Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Bullying 101

First, thanks to everyone who emailed or called to tell me about the Oprah program today.

I watched. And I won't lie...that was tough.

From the moment it began, I was fighting back tears. It was just too close. Way. Too close. I wasn't sure I would make it through the whole program. But I did. And mostly, it was a good show; very informative and empowering.

A few things I disagreed with.

One psychologist said that kids don't realize how destructive and devastating sexual slurs are.

Sorry, don't buy it. They know exactly how much it hurts to be called a fag or a dyke, and that's why they do it. Even elementary school kids know it's a bad, bad thing, though the younger ones may not know exactly why.

Another psychologist, said that often, if you just demonstrate verbally that you won't tolerate being bullied, the bully will back down.

Again, don't buy it.

For example, she told one young man to say "STOP it. I'm not going to take your bullying any more!" in a forceful manner. You know what a bully will say to that?

"Oh yeah? How're you gonna make me...faggot?"

And then you have to show him, or else you look like a big fat weenie and things go from bad to worse.

When that young man came on...God, my heart just broke. That poor kid. The term, in the biz, is "bully bait". You know the type. Kind hearted, quiet, shy, passive. Different, unusual, quirky, out of step with his peers.

Diminutive One is the same way.

It's just not in their nature to be aggressive or mean. They aren't comfortable with confronation or conflict. They just want everyone to be happy. So they don't understand kids who bully or how to handle them.

They need help.

I had no idea where to get it for my son. But I learned. And I learned other things along the way.

You may be sick of listening to me and my bully issues. But this is a HUGE problem that is having an enormous social impact on our children. It has spread to the internet and become "cyberbullying".

You or I can walk away from a bully, refuse to work with them, avoid places we know they will go.

Children are held captive in a classroom. They can't escape, no matter where they go.

And it's happening at younger and younger ages. You may still be struggling with potty training or binky weaning and I know that when your children are little these kinds of things seem so implausible and improbable, and really, irrelevant to your entire scope of concern.

But it won't always be that way. One day, your little lambs will be out among the wolves.

You need to learn how to kick some furry wolf ass and so does your kid.

One BIG mistake that we make (I did it) is telling our kids to "ignore it". Sure, in theory, it makes sense. If a bully doesn't get a rise out of their victim, they'll stop. But that's adult think. Kids aren't wired the same way as adults. An adult would stop. A kid won't.

Because strangely enough, studies show that bullies, while obviously maladjusted, usually have average or above average self-esteem. They don't do it for attention. They do it for sport.

Also, no kid can ignore a bully completely. They can't control non-verbal responses such as body language or facial expressions that will inevitably betray the fact that they are humiliated, embarassed or upset.

So the only thing ignoring a bully accomplishes is to give them a target that they can harass with impunity. What fun!

And by telling our kids to ignore it, we are dismissing and diminishing the very profound affect the taunting and persecution is having on them. It's like putting a band-aid on a severed limb. It's quick and it's easy, but it's not terribly effective.

We need to let them know we are listening and that we will act when they need us to. We need to let them know that someone will do something to make it stop.

If you'll notice, it's the very first thing on my list of do's and don'ts.

1. DO listen to your child when they come to you about bullying. DON'T tell them to ignore it.

2. DO take reports of bullying seriously. DON'T assume it's typical "kids will be kids" conflict that will go away.

3. DO realize that verbal taunts are just as harmful, if not more so, than physical attacks. DON'T assume that because it's not physical, it isn't really bullying, and it isn't having a profound effect on your child.

4. DO be aware of signs that your child is being bullied. DON'T assume that a seemingly happy child means the problem has gone away.

An aside: Signs of bullying aren't always obvious, especially if the bullying is verbal, rather than physical. Know your child. Often, changes in their personality or habits can indicate that something is drastically wrong. For example: Diminutive One's bully continually criticized his artwork. Diminutive One, who was constantly drawing and sketching, stopped. I noticed, but I didn't realize it was due to bullying. I thought it was just because he had developed other interests.

3. DO expect the bullying to stop immediately. DON'T accept assurances without a written, signed plan of action to address the problem and impose consequences on the bully.

4. DO familiarize yourself with the school's bullying policy. DON'T accept excuses from the school about why it hasn't been implemented.

5. DO use the policy to your advantage, but DON'T make the mistake of assuming it's there to protect your child. It's not. It's a CYA measure meant to protect the schools and administrators.

