Tag Archives: kids

Don’t Panic: Get the Facts…

Today at school, I was asked about “Blue Whale” — an alleged social media phenomena that is supposedly “going viral” and encouraging teens to commit suicide. Since I am teaching a Suicide Prevention Workshop tonight I thought I’d better do some quick checking in case it comes up.

One thing for certain, the media is having a field day with it. Many of the headlines and claims in the articles being published turn out to be “unproven.”  There is general agreement an “ap” (game) originated in Russia that encourages “vulnerable” teens to engage in a series of tasks (like cutting) and allegedly ends with them taking their own life.  The word “vulnerable” is very important in that sentence.

A game will not “cause” someone to commit suicide. Certainly, a game such as this is cause for concern, but it is not cause for panic. There actually have been no conclusive links between suicides and the game. It is interesting that this story was first picked up by the tabloids–they are known for their accurate reporting, right?

What can happen is that a person already having suicidal thoughts may find a game or group that they perceive shares their thoughts and feelings. The roots of those thoughts and feelings are not caused by joining a group or playing a game. It is interesting that this story was first picked up by the tabloids–known for their accuracy!

The energy that will be spent warning people about this “Blue Whale” would be better spent developing a basic understanding of suicide and it’s prevention. Most of the workshops I offer are free and are research-based. We need to understand and focus on protective factors and the fundamental causes. Personally, I believe early intervention is going to be the key to correcting this public health crisis.  When we understand the risk factors and triggers we can recognize the need.

The techniques covered in the workshop are basic and relatively simple. Perhaps not quite as simple as clicking “share” on Facebook, but they are about sharing.

One of the better “fact checking” sites is here, but you might be better served to research the facts regarding suicide and how you can help prevent it. The life you save may belong to someone you love.

Finding Dead Rainbows at Bangor Grange

I’m looking forward to being the featured speaker at Bangor Grange’s Quarterly Communications Connection on Saturday, March 25, 2017. Grange Master Brenda Gammon describes Community Connections as an ongoing part of the Grange’s efforts to “provide information and resources and a way for our community citizens to connect with each other and those resources.” The event is free to the public and will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Bangor Grange Hall at 1192 Ohio Street in Bangor.

The presentation is entitled “Searching for Dead Rainbows—where you stand makes a difference” and is based largely on my work with small people. “Rainbows are about hope and promise. Where we find hope and promise has a lot to do with where we look. And where we look has a lot to do with where we stand.

Gammon said she is looking forward to the program because it will touch on a variety of topics ranging from mental health to bullying and dealing with depression. “But it will be upbeat and fun because Walter has some great stories about his experiences with kids.”

Additional information about the Quarterly Community Connections can be found at http://BangorGrange.org or visit http://http://wboomsma.com for information about the presentation.

What’s Your Label? Who Are You, Really!?

Thank you so much for your book, received it yesterday and have read a chapter or two so far. I have many questions already, everything is just so well done. Through mass-marketed media its perceived that adults take for granted the words of a child, and their hold and place in society. Your book defies that stereotype, finding the deeper meaning in education and brains of our youth. Coming from someone who wants to study child-minds and thought processes, it was very humbling and insightful reading the first beginning pages of your experience with the young Amish girl…

What is not to like about a review like this!? It’s written by a high school senior who contacted me for some “collaboration” on a writing project… her planned vocation is to become a child psychologist and her avocation is to write and publish.

I love her suggestion that I defy the stereotype that “adults take for granted the words of a child…” She definitely has a future as a writer, because that is a previously not-so-well stated mission. Maybe even an obsession. I often quote Stacia Tauscher:

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.”

Children are really just little people, not so different than those we consider adults. Admittedly, they have less experience being a person than an adult, but they are no less a person. They see things with curious minds and fresh outlooks. Their observations are often insightful.

Just this week, we received new identification badges at school. They are quite formal and official looking. We wear them on a lanyard so people can be assured we belong where we are. I don’t question the need and logic. But a second grader did.

He grabbed my badge, studied it closely and looked somewhere between puzzled and horrified. “Mr. Boomsma, this isn’t right. It says you are a substitute teacher. You are a REAL teacher.”

