Over the past couple of days we have spoken to a teenage girl and a teenage boy about bullying. If you missed those perspectives, you’ll definitely want to check them out here and here. And while the teens we spoke to were lucky enough to have a very limited first-hand knowledge of bullying, not everyone is so lucky.
As parents we can attest that the number one thing you think about when you let go of your child’s tiny hand the first time you send them off to school is, are they going to be able to keep my baby safe? Are they going to be able to care for them the way that I would?
The last thing a parent wants to think about is someone else causing their child pain. Unfortunately, it happens. And we spoke to a women who has been there…
HOW OLD ARE YOUR KIDS?
My daughter is 14 and my son is 9.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH BULLIES?
Unfortunately, yes. My son, who has special needs, has been bullied in school on a couple of different occasions. Actually, the one time I am not even sure I would call it bullying. That was back in first grade. Kids could see or sense or somehow know even at that age, that he was just a bit different from them. I guess some people just naturally hone in on that and some don’t. Plenty of kids treated him exactly like all the other kids, but there was one or two that consistently pointed out any little difference between themselves and my son.
AND ANOTHER TIME AS WELL?
Yes again at the beginning of the current school year.
WHY DO YOU SAY THAT YOU ONLY CONSIDERED ONE OF THESE ACTUALLY BULLYING?
Well, the stuff that was going on in first grade, I think that was just these kids not really understanding who my son was and not knowing any better. I don’t think that their parents ever explained to them that there are people who are different, that not everyone is the same and you’re going to encounter people who aren’t like you. I have aways taught both my kids that. I tell them to embrace what is different about others and learn from it. Don’t make someone feel bad about who they are. But I guess not everyone is the same in that respect either.
WHAT HAPPENED THE SECOND TIME? HOW WAS IT DIFFERENT?
The second time around, he had gotten past all of the first grade stuff and was really getting along well with everyone in his classes. But he kept coming home really just down looking. He is a happy kid. He’s always smiling and having fun. So, to see him come home sad-faced every day for like a week was odd. I thought maybe he was sick, but he had no fever, no cough, no sore throat, nothing. So, I kept an eye. That second week he started getting upset when it was time to go to school, which was just unheard of for him. I knew something was going on at school at that point.
SO WHAT DID YOU? HOW DID YOU PROCEED?
Called the school and told them exactly what I had observed.
AND WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT DID THEY DO?
They asked a bunch of questions and brought my son down to the counselor. They had to call his case worker because he has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and they are supposed to be involved. They also brought in his classroom teacher to see if she was aware of anything. She had noticed too that he seemed a little down but when she asked him if he was alright, he said, “yes” and she left it alone at that point. He never said anything to anyone else.
SO HOW DID YOU FIND OUT WHAT WAS GOING ON?
We dug. We met with the whole team, the principal, counselor, teacher, case worker, everyone. I think in hindsight we may have pressured him too much to tell us what was wrong, but I was so worried. The things that go through your head are nothing short of insane! What is going on with my kid?! Is he ill, like the kind of ill you can’t see? Is he being bullied? Molested? You really can’t imagine where the mind goes. So, I felt like we had to know. We only got out of him that someone, a boy, was giving him a hard time at school. And we had a name. It wasn’t until the boy was brought into the fold, and eventually his parents, that we got to the real meat of the issue.
As it turned out this boy and another little boy had been calling my son names, the kind of names kids call each other not even thinking that they are as offensive and hurtful as they are- stupid, idiot, retarded, gay, etc.
The older boy of the