6. DO know your rights as a parent, and those of your child. DON'T allow administrators to intimidate you into believing you have none.

7. DO empower your child to defend themselves, either verbally or physically. DON'T ever impose consequences for doing so.

Another aside: Bullies are very good and manipulating situations to make it seem as if the victim is the actually the one in the wrong. One thing that Diminutive One's bully would do is whisper to him or antagonize him during times of quiet such as testing, silent reading, etc. When finally Diminutive One would react, and tell the bully to leave him alone, he would be punished for talking. Or, in the case of the infamous "Suck My Balls" incident, a bully will simply provoke their victim until they lash out, then tattle.

I never imposed consequences on Diminutive One for these instances. I made sure he knew I believed him, and that I would never punish him for standing up for himself. I can't always protect him from facing any consequences at school, but in the case of the SMB incident, I did let it be known that I wouldn't tolerate the extreme measures the Principal had taken.

8. DO trust in and believe your child when they tell you they have done nothing to antagonize their bully. DON'T place the blame on the victim.

9. DO remove your child from the situation if necessary. DON'T let administrators scare you with threats about truancy. You have a right to protect your child under the law. If they aren't providing a safe, comfortable environment in which your child can learn, you have the right to remove them. They will tell you otherwise. DON'T believe them. It could be a matter of life and death for your child.

10. DO have your child assessed by a mental health professional. You will need confirmation that your child's emotional state is being drastically affected by the hostile environment and your child will most likely need someone outside the situation to help them cope. DON'T assume the absences can be excused by you, the parent. As far as the school system is concerned, you have no rights. Most truancy laws state that absences must be excused in writing by a medical professional.

11. DO enlist outside help. DON'T try to go it alone. There are people trained to deal with thesse kinds of situations. There are advocacy groups to aid and inform. Our lawyer accomplished in two hours what I had been trying to accomplish for two weeks. I wish I had called her sooner. Which brings us to our next point.

12. DO be prepared for a prolonged battle. DON'T assume that your concerns will be given the consideration they deserve or addressed promptly. DON'T give up.

Diminutive One is doing well. He was anxious about his first day back, but quickly realized that when the lawyer said it would stop, she meant it. Until that point, he had felt utterly powerless and alone. Now he knows there is someone on his side and he doesn't have to take the abuse.

Now that we have hired a lawyer, the school is all about protecting him. They have implemented various measures to see that his needs are met. Assholes.

He is happy. I see my son emerging once again; shedding his victim skin. I wish you could see the difference in the child he is today, and the child he was two weeks ago.

Watching those two mothers, knowing they had just buried their children and knowing they had suffered the same kind of torment and abuse as my son....I felt a very deep sorrow.

But I also felt amazingly happy.

Because my son is not dangling from the end of a rope.

And we can make sure that no child suffers that fate. But we have to speak up and let the bullies of the world know that we won't tolerate it. We have to let administrators know that we won't allow them to look the other way. We have to let our kids know that we will protect them, no matter what.

Thanks for reading.

I'll get off my soapbox now and try to write something not related to bullying.


  • At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Mysti said…

    BA - please don't ever apologize for writing about this oh so important subject. As the mother of two sons in their teens who have been dealing with bullying for the last few years, it has help me *immensely* to see what other options may be available to me - and learn better how to help my boys.

    Thank you. And bless you for being so fierce.

  • At 9:33 AM, Blogger Middle Girl said…

    Though my children are no longer children, I feel empowered by your message and your fierce advocacy on behalf of D.O. and by extension, others in similiar predicaments.

  • At 9:47 AM, Blogger Suzy said…

    Thank you so much for all that you do with this issue. I have a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old, and I'm always worried that they will be targets for bullying. Your DO's and DONT's will help me to recognize if it happens. Thanks again. You're a champion.

  • At 10:37 AM, Blogger em said…

    Unlurking to comment .. Please, don't stop talking about bullying. I appreciate your advocacy for your child. I'm currently raising my grandson and it's a remarkably different world than it was when my daughter was growing up. She was bullied on the school bus and when the other girl knocked my daughter's glasses off, I finally called the other girl's parents. When I spoke to the father, I told him I had tried to let them "work it out" between themselves but that when his daughter could have potentially damaged a $200 pair of glasses, I felt it was time to get involved. I wish I'd called him sooner. He stepped right up and took care of the problem immediately. Today, I don't think it would be that simple ..
    Your list of DOs and DON'Ts is a good one. Thank you.

