.

Across venues ranging from academic conferences to client presentations to conversations with parents, we’ve often heard the question posed, “what’s wrong with today’s youth?” Indeed, a recent NY Times article featured the opinions of a variety of experts who mostly admitted that they weren’t speaking from data or from real evidence when they suggest that bullying has something to do with watching Beyonce and Jay-Z videos. Other experts quotes in the article blame Hannah Montana, citing this show and shows like it for positioning put-downs as poking fun. And countless articles and broadcasts before this one have demonized cell phones and social networks as the bully’s new bestie.Trevor Project

Reading these accounts, one might expect that most youth go to school in absolute fear. As a parent, taking this data at face value could be paraylizing – how could we send our kids to school knowing that many would be perpetrators or victims, and that violence (verbal, emotional or physical) is lurking at their lockers and hiding in the hallways.

But is bullying new? And is it as pervasive as it may seem?

Bullying has been around forever. Mean girls, physically aggressive boys and rumor-spreading kids, tweens and teens are nothing new. In my middle school years, “Slam Books” were the offline version of labeling or ostracizing your peers and take in an episode of Leave it To Beaver to know that a boy who was smaller than the rest and who had a funny name was likely to get some ribbing. So why has our attention to it changed? First, we know a lot more about bullying. We know that a wound – whether emotional or physical – takes a long time to heal. We also know that the outcome of even one unfortunate event can be devastating. No longer do we accept, as a society, that boys will be boys or that gossip is benign. And rightfully so, as adults, we’re more concerned about these timeless acts of exclusion than ever.

Second, throughout time, adults have tended to romanticize their own childhood and see the acts of today’s youth as more subversive, more harmful and more morally questionable than those of their own childhoods. How many times have we heard, “In my day, we didn’t occupy ourselves with so many video games.” “When I was growing up, we listened to “good” music – not what they’re listening to today.” This mindset can be quite dangerous, and as countless sociologists have pointed out, can bring us to a frenzy over the truths of today’s youth culture. We’re not debating that being able to bully in public, quickly, as in texting and social networking, have not raised the stakes of bullying. The rumor mill moves at cyber speed, and the pulpit for put downs is bigger. But this generation of youth did not invent bullying, they just practice it on their own terms.

And finally, what might be different are the victims. Our YouthBeat data shows that most youth (over 95% of kids, tweens and teens) leave bullying off the list of things they worry about. But bullying has always been confined to a few. And this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be paying attention…Rather than looking for ways to statistically prove that bullying affects all kids, let’s just acknowledge that it’s okay to pay attention to an issue that has significant effects on a statistically insignificant number of youth. If today’s extreme ostracizing has been focused on just a few gay youth, shouldn’t we still be concerned? And what is it about the culture at large that seems more tolerant and open to diversity, but continues to victimize youth who are in the minority?

So to put bullying back into perspective, we think that we need to stop pretending that it’s happening to everyone and acknowledge that we can all have compassion for, and speak out against, harmful acts that are affecting just a few. And this issue might rightfully become the cause of the cohort – but not because they made it worse, but simply because they know better than to accept it. 

Tags: parents, bullying, Youth, school, trevor project

What’s the Most Compelling Superhero Power? A Little Listening…

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Oct 11, 2010 @ 01:30 PM

For the past few weeks, director Davis Guggenheim’s (An Inconvenient Truth) latest opus, Waiting for Superman, has stirred up sentiment regarding the quality of U.S. education today. Widely available clips from the movie feature shockingly raw and honest (although admittedly, this candor is characteristic of Rhee) assertions from national education figures like Michelle Rhee, chancellor of schools for Washington D.C., that kids in her schools are getting a “crappy” education. Guggenheim drives his point home with rankings (meant to trip a very American competitive trigger) which places the U.S. behind too many other nations in regards to math and science.

But these numbers are nothing new. And Guggenheim’s praising of charter schools and vilification of teacher tenure have led educators, administrators, union leaders and educational activists to balk at what they call an “incomplete” picture of the story behind education.

So what has made this underground film strike a nerve? Admittedly, it’s a bit less underground than another film that focuses on education, Road to Nowhere, directed by Vicki Abeles (it’s hard to stay under the radar once you’ve won an Oscar).  But more than Guggenheim’s prior successes, what most people talk about when they talk up this film is the kids. In debates over educational opportunity and access, and in speeches about what should be done to prepare our nation’s children for economic participation or to set them up to master the adult curriculum, it’s hard to hear what real kids think. This simple act of assuming that kids have the agency to tell their own stories has made all the difference in this documentary.Waiting for Superman

As we watch the lottery for a place in charter schools, and we see the potential students of these schools clutching their number, we’re moved by the idea that this scenario resembles a pro-sports draft – but only the stakes are higher and the participants embody more anxiety than bravado. But the most captivating moments involve a child speaking to camera, telling us why they want to learn.

This strategy has legs outside the documentary space. If you’re the president, in need of a little boost, call a town meeting among youth. Let them talk…Because when they talk, our words and ideas look and sound a bit better.

As market researchers, most of us have already learned this lesson. To prove a point, let kids speak it. To convey an idea or insight, show that kids are on to it. But the latest in political statements capitalizing on conversations with kids remind us that an authentic kids’ voice should serve as the starting point, not a last resort, for all our great ideas.

Witnessed the power of real youth voices rallying your team, stakeholders or consumers? Let us know...We're listening!

Tags: Education, movie, Youth, TV, MTV, Superman

Playing up Play

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Oct 05, 2010 @ 01:05 PM

Ultimate Block PartyIf you were a parent in Central Park in NYC this Sunday, you weren’t alone. Many of the parents in the park this weekend were doing more than just hanging around. They came for the “Ultimate Block Party,” an event created through a collaboration of academic powerhouses like Kathy-Hirsh Pasek of Temple University and companies from LEGO to Crayola and non-profits like Kaboom! lent their expertise and experience and talents from Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Radio Disney performed. But, as the “playbook” handed out at the event affirmed, Ultimate Block Party was anything but childish. “Play is serious business” was the mantra that made this more than just a play date. Instead, its creators and participants hoped to show parents the meaning behind tasks like building towers out of foam blocks and cooking at the Goddard School’s Kid Café. Signs reminded parents that what might seem like silliness can actually convey the “Six C’s” to their kids: communication, collaboration, content, critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence.

And parents came! To be fair, so did students, teachers and other academics who wanted to witness this attempt to bridge the academic and applied space in such a big way. Fans of Gordon, from Sesame (yep, it’s the same Gordon who was on Sesame Streetwhen you were a kid) came out in droves, but so did fans of the writers and authors who signed books about parenting and infant cognition. But the fact that families braved the big crowd on a sunny fall Sunday shows that there’s something sticky about this idea of seeing child’s play as important.

As marketers, it often feels like we have to choose between education and fun. Between good for you and good tasting. Or between entertaining and earnest. But ask these preschoolers if they mind learning and you’ll probably get a blank look. Ask the tween boys who participated in the RIDEMAKERZ “Rally Race Quest” (check out this organization for yourself!) if engineering was boring and you’d probably get a glare. Or ask the parents who’ve visited the website, stocked with primary sources and white papers on play if they mind getting a little bit more knowledge on the work that their children are doing, and you’ll seem quite out of touch. Today’s parents and kids would agree that play is productive and that putting in the effort to create opportunities for play is a priority for them – and should be for you.

Tags: kids, play, parents, family, Youth, Ultimate Block Party