Tag Archive for cyberbullying

Cyberbullying Panel Discussion, March 15 in Albany, NY

I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion on the topic of Cyberbullying: What Every Parent Should Know.

Essentially, from what I can gather, there’s going to be a bunch of experts . . . and me.

The panelists include:

* Lydia Kulbida, Moderator. WTEN-TV news anchor. Mother of two teens.
* Lori Cullen: timesunion.com blogger. Mother of three teens. Founder of Millennial Youth, an independent, youth-run magazine housed at the Times Union
* Sandra Morley: Principal, Bethlehem Central Middle School
* Prof. Stephen Birchak: Educator, lecturer, author of “How to Build a Child’s Character – By Tapping Into Your Own”
* Lt. Joseph Donohue: State Police Computer Crime Unit. Oversees the federal Justice Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
* James Preller: Author of more than 80 children’s books. His most recent novel, ‘Bystander,’ tells the story of bullying from multiple perspectives


Class Discussion Guide, Talking Points, and Other News About “BYSTANDER”

Some exciting things have been happening with my book, Bystander. I’m hearing from schools that wish to purchase multiple copies, make it a school-wide read for an entire grade, and so on. Some perceive the book as an accurate, realistic representation of bullying in a middle school environment, a good starting point for classroom discussion, and as a useful tool in their overall anti-bullying programs.

Of course, I’m gratified to hear that.

I’ve been asked about a teaching guide, paperback reprints, and suggestions for “discussion starters.”

On that front:

* Feiwel & Friends is currently creating a Discussion Guide which will be available as a free PDF file on the MacKids “bonus materials section.” (I think that’s right, anyway.) When that happens, I’ll let you know.

* My publisher is also taking the rare move of creating a bound Teacher’s Edition of the book.

* There is talk of a paperback printing in the future, but no date has been set. Very probably, Fall of 2011.

In the meantime, in response to requests for more immediate discussion starters, I sat down and wrote out this list of talking points that might help teachers encourage students to think about Bystander. I’m not a professional educator and I really don’t know how this kind of thing is done, but I figured I’d wing it. In that sense, it’s very much like having children. You just sort of fake it.


Note: Spoiler alert!

* In the character of David Hallenback, we see a victim/target who turns around to become a bully against Eric Hayes. Research shows this to be a common dynamic, that a target often becomes a bully. Why do you think this might be true? This kind of pattern is often called a “vicious cycle.” Why might you think that’s an appropriate phrase?

* From the book, we learn that Mary has been involved in cyber-bullying in the past. Why do you think this particular form of bullying — creating a web page, or simply sending a mean email — is on the rise today? What makes it easier?

* Think about Eric’s mother’s actions and reactions in the book. Do you think she made any mistakes? What did she do right?  What would you want to tell adults about the “real” stories behind bullying?

* In chapter 20, a gathered group of boys discuss their responses to Griffin’s behavior. A number of excuses are mentioned by various characters as to why they elect to do nothing, including: 1) The unreliability of authority figures to respond; 2) The threat of retaliation; 3) That the victim, at least on some level, deserves it; 4) That it’s human nature, the law of the jungle, and will always persist; 5) That it’s better to stay out of it; and lastly, 6) That no one should “rat out” another student. Are any of these valid reasons for remaining a bystander? Why and why not?

* In what is known as “the bystander effect,” it’s been learned that group behavior is often less moral/ethical than individual behavior. For example, imagine a figure laying on the sidewalk. Groups of people have, in various tests, failed to stop and help the injured person. Yet individuals — alone — are much more likely to stop and try to be of assistance. Psychologists call this “the diffusion of responsibility.” Why do you think this is so? Do we become less humane, less our true selves, in group settings? How might this relate to peer pressure?

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Here’s another interesting video on the topic:

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

* The ending of the book does not provide a typical Hollywood conclusion, where it’s all wrapped up and the bully gets punished. Instead, the story strives for something more realistic. What do you think will happen with the characters in the future, particularly with Griffin and his friends? What clues in the text support your conclusion? Pay attention to Cody: What did  you think of him?

* Griffin Connelly is represented as a smart, charismatic, articulate, intelligent boy. Why do you think he’s involved in bully behaviors? What character traits do you think he might lack?

* Eric’s father is absent from the story, living miles away. What effect do you think this had on Eric? Do you feel it helped make him a potential target in Griffin’s eyes?

* To what extent is it fair to blame some of David Hallenback’s problems on himself? What mistakes does he make? Are there things he might have done differently? Did he in any way bring these problems onto himself?

* Do you feel the school authorities — ranging from the principal, teachers, counselors and the school resource officer — acted appropriately throughout? Could they have done more to address the problem?

* Late in the book, Mary decides to no longer worry so much about what others think. Why do you believe this is a good or a bad thing?

