Tuesday, March 6, 2012

heavy stuff

I arrived home Sunday to hear about an incident at Happyland Elementary. A couple of boys were bullying a smaller boy in their grade. I don't know who the smaller boy is, but I know the perps--they're widely well-regarded, athletic and clean cut and from popular parental units. I also know for a fact that one of the perps has needed a MAJOR attitude adjustment since he was about 5 years old. Anyway, this kid grabbed the smaller boy by the shoulders and kneed him so hard that this child might be permanently damaged.

For the rest of his life.

Because of being bullied in 3rd grade.

Tears filled my eyes, thinking about this small boy, wanting to be accepted, to be liked, willing to endure popular kids picking on him. Maybe he'd been taken around the corner of the building and nobody saw it. Maybe it happened with other children fully aware. However this incident occurred, now everybody knows this kid's shame. His weakness. It's possible no one else knew he was being picked on. Somehow I sincerely doubt that to be true. He woke up in the middle of the night screaming in pain and his parents took him to a doctor. I hope they file a lawsuit. It's well within their rights. Their child should have been safe from such abuse if the law requires him to attend this school.

One teacher, one of the best teachers in the whole district, pulled the entire class of boys in and called the whole group out on this kind of behavior. I felt grateful I'd pulled my children out of a school where such cruelty even could happen.

But the thing is, most of these kids are good kids. Most of these kids weren't involved.

Nevertheless, it still happened.

Someone got really hurt.

Sunday night I pulled each of my boys aside and talked to them. "If anyone ever picks on you, you know what to do right? You fight back. You don't let yourself be a victim. You're in karate, you know what to do--you know that 90% of the time a bully will walk the other way if you call them out. You always always always fight back. You do not take other people's abuse. It's not funny, it's not right. Fight back."

Because bullies only get to bully when they've got victims.

I can't give these perps an attitude adjustment. (Although you can bet when I see them I will give them Death Glares of Great Magnitude. And I will see them, they're in the same grade as one of my sons and play on the same teams. I'll also see their parents, and I hope to God they act contrite towards everyone they see. I'm really praying about how to behave.) I can prepare my sons to deal appropriately with mean people.

I can raise heroes. I asked each of my sons, "And if you see someone else getting picked on, what do you do?"

They know. They either tell someone in authority or they rush in to defend.

"Damn straight," I tell them. "We call out bullies--and we defend the weak because that's what Jesus tells us to do. And you're in karate, you know moves. You'll never ever get in trouble for defending yourself or someone else."

My sons carry this bizarre fear that they'll be the ones in trouble for fighting a bully. Where on earth do they get that idea? Self defense is not something a good school or parent punishes.

We all need to teach our kids not to be victims, but we also need to call out bullies, even when we're not the victim. The news articles about Rush Limbaugh this past week have demonstrated the power of people standing up to bullies. He is (and from what I can tell, always has been) a vile, horrible, nasty person who should not have the power allocated to him. Finally advertisers are pulling their support. I'm thrilled to endorse AOL, AllState, ProFlowers and Peter Gabriel because they are using their power and status to say being mean is not okay. They won't defend it or be associated with it.

Who does a bully bully if no one is willing to tolerate it?

Reader, I'm leaving you with this.

We ALL stop bullies. We need to teach our children and empower them to NOT tolerate mean and cruel behavior.

Sure, it's easier to not get involved, to look the other way, to hunch down, avoid eye contact and hope the bully doesn't zero in on us. It's easy to blame the victim, write off aggressive behavior as "boys being boys" or ignore a bully because they're bigger or athletically gifted or smart. It's easy to surround ourselves with friends and insulate ourselves from mean people. But the fact of the matter is that a bully doesn't get to pick on people who fight back.

People, we need to fight back.


