By Dawn M Chiossi
Words matter. Often people do not think so, in real life, on the internet, words can do so much–What people say makes a difference to others. And young people in particular feel the words acutely. Bullying can be so much more than just a problem of kids being kids. Nowadays with the abundance of social media, this harassment can be 24/7, with fatal consequences. Such is the case with Rockaway’s Mallory Grossman: She took her own life in 2017 as a result of bullying, opting for a tragic and permanent solution to a temporary problem. She was 12 years old.
On March 28th, people were invited to join in the program Our Words Matter, a talk given by Dianne Grossman, Mallory’s mother, sponsored by the Livingston Senior Youth and Leisure Services in conjunction with their Livingston Youth and Community Services Program (LYCS), as well as Livingston Community Police.
Dianne Grossman spoke to Livingston teens regarding Mallory’s Army– the organization she founded after Mallory’s death, as well as how her family was dealing with the unimaginable. She spoke about bullying, cyberbullying, young people, the ‘not my kid,’ syndrome, and so much more.
All proceeds raised benefitted Mallory’s Army Foundation and their fight against bullying. After her daughter’s death, Grossman founded this worthwhile organization as a way to promote kindness and to unite against the escalating problem of bullying.
Following the program, there was a question and answer session with Grossman, Livingston Therapist, Andrea Sherman, and Livingston Community Police–a three ply approach to the problem of bullying.
Livingston Youth and Community Services is a community-based after school program that teaches leadership, healthy life choices, and life skills to students in grades 1 through 12 in the Livingston School District.
According to Jennifer Quirk, Adaptive Recreation Coordinator/LYCS Program Supervisor, the idea to bring Dianne Grossman and Mallory’s Army to Livingston, was spearheaded by Andrea Hoffman, a mom of a seventh grader.
“I thought it was a great idea, so in tune to what we do here,” she said. Quirk describes that at the LYCS they incorporate anti-bullying messages and programs in almost every grade level at their organization to try and counteract the more negative messages out there. For the younger kids it may be lessons about being kind, sharing, and what it means to be a friend. For the older students the lessons expand to integrity, character, accountability, and when to speak up.
In talking to Hoffman, it is easy to see just how passionate she is regarding this issue. “I saw her speak and was absolutely affected by her story.” Hoffman relates. “It is unbelievable how she is enduring such a tragedy, of losing a child to suicide, she will always grieve, and yet she still has the fortitude to go around to locations with Mallory’s Army to speak, to bring insight and help others.”
Hoffman says that she wanted to have the event held at the community center and not a venue that was affiliated with a church or school. “The community center was more accessible and multipurpose.”
According to both Quirk and Hoffman, this was a comprehensive program with many elements: from Mallory’s story, to some of the root cause regarding bullying (such as entitlement, the “pack mentality” and system of school cliques, lack of accountability, etc) there will be strategies and conflict resolutions, for coping, to knowing the law and your rights, and so much more.
“We wanted to target kids around age 12 for this program because the time in middle school –the time between childhood and high school– is such a turbulent, transitional time. It’s so stressful for our kids,” Hoffman remarks. “With them plugged into social media all of the time, it’s dangerous.”
Recognizing that the problem of bullying and its consequences is so multilayered, from the parents, to attitudes about ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, to the kids themselves, to social media, there’s so many facets to this problem. It’s not a problem that any one person can tackle alone. “It takes a village,” Hoffman asserts.
With Mallory’s Army Foundation, they invite everyone to blue out bullying. Blue bracelets are a tangible, visual representation that kids won’t stand for bullying. “Hopefully when other kids see this, the rest will follow suit,” Hoffman tells. At Mallory’s Army they seek to unite everyone in the fight against bullying with the slogan: “Don’t just teach kindness, be kindness”.
“I hope that this program will start a conversation between kids and parents. There’s so much cruelty going on. They have to keep talking to them and talk to them often. These kids are treading water in an uncharted place,” Hoffman stated. “This really hits home, if Mallory’s situation can happen so close to us, it could happen here. This program is about having an ongoing conversation with our kids…spending actual time with them, to take it back to grassroots,” she shares. “If people find a way to do that, if one life is affected in a positive way, then it is all worth it.”
For further information or details on Mallory’s Army Foundation, please visit www.mallorysarmy.org