By Val Simon
Living in Southwest Florida, particularly on Marco Island, most of us live a fairly privileged lifestyle. You send your children to school day after day, year after year. As a parent of two children that have been through Tommie Barfield and Marco Island Charter Middle School, I had not had much experience with bullying I never gave it much thought until my youngest daughter entered eighth grade. She would complain about this person or that person saying mean things to her or her friends. As a busy mom, my reaction was less sympathetic and more of a “don’t be so sensitive” type response.
Things progressed and in discussing the situation with the Dean of Marco Island Charter Middle School, Mark Albanese, Marco Island Police Officer Al Schettino and Principal George Abounader, it became clear that bullying begins in elementary school and continues in to middle school. In speaking with parents of high school aged students, it became painfully clear it continues there as well.
The Collier County School district has a very strict policy on bullying. From the school’s standpoint however, it can be difficult to determine who is at the crux of the problem. It becomes a scenario of he said/she said. Bullying today is different than in years past. What used to be more physical, today can be psychological. Since much of the bullying today is done through social media, one has little to no recourse. Tom Thelen’s book, Victimproof, cites a recent poll which shows that students who are cyberbullied are three times more likely to commit suicide compared to students who are not bullied.
Victimproof, How I Learned to Overcome Bullying, is an empowering program. Tom presents this program making personal appearances at schools across the country and was recently available to speak to the students at MICMS. The program was supported by the school; all students assembled in the gym to hear Tom’s presentation. The program was sponsored by the Marco Island Marriott, St. Mark’s Church, Law Offices of William G. Morris, CJ’s on the Bay, Steve Reynolds of Island Paradise DJ Service, Joe Granda, Bernardo Bezos, Gary Landis, Tarik Ayasun, Al Diaz, and Coastal Breeze News.
Tom’s theory is you can’t control whether or not you’re bullied, but you can control whether or not you become a victim. Tom explained the definitions of bullying and opened up offering his own personal experiences. He was able to instantly bring himself to the level of the students. He explained he was bullied as young child, and as he got older he became the bully. He discussed how thoughts turn into actions, and actions become habits which, in turn, become a part of your character. The theme of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is offered in a new light. He urged students to be the change, and to create a new culture in their school.
The Victimproof program is available in paperback, online and through a series of 30 well-done videos that are only three to five minutes each. Tom gave each student a card with the Victimproof.org website on it. They can sign up and watch the videos free of charge. If you have the chance, sign on and take a look at some of the videos. They contain inspiring messages that each student needs to hear. And parents, don’t be shocked to find out your child is a bully or is being bullied. Know they can’t always learn to be less sensitive.
As parents, we need to be vigilant ourselves and urge our school administrators, teachers, coaches and camp counselors to not become immune to bullying. Take action, demand zero tolerance for any type of bullying behavior. We need to offer coping skills to our children. Tom’s program offers adaptable solutions. Students can discover how to drop the victim mindset, take responsibility for life, break free from hurts and insecurities and apply bullyproofing strategies that work.