Gender Stereotypes, Bullying, and Stepping Up: What We Learn from Michael Morones

We need to step up. We need to be the generation of parents who puts an end to bullying in our schools. No more excusing it, no more silence. No more thinking someone else will take care of it. No more kids feeling the only way to escape is to kill themselves.

Last week we learned about Michael, a kind and creative boy who was bullied by his peers because he loved My Little Ponies and the violin. They said he was acting like a girl. They said he was gay. Michael hung himself, and is now surrounded by family and love as he fights to wake up and resume his life. Michael is eleven years old.

“Girly” and “gay” must stop being used as slurs. All people have worth. Being a girl or being gay does not devalue a person. The way a child expresses their individuality has little to do with their gender or sexuality. Gender stereotypes are hurtful and we need to take action to make them unacceptable.

My good friend and colleague Carrie Goldman (author, “Bullied”) brings our attention directly where it needs to be: “We must continue to educate our young people on the fact that gender stereotypes are harmful, and that it is okay for boys and girls to play with all toys, not just the ones marketed to their gender.”

The silence of Michael’s school is also completely unacceptable. Become familiar with the bullying policy at your child’s school. Be proactive and talk to teachers and the principal. Look into programs like Buddy Benches or start an after school Kindness Club. Create a message wall where students can write kind messages to each other on post it notes. If you are at school and see students being unkind to each other, say something to them and set the example for the children around you. Finally, talk with your children at home about being an active witness when they encounter bullying and let them know they can always come talk to you and receive your full attention.

Christian Bucks developed a Buddy Bench for his school. (Image via HuffPo)

Christian Bucks developed a Buddy Bench for his school. (Image via HuffPo)

More info on Buddy Benches:

Interactive book for K-3 students on stopping bullying, “Jake and Riley’s Recess Rescue”:

A special thank you to my dear friend Carrie Goldman, who is so passionate about this issue and a true champion for our kids. If you have not yet, please pick up a copy of her book “Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins, August 2012)” and learn more about the issue and how we can stop it.

Book Review: Jake And Riley's Recess Rescue

A great workbook for children by Alison Trachtman Hill

As parents of young children we have a lot to worry about, and it seems like these concerns are present for our children at younger and younger ages. For our family, bullying was something that came at an early age and we were unprepared for it. I thought bullying was more of an upper elementary to middle school issue. I was not expecting to have to deal with it in kindergarten.

My children have always had a large group of friends and have moved easily in and out of play dates over the years. When my oldest, Amelia, began kindergarten last year we did not know anyone going into her grade at the school she would be attending. I had confidence that she would do well and meet some little friends who would become her bosom buddies. I would be dishonest if I did not admit that I was a tiny bit worried about her being teased….for mismatched socks or unbrushed hair or her wild laugh or any of her little silly quirks that make her Amelia.

It turns out those were all of the things her classmates loved about her. Amelia became well known around school and liked by her peers. Except for one boy, who made our year difficult by constantly harassing Amelia and her little brother Benny on the playground before and after school, we had a great kindergarten year. This boy was just clever enough to not do the continued harassment during the school day. The line was crossed when, during the same week, he kicked my then three year old in the groin and told Amelia that he was going to kill her after school. Meetings with the teacher and principal happened immediately, the issue was dealt with and much time later the relationship has now improved.

During this difficult time for Amelia I wished I had had a resource for her that could help me explain bully behavior, bystander behavior, and how to be a leader. That is why I am so excited to be introducing “Jake and Riley’s Recess Rescue”, an interactive workbook by my colleague Alison Trachtman Hill. “Jake and Riley” is what I needed last year to explain the painful experience of being bullied in a positive way so that my child could feel like her experience was being recognized without encouraging her to be a victim. Nowadays she and I talk a lot about how to be a leader and why it is not okay to be a silent witness. “Jake and Riley” does a great job teaching kids about targets, witnesses and what to do to help a peer in a situation where someone is getting hurt.

{To purchase “Jake and Riley”, click HERE.}

The story of “Jake and Riley” begins by introducing us to a group of four friends who all play different roles in a bullying experience on the playground. The simple text and engaging storyline are perfect for young readers, and the black and white pages make for a great blank canvas for your child to color in with their imagination. The book is geared for children in grades K-3. Throughout the 30 page workbook there are questions and activities that keep the young reader as an active participant in the story. At the end of the book, your child will learn how to work together with peers to create an inclusive, respectful school community. There is a complimentary adult curriculum guide that provides more opportunities to learn how to handle bullying situations and tools to create environments where everyone feels safe and valued.

Amelia read the book to her little brother Benny while I’ve been typing this up, and I asked them how “Jake and Riley” made them feel.  Amelia (first grader) said it made her “feel warm in her heart” and Benny (pre-K) said it teaches him how to be a good friend.

They’ve got it right! I liked what and how “Jake and Riley” teaches so much that it is now available on our website! You can order a few copies for the children in your family, or you can order for your classroom at a discounted bulk price. The Parent Guide complimentary with every purchase, sent to you via email after you place your order. Single copies are $7.99 and bulk orders of 24 books or more are $5.00 per workbook.

Alison Trachtman Hill is a nationally recognized advocate for youth whose work specializes in drawing out the social-emotional and character issues and challenges our young ones face. She has a kid-friendly approach that is packed with meaningful action items and tips. Her style fits seamlessly into our PPBB Community, and I know you and your children will really get a lot out of “Jake and Riley”.


This workbook is perfect for kids in grades K-3.


A note from Alison:

As a longtime member of the PPBB community, I am thrilled to share this resource with all of you.  My years of work focusing on positive youth development, social-emotional learning, and successful youth/adult partnerships led me to craft what I believe is a fun, engaging and successful method for teaching character education and helping young children deal with interpersonal conflict, power dynamics, and ethical decision-making.

To learn more about the work that I am doing across the country, log on to Critical Issues for Youth, follow us on Twitter, and/or “like” our page on Facebook.  To connect with me personally, email me or connect with me on LinkedIn.