LAKEWOOD RANCH -- No matter the school, no matter the area, bullying among teenagers and young adults in the United States is becoming more commonplace, and cyber bullying on the Internet has compounded the problem.
The experience can leave lasting scars if one doesn't know how to cope or lacks self-confidence. But that's not the case when it comes to the Girl Scouts.
Students of leadership and team-building early on in their scouting careers, the Girl Scouts are now on a mission to stop bullying. The girls eagerly began their campaign Wednesday, joined by troop and chapter leaders, parents and supportive adults at an entertaining Leadership Luncheon hosted by the Gulf Coast Girl Scouts Chapter at the Polo Grill & Bar in Lakewood Ranch.
The scouts, high school juniors and seniors from Bradenton and Sarasota, are becoming anti-bullying advocates in local middle schools where awareness and education can help prevent bullying situations, which can become serious and even life-threatening.
"This is becoming the No. 1 concern among our scouts and the biggest problem they are running into, and it's not an isolated incident when it goes on the Internet," said Ann Carras
quillo, president of the Gulf Coast Girl Scouts Chapter Board. "Our focus is to empower them to become strong individuals who can speak up on their own and collectively."
Keynote speaker Blair Bloomston, a Bradenton native and former Girl Scout and top cookie seller, runs an expert communication and coaching company based in Bradenton called game on Nation. Bloomston has spent the past 10 years helping elite athletes, sports teams and corporations in the United States improve their game and develop leadership skills. Her high-energy presentation provided tangible communication skills and a dose of psychology to help girls remain confident against bullies.
Bloomston began by urging everyone to take a minute to connect when confronted with a difficult situation.
"When we're in a pressure situation, our instinct is to think ahead and not listen. But we need to leave some air in the room for agility so we can be spontaneous and adjust. Listen with your eyes, ears and emotions and don't just wait to talk back," Bloomston said.
When you are ready to react, Bloomston says, her rules, or "ammo" as she describes them, are quite simple and can give anyone the confidence to connect.
"Check your ego at the door and find out what you have in common with the other person. Common ground is key. If you can find commonality with other people, you stand a chance to lift them up with something tangible so don't underestimate your value."
Bradenton's Megan Reynolds, a home-schooled 17-year-old and a senior Ambassador Girl Scout, said she felt empowered and was ready to be a role model for the important anti-bullying task ahead.
"Scouting has helped me come out of my shell, and it's made me more comfortable with people, so I feel confident I can take charge and lead the younger girls and girls my age." Reynolds said.