I suppose I should have “corrected” him, but truth be told he made me feel pretty smug and really good. He also gave me a lot to think about and I ultimately decided that what he thought was probably more important than what my badge said.

One reason subs sometimes have difficulty managing a class is the students will view him or her as “not our teacher” and decide the day will be a bit of a holiday. When I teach the Substitute Teacher Course, we spend some time discussing this potential power struggle. Part of my approach is that we must establish at the beginning we are there to teach, not to babysit. Yes, things will be a little different, but it is still about teaching and learning.  A substitute who establishes that at the start will have far less “classroom management” issues.  In age-appropriate language, I make it clear I am not there to manage a classroom, I am there to teach and facilitate learning.

So I think it’s pretty cool that second grader thinks it’s wrong to call me a substitute. I also think it’s pretty cool that he was able to read the entire badge, including the word substitute.

Labels are certainly a necessary tool in our society, but they come at some cost. The biggest cost is the loss of true identity when we become seen only as the label.

Don’t forget. A child is a person–a smaller and less experienced one, but no less a person.

Let’s Make Some Beauty!

Three years ago chance circumstances meant a last minute opportunity to invite two young friends to attend a Christmas performance of the Nutcracker with us.  We had a grand time and ultimately decided we would at least in some form repeat the tradition the next year. When we started discussing our plans, I’ll admit that I was a bit surprised when the girls’ choices were all repeats of what we’d done the first year. They wanted to attend the same performance and go to the same restaurant–even to order the same food! Their explanation was “It’s our tradition.”

I joked that I didn’t realize it was possible to establish a tradition by doing something once. But why not? After all, this is a season of traditions. Our annual event changes very little. We’ve all come to look forward to what some might see as repetition, but there is comfort and much excitement in it.

Another tradition is counting the number of houses decorated with Christmas lights on the way to the theater. The Christmas Season is about sights and sounds and, in a word, beauty.  It’s a time to engage in tradition and enjoy the opportunity to see and hear beauty that ranges from a ballet to decorating our homes to how we (well, some of us) wrap gifts. For some, baking cookies becomes an art form. This truly is a season of beauty.

Several weeks ago I paused to stuff a few dollars into a Salvation Army kettle. When I commented that his kettle was pretty full, his smile widened as he said, “It’s the third one I’ve filled one today.” We chatted for a few minutes and I learned that this young man schedules his vacation every year so he can be a bell-ringer.  That’s just as beautiful as the music and decorations.

Last year I stood and listened to over 200 individuals perform the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, accompanied by a symphony orchestra. It gave me chills. This year I got to hear some high school kids (the Mount View Chamber Singers) perform a cappella and was equally moved.

Beauty comes in many shapes and sizes.  While it wasn’t meant as a Christmas gift, I have a paper captain’s hat sitting on the shelf in my office. The kid who made it for me labeled the brim “Captain Boomsma.” As paper hats go, it’s a nice one. But the real beauty for me is that he made it for me and gave it to me.

My wish for you is that you see and experience much beauty during this season of opportunity. Make seeing and experiencing it a tradition (habit). Your world will be a better place.

My wish for the world is “Let’s make more beauty.” There will be no winners and there will be no losers. We’ll make our world a better place.

 

 

 

 

Where You Fly Makes a Difference

One of my more fun presentations is a series of stories beginning with one young fellow who spots a dead rainbow. Rainbows are, of course about hope and so are most of the stories. Some of the stories are sad, some are funny, but each leads to the inescapable conclusion that where we stand makes a difference. Sometimes it’s a difference to ourselves. Sometimes it’s a difference to someone else.

Two of the stories are about bullying. One is about a little guy named Rudolph who is a victim of some typical bullying. The story shows that, when it comes to bullying, where you stand (or in this case fly) can make all the difference.

The story is told in a simple song published by Montgomery Ward in 1939. While it may not have been originally intended as such, it really is a song about over-coming bullying. We didn’t call it bullying back then, but today we probably would. Fortunately, I don’t sing the song, I merely recite it as poetry with some editorial comment.

“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
You know Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen,
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all?