I’m sure an experienced educator, or a thoughtful fifth-grader, could come up with many more topics for discussion. I hope it’s of some use. Ultimately, this is a story, a work of fiction, an entertainment, and  succeeds or fails as such. Not every book has to be taught or discussed; a story must work in that individual relationship between text and reader. Bystander is concerned with the dangers of abstraction, the disconnection between cause and effect (particularly where cyber-bullying is concerned), and the importance of individuality — though I never say so directly. Except for now, here.

And I have to say it again: Thank you, Rich Deas, for creating this amazing cover.

Cyberbullying in BYSTANDER: An Excerpt

As I dug deeper into my research for Bystander, a bully-themed novel set in a middle school, I realized that I could write a hundred different stories on the subject. There are so many manifestations, so many different approaches to the issue, so many stories to tell. For my immediate purposes, I decided to focus primarily on boy characters. And for the most part, I did not address cyberbullying in a major way, though I fully realized it was a topic of vital importance for children today.

Just about every educator told me the same thing, in the same words: “Girls are worse.”

That’s why I made sure that one character in the book, Mary O’Malley, was directly touched by cyberbullying. She witnesses it, participates in it, feels uncomfortable with it, and is forced to make some difficult choices. In terms of character arc, Mary gradually moves from darkness into light. Or as she tells Eric late in the book, chapter 25 [misfits], while they sit together (and alone) in the lunch room:

“I’m done worrying about what people like Alexis Brown think of me.”

“When did you get so smart?” Eric asked.

Mary shrugged. “I had to do a lot of dumb things first. After a while, I decided to try a different approach.”

“How’s it working out for you so far?”

“The food’s better,” Mary said, twisting open one of Eric’s Oreos. She turned serious. “Do you know what Mr. Scofield told me? He said not to listen when people say bad things about me. He said, ‘You know, Miss O’Malley, it says more about who they are than it does about you.'”

Here’s an excerpt from an earlier scene in chapter 16 [Mary], when Mary is hanging out with Eric Hayes. They are together at a dog park with Ginger, a Golden Retriever:

It was Eric’s first time alone with Mary. Of course, not counting Ginger’s company. The dog somehow made it easier, gave them a third thing, something outside of themselves that they could share. Mary found an old tennis ball, hurled it across the field. Ginger took off like a rocket, proudly retrieving it. Just an animal, doing what came naturally. They played that game for a long while, Eric and Mary taking turns throwing the ball, Ginger tireless and impatient.

A few times Mary’s cell phone sounded. She’d flip it open, read a text message, flip it closed.

At a certain point she stopped talking.

“You’re frowning,” Eric noted. “Is something the matter?”

Mary shook her head. But a moment later she pulled out her cell, punched a few buttons, and handed it to Eric. “Here, look at this.”

There was a photograph of a girl’s thick body. She wore shorts and a midriff-baring shirt, with the head of a pig Photoshopped onto it. “Who’s that supposed to be?” Eric asked.

“That’s Chantel Williams, you know her?”

“Sort of, we’re in a couple of classes together.”

“Well, everybody is really mad at her –“


“Okay, not everybody,” Mary replied, conceding the point. “It’s mostly Chrissie and Alexis. They want me to come over, because they want to get her back.”

Eric didn’t know Chantel well. She seemed okay. “What did she do?”

“Flirted with the wrong guy, according to Alexis.” After a pause, Mary confessed, “I know, you don’t have to say anything. It’s all so stupid.”

“What are they going to do?”

Ginger dropped the ball at Eric’s feet, then plopped to the ground herself, exhausted. He picked the ball up and threw it. Ginger watched it sail through the air, but did not otherwise stir.

“Go on, go get it!” Eric urged.

Ginger rested her chin on the cool earth. She wasn’t going anywhere. The ball could stay lost forever.

It was time to go. Eric reattached Ginger’s leash and gave a tug. He reminded Mary that she still hadn’t answered his question.

Mary sighed, shrugged, rearranged a loose strand of hair. “Something mean,” she said, eyes narrowing. “They are talking about maybe some fake Web page. Alexis has a new iMac in her room. They want me to help. I’m good with computers.”

“You’ve done stuff like that before?”

Mary looked away, nodded. “A little bit.”

One last note about some of the things I was trying to achieve here. You read in the first excerpt the reference to Mr. Scofield, an English teacher. He is a minor but recurring presence in the book, an intelligent, capable teacher who senses what’s going on and tries, in a limited way, to council and assist. The line that Mary attributes to him — “You know, Miss O’Malley, it says more about who they are than it does about you” — came to me directly from a middle school English teacher, my friend Matt Ball. He told me that’s what he sometimes said to his students, if he saw they were having a tough time. I informed Matt that I was going to use it for the book I was writing. Matt told me to be his guest. So that’s how that little piece of advice got into Bystander.

File under: I’m not making this stuff up.