Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Parenting Pointers: SEL and Pride


While Pride Month is a time to celebrate the enormous gains made by the LGBTQ+ community in the past 50 years, there's still no guarantee of safety for those who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer - especially youth. The  2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) found that more than a third of LGBTQ+ youth report being bullied in person while in school and almost as many (26.6%) bullied online. Many have felt so threatened that at least 13.5% of them choose not to attend school at all.

Bay area author and educator Patricia Kutza explains that evidence-based social emotional learning (SEL) programs within a school setting promote healthy life skills, well-being and a positive school environment for all youth. With its emphasis on self-awareness, self-management and social awareness strategies, SEL helps schools become places where kids can feel safe expressing their identities.

What's more, investing in SEL strategies at the school level offers LGBTQ+ youth a safety net, protecting them from abuse while strengthening the skills they need to fortify themselves in a world that is slow to offer the feeling of safety they deserve.

I had a chance to learn more in this interview.

With so much awareness being built and greater public calls for acceptance, why is bullying still such a problem for LGBTQ+ youth?
To those youth who grow up hearing messages that narrowly define the contours of gender, culture and community, this is a scary world of quickly changing mores and cultural shifts.  These messages are usually shaped by religious and/or political viewpoints that in themselves remain resistant to change.  Along comes the Internet which is the ultimate 'bully pulpit' that gives these narrow views that are sometimes grounded in hate free rein with little or no personal accountability.  It is no accident that the number of extremist groups whose currency is grounded in hate have risen exponentially with the advent of the Net, allowing bullying to exist without consequences.  So it is not surprising that the messages that call and cry out for inclusion and diversity are drowning in this din.

How does SEL in the schools help with the issue of LGBTQ+ bullying?
SEL, (Social-Emotional Learning), taught at the school level, is really a combination of skills  that empower kids to approach learning with an open mindset that can accommodate differences in gender, lifestyle and cultural mores. Studies show that kids who grow up understanding these values of inclusion and diversity tend to be more successful at making decisions at every stage of their growth.  Equipped with the power of emotional intelligence, critical thinking and other related skills they are less apt to make snap judgements of others, be more empathetic towards others who may not look or sound like them, and are confident enough in their social status that they don't need to resort to bullying. 

But our society at every level needs to be convinced that SEL 'soft skills' have as much if not more value than the conventional set of 'hard skills' that are easier to measure. That's why organizations like Equip Our Kids.org are so important.  Partnering with like-minded corporations, businesses and social entrepreneurs, it seeks to raise awareness at the family and school-level that these skills are 'must haves', not 'nice-to-haves' if we are to raise kids that can successfully navigate all the challenges and complexities of our rapidly-changing world.   

What can parents and caregivers do to help support their own kids who may be experiencing bullying due to their gender identity or sexual orientation?
Let me preface my remarks - none of this is easy!  Having said this, there are a number of ways that parents and caregivers can help support their own kids who may or are bullied.
1) Talk with their kids.  About their day, their friends, what their school day was like.  If their kids are hearing negative comments related to their LGBTQ+ status from others in their extended family (aunts, uncles, grandparents), let these family members know, in the presence of your kids, that these comments will not be tolerated.
2) Monitor their social media.  This is a hard one, to say the least! So many kids regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, tether themselves to social media channels in order to feel included and engaged.  The problem is, of course, that a site or app that poses as a refuge may also be the source of bullying. 
Search for an online LGBTQ+ kids support group and suggest their kids try it for size. They can also encourage a different mind set that addresses the tendency kids have to 'over-share.'.  In The Don't Get Me Started Toolkit - Strategies for a Culturally-Challenged World, a book I authored with Connie Payne, we talk about thinking of one's self as a very valuable piece of real estate, with personal information that one should covet and not share willy-nilly with everyone.  The less information bullies have to feast on, the better!
3) Join a LGBTQ+ parents support group.  Often they may encounter someone who is going through similar struggles and discover strategies that can help them too.

How can parents/adults encourage their kids to support those who may be experiencing bullying because of their LGBTQ+ identity?
One of the most harmful results of bullying is that many LGBTQ+ teens resort to isolating themselves.  So parents/adults can  encourage their kids to include those being bullied:  eg. Invite them to eat with them in the cafeteria, sit on the bus with them as well as include them in social activities.  This sends a very strong signal to those bullying that they are not buying into their negative behavior.  And a very strong signal to those bullied that they are a valued member of their circle of acquaintances.

Read Patricia's full blog post and learn more about how to bring SEL to classrooms in your community at https://equipourkids.org

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