Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Here Come The Bullies.

This didn't take long. I look at my Mom clock, and it says "Third grade." I consider the old adage "Boys will be boys", and think about how rough play has crossed ever so quietly into bullying territory, until it's so loud it can no longer be ignored. When I first begin examining my kids, say, toddler behavior, I worked to develop my own personal discipline philosophy. A refrain I ran into over and over again was the helpful "Label the action, not the child." So when I hear insults lobbed on the playground from child to child in very personal ways, it's painful to listen to, because the result of this cowardly violence is to attack one's self esteem and make them feel scared.

Take yesterday's "You're stupid!", and in case that wasn't heard, "You're of low-intelligence!", both of which were shouted at my kid by the pitiful ruffian. Forget for a moment that this couldn't be further from the truth; in this context I'll refrain from rattling off incredible grades and test scores that took my breath away, because that's irrelevant: it shouldn't matter either way. In this moment, my child's very character was being labeled in a way that's untrue and unfair. Sadly, I can only guess that the perpetrator's character is regularly debased by his parents. Maybe, or maybe not, one of them says that he is "of low intelligence", because which 8-year-old speaks like that anyway? Why else would cruelty slide off of his young tongue so easily?

Now what happens when the language becomes not just mean, but threatening? Take yesterday's, "If you say you're best friends with Jamie, then I'm going to hurt you!"

Having a conversation with the parents won't make any difference. I've seen their passivity on the playground more times that I can count. These parents allow their 8-year old to watch Friday the 13th films and World Wrestling Federation matches, and I have no idea what video games he's into. If they hear these slights tumble from his mouth, they'll tell him not to say those things, but there is no understood consequence for the behavior. It's accepted, plain and simple.

What should we do in this situation? We work hard to teach Jamie that he's not a victim; rather, the other child has a problem, and in fact we might feel sorry for this kid because clearly he's hearing this abusive language somewhere, whether it's inside the Wrestling ring or on the Disney Channel or out of his parent's mouths. We try to teach our kid to brush things off, to laugh in their faces, to try not to give it any notice... to not show them how much it bothers him... but doesn't he have the right to live in a safe world where his space isn't threatened like this?

For now, I hold my tongue on the school yard. After asking for advice from other parents, and reading articles on the topic, I've crafted a letter that I've sent to the school principal, his teacher, and have cc:d a school counselor who I know very well and trust implicitly. We'll see how this goes.

Let me add that when I posted about this on Facebook asking for advice from friends, I felt tempted to take the post down. If I'm being honest, I felt ashamed of not being able to solve it on my own and make it better. The Band-Aids don't work for these unseen Boo-boos that haunt him the most before he tries to close his eyes at night.  I'm working through this, trying to identify these feelings. I don't want to over think everything, but in the case of children and threats and violence, I don't think you can over react or over think.


  1. Dear Rachel,

    Take your facebook post down? No way! We're all struggling, we all want to help each other. As you say, we've got your back!


  2. I agree - you cannot overreact. I am having a similar problem with my daughter, who is in kindergarten. She was taught a certain way to resolve conflicts that is respectful and kind, and now she is faced with a whole slew of children who were not taught that way, to put it mildly. What do you do? What can you do? We are all in this together.

  3. You definitely aren't overreacting. But not everyone will see it as you do. My daughter was bullied by a girl in 4th grade. And when I spoke to the teacher about some of the mean things that had been said to her, the teacher said, "Oh, girls will be girls." And I was shocked. I pursued it. The girls were separated. And the next year, were placed in different classes. Even harsher? The kid lived down the street. And the parents didn't see things the same as I did. I think it made my daughter more empathetic to others. But still...

  4. "You're of low intelligence"?? Sadly, I hate to think where a third-grader picked that up. Keep us posted. I want to know how the teacher, principal and counselor respond. Stay positive!

  5. It's really painful when it is happening to your child in high school and they don't want you to interfere. I have a son who is a senior and he endured a lot of cruel words...but you can't exactly go into the principal's office and complain on behalf of your 17-year-old son. It would make his life worse. But I can say that he has definitely learned empathy and compassion toward others. He is such a sweet kid and I'm so glad school is almost over for him. Sad that I have to say that.

  6. It's a real juggling act. When my daughter has related acts of bullying, I want to fly off the handle and confront the kid, cuz I have absolutely no problem talking to these kids I've known for the last eight years, just as I talk to my daughter—but, I don't want her seen as the tattle tale, etc. Luckily, she's a pretty strong presence and she has no problem speaking up for those who can't, don't know how to do it for themselves, and the bullying in her school is verbal, not physical or cyber.

    Best of luck; I would be interested to see how this is handled in regard to your child. It's kind of easy to talk about stopping bullying, but more difficult to act on that thought.

  7. I am so sad when I read stories of children being bullied. Saying, "Boys will be boys" doesn't apply today. The bullies of today are a different, crueler, more sophisticated breed. I did a bit of research on this and adult intervention is a must! I wrote a short handbook on this- it's free at