Sunday, February 22

School Days: Bullying


My forthcoming YA novel, CRAZY BEAUTIFUL, is a contemporary re-visioning of Beauty & the Beast told in he-said/she-said fashion about a boy with hooks for hands and a gorgeous girl who meet on their first day at a new school. The book's central theme is not bullying, but a certain degree of it definitely happens in the book. If the kids at the school grant Aurora instant popularity based on her perfect physical appearance, Lucius is immediately forced into the role of crazy loner due to his imperfect physical appearance and because of the rumors contstantly swirling around him: that he was somehow responsible for the loss of his own hands. I'd tell you more specifics, but that would be spoiling the book. So I'll just say that if Lucius occasionally is very angry, it's not without reason.

As many of you know I have a nine-year-old daughter, the amazing Jackie. Recently our family has become obsessed with watching the series "One Tree Hill" on DVD. We're already in the middle of Season 4, and even though, as Jackie will occasionally say, "This show is so inappropriate for me," I can't stop watching, nor do I mind her watching a show with so many mature themes because I'd rather have to answer all the questions a well-written show raises in her mind than have her watch a poorly written, seemingly more age-appropriate show, that doesn't challenge her at all.

In the middle of Season 3, however, the challenge became almost too big. There was an incredibly dark episode where an unpopular boy decided to come to school with a gun one day. Without giving anything major away, I'll just say that by the end of the episode, two people were dead of gunshot wounds. As an adult accustomed to reading the headlines about the school shootings that have plagued the country in recent years, I could see what was coming a mile away; and, if anything, thought it wasn't as devastating to watch as it could have been, given how high the death count has been in such incidents in real life. But for Jackie? Believe me, the people who worry about sex in YA books or in TV and film put too much of their worries in one direction and not enough in the other: violence. And I'm not talking about the comic-book type violence of movies like "Iron Man." I'm talking about the realistic portrayal of some nebishy character one day coming to school with the intent to blow his classmates away. The thing is, I can discuss and explain any issues that come up about sex; and I'd just as soon my kid get answers to her questions as they organically arise while we watch a show together than from the kids in the neighborhood. But she was devastated by the school-shooting episode. And how could I explain that?

Parents and educators sometimes use the phrase "a teachable moment," a phrase I detest for its prissily superior sound. Unfortunately, I was out late shooting pool last night, so I'm too tired today to have my brain come up with a more-pleasing-to-me phrase than "a teachable moment," so that's the one I'm going to go with here. I realized that my daughter's devastation over the school-shooting episode presented a teachable moment.

That's when I began talking to her about the importance of kindness; how people who are born attractive - their own good looks a matter of luck, not merit - have a particular resposibility to be kind to those who are not so fortunate; how having been bullied and ignored is never an excuse for doing violence against others but it is certainly an all-too-common precipitating factor; how if you are always kind to the disenfranchised, one day your kindness may serve to save your own life, and even the lives of other people, and even if nothing so dramatic as that ever happens - and it is fervently hoped that it will not - you will at least have performed the human act of making someone else's like a little better.

We'll never solve all the world's problems, we'll never even completely solve the problem of bullying and its sometimes even more violent aftermath. But we can certainly take action to make things better. We can choose, instead of making fun of or ignoring the school "loser", to become empathetic, to wonder what it would really be like to be that other person, and becoming more empathetic, to simply reach out and say, "Hey, how's it going?"

Whoa, I'm long-winded today! Oh, and in case you're interested, I shot really well at pool last night. So...

QUESTIONS OF THE DAY: DO YOU WATCH "ONE TREE HILL"? GOT ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT BULLYING? ARE YOU GOING TO BUY MY BOOK WHEN IT COMES OUT???

Be well. Don't forget to write.

23 comments:

mari said...

I wish more parents were as open with their children as you are. My mom never censored what I watched or read but always talked to me and my sisters about what we saw/read. Your right, "teachable moments" is such an overused word by us teachers. I would be interested in another phrase. :)

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Mari, I promise, someday when I did not stay out late the night before shooting pool, I will come up with an improved phrase on "a teachable moment" and get back to you on it! In the meantime, regarding parenting: It's not like I'm in a hurry to have my child grow up but I can't shelter her from the world either; the world is going to get in anyway and thinking anything else is just head-in-the-sand behavior. Thanks for the kind words!

Alyson Noel said...

I've never seen One Tree Hill, though I may have to now!

