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Bully, Bully

Bullying is a hot topic right now.  Every school my kids have ever gone to has claimed to be a “bully-free zone.”  It’s serious.  Kids are committing suicide because of bullies.  Kids are miserable and sad for no reason.  It’s one of many fears that a mother has.  My son had one incident this year with some other boys, and his teacher emailed me to tell me about it, then took care of it.  I’m pleased to say that there were no further incidents.  On the other hand…

My daughter told me the other day about some girl at school who has been trying to make her life miserable for the last four years.  I’ve known about this for a long time and it’s always been relatively minor manipulation and mean-girl-ness, so the best advice has been to avoid her.  However, this year, they have a class together and this rotten little brat has been grabbing my child’s bag, going through her possessions, then STEALING them.  She always gives them back, eventually, but theft is theft.  As you might imagine, this news raised my blood pressure to stroke level.  My first instinct was to drive to this girl’s house and tell her mother what’s what.  With my fists and feet, if necessary.

However, I’m a grown up and I strive to be a reasonable person, so I emailed the teacher and the principals to give them an opportunity to deal with it.  I was not terribly pleased with the way it was handled.  First order of business was to move my child far away from this girl in the class, and that was no problem.  However, the principal then decided to pull my daughter out of class and ask her about the situation.  He then called me and told me that my kiddo didn’t want him to do anything about it, so he guessed everything was okay.

What.

Now, you have to understand that my kid would rather set herself on fire than bring any attention to herself (which, ironically, would draw a lot of attention, but I digress).  She likes to fly under the radar, like many twelve-year-old girls.  She was horrified to have to talk to the principal and downplayed everything, hoping it would go away.  This is a tactic that you might expect someone who works with middle-schoolers to recognize, but no dice.  I had to explicitly tell the principal that I didn’t care what my kid said, and quite frankly, I don’t much care what she wants, because this is completely unacceptable and I expect it to be handled, swiftly and thoroughly.  I mean, really, who wants to be the one to rat out a bully?  Retaliation, anyone?  As the adult, it’s my job to rat her out, anyway.  Bullies must be outed.  And if it escalates, well, then, we’ll deal with that, too.  My preteen daughter might not have a full dose of courage, self-confidence and outrage just yet, but I sure do and I’m not going to allow anyone to take advantage of her kindness and timidity for one second.  I’m disappointed that the school was willing to let it go just because a kid asked them to.  Even if you can overlook the nasty comments, the rumors and the invasion of privacy, and no one should overlook that for a nano-second, there’s still the issue of theft.  This girl is a thief.  If she’ll steal pens out of someone’s purse today, what’s to stop her from stealing a cell phone or car keys tomorrow?

We ended up in a pretty satisfactory place, in which the principal will talk to the girl in question, and put the data in the school computer to ensure that they won’t ever have classes together again.  I know darn well that she’s always going to be a problem, but for my girl, avoidance is the best approach.  I wish she had the courage to speak up and defend herself, loud and proud, but she’s not there yet, and all I can do is wait and coach her at home.  I hope she learns a valuable lesson from her cousin, who won’t hesitate to throw things at people who call her names.  (Way to go, darlin’, I am so proud of you.)  I know that probably sounds bad, because mothers aren’t really supposed to teach their children to throw things, but you can’t play fair with bullies and that’s something that my sister and I have understood from day one.  So, I’m sharing with you the things that I’ve learned through trial and error, and the things I’ve learned from my sis, who is badass mom #1, about dealing with bullies.  I hope if I keep preaching it, my babygirl will eventually find it in herself to scream and throw things, no matter who is watching.

  • Strike back with a vengeance.  Bullies don’t understand subtlety.  If they’re spreading lies, then speak the truth loud and proud.  If they ever, ever dare to put one finger on you, then put to use all the dollars I’ve spent on karate training and make sure that they understand that you will not be touched.  Not ever.  Not a push, not a shove and not a finger in the chest.  Make your stand, make it early and make it memorable.
  • Tattle.  Bullies do their best work in the shadows.  They’re counting on you to follow the kid code and not rat them out.  Do it.  I guarantee that you’re not the only kid they’re picking on.  Be the brave one and speak up and everyone will eventually respect you for it.  Not saying that it will happen right away, and this is where you have to find your courage to do what’s right.  No one, no one, should expect a child to resolve bullying by themselves.  That’s why you have parents, teachers, aunts and uncles, cousins, guidance counselors, religious leaders, all and any adults whom you can trust.
  • Let nothing slide.  Bullying often starts out as a minor thing.  Don’t allow even the small stuff, because, mark my words, it will get worse.  Someone calls you a name?  Throw a bottle of water at them.  You might get punished for a perceived overreaction, but you’ve made your point.  Sometimes you do have to sink to their level, because that’s all they understand.
  • The things that bullies say and do are a reflection on them, not on you.  Bullies have a problem, a big one, that is all about their own life, self-worth and self-image.  The things they do and say don’t have anything at all to do with you, and everything to do with them.  Don’t ever forget that.  Being bullied does not mean that you deserve to be bullied.  It just means you landed in the firing zone of someone who doesn’t know how to deal with their own problems.

While I’m on the subject of bullying, I would encourage all parents to always consider the possibility that you might accidentally be raising a bully.  Just like it’s important for us to talk to our children about how they are treated, we have to remember to talk to them about how they treat others.  I don’t like to blame a lot of stuff on parents, because we do have a hard job, and we’re bound to screw up sometimes, but this is really, really important.  If you believe that your kid might be mistreating others, you must, must, must face it and correct it.  I don’t think that there are bad kids, I believe that there are kids who are misled and don’t understand the consequences of their actions.  The incident with my son?  Probably just a case of ten-year-old boys trying to impress each other.  They were corrected and the behavior stopped.  The deal with my daughter’s thief?  Well, it’s very possible that this girl’s behavior has never been recognized and/or acknowledged, so it’s just getting worse.  Behavior that is ignored may as well be behavior that is encouraged.

One last word about it, then I’m going to try to find my lighter side again.  Parents, remember that no matter what your schools say on the subject, you can’t rely on them to always do the right thing by your kids.  They may not have all the information, they may not understand the situation, in some cases, they might want to sweep it under the rug, whatever.  I will say this, though.  I’ve not always been totally satisfied with the way schools handle things, but every time that I have called them and set forth my expectations and/or demands (usually demands, because that’s how I am), they have taken action.  Speak up.  As the parent, it is first and foremost your responsiblity to be your child’s advocate.  It’s not the school’s job.  It’s your job, it’s my job.  When our children are grown and we finally see what kinds of adults they become, no one’s going to talk about how well or how poorly the school raised them.  They’re not likely to thank the schools for giving them the life skills that they need.  I expect the school to teach my kids Algebra, because I cannot.  They expect me to raise my children, because they cannot.  If we work together, my children will grow to be happy, well-adjusted adults who know how to find the value of x and won’t take shit from anyone.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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  1. May 27, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    For some reason, the part about the karate training had me in stitches. Great job.

    • May 27, 2012 at 11:07 pm

      Thanks, Joy! Seriously, though, I’ve spent a lot of money on karate… 😉

      • May 28, 2012 at 9:48 am

        Lol. That’s a good thing. I need to learn some myself 🙂

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