  1. "Boys will be boys." What a load of hooey. Boys will be MEN, and it's the responsibility of all those teaching and training them up to help them become good men.
    That said, we've covered the topic of telling an authority figure that someone is being threatened or harmed in any way is not tattling. We've also run into the situation where our kid fought back when bullied, and he was given three days suspension. We discussed our respect for school policies, but it was also made clear that sometimes one has to stand up for themselves. And there was no punishment given at home.

  2. And the bullies are probably telling their parents it was the victim's fault, just like Limbaugh is blaming others for his own bad behavior.

  3. Wow! I don't know where to start. My prayers are with that little one and his family. They are also with the families of the bullies that they might find a way to make amends and heal their families (bullies are made, not born). My youngest spent several years training in Kung Fu, and I loved the way those kids came to feel brave, confident, protective of others, and in general, kinder all around. Self-defense is SO much more than "hitting back"! Thank you for a very good post. (As I type this, the trailer for "Bully" is on the Today show. Maybe they should show it in schools.)

  4. That poor child. I just hurt so much for him. I hope that his physical and emotional injuries are not permanent. I hope he gets the help (again, physical and emotional) that he needs. I hope his parents do sue. I hope the parents of the bullies are contrite and do what they need to do, in terms of dealing with their sons and also making amends.

    Dear god, what a mess.

  5. Be kind not only to the poor young man and his parents, but also to this "preps" parents. We often "punish" or ostracize parents for a child's behavior without understanding or knowing what is happening behind close doors to curb said behavior.
    As a public school teacher, part of this problem of bullying is the OVERUSE of the word bullying. Bullying is an on-going, one-sided event(s). The victim is not bantering back and forth with the other child(ren). Many of the instances I have witnessed are two children bantering back and forth--which is also not "nice"--then one side wants to claim they were bullied.

    And before one throws their hands in the air and asks where the heck are the recess/lunch monitors- I assume this happened at recess-- one or two teachers/Aides CANNOT NOT see everything - School Aides are the first to be cut in these budget times. I know this because I am also the lunch monitor and "Stuff" - not of this magnitude happens all the time - I can't be in the boys bathroom, girls bathroom, lunch room, hallway, and gym all at once.

  6. That is so terrible! That poor child :-(

    Bullying is just rampant. I heard so much about it from the kids I worked with when I did juvenile probation. The girls in particular!

  7. We said exactly the same thing to our son about KungFu. We put him in class because he was being bullied and it carried over to some of the same kids starting to push my daughter around on the bus. Can you imagine a little girl being kicked in the back by a boy 3 years older than she was?

    We told him, "Don't start a fight but if someone hurts you or your sister, you FINISH that fight". It took one instance of him being shoved in the cafeteria in high school and he fought back. It was worth every minute he had to spend in Saturday Detention. The bullying stopped.

    Adult bullies didn't get that way overnight. They learn it over a lifetime.

  8. Hearing stories like this just tick me off. I can't stand how some kids behave. While we are teaching our children to be strong and stand up for themselves, they must also be taught NOT TO BE A BULLY! I guess some parents miss this lesson for there are far too many bullies in this world. Respect for others is taught, or should be taught at home. Trouble is, most children are not taught this. I feel for this child and the family. The physical and emotional scars can have lasting effects. And I hope the bully gets what he deserves.

  9. This story makes me so sad. Kids NEED to feel safe more than anything else as they grow up. Without that, nothing much else matters.

    I'd also like to mention that girl-bullying, which is called relational aggression, is every bit as damaging as the physical bullying more common with boys. I taught my daughter to fight back in situations involving relational aggression, even though it got her in trouble with her teachers. Teachers very rarely see relational aggression for what it is, or notice it when it's happening.

    Every parent should read "Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children", by Michael Thompson.

  10. Wow. All the way around, GG. Wow.

    Here's hoping that the parents were unaware of how righteous their bullying children were feeling -- and that there is a swift correction.


    p.s. I love your parenting style.

  11. This brought tears to my eyes, and put a fire in my belly. I agree! It isnt okay to be mean and everyone needs to stand together and make that known.

