Saturday, April 22, 2006

Helping Your Child Deal with Bullies

I’ve been contacted on several occasions by moms of girls who have been bullied. Most of the times, these daughters are beautiful girls who are sweet and don’t stand up to the other kids when they get teased or criticized. There are things that you can do to help your child without overstepping your boundaries. I know because I was one of those good girls who got teased and bullied in high school by some girls. They saw my “good girl” mentality as weakness and they didn’t hesitate to pounce on it. I did suffer some awful days as any young girl does, but I came out of it just fine. I also learned that there are ways to move beyond this stage of life.

Junior high and high school are the times when children are stretching their independence and learning who they are in the world. They’re falling in and out of love and dealing with the emotional turmoil of maturing physically and nature isn’t always so kind during that phase of life. I remember sweating so profusely often times that my mom had to bring me new clothes to school and that none of the female deodorants worked for me. I was an athlete and didn’t just “glisten” from the sweat. I sweat like a pig when I went out to PE and it was quite embarrassing! That’s awfully hard to try to look cute after you’ve been drenched with sweat. Luckily for the girls of today, athletes are more common and accepted. They’re also more open about things like breaking out, and getting their monthly. Still, there is a tremendous pressure these days to be thin and to look good.

I went through a phase where my best friend who I had grown up with all of a sudden developed other friends and completely turned on me with a vengeance. She started poking fun at me and telling the boy on the bus that I had a crush on him. I was completely mortified! Every day she and her friends would make fun of what I was wearing, my hair or just call me names. Just the shock of her turning on me was enough to hurt me deeply, but the fact that she pulled other girls in on it made it worse. I remember going home and laying on my bed crying because I had to face the girls every morning and every afternoon on the bus.

Since she had been my closest friend up until that point, my mom took it upon herself to pray for me that I’d get a new best friend. I was in the middle of 8th grade then and somehow, I ended up in class with an old friend of mine from 2nd grade. Alison and I started hanging around in school and then I joined in with her friends to go to the football games and shopping after school. Before I knew it, I had a whole new set of friends and the bullying pretty much stopped. I now had a pack of friends at school that were strong and so now I wasn’t alone and weak.

Later in high school when the majority of my friends graduated from the swim team, I again became the target of a pack of girls who saw me as a weakling. I was one of the “good girls” again who didn’t drink, smoke or sleep around. The girls who picked on me were on the swim team and got really good at thinking of mean things to say to me. I took it silently and put up with it for a while. My come backs were “shut up” or “grow up” but they’d all start giggling and walk on together. I was left with the other nice girls who didn’t’ have the guts to stand up to the girl bullies.

The sad thing was that I ended up losing my passion for swimming and ended up quitting the swim team that year. But my mom pulled out all of the stops again and prayed that I’d meet some new friends again. She then strongly suggested, or forced me to go on a Catholic retreat through the church. When I got there, the only person I knew was one of the most popular football players at our school. Things were looking up for me then! That weekend changed my life. I met a whole bunch of kids from the Catholic private school in town who knew my fun cousins and accepted me into their group. For the next year and a half, I had my new friends from the private school merge with some friends from our school and we all started dating each other and hanging out. It made my high school experience absolutely incredible and I’m proud to say that one of the couples is now married with 3 kids and I’m still in touch with several of those kids who are now successful adults.

I’ve since seen and forgiven my former tormentors and we’ve never spoken of it. I prefer to live in the present and not the past. But because I was bullied, I understand the hurt and the pain of a close friend turning into the enemy. The key for the parent is to switch gears, pray for guidance and for help with the teen, and then find other activities to delve into. Forcing the kid may be the only option because of the fear of the unknown but not doing anything is the alternative and that’s worse!

Parents can be the strength during a time of torment for kids. It’s a time to teach that having faith in God can turn around all things and that He can help us find the right friends. It’s a time to learn that life isn’t easy all of the time and sometimes we have to do something different in order to break us out of our shell. Walking through these tough times together can ease the pain and bring new growth. And certainly when you allow God to chose the friends, expect good days ahead!

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Wonderful People of the US

I just had the pleasure of visiting 10 cities across the United States within the past 2 weeks. (Pheonix, Sacramento, Denver, Dallas, Baltimore, St. Louis, Atlanta, Chicago, DC, and Cleveland) I was on one of my whirlwind TV tours and showing baby shower gifts to TV news audiences across the country. I’ve been coaching new moms and moms to be for quite a while so showing gifts that they’d love was my goal.

Every city I went to had the most amazing people. In most cities, I was taken by cab from the airport to the hotel. Most of the cabbies in the US are foreign born and most speak English relatively well. Many of them were highly educated in their country and are here to get reeducated and are here to provide a better life for their children. They are hard working Americans and serving the people they meet as best as they can.

In the airports, I met loads of people who are working hard and experiencing life with friends and family. Along the way I met a Presidential secret service man, the band the Black Eyed Peas, Cal Ripkin the baseball player, Edwin McCain the musician, a woman from the National Institute of Health in DC, a Councilman from Miami Beach, a Marketing manager from Yahoo, several professional women who were considering transitions in their careers, Fr. George McKenna, the Priest from the Midway airport in Chicago, a gentleman in St. Louis waiting for a liver transplant, a couple who are about to open a bed in breakfast in NY state, and loads of TV personalities throughout the nation.

Whether I was in hotels, airports, or TV stations, I found people warm, inviting and helpful. I was curious about them and they shared their stories. For the people who didn’t seem to want to talk, I was bold and enthusiastic about their city and told them I was happy they were able to help me. In every case, I was able to warm them up and they opened up to share.

I’ve found that people in airports are open to talk. It’s a great place to collect information if you’re writing a book like I am. People are all stuck there together, some a little bit nervous so talking with a stranger is always a good distraction. People just seem to spill their guts and share whatever is on their minds. I heard about tough times such as the man waiting for a liver in St. Louis with his daughter; and the insurance executive who was bored stiff with her career but supporting 5 kids as a single mom. I heard about families who were separated such as the cab driver whose wife and kids are back in Africa as he waits for their papers to clear so he can reunite their families. I talked to a young woman who was an illegal alien, and she seemed as American as you or me and was dating a Marine. I spoke with an African American woman who is getting her second doctorate degree and is probably one of the most educated people in America who shared her excitement about her new younger boyfriend. I swapped stories with the hospitality coordinator at a hotel who had to bring me a receipt and she ended up talking with me in my hotel room for an hour. She told me all about how she wants to start a catering business for kid’s parties. I was honored to meet and hear about a man who lost the use of his legs four years ago in an accident that later helped his wife become a judge and he ran against an incumbent for a city council seat and won. Oh, they also have 4 kids! What a story!

Truly, I found that if a person is open and willing to meet the person standing next to them in line, or to speak to the person who is serving them or who is working with them, I found in every case, people willing to be friendly, helpful and open. People are hungry to connect with those around them and all it takes is ONE person to go out on a limb and say Hello and ask the words, “how are you?” By looking in their eyes, and giving them an approving smile, you’re letting them know that you’re a caring person and that you’re safe. When you look into another person’s eyes, you understand that we’re all the same in many ways, no matter their age, their race or their sex. It broadens our horizons to meet others to hear about their triumphs and their tragedies. Each person I met changed me a little for the better, because I learned something new.

Traveling can be a wonderful time to connect with others. And as we all travel through the road of life, lighten up, and talk with your neighbors. You just might find a new friend, a new opportunity or a new you!