  • At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Lisa said…

    Thank you so much. My girls are young, ages 3 and 5. I thought this type of thing was years away. But, this year in pre-k my daughter encountered her first bully. I went with the "girl will be girls" mentality since it seemed it was just verbal bullying. We moved in March so she is out of the situation. But now reading your past posts I realize I really do need to take this much more seriously.

    As an aside, I am worried because my daughter's personality is that she wants everyone to like her. She would come home crying because this girl wouldn't play with her, would call her mean names, would kick her when she walked by, etc. I would tell her to play with someone else but my daughter had this deep desire for that one girl to be her friend. How do I make her more confident and less of a follower?!

  • At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Funny you should post this today of all days. I posted about the exact same thing!

    Bullying sucks...plain and simple.

  • At 11:53 AM, Blogger Heather said…

    I have an 8-year-old who has been bullied since kindergarten. In fact, dealing with another round of it right now! I emailed you for some advice, if that's ok. Not that I waited for you to say it was...I already sent it.

  • At 12:25 PM, Blogger Della said…

    One thing that struck me was your suggestion to "know your rights" as a parent. I'd like to hear more about this -where do you find this kind of information out? How do you interpret it?

    I mean, even when you're talking about constitutional rights, like free speech, where is the line? I mean yeah, I have the right to say whatever, but I don't necessarily have the right to be in the principal's office for 3 hours a day, annoying people while they try to do their jobs... do I?

    What things do I have a right to ask for (perhaps in terms of documentation)and what things are just wishes that may or may not be granted (perhaps, school-mediated meetings with the other parents?)

    So like I said, I'd love to read that one point stretched out into a whole post of its own.

  • At 7:26 PM, Anonymous heidig said…

    Wow! It's so nice to hear that DO is doing better. You're a wonderful Mom and he is a very lucky boy. Keep up the good work!

  • At 9:26 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Next post? Adult bullies on the internet. And you know just what I'm talking about!

  • At 9:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If there ever was a soapbox important enough to stay on, this is it. The Oprah show was heartbreaking yesterday. And your posts on this issue are helping people. Don't stop - please continue to share your journey - I hope for a happy ending for your son, for the young man on Oprah and every other victim out there.

  • At 6:21 AM, Blogger Woman with Kids said…

    I'm so sorry you're going through this. We deal with bullying, but unfortunately it's at home and not at school. How do you protect your son from your other son? It's a constant struggle and it breaks my heart for both boys; that Boy 2 has to go through it and that Boy 1 would be like that.

  • At 6:25 AM, Anonymous Jenn A. said…

    This is such an important topic. I am a HS teacher, teaching in the county you live in (or at least I think it is based on what I have gathered from reading your blog). Anyway, I am always trying to make sure that bullying is not happening in my classroom, but I know that bullies learn to be so underhanded about what they are doing, it is often difficult to detect.

    I have been reading your blog for the past few weeks, and I am so glad you got the needed help for your son, and you stood up for him. I hope you are not completely disenchanted with teachers as a whole, because some of us really care about our students-not just grades, achievements, or test scores-but about character, integrity, and kindness in and out of the classroom. I hope next year your son gets put in classrooms with teachers who will not tolerate this behavior-ones who are willing to stop and deal with it as soon as it happens in the classroom.
    Wishing you all the best.

  • At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    One of your best posts yet! Please keep at least one foot on the soapbox. :)

  • At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    thank you for sharing. in large part due to your story, i have been working w/ z on how to fight back. we are making it clear he must never start something but he can fight back (and should). we hope if he learns that early, he won't be bully bait.

    thank you again.

  • At 8:45 AM, Blogger daydreamymama said…

    Completely freaking awesome post. My husband and I were both victims of bullying as kids, so we are worried about our son eventually facing it. I printed this out and will hold onto it, just in case. I wish our parents had had some clue then, but we certainly will have some better ideas.
    Is it too early to sign up a 4-year-old for Aikido?

  • At 3:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Brilliant post -- but very sad that only threatening to sue got the school moving. What if you don't have the money to hire a lawyer?
    My child is being harassed all the time because she is "too" clever. Some of the other kids don't like it.
    It's turned her from a confident, laughing child into a sullen, aggressive one who is constantly looking for battles. She's only 7 years old. What do you do?


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