Here’s a little experiment for you. Close your eyes and, without singing the song or reciting the line from “Twas the Night Before Christmas” try to list Santa’s Reindeer. You’ll probably find the song irresistible, but I’m betting the eight regular sleigh-pullers aren’t all that memorable. You don’t readily recall them, but you do recall the most famous reindeer of all. That’s significant. You recall him because…

rudolphRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.

Rudolph stood out in a crowd because he didn’t exactly fit in with the crowd. He wasn’t like the other reindeer. While we don’t know how old he was, he’s often pictured with very small horns suggesting he’s an adolescent. We know that “fitting in” is very important during adolescence, so there’s little doubt Rudolph was not a very happy reindeer. He probably hated his nose. And it didn’t help that the other reindeer were bullies who made fun of him.

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.

Reindeer can be mean, can’t they!? And so can kids. It’s a complicated social dynamic, but a kid who is different—maybe wears a different style clothing or has a different physical characteristic (a red nose?)—gets ostracized and maybe worse. Simply being ignored by others can be painful. Being the last one standing when teams are selected is bad enough. But when they start to laugh and call names, the hurt and pain can seem unbearable.

I think it’s interesting that Santa apparently doesn’t take action. He could have started an anti-bullying program. Maybe created a stop bullying policy and hung up some kindness posters in the barn. In fairness to Santa, we’re not sure if he knew what the other reindeer were doing to Rudolph. He was probably busy keeping an eye on the elves and all the kids. How else could he know if they’ve been bad or good? He clearly had plenty on his plate besides the milk and cookies kids often leave him. So we can perhaps forgive him for not knowing that his reindeer were being mean to Rudolph.

We might also wonder why the SPCA didn’t respond and try to protect Rudolph, although it’s not clear whether cruelty among or between animals is covered by their mission statements. They seem a bit more focused on human cruelty against and neglect of animals.  Rudolph simply did not have much of a support system.

Let’s look at what did happen.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
“Rudolph, with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

The song doesn’t record Rudolph’s answer. I suppose he could have said, “The heck with you—why should I help after what I’ve been put through by those other reindeer!?” We only know that Rudolph was finally recognized as having something to contribute. Ironically, the very thing that had separated him from the herd became the very thing that gave him status. Instead of cowering in the corner of the barn, Rudolph became the leader of the herd. And the results of that change were significant.

 Then how the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
“Rudolph the red-nose Reindeer
You’ll go down in history!”

Consider what didn’t change. Rudolph didn’t get nose surgery and his nose didn’t dim. The eight other reindeer didn’t attend some anti-bullying intervention and suddenly become more loving and accepting.

Circumstances changed. It became foggy. (We could rightfully wonder how all of Santa’s previous trips were on clear nights, but that would spoil the song and story.)

What ultimately happened is, I think, most important. Santa does play an important role in the outcome of the story. He’s obviously more troubled over the foggy night than he had been regarding Rudolph’s status with the herd. That reality might put a little smudge on Santa’s image, but let’s be honest. He needed a solution to the foggy night problem.

And there was Rudolph with his nose all aglow—a solution to a problem. Santa saw him differently for the first time—not as a misfit reindeer with a defective nose. So, perhaps grudgingly, Rudolph steps to the front.  He had to raise his head so the glow would light the way. And in that moment—as is so often the case with childrens’ stories—all is well! Everybody’s happy! Santa can make his deliveries. The eight bully reindeer no longer have to worry about running into things in the fog. They are shouting with glee!  In all of the picture books I’ve seen, Rudolph is smiling and his head is held high, not just to light the way but because he feels valued.

The song doesn’t record whether or not the “other” reindeer change permanently. Sure, they were shouting out with glee but that was because they were able to complete their rounds without hazard. The question that remains unanswered is whether or not they became any kinder and accepting as a result of the experience. If another reindeer came to the barn with, say, a deformed antler, would they laugh and call him names? Would they let poor Bent Antler join in any reindeer games?

I don’t know.

One thing I am fairly certain of, though. I think Rudolph began to think differently of himself. While I am sorry for his pain, I’m also glad that no one stepped in and deprived him of the opportunity to do just that—to learn and discover who he was—uniquely and individually.

What we think of ourselves goes much farther in defining who we are than what others think. A change of circumstances may trigger it, but the real change lies within ourselves. Our own self-value beats a red nose or bent antler any day. Where we stand makes a difference