Let’s Talk About Bullying

Bullying is back in the news. Have is ever really left? A young girl killed herself after being continually, mercilessly bullied. Apparently with other teens and school authorities well aware of the situation. I say “apparently” because I only know what I’ve read and obviously wasn’t there to see it first hand. But I have seen bullying first hand, on more than one occasion, in my children’s schools, at their bus stops and through the eyes of other mothers who have come to me for advice.

There comes a time as a parent when you can’t fix everything for your child.  They’re going to face failures, disappointments and heartaches.  Sometimes I don’t know if they are growing up more, or I am.  But I do know this: I have zero tolerance for bullies.

As parents, we have to decide when to step in and when to back away.   Some situations are easier than others.  There are obvious situations  — like when the class bully throws your fifth grader up against the gym wall at the school sock hop and bloodies his face. This is when I resist dragging the bully out into the dark parking lot and ensuring he never fathers children, but rather let the principal handle it. Until she refuses to do anything — which is when you have absolute permission to stand up to the principal and insist she contact the parents and instill consequences in the bully. Still no cooperation? The police. Yep, you’re allowed to call them. It’s called assault and battery. Just ask the six boys who pulled the bully off your son.

What about when a kid in a group of four friends has a sleepover and invites all but one of the four? Your kid.  What if your kid handles it better than you do?

But what about the more subtle bullying?  What if it takes place at the neighborhood bus stop? Not exactly school property. What about the bullying that makes both a mother and child’s heart bleed instead of the face?

One positive side of my children growing up is they’re old enough to walk themselves to the bus stop.  One negative side is that they’re old enough to walk themselves to the bus stop.  They have to face the hyper, backpack wielding boys and gossipy girls all alone.  Either that, or face mortal embarrassment by a parent who hovers at the corner.

What do you do when your child comes home and tells you, in detail, the ugly nasty things the gossipy girl at the bus stop says about them, in front of him, to everyone at the corner?  What if Gossipy Girl’s words sound uncommonly mature for someone her age…more in line with, oh let’s say, someone her mother’s age and vocabulary?

Do you start a catfight with the mother?  With the gossipy girl? Do you try to have a calm, rational, mature parent-to-parent conversation with Gossipy Girl’s mother? What do you say to your young teenage child?

What would you do?

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  • Cooky642

    My older, shy child went through this kind of bullying back in the ’70s, back before it was much publicized and youngsters committed suicide over it. We didn’t do enough, and what we did do was all wrong. And so, that daughter, now a middle-aged (childless by choice) woman, still suffers from it. It hurts my heart.

    What would you do? I don’t know. I wish I had answers, but I don’t. The only thing I’m sure of is that you have to do SOMETHING! Your own child must know that they count, that there is a way out, that you care. So, whatever you do, do something!

  • I can remember being bullied in the 70’s. The advice I got from adults was of two kinds: avoid the culprits, or fight back. Neither struck me as workable. The incidents of bullying fed into a worldview that I’m still trying to shed, that “this is just how life is, and you have to deal with it.”

    Children should be loved and protected, so that they grow up understanding that the world is a good place; there is plenty of time later on for learning how to cope with workplace sharks, gossips, overbearing neighbors, and the like. A healthy childhood will make such personalities later in life much more manageable. Childhood only happens once. I wonder why we are so eager for our children to become little adults.

  • Claire

    I really don’t know what I would do to resolve this situation. But the bottom line is that if I was unable to come up with a solution, and I thought that my son (I don’t have a daughter) was internalizing it to the point where he could be a danger to himself, I would pull him out of school and homeschool him. Maybe that wouldn’t teach him skills for the future, but if it was what was needed to save his life, I would do it.

  • Kathryn

    One of the more annoying types of bully is the one who whom all the other parents insist is a sweet, gentle child, and may well be, until s/he is around his/her friends, and then turns into a royal creep. I knew girls like that in middle school. Alas, my eldest son knows someone like that at the sports club.

    We homeschool, and that cuts out a lot of the bullying garbage. I know at least two families that decided to homeschool due to the bullying issue their children were facing at middle school.

