FAIRFIELD, NJ — More than two years after 12-year-old Mallory Grossman took her own life due to extensive bullying, Mallory's mother, Dianne Grossman, visited Winston Churchill School in Fairfield on Monday to speak to students and parents about Mallory's Army and how families can help end or "BLUE OUT" bullying.
The two events, one during the day for students and one in the evening for parents, were presented by the Fairfield Municipal Alliance Committee (FMAC) and Governor's Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse (GCADA). Grossman explained that her overall message that day was the same for both the students and the parents, but that she tailored her presentations to both audiences to ensure they were age-appropriate.
As she shared her personal experience with the parents, Grossman asked them thought-provoking questions about changing behaviors at home, such as why young children should have access to social media and what the end game is in using social media.
She explained that although many see bullying as the big kid picking on the little kid, the reality is that some bullying behavior is a small and a slow progression. It can start with something as small as a rolling of the eyes, or what is called "gateway behaviors," she said. According to Grossman, by the time it is brought to the school's attention, or true evidence is shown that can be disciplined, administrators and parents often don't know what mental state the bullied kid is in.
"Every kid has a fuse, and we don't know when that fuse is lit or how long the child's fuse is," she said. "Signs are possible, but the same signs a kid is being bullied can also be the same signs for a kid going through puberty. It’s dangerous for parents to assume signs. Out of normal behavior is the first step in recognizing if your child is being bullied at school."
Some examples she gave for "out of normal" behavior in school include not eating a full lunch, change in friends, change in habits, headaches, stomach aches and mood swings.
"But a child being bullied can also have none of these," said Grossman, who also noted that one in four children is bullied at school, and that suicide is the leading cause of death. "Because of these startling statistics, maybe something needs to change in the way we handle bullying. For example, disciplining the small behaviors before they progress into bigger behaviors."
She explained that parents should be responsible for monitoring their children's online time and behavior, adding that a parent's role in how kids treat others online is crucial. She urged parents to have their children turn their phones off more often, limit their children's phone apps and use electronic contracts with their children.
According to Grossman, data reports from 2012-2017 state that "the abuse of online behaviors, the numbers for ER visits have doubled, self harm is on the rise for our youth."
"[Self harm] is at an all-time high and climbing," said Grossman, adding that there is nothing positive about the way today’s youth is abusing social media. "From the iPad for toddlers at dinner to teens going down rabbit holes seeking acceptance in cyber chat rooms. Our issue is no matter how diligent we are, it’s nearly impossible to monitor all online usage. Therefore, as it evolves minute by minute, we can’t keep up.
"Today’s youth know more about social media than we do, making it a dangerous place for our kids. Reverse mentoring is key, making sure we are up to speed with what our kids are engaging in. If not, then we must not let our kids use it."
Grossman added that although social media can be used for good, the "gluttony of it all" is "bad when it’s abused."
"Nothing is in place to stop the app companies from continuing to profit off the content of our kids, yet we continue to turn a blind eye to the dangers," she said.
Winston Churchill School Principal Ray Santana shared that Mallory's Army is a cause that is close to his heart, as his daughter was on the same cheer team as Mallory.
"I was waiting for the right time to bring today's presentation to the school, and the guidance counselor, Sarah Kirk, and I felt that this was a good time," said Santana, adding that the Churchill students received Grossman's presentation the same afternoon.
After the evening's parent presentation, Kirk said that educating students on how to handle and prevent bullying is always a focus at Churchill School.
"We chose the Mallory’s Army program because of its message, but also because of the parent presentation," she said. "Our hope is that parents will use this as an opportunity to discuss bullying with their children and work with us to help expand our bullying prevention efforts."
During the presentations, Grossman also spoke about her daughter, who was an avid gymnast, cheerleader and lover of all things outdoors. Her character at the young age of 12 made her more inspirational than the average adult, she said. Mallory was also a compassionate, selfless, kind and loving old soul.
Mallory's gymnastics coach, who came up with the title of the "Blue Out Bullying" initiative, said the color blue was chosen to represent Mallory's Army because it was one of Mallory's favorite colors and because it is also "one of the colors in suicide prevention" as well as "the color for optimism," according to Grossman.
The idea behind the Mallory's Army blue bracelets, trademarked "It's a Bracelet KIND of Life," came from an Ivy league case study conducted by a group of researchers at Princeton University, Rutgers University and Yale University. According to Grossman, the study proved that schools may have more success curbing incidents of bullying if their most social students take an anti-bullying stance as opposed to teachers and administrators setting blanket rules and regulations against it.
Statistically, the study also showed that over the course of 2012-2013 school year, 56 New Jersey middle schools that armed their most influential students with social media training and various bullying awareness gear, such as bright-colored wrist bands, saw a 30 percent reduction in student conflict reports.
"We are optimistic that together we can end bullying in school, the way it looks today," said Grossman. "We can’t end it completely. I mean we can, but hate is alive and well. We can end the way it looks in our schools."