Philly mom Edwena Lanier and her two daughters came up with a new approach to teaching kids about the harm of bullying: trying to see things from the bully’s perspective. Over the past couple of years, the family turned that insight into two published books.
The trio of authors have been recognized on local TV news for this work, and now they’re embarking on a tour of local schools, where they’ll read their book and speak to students about how to combat bullying.
It all started when Aleemah came to her mother to discuss what she was facing at school.
“It was more like microaggressions, and she held it in for so long,” Lanier told Billy Penn. “And I saw no signs as a parent.” The situation had apparently already been troubling her daughter for two or three months before she became aware, which surprised Lanier, given her day job as human resources director at a local charter school.
“I’ve worked with other people’s kids all day long,” Lanier said. “I can pick out stuff if they’re having an off day, but with my daughter, she concealed it so well — till I guess she couldn’t do it anymore.”
Student bullying has been on the rise nationwide, according to a 2023 survey by the Boys and Girls Club of America, which found 40% of respondents had been bullied on school campuses in the past year.
Lanier had faced her own form of bullying growing up in South Philadelphia, she said, and wanted her children to know their feelings were valid and normal. “I have an idea,” she told her daughter, as they were all home together during the height of the pandemic. “I think we should take your story and put it into a book.”
Aleemah agreed to try, and they began working on a story that took elements from both of their bullying experiences. Plus, they added a positive element: how to overcome it.
“Let’s Help The Bully” shows a perspective that humanizes a bully’s actions and shows bullies aren’t bad people, Lanier said.
They applied the solutions to the real world, too. Aleemah and her bully met with officials from JYK Discovery Charter School to come up with a solution, and over time the two ended up becoming friends. “She helped teach her how to read a little better,” said the proud mom. “That might have been the actual problem. Maybe a tidbit of jealousy or a tidbit of intimidation from the other young lady.”
After completing the first book, Lanier realized there was more to explore.
She tapped her older daughter Aniyah to co-write “The Invisible Bully,” which tells the story of two best friends who are verbally attacked and threatened by a cyberbully.
Unlike in-person bullying, online bullying exploits the internet’s anonymity. It can take place via text messaging, chat rooms, social media, and other platforms, and leverages the ability to rapidly disseminate rumors, gossip, photos, or misinformation to wide audiences.
It has also been on the rise over the past few years. In 2021, nearly one quarter of all youth (23%) reported experiencing cyberbullying, compared to 17% in 2019, according to a study by The Journal of School Health.
Aniyah was in high school at the time, and had first-hand experience with the toxicity. Lanier used her knowledge from working in a school environment and her experience with de-escalating conflict to flesh out the second book.
The mom and her daughters are taking their story on tour at local schools, camps, and community centers. In late October, they’ll be at the Chester Upland School District to discuss “The Invisible Bully” with the ninth-grade class.
The family’s main goal is to teach people conflict resolution and positive thinking. “It’s okay to differ with someone,” Lanier said. “It’s how you respect each other to come to that common core.”