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.
listen to your child when they come to you about bullying. DON'T
tell them to ignore it.
take reports of bullying seriously. DON'T
assume it's typical "kids will be kids" conflict that will go away.
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.
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.
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.
familiarize yourself with the school's bullying policy. DON'T
accept excuses from the school about why it hasn't been implemented.
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.
know your rights as a parent, and those of your child. DON'T
allow administrators to intimidate you into believing you have none.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
be prepared for a prolonged battle. DON'T assume that your concerns will be given the consideration they deserve or addressed promptly. DON'T
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.