Tag Archives: bullying

What’s the elephant in the room?

September 11th, 2016

elephant2I remember being a child and planning what my life would be like. I was a natural caretaker and it was comforting for me to take care of people. From a early age I spent time with my grandparents and first they took care of me while later I took care of them.  It was a family dynamic built on love and kindness. As I grew up I supported my siblings in many ways – sometimes more than they liked. My brothers would challenge me. They were sometimes my best friends and sometimes my worst enemies.  I continued to see my cousins who lived next store and were neighbors. We had our own little gang in a small town outside of Worcester.  We were in many ways innocent but challenging too. Today it would be called bullying but for us it was protection, a voice and connection to make sure that we watched each other’s backs.

I remember the days when we would make sure that people on the bus wouldn’t tease any of us in our little group.   We actually made a bus driver upset once and cry as we stood up after one of us was called a jerk. Today, that would be suspension and if anything maybe even being kicked off the bus.  Back then our parents were called, we apologized, learned a lesson.  We taught the bus driver a lesson too — that none of us would allow for someone to be mean to one of our own.   We were  close in age and I remember staying back a grade and being taunted about it over and over again by this boy. My cousin, who was just 6 months older, gave out a punch to create a black eye and bloody lip to the kid who teased me on the playground. He was certainly talked to.  But yet again the other kids knew that we were a group and to be careful if you were not nice or fair to any one of us.

As I grew older and had children. the laws, language and the responses changed. My children, just like in my old neighborhood, had their “group”  and you couldn’t call it a gang as that is not socially appropriate. They would stick up for each other but the things that they did related to a challenge. It was hard.  One time my son was scared and took a letter opener from a teacher’s desk.  He was instantly suspended and no discussion. The principal had left him alone in the room and he was having hallucinations that someone was going to hurt him. He didn’t talk to anyone  but just took the opener.  Of course I explained to him  the meaning of “safe” and “unsafe” behavior.  (This was another set of terms I really do not remember being taught so strongly.  Back then, it was right or wrong with no in between).  For my son, I would have to advocate and discuss with the school why they should allow him to come to school again.

There were other incidents as I raised my children and I would look at my childhood memories and compare.  It was like us years ago being the bully and victim in the same day but now the school had a very different response.  Because my child that wasn’t falling on the developmental chart, he wasn’t labeled as being “Delayed”  instead I was told he was “healthy” except he  would struggle over and over again.  He would be teased with no one to stick up for him, he would do something back and get blamed.  It was an up and down battle as I would ask for the skills to be taught – one of mediation, and advocacy for a friend that would allow growth, responsibility and honesty.  But the difference was that I wanted there to be an opportunity of learning, generalizing and most of all being supported as he learned.

Teachers would be trained on how to recognize and deal with bullying year after year. But I often wondered, Did they also get education or professional development on mental health, trauma, or loss/grief in children?  It is hard to ask for help from a teacher that has no training.  Even after the tragedy in Newton, CT – that was going to be the conversation we had.  Here we are still with the same professional development days: Bullying, CPR, MCAS, and the Massachusetts framework and curriculum.   Where are the trainings on mental health, trauma, adoption/loss / grief, and mediation for children? I wanted to know.

I wish that a PTO would be open to teaching teachers about ALL children. Not just the soccer kids!

Teachers have an amazing and unique job to be with children 6 hours of the day, to teach them a variety of subjects.  But what about skills of learning what do in a difficult situation and how to deal with problems so that society accepts you as a child?  I believe that is the responsibility of the community, school and parent.

Let’s discuss the elephant in the room and get real results!

Meri Viano is our guest blogger.  She is the parent of two sons and a daughter who continue to inspire her blog posts.

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Body Image: A Personal Struggle

October 12th, 2015

girl in mirrorI’ve never been fond of how I look. Ever since I was a young girl, my view on my looks was an issue. I’ve lived my life being told that I’m pretty, or even beautiful, but I’ve never believed it. It’s like a reoccurring nightmare. I just cannot make it go away, no matter how hard I try.

I guess it truly started in elementary school, when the kids learned what “fat” meant. People say kids can be mean, but it goes beyond that. Kids, not all of them of course, find what will make you the saddest, and they keep using it against you. Since I was overweight and vulnerable, the young children of my school used fat against me. It wasn’t fair. No one should feel like I did.