  • kirbys

    Our goal is to homeschool all of our children through middle school, and have so far succeeded with 3, and have sent them on to high school. One of them did have a hard time there, especially freshman year, until he found his niche and some friends.

    I was bullied but also did and said things I am ashamed of in those years (bullying?) –it was definitely a Darwinian experience (survival of the fittest..) We are sheltering our kids in some part (not preserving them in a bubble, I might add) that they are not bullied, but also that they will have fewer regrets, as well.

    For generations, those middle-school years were when girls and boys were taught one on one how to become men and women, whether through working alongside of their parents at the farm or as apprentices, etc. I guess we can’t return to those days–although if children that age have interests (not just sports) ao that they can find a healthy perspective–that there is life post-school and the goldfish bowl of their school is just that, and will end, and there’s a whole other world out there waiting for them that does not include the tormenters.

    One suggestion is a parent prayer group–meet once a week and pray for the children at that particular school, even if it’s just a few moms. Let the children know you are praying. Just as in the scandals we are facing as Catholics regarding clerical abuse–we laity weren’t praying for them; we are now playing “catch-up”, maybe we as Catholics are not praying enough for children in our schools. Pray, and let them know you are praying–that you are involved spiritually, as well. God bless your son!

  • GaryT

    There is another article today on CE on protecting children’s innocence. It seems to me that this would include protection from bullies.

    Nearly all adults know that bullying is totally unacceptable behavior. Bullying type behavior as adults is usually called harrassment and employees can get fired for it. Since we as adults fully expect to never have to deal with it, why should we expect children to have to deal with it?

    The goal of raising children is actually to raise adults. So we should only expose children to situations that help them grow to be adults. If bullying is something they should never have to deal with as an adult, why should they have to deal with it as a child? We can teach them about how to deal with it if it occurs, but we shouldn’t feel they must be exposed to it.

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  • Sadly, (after I already sent in this column) I opened the paper Saturday to find a story of a high school sophomore girl a few towns away from me who hanged herself due to bullying. And the part that made me want to scream (and this happened to us when our child was beat up at the nice Catholic school) was that the school spokesman said, “BECAUSE THE [harassing text] MESSAGES WERE NOT SENT DURING SCHOOL HOURS, NO DISCIPLINARY ACTION WAS TAKEN.”
    Hello? Did you at least call the bullies’ parents? Was that not the responsible thing to do? If you saw students smoking pot 12 inches off of school property or on a Saturday in the parking lot would you “not take action”?

  • Claire

    Unbelievable, Karen. When will it stop? How many more lives have to be lost before action is taken?

  • dbltrblsmom1999

    I have twin boys – 1 of which is very shy. He has been bullied for 2 years straight now. Last year Father termed it a “pact mentality” where 2 boys had all the other kids in class call him a loser to be in the “cool” group. Or tell him he was “gay” because he was friends with another ostrasized child. This year the same child that started it all last year has escalted his bullying and it has led to discreet hitting of my son ( when the teachers or aides are not around) more name calling and getting the other kids to exclude him from activities. Our son will come home and not wanting to get the other child in trouble will say that nothings wrong. My husband will then ask his twin and he proceeds to tell us what has gone on during the day. We have had “talks” with the Priest and he assured us he would counsel the child in question. Yet after a few weeks the bullying started up again and now the parents whose child was doing the bullying have pulled their child and are insisting that our children be removed from the school or they will pull their $$$. I was told I should not be worrying or overprotecting my child. Boys will be boys. How do you deal with your Preist when he has archaic ideas where it comes to bullying. We can’t compete financially with the other family. At the same time Our child has had the best 2 and 1/2 weeks ever at this school as the other child has not been there. He is also the child that lives and breathes his religion. He prays for the child who bullies him every night. We want our children to be able to continue attending this school. The small classes (9 in 4th grade) would seem to offer them more stability than it has. Both twins get great grades. The only issue is the bullying which has led to isolation and low self worth of our child. Does anyone have a helpful solution to this? Thank you & God Bless.