By Annette Hinkle
Chris Poulos, a World Champion Bicycle Stunt Rider, gives presentations to teens about bullying, self-motivation, perseverance, respect, facing fears, cooperation and overcoming adversity.
You’ll be talking to Pierson Middle/High School students in a presentation at 1 p.m. on May 15. What will be the focus of your talk?
I’m sure I’ll touch on bullying and cyber bully — Facebook and Internet stuff. In general I try and talk to kids about making good choices and decisions in life.
Do the kids listen to you?
They view me as one of their peers. Because I’m a stunt bike rider they relate to that very well. I’m 42 and I’ve been here three times — I was 25 the first time I was here and I felt like a peer. I came back at 32 and felt I still had a good connection and I anticipated the older I got, the less connection I would have. But still I have it. My father thinks I have Peter Pan syndrome.
Did you face issues of bullying when you were growing up?
Nothing out of the ordinary. Because I was the class clown, I used that a lot to my advantage. Entertaining people and being an athlete kept me away from that. Kids who are athletic and well liked have it easier than kids who are shy and quiet. I always say someone skilled at bullying is someone that is a good judge of character and can easily pick out the target.
How have you seen the nature of bullying change since you were a kid?
Definitely with the technology. One of the things I tell people is technology is great. When I was a kid and needed to know something, I had to get out of my seat and go to a card catalog at the library. Now I can Google it on my phone in 30 seconds. It’s such a powerful tool — smart phones, Facebook — kids don’t realize the danger of that stuff. You’re so disconnected, it’s like wearing a mask. You’re not the same person when you’re using it.
What kind of information do you share with kids in your talks?
I try to keep it real simple. I’m not into statistics. I tell them what I do. For example, before I take a picture of something or say something about someone online, I think, “is this something my mother will be proud of or upset about when she sees it?” If she would be proud of it, it’s ok. That’s what works for me. You need to find something that works for you.
You have two kids, a 13 year old son and 15 year old daughter. Have you experienced situations with your own kids and technology that have provided a teaching moment?
My daughter was a Girl Scout and they sell cookies every year. On her Facebook account, she put up a photo of a house burning down and she said “this is what will happen if you don’t buy my cookies.” I said “you need to take that down right now. You don’t know who’s going to take it the wrong way.” If you sent it to 10 people, the same joke will offend at least one person.
Sarcasm doesn’t come across well on texts. From babies we learn facial recognition of emotions — but you don’t have that in text messaging. It’s like Halloween – you’re behind a screen, it’s like a mask.
One thing kids don’t realize — and I don’t get too much into “this is illegal” because kids don’t have any concept of criminal punishment or money and time either. What I like to do role play as examples of showing them and having them understand how someone would feel in certain situations if it happened to them.
They need to know how to have a little compassion – that’s the trick.
Why do you think kids accept your message when they might take advice from other adults in their lives?
It’s funny, I ride a bike — because I can do stunts on a bike, the kids think I’m an expert on everything. That’s their perception and we can thank the negative reality TV shows — Honey Boo Boo and Snooki — for that. Everyone thinks these people are experts because they’re on TV. I always said I have a responsibility to use my ability as a platform, something positive, not negative. Because of that I probably don’t get as much attention as the Snookis of the world, but I know in my heart I’m doing the right thing.