When I reached fifth grade, I hit my breaking point. I had major meltdowns that eventually put me in the hospital. At that time, my confidence was about as low as it possibly could be. I had people that were still making me feel insecure, even though they knew I was in a dark place. I understand that sometimes you can’t get something if it hasn’t been a personal battle, but a little bit of sympathy would’ve been nice. A little compassion could have gone a long way. No matter how bad my moods got, someone was always talking negatively in my ear. Maybe if more people were educated about the body image struggles I was going through and were sympathetic to that fact, I would’ve been in a better place. I couldn’t stop worrying about how people viewed me. It’s one of those feelings you can’t shake.

After being discharged from the hospital, my family and I began searching for a new school where I could fit in and maybe get some help. I toured many schools, and eventually wound up at the school I would later graduate high school from. This school provided new hope for me. The kids there seemed to like me, and I met my best friend on my first day. For a little while, I thought things were going to get better for my personal outlook. Sadly, not much changed.

I still felt alone. I felt like none of my friends understood. I had very few friends that you could consider “overweight.” That wasn’t the problem. The problem was none of them were able to put themselves in my shoes, and see what kind of horrible feelings I had about myself. They just didn’t see it.

Weight is still an issue I have. I am looking at all of my options, and researching what’s healthy and unhealthy for me. I am truly looking forward to the future. It appears to me like things will be looking up soon. My confidence in myself is slowly rising. Even at that slow pace, I feel I am bettering myself. Someday soon, I can see myself looking in the mirror and saying “wow, I’m beautiful.” It seems simple, but that’s the dream, and I am actively chasing it.

Although body image is something most people struggle with, some people feel like they are all alone. The truth is, you are most certainly not alone. Try talking to other people your age, or of any age, that you trust. You may be surprised at how they feel about their body. For me, talking to others who have similar issues is important. Not only can they help you, but you can help them.

Look in the mirror at some point and challenge yourself to say a set number of things you like about yourself. Pick a number like five or ten, and make a list in your head. It doesn’t have to be something appearance related. Feeling good about yourself in as many aspects as possible will boost your self-esteem and confidence.

Your body doesn’t define you. What you choose to do about your feelings is what’s important. Just remember, no matter what size or shape you are, you are beautiful. It may take a while to realize this, but it’ll come. Your future is bright, so take charge.

Rachel LaBrie is our guest blogger.  Rachel recently graduated high school, and wants to pursue a career in music therapy. She loves animals, and currently has 6 four legged friends.

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How PPAL has Helped Me

March 4th, 2015

leaveshouseI know that Youth MOVE and PPAL are specified as a non-therapeutic group. That is because clinicians are not allowed to attend the groups or meetings. There is no therapy involved, yet they have helped me through a lot. They gave me a place to go when times were tough. I looked forward to going to the Youth Groups and attending the conference each year. That was possibly the only thing that kept me looking forward.

I’ve been home schooled for the past 2 years of my life because of issues with bullying. I remember being so afraid the first time Lydia and my sister Bella, also an intern, talked me into going to one of the youth groups. I hadn’t been close to kids around my age for awhile. I remember saying to Lydia that I was too scared and shy to be there.  Their exact words to me were, “Oh good, you’ll fit right in!” So with that I went into that youth room scared out of my mind but came out a completely different person.
I started to get excited to go to group each week! If I missed one on my own accord I’d feel bad – like my week wasn’t completed. It gave me a sense of hope in myself. I thought I’d never get to go into a place with other teens and come out alive. Without PPAL I may never had been able to fully go to a place surrounded by people and actually feel safe.

I started my internship at the age of 13.  I was glad I could be a help to the staff there. Lydia, Meri, Britt, Beth, Chandra, Pawel and others are all like a family to me. I’d gladly spend more time at the office than sitting around at home! I did simple things such as fold brochures, set up the room for group, make copies, clean up after group, and yet I was always thanked with so much enthusiasm.  It was nice to finally have something to do and I actually felt useful for the first time in a long while.

The main way PPAL has helped me is the support they have given me. I was able to pick myself back up thanks to the support I got from PPAL and Youth M.O.V.E.  I never could’ve accomplished so much without knowing that they were right there cheering me on.  Also, another important fact is they provided a place to go to get out of my house.  So to those whom it may concern, I do not go to the group for the pizza. I don’t even really like pizza. I go to see the family I have made there.