And you know I was bullied, pretty severely, for 5 years. I like to think it made me a much more compassionate person, and a major rooter for the underdog!

And yes, I definitely plan to buy your book! I hope one day I can get it signed by the author--how cool would that be?!

Great post!

Gerb said...

I am absolutely going to buy your book when it comes out! It's on my wish list for this fall!!!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Alyson, you *must* watch "One Tree Hill"! And I have a curious past, everything from being Queen of the Hill to the scum on people's shoes, so I've been lauded and I've been bullied. Since I've always understood how quickly the Wheel of Fortune can turn on you, I've made it a point whenever on top to reach down to those on the bottom. Oh, and of course I'll sign the lousy book for you!

I love you, Gerb!

J.T Wilbanks said...

Of course I'm going to buy your book, it sounds far too good to stay away from.

I was bullied from 5th grade to the end of 8th. Imagine already being morbidly depressed because of a really rotten event in your childhood, then waking up one day only to find that you've become the target of every *Insert choice word* in school.

But, I hold no gudge, it's made me a better person in so many ways, and it taught me how to fight for my own heart.

-J.T.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Good on you, JT. (And not just because you said you'd buy my book!) Good on you for taking the bad and turning it into something positive in your life. Every bad thing that has happened in my life - and they are legion - has ultimately served me well. I know I would not be half so string or resilient without that past and I wish you only the best.

Amanda Ashby said...

I've just finished reading Me, In Between and will definitely be getting Crazy Beautiful when it comes out.

I love your thoughts on kindness. One of the things I love best about my own 8 year old daughter is that she is so incredibly kind to everyone (and everything) and I'm sure I learn more from her than she will ever learn from me!!!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Amanda, you are so right - I learn so much from J. Oh, and we just watched two more episodes of One Tree Hill!

Erika Lynn said...

I love One Tree Hill and I think it is a great show. And it only gets better. And I can't wait for your book!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Erika, thank you so much! We just watched two more episodes - that makes four today!

Sara Hantz said...

I haven't seen it. Will try and get it on dvd. And I'm definitely going to buy your book. Can't wait!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Sara, yes! Read CB and get OTH - at least for the latter, you will thank me!

Irene L. Pynn said...

My mom -- who has fantastic taste in TV shows -- absolutely loves OTH! I'll have to start watching it soon.

Re: sex vs. violence, I couldn't agree with you more. The questions are going to come up naturally, and are, after all, a part of life. But I don't believe they are the same. They're both adult situations, but violence is a completely negative thing. Whereas you may discuss sex with your child and explain that, when they grow up and fall in love and want a family, it will be a normal and positive part of that progression, violence is something we try to teach people to avoid and put an end to.

It's a much more difficult topic, in my opinion. And "teachable moment" is SO prissy! :) I absolutely agree!

Looking forward to your book.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Fabulous comment, Irene - your mother is lucky to have you!

Kelly Parra said...

I've watched a few episodes of OTH! Its hard not to get pulled in other people's drama.

Yes, looking forward to Crazy Beautiful!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Thanks, Kelly! Better other people's drama than our own.

Shalonda said...

Oh, you have just made my day. One of my favorite things to talk about is One Tree Hill! I love that show, and I've gotten my dad and sister hooked on it too!

Too bad the current season is airing so many repeats. Can't wait for the new episodes.

And of course, can't wait for your book either! Yes, I'm getting Crazy Beautiful!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Thanks, Shalonda! I have one episode left of Season 4 to watch!

sharigreen said...

I rarely watch TV, but I've heard such good things about OTH that I may have to get the DVDs!

I'll definitely be looking for Crazy Beautiful when it comes out. :)

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Shari! My New Best Friend!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Lauren, you do sound like an amazing parent! If I have kids one day, I will certainly be following your model.

I haven't seen One Tree Hill, but i was just watching the Degrassi with the school shooting (season 4 I think) and bullying was the cause there and it just made me cry. I've definitely been bullied bad in my past, but I always had my mom and one or two good friends to turn to. It makes me sad to think of kids being so helpless.

And I am definitely for sure buying your book. It sounds absolutely amazing!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Stephanie, for a minute there I thought you were going to ask me to adopt you. (Yes, being snowbound is making me weird.) I'll have to check out DeGrassi. In the meantime, I still can't believe it took me so long to realize the Stephanie I kept talking to on Twitter was *my* Stephanie - I mean it's not like your last name is Smith! I am such a maroon.