Local author offers anti-bullying strategies for parents and children
Every day, 160,000 kids in this country stay home from school because they’re afraid of being bullied. The pain can be overwhelming—stories linking suicide to cyber-bullying pop up with alarming regularity. Many of us can recall being teased or bullied in school. Santa Cruz resident Anita Telle—whose first book, “A Little Different, All Perfect,” won a San Francisco Book Festival award—writes about the social issues that impact those who are most vulnerable to teasing, sarcasm and bullying. In her new book, “The Ultimate Bullying Solutions Guide,” Telle drew upon her very personal story.
It is every mother’s nightmare. Telle’s son was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, a severely disfiguring condition that invariably leaves its victims emotionally damaged in ways those of us born “normal” cannot imagine. An immigrant from Norway—where she learned the value of kindness and cooperation watching her parents help rebuild their town after World War II—Telle knew the power of taking a stand. “The Ultimate Bullying Solutions Guide” is direct and pro-active. In lively, readable terms, Telle offers positive steps that can be taken at home and in the classroom to break down the stereotypes and insecurities that fuel bullying.
The dramatic event that changed her son’s life was meeting Dr. Steven Garner. A specialist in reconstructive plastic surgery, Garner has performed hundreds of complex cleft-palate surgeries both in the Bay Area and in his ongoing pro bono work all over the world, with groups like Operation Smile. “Dr. Steven Garner was recommended as the best plastic surgeon around,” says Telle. And when her son was a little over a year old, the first operations took place to reconstruct his lips and mouth. “This was not a low-complexity operation,” says Garner, who spent time visiting the operating room of surgical mentor Ralph Millard, the pioneer who literally wrote the book on cleft lip and palate reconstruction.
Once Telle’s son started school, however, other kids began to make hurtful remarks. Bullying is a much bigger, and potentially deadlier phenomenon than most of us ever realize, Telle says in her book. The most common form of bullying is verbal. And in Telle’s case, her son Brendan—today, thanks to Dr. Garner, a very attractive 13-year-old—was confronted about the scars on his lip and his post-op way of speaking. But she worked to help him understand why people feel the need to bully—low self-esteem is a huge factor—and helped him rehearse ways to respond, to hold his ground. In “The Ultimate Anti-Bullying Solutions Guide,” Telle shares some of her creative methods for helping Brendan through these difficulties, including daily role-playing games, setting boundaries, and providing positive reminders about how “different” also means “unique.” Telle urges parents to remind their children that they are “perfect just the way they are.”
Her book not only identifies varieties of bullying, but also suggests easy and helpful ways to shield and protect ourselves and our loved ones from the pain of being persecuted. Stereotyping, the book points out, is another way of bullying. It is an all-too-common way of hurting any individual or group that can be perceived or targeted as “different.”
Cyber-bullying is on the rise. The worst thing about cyber-bullying—against which only 18 states have laws—is its anonymity, Telle reminds us.
Telle, with surgeon Steven Garner as an ally, was able to help her son toward a new life, one in which he could deflect the sting of bullying. “I tell children at the schools I visit about ‘the bullying shield,’ which is an imaginary shield I made up for my son to use. It allowed him to have power and protect himself from hurtful remarks,” she says.
The book is filled with warmth, compassion and sound, simple advice to help both victims and their parents. “Acceptance and kindness—getting along with someone who is ‘different’ (nationality, skin color, size, sex) is not hard to do,” Telle believes. “You just have to feel with your heart and not build walls that cannot come down,” she says. Her book also includes ideas for school administrators, and templates for lobbying government officials—and even a sample note of apology for those who have engaged in bullying! You don’t need to have young kids in school to find “The Ultimate Anti-Bullying Solutions Guide” to be loaded with crisp anecdotes, important ideas, and workable strategies for one of the looming problems of our times. “Bullying is not OK,” insists Telle. “Every child has a right to feel safe at school, and we as adults must set an example for our children to follow,” says Telle, tiger mom.
Full disclosure: I have personal experience of Garner’s surgical skill. He was the plastic surgeon on call the night I was rushed to the operating room after a 70-foot Monterey pine fell across my car during a storm. I am grateful every day that he was around to repair my punctured face.
Telle’s upbeat and smartly written book is available at Bookshop Santa Cruz, the Vitamin Center, amazon.com, and on her website, anitatelle.com. Recommended resources include: stopbullying.gov and olweus.org. PHOTO: Anita Telle, author of the book “The Ultimate Bullying Solutions Guide,” in her home in Santa Cruz. CHIP SCHEUER