Ally C is an 8th grade student from Worcester, MA. She has been writing since a young age. Some of her hobbies include writing poetry and drawing. This is her first blog for PPAL.

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Heartache By the Number: My life with Dyscalculia

March 19th, 2013

staring-25819-mdys·cal·cu·li·a  (Diss- Kal-cue-lee-ah) n. Impairment of the ability to solve mathematical problems, usually resulting from brain dysfunction.

It can be very hard for me to speak openly about the struggles I have endured because of my learning disability, but in the interest of giving others like me hope, I have decided to really speak out. Ask the average person on the street what dyslexia is and most of them will have at least a general idea and acknowledge it as being a legitimate disorder. Ask that same person about dyscalculia, and they will usually not have a clue what you are talking about. When you try to explain, often they will just wave it off and say “Well a lot of people are bad at math.” But, what I’ve come here to explain is: it is so much more than that.

Since I was very little, I was always ahead of my age in terms of reading and writing. I was the type of kid who was reading Stephen King novels by the time I was ten, and constantly trying to write down my own stories and poetry. But if you asked me to do my multiplication tables on command, I would literally burst into tears after a few minutes. It isn’t that I didn’t want to learn. I actually really enjoy learning new things, and I understand how important mathematics is to living in the real world.  I just plain couldn’t. It doesn’t just stop there either. To this day I can’t read an analog clock, I often have to have my younger brother or another family member help me count up my money, and to date, I have never passed a single math class. I’ve gotten through school by using class substitutions and working around requirements with my IEP plan, but that can only take me so far.  One way or another, the phantom that is math will find me. Bus schedules tend to make me dizzy just looking at them, and I have to have a special application on my phone that does the math for tips at restaurants because I am terrified of not doing the math correctly and offending my server.

It’s hard to live in such a number-based world when numbers cause anxiety at every turn. Out of habit I am always early for appointments because I am in constant fear of being late.  I have to be careful to count my change well when I go to the store so I don’t get ripped off, and people are constantly annoyed with me over how I have to count on my fingers, and how slow I can be at that. But before even those things became the big issue, my self esteem was what took the biggest blow.

I didn’t get an official diagnosis until I was in senior year of high school. I was told by teacher after teacher that I was lazy, I wasn’t paying attention, I wasn’t studying hard enough or sometimes even that I was just plain stupid. The other kids would laugh at me. They didn’t know that I would stay up all night before tests crying over my textbook, or that I would constantly get into fights with my parents because they would get so frustrated when they tried to help me with my homework. I used to hear, “You’re so smart, and this really isn’t that hard. I don’t understand how you can memorize all 151 Pokemon but you can’t tell me what 8×12 is?” And the truth is, neither did I. I had no answer for anyone, I legitimately believed that I was just dumb, and I was doomed to be dumb forever.

I can’t really explain what it’s like to someone that doesn’t have it, but imagine that every single time something having to do with numbers comes up in your life you freeze like a deer in headlights. Your brain goes blank, you sweat, and eventually you cry or scream, or maybe you walk away from the counter in shame even though you really needed to buy that cough medicine, or you really need to pass this exam. It is paralyzing, it is humiliating, and it feels so hopeless sometimes that it can be hard to get out of bed, knowing you have to face the world. Knowing people might laugh when you get an answer wrong in class, or scream at you when they ask you what time it is and you’re not sure because you don’t have a digital watch on you.

On a whim one night, I got so frustrated I googled “Why am I so bad at math” and there was my answer: Dyscalculia. A learning disorder! I took a short test on a website and brought it to the school, begging them to give me a test. They scoffed at first, telling me that clearly this was just some internet thing someone made up, and I was making excuses. My suspicions were right, and I can remember crying from relief when I realized for the first time in my life that I wasn’t some inferior person.  I was just struggling with something that is so little known and so misunderstood that even the special education department wasn’t aware. The irony is that it is just now being more widely discussed, and it is possibly a very common problem which goes unrecognized in so many people  for their whole lives like it had in mine. I sometimes wonder if I’d made this discovery earlier, how much it might have changed my life.

Of course I still struggle. This will be a lifelong issue and I will always be different because of it. However, it is my hope that with advocacy and research, I can do my part to ensure that maybe in the future no kid will have to go through so much pain. Nobody should have to feel inferior because they have a mind that works differently, and I end this blog with a message of hope for those who are aware and struggling, and a call to the world to do your research. We are not lazy, and we are not making excuses. Our disorder is legitimate and painful and we would like to be treated accordingly.

