Jodee Blanco giving one of her lectures on bullying. The New York Times bestselling author, who will present at Sag Harbor School District Thursday, gives presentations on bullying at schools across the country.
By Tessa Raebeck
Being repeatedly spit on, yelled at and burned with cigarettes sounds like hell for any human being.
For Jodee Blanco, it was high school.
Now a New York Times bestselling author and nationally acclaimed expert on bullying, Blanco returns to Sag Harbor this Thursday, October 10 to deliver two bullying survival and prevention seminars.
On September 3, Blanco spoke to the entire faculty of the Sag Harbor School District on appropriate methods of bullying prevention and response. The success of that seminar prompted the district to invite her back, this time to address students, their families and the larger community. She will present at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium.
“The student conversations are very different than the adults,” said Blanco. “I’m going to relive — literally, it’s like a one woman show — I’m going to actually act out key scenes from my youth. And it’s going to be tied together by a message-infused narrative.”
Blanco’s message to kids is three-fold. First, it’s not just joking around, bullying can damage you for life. Second, bullying isn’t just the mean things you do; it’s all the nice things you never do. Never including someone is also bullying. And third, if you do struggle to fit in, there is nothing wrong with you.
“It’s usually everything that’s right about a person that can make them a target of abuse,” said Blanco.
Students, parents and adult survivors are all encouraged to attend the talk, during which Blanco will offer insight and advice, as well as concrete tips for preventing and counteracting bullying. In addition to speaking as her adult, expert self, she will portray several characters: her teenage self, the kids who bullied her and the adults who tried both successfully and unsuccessfully to help her.
Blanco will also outline tips for victims of bullying to help them survive. The first step for affected kids is to “realize there’s nothing wrong with you,” she said.
A survivor herself, she also recommends reaching out to a parent or other caring adult for help; starting a journal to chronicle your pain and help process your emotions; seeking professional help without fear; finding alternative social outlets where you can make friends outside of school, such as camp, a music class or a theater troupe; and reacting in the moment, not later.
“The time to speak up and defend yourself is in the moment,” Blanco says on her website. “Don’t wait until later to speak your mind or plot revenge. Stand up and look the bully right in the eye. Tell him to stop and leave you alone. He’ll get the message, it may not be right away, but he’ll get it.”
Following the talk, Blanco does an exercise based on the Stanislavski Method, a system developed by the Russian actor and director Constantin Stanislavski in the early 20th century. Often used by actors training to better express emotions, “it’s an empathy exercise to help them get into the heads of the bullying victim,” she said.
Blanco’s strategy to combat bullying at the source focuses on compassion, rather than control. She points to communication as the key for recognizing long-term solutions instead of simply enacting short-term consequences.
The presentation on Thursday will address cyber bullying, the use of social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and other messenger services for bullying — often anonymously — via the Internet.
“You can try and limit kids’ social media, but it’s not the approach,” said Blanco. “Because social media itself is just a tool. What parents need to do is to teach their kids empathy and compassion and expose them to opportunities that allow these kids to access their empathy and develop it like a muscle.”
If your child is bullying others, instead of yelling at them or restricting them from school activities, Blanco recommends fighting the problem at the source by exposing them to the lesser fortunate, be it by visiting a soup kitchen or watching a movie that depicts people who are struggling or have been hurt.
“They need to sensitize their children to the emotions and feelings of others and help them hone and develop their sense of empathy and compassion,” she said. “That way, you don’t have to limit social media because the kid is coming from an enlightened, kind place and won’t misuse it for their own gain.”
To teach kids unconditional love, Blanco advocates employing an interesting take on pet adoption. Parents, she said, should take their child to an animal shelter and, rather than picking a pet based on its appeal, adopt the next animal scheduled to be put down. This pet that no one else wanted will become “a living, breathing example of unconditional love,” maintained Blanco.
Blanco’s strategy aims to go well beyond discipline and actually affect lasting change in children, both the tormented and the tormenters.
“It’s about teaching our kids compassion,” she said. “Because that’s where everything starts.”
Jodee Blanco will present ”It’s NOT Joking Around,” a seminar on school bullying survival and prevention for parents, students, staff and community members in the Pierson Auditorium on Thursday, October 10 from 7 to 9 p.m.