For someone who has an opinion on just about everything, I have to admit, the whole bullying topic makes my head bounce around. It seems that every day I read another tragic story about some poor kid who has killed himself because he/she was bullied and it just makes my heart break. I want to reach out to these kids and let them know that life is never that bad and that what ever they are going through is just temporary. I want to reach out to the parents, school administrators and social media and give them a firm "How did you let it go this far?" I want to know if the message we are sending to our kids about bullying is actually sinking in.
I had a bully once. I remember it like it was yesterday. I'm not even sure what I did to set off the bullying. But for several months in 8th grade, it was awful. My bully would send me mean hateful notes. She'd tape them to my locker, have unsuspecting people pass them to me in the hallway and sometimes be bold and brazen enough to shove them into my hand. The notes were filled with how much she hated me, hated my red hair (as if I didn't already hate that enough about myself), and thoughts that I should probably get killed in some gruesome manner.
Yep, it was terrible.
I never led on to friends or my parents what I was going through. It was simply too embarrassing. Finally, I'd had enough. I told my mom. Ever cool and understanding, my mom told me, "You have to figure out how you want to handle this. I can get involved. I can get any one you want involved. But you need to decide what route you want to take."
I knew what direction I needed to go. It needed to stop. At any cost. So, I wrote my bully a note and told her I was sick and tired of her, and we needed to settle this once and for all. I'd be happy to meet her after school so we could face off. And then, like when a huge rainstorm passes, it was over. Honestly, it was over. All of a sudden she was nice to me. It was weird. But, I didn't forget.
It made me strong. I wasn't ever going to let anyone dictate how I felt about myself, my safety, or the ability to stand up for my well-being. It truly shaped me.
Fast-forward to a couple of years ago, I met my bully again. Granted, 30 plus years had passed, we had become "friends" during that last year in Junior High, and for all practical purposes, I had put it behind me. And now she was my son's art teacher. Wow. What a world we live in. I had to see her just so she could see that I was okay—still strong. I went into his art class to say hi. Do you know what? She was fine. She let me know that she knew she was awful in Jr. High, and we laughed. I walked out of there feeling glad that being picked on hadn't shaped me in a negative way.
It's so much easier in this day and age to bully and be bullied. People can be anonymous. People can say things that are hateful and not true and the whole world can see it.
As parents, we cannot protect our kids from everything, because it comes from so many different places—many that we know nothing about. But we can talk to our kids about mean people. We can talk to them about how we expect them to treat others. We can show our disappointment when they don't talk or act nicely toward others. We can discipline them when things seem to be going down a very wrong path. We need to teach our kids about accountability. And, by the same token, not take everything so incredibly seriously that we teach our kids that nothing bad should or will never happen to them. We're the parents, we need to parent.
I know our school takes bullying seriously—they've been pounding into our kids' heads how bad and wrong it is since kindergarten. And sometimes, I wonder if they talk about it too much and are confusing kids with what is a big deal and what is not. The talk goes on so much so that I worry some kids are almost resistant to the message. Believe me, I've listened to my sixth grader and his friends laugh and say things like, "Stop bullying me. You're being bully! You're not nice, you’re a bully!" with pure sarcasm and no empathy.
Kids will be kids. The message the school sends to our (my) kids is that if you are not nice one time, you are bullying. Folks, bullying is not getting up and moving seats because someone you don't like sits next to you on the bus. Bullying is not the kid that snatches a toy away from your child. Bullying is a repeated, aggressive behavior that makes someone feel threatened. Getting tripped on purpose and having kids laugh one time is not bullying, if it happens every day, it is.
All the talk at school produces very little action. Kids are not taking bullying seriously because they do not see the administrators doing anything real about it—they see no one having to take accountability for their actions. I'm ashamed to say, my kid's school treats all the kids like they have done something wrong before singling out the real problem kids. Schools seem so afraid of parents and their reactions that instead of making the one bad kid feel bad, they make everyone feel bad. Seriously, whatever happened to the disobedient kid getting pulled by his ear out of the classroom? If my kid does something serious, I expect and want him to be called out. He is not the Messiah, he does not walk on water. If he's naughty, punish him!
Unfortunately, a lot of parents don't feel the way I do. They think their kid can do no wrong or they are afraid of confronting situations. Forget that. I'm willing to hear the story and then react. I'm willing to dig so deep into my kid's psyche that any inkling of bullying or being bullied will come out over dinner. I'm willing to go up against the school or parents to resolve whatever issue comes about. Be strong. Be involved. Be a parent. You are your child's only advocate. We're raising kids here. They need to see us protect them, offer encouragement, discipline them and love them all at the same time. We need to let them know that bullying stops with us.