  12. I just learned that a little girl in my hometown... age nine!!!... died a couple of weeks ago from almost the same move... she was grabbed on the sides of the head (by another girl), kneed in the forehead, and went home fine. Complaining of headache that night, she was taken to the ER and she died there.

    It is so terrifying to me!!! I tell my kids that if they are bullied, or see someone else being bullied, that they need to stand up. And if they get in trouble, they will be sent to the principal. The principal will then... call me. And I will pick them up and take them out for ice cream.

  13. I tend to think of a person who bullies as one who has been bullied himself. Of course this does not make it okay for him to perpetuate the crime. Somehow we need to start holding kids more accountable for what they do because it seems their parents aren't doing it.

  14. You go, Green Girl!

    As a school counselor I see bullies regularly, and the funny thing -- they always paint themselves the victim, without any understanding of their actions. Yes, they probably were victimized when younger, often by their families, but there is never an excuse for taking your feelings out on someone more defenceless than yourself.

    I'm so happy my son is in karate, and I can't wait to have the conversation with him about jumping in when he sees bullying, or to stand up for himself if it happens to him. I myself jump in and say "that is NOT ok" when I see bullying anywhere, and I've scared a kid or two even to the point of running home. It's almost like they don't realize that I am even there. They're not used to being called out, especially by an adult. :D

  15. That is terrible! I would be irriate.

  16. What an awful story. I feel so sad for that little boy and his parents. I have found that school administrators spray a lot of hot air about having zero tolerance for bullies, but when you bring to their attention an incident of bullying, nothing happens. My daughter was being bullied on the school bus when she was in middle school. The principal did nothing. A custodian at the school who also worked as a clerk at the hospital where my husband works, heard about the bullying and told the bullies to leave my daughter alone. So hurrah for the custodian. Too bad the principal dropped the ball.

    Anyway, I absolutely agree with you that taking a stand against bullies is something we all need to do. Bullies on the playground become bullies at the office. The literary magazine at the university for which I work was in the news last year when one of the staff committed suicide after being bullied by the managing editor.

  17. I will pray for that boy and his parents. Kudos to you for teaching your sons not to tolerate mean behavior. If only all parents were as aware and thoughtful as you.

  18. My prayers go out to the child and his parents. Well said!

  19. Soooo sad. Thank God my kids are grown. People didn't usually pick on them 'cuz they were so tall but if they had...I think I would have gone after them

  20. That poor boy. I hope he recovers okay. I was reading a story recently about a girl who was suspended because she didn't report she had been bullied to her teachers. It was crazy.

  21. Why do your boys think they'll be the ones to get into trouble for fighting back? Your first paragraph answered that - the boys doing it were well regarded, as are their parents.

    There was a boy on my daughter's bus who was a bully. He bullied an older girl so much she hauled off and punched him. Guess who got into trouble? Not him, but her. From all reports, he taunted her to do it too. The kid is still a bully and still gets away with it, because his parents view it as he's the one fighting back, every time.

  22. How is it that this report isn't hitting the newspapers' front pages?!!?

    Is there any connection between budget cuts and the lack of supervision allowing this to happen?

    The bystanders need to stand up to bullies, too; your sons will never sit back and watch bullying. They will have the strength of character to stand up and say, "Stop!"

  23. How sad. My neighbor's left a Catholic school over the EXACT same type of incident--though it was just one bully.

    My kids have always known they should fight back. My older son was three years old and was constantly getting hit by a girl in preschool. When talking didn't work I said, "Next time hit her back." He did and she never hit him again. I was okay with my younger son getting suspended for "fighting back." The other boy punched him first--Son got one day and bully got five days. Even the VP that suspended him apologized for doing it and told him, "My job is to tell you that you never hit, but in the real world you did the right thing."

    Teaching your kids to stand up for themselves and others is an important part of parenting.


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