November 26, 2013

Bullies Run: Beth Maday Is On the Loose

Beth Maday is no ordinary high school counselor. She seems to have single-handedly tackled the problem of bullying in her high school and won. At least, that‘s what one young man, Jeremy Flannery, says. From grade school through high school, Jeremy was mercilessly bullied. By the spring of his junior year in high school, his mother, Robin, was seriously considering moving her family of across the country so that Jeremy might find a school where h wasn’t bullied.

Seven years ago, Jeremy’s father died of cancer leaving his mother with three young children. In addition to grieving her husband’s death, she had to help Jeremy keeps his spirits up at a school where kids verbally chided him for being different. Robin tried homeschooling him. That helped but he missed other kids. He tried one public school and then another. He would place his lunch tray down at a table and kids would move it to a table where he was forced to sit alone. Once he was shoved into his locker but refused to tell his mother of his school troubles because he didn’t want to worry her. He tried telling teachers what was happening, but many told him that there really wasn’t much they could do because the bullies came from “troubled homes.” When his mother did find out what was happening, she advocated for him but ran into the same problems. Teachers knew what was happening but felt impotent to do anything about it. At one school the principal got up at all school assemblies and lectured students on how destructive and intolerable bullying was. “That actually made things worse” Robin said. Because there was so much focus on bullying but no consequences given for mean behavior, the bullies actually felt empowered.

Then a friend suggested that Robin take Jeremy to St. Francis high school. She figured that she had nothing to lose, so she visited the school. Fortunately for them both, one of the first people she met was the high school counselor, Beth Maday. Seizing an opportunity to help Jeremy, Beth went to every junior class that Jeremy would take. She stood before seven classes filled with his peers and told them that they were receiving a young man who had lost his father and who had been bullied. She talked about how Jesus never bullied (the school was a Catholic school) and how they were expected to act in kindness. Then, she asked students who among them would commit to have Jeremy’s back. She waited. Then one student raised her hand. Then another and another. Soon, the entire junior class at St Francis High school decided that they were going to take responsibility to help Jeremy. And it worked.

Jeremy told me that he has never been so happy. The entire football team (with a history of being state champions) asked Jeremy to be their media person and he travels with them to all of their games. Beth Maday told me that seeing Jeremy at school is a real delight. “You can’t believe how much kids like Jeremy” she said. “They encourage him and look out for him.”

Jeremy was having a bad day once and a girl in his class sat with him at lunch and noticed he was down. “What’s the matter?” she queried. “Is someone giving you a hard time? Just let me know.” No one was giving him trouble he told her but her concern lightened his load.

What made St Francis so successful in driving down bullying were two things, Beth said. First, students were challenged to be active participants in the process. They weren’t simply given a lecture; they were challenged with a cause and a person to care for. She even went so far as to tell the students that they had permission to be very assertive against bullies. No, she didn’t advocate violence, but she told the students that they should stand in the gap. Second, she asked the students to collectively participate. One student alone might not stand up against a bully, but when the entire class knew that they had one another’s support to act against it, they felt empowered, she told me. That’s why St. Francis has been so successful she believes.

Sure, St. Francis is a Catholic school which can teach what God would do but any public school could implement Beth Mayday’s plan. Challenge the kids who won’t bully to collectively stand for those who are being bullied and against those who bully. Positive peer pressure can be a force to be reckoned with; we just have to use it. So Beth Maday, on behalf of all of the Jeremy’s out there in our schools, thank you for a work well down.

November 22, 2013

Your Daughter Needs A Hero

"What are you going to be when you grow up?"

You probably started hearing that when you were eight years old. Chances are, your first thoughts were about Superman, or you wanted to be a cowboy, a fireman, a knight, or a football star. What you really wanted to be was a hero.

Well, I have news for you. Your daughter wants a hero—and she has chosen you.

Think about heroes: they protect people, they persevere, they exhibit altruistic love, they are faithful to their inner convictions, and they understand right from wrong and act on it. No fireman counts the odds when he runs through sheets of flame and showers of concrete to save just one terrified person.

Heroes are humble, but to those they rescue, they are bigger than life.

So how do you become a hero to your daughter? First, you should know that she can’t survive without one. She needs a hero to navigate her through a treacherous popular culture. And you should know that being a twenty-first-century hero is tough stuff. It requires emotional fortitude, mental self-control, and physical restraint. It means walking into embarrassing, uncomfortable, or even life-threatening situations in order to rescue your daughter.

You might need to show up at a party where your daughter’s friends—and maybe your daughter—have been drinking, and take her home. You might need to talk to her about the clothes she wears and the music she likes. And yes, you might even need to get in the car at one in the morning, go to her boyfriend’s house, and insist that she come home.

Here’s what your daughter needs from you. Leadership

When your daughter is born, she recognizes your voice as deeper than her mother’s. As a toddler, she looks up at your enormous frame and realizes that you are big, smart, and tough. In her grade school years, she instinctively turns to you for direction.

Whatever outward impression she gives, her life is centered on discovering what you like in her, and what you want from her. She knows you are smarter than she is. She gives you authority because she needs you to love and adore her. She can’t feel good about herself until she knows that you feel good about her. So you need to use your authority carefully and wisely. Your daughter doesn’t want to see you as an equal. She wants you to be her hero, someone who is wiser and steadier and stronger than she is.

The only way you will alienate your daughter in the long term is by losing her respect, failing to lead, or failing to protect her. If you don't provide for her needs, she will find someone else who will—and that’s when trouble starts. Don’t let that happen.

Nowadays, the idea of assuming authority makes many men uneasy. It smacks of political incorrectness. Pop psychologists and educators have told us that authority is suffocating, obtrusive, and will crush a child’s spirit. Fathers worry that if they push their kids or establish too many rules, they’ll just rebel. But the greatest danger comes from fathers who surrender leadership, particularly during their children’s teen years. Authority is not a threat to your relationship with your daughter—it is what will bring you closer to your daughter, and what will make her respect you more.

In fact, girls who end up in counselors’ offices, detention centers, or halfway homes are not girls who had authoritative fathers. Quite the opposite. Troubled young women spend most of their time in counseling describing the hurt they felt from fathers who abandoned them, retreated from their lives, or ignored them. They describe fathers who failed—or were afraid—to establish rules. They describe fathers who focused on their own emotional struggles rather than those of their daughters. They describe fathers who wanted to avoid any conflict, and so shied away from engaging their daughters in conversation, or challenging them when they made bad decisions.

Your natural instinct is to protect your daughter. Forget what pop culture and pop psychologists tell you. Do it.

And be ready. Your daughter wants you to be an authority figure, but as she matures, she will likely test you to see if you’re serious. Dads, as a rule, know adolescent boys will eventually start to challenge them. The one-on-one basketball games will get more competitive, and the son will start to buck dad’s authority.

Let me tell you a secret: many daughters challenge their fathers too. They’ll dive into a power struggle with you, not to see how tough you are, but to see how much you really care about them. So remember that when she pushes hard against your rules, flailing, crying that you are mean or unfair, she is really asking you a question: Am I worth the fight, Dad? Are you strong enough to handle me? Make sure she knows the answer is yes.