For people who are curious they may have this learning disability, or that their child or student may have it, this web site has a treasure trove of information on the subject.  That site may have saved my life when I was in the lowest point, and I can only hope it will change yours as well.

Brittany Bell is our guest blogger.  She is a 24 year old youth advocate at Youth MOVE Massachusetts who is studying to become a youth counselor.  She hopes to bring awareness and support to the learning disability and mental health communities by sharing her experiences. 

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Life, choices and accepting people as they are

November 26th, 2012

I remember when I was just me. Just an innocent girl who had no idea what was going on. Now I know better. Before I was happy, but now it is sometimes very hard to find a smile. My name is Bella and I have had a rough life so far. You may say after reading this that my life isn’t rough but the way I see it, it is. I am sixteen about to be seventeen, not even a month away from my birthday. Some worry about birthday gifts, but I worry about life. “What will life throw my way?” is now a constant thought in my head.

I am currently in a terrible school. I have been in many schools so I should know. Because of the school I am in now, it is hard for me to get motivated to go. I have had a CHINS placed on me by the school because of not going. We talked to the court and had notes from my therapist and the person who did my testing. They read the notes and understood that the school wasn’t helping me but I still had the CHINS put on me. This school is an alternative school. They call it a “therapeutic day school,” which I find is funny, since in my opinion they do not help. I know they try to help but they usually make it worse. All the staff there are nuts and they don’t catch much of anything. For example, I was getting beaten up by a kid one day in the small cafeteria. A staff walked in and asked what was going on. The kid said, “Nothing,” and then left. The staff believed him! I was shocked and honestly I felt hurt inside because these staff are supposed to protect you. And they can’t even handle that task. So that added to my school refusal. I don’t really trust anyone there except for a select few kids.

My home where I live is alright. I still live with my parents and my sister. I love them dearly but sometimes they can be a pain. My mom was in a car accident before I was born and has PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from it. My dad was laid off at the end of January this year. My sister has had a lot of bad stuff happen to her also.

My sister is one of the nicest people I know. She speaks her mind and is original. But most of the other kids want her to be just like them. Except she isn’t just like them. So naturally she’s been bullied. She wasn’t only bullied by the kids, she was also bullied by the teachers sometimes. There was this one guy who was a guidance counselor who would intimidate people. He intimidated my sister and my mom. If I met him I would have given him a piece of my mind because he claimed to have a child of his own with mental health/special needs. Honestly, I don’t care if the kid is purple, has tentacles, or has three heads, you don’t treat people like that. While I may not be big on religion, I still hope that people can learn how to treat others correctly. As in learn to help others and not harm them in any way.

I find all people are different. Some can be similar but never exactly the same. No matter what, we are all original. You just have to embrace it. If everyone embraced this concept, it would make the world a better place. If we accept people as they are, with their quirks and faults, and become more understanding and considerate it would be better for the world. And for humankind as a whole. This is what I believe.

As much as I feel alone, I also want to be known. I want to be who I am and remembered for who I was. I want my name to be remembered. I want to be my own person and remembered for it. And I want to be there for others just as my friends have been there for me.

I don’t want to give in to peer pressure. Sometimes that’s others making bad choices, trying to make it seem okay, and trying to get you to make the same choices, too. For example, underage drinking. I don’t see what’s so great about drinking at this age. And drugs, why is that so great? Does it magically fix all your problems? Does it pay your bills? I don’t think so. I think it is just going to cause you more problems in the long run. For example, if you get caught you are going to go to court and possibly jail. Was it really worth it? Smoking is a different story depending on if you are able to buy it on your own. But still it can cause some lifelong issues no matter what your age is.

I have not given into peer pressure for anything yet; my choices are still completely my own. I have not done drugs, drinking, or smoking. But I have still made some poor choices. Yet, I do not regret anything I have done. Just because I do not regret my choices doesn’t mean I am necessarily happy or proud of all of them.

No matter how many mistakes I might make, I don’t want to regret them. I won’t be able to change choices that were made in the past, so I don’t dwell on them. I want to continue down the path I have chosen until I reach the next fork, the next decision. As much as I might want to change choices, I cannot, so I just try to make better ones the next time.

Bella is a member of Youth MOVE Massachusetts. She lives in Central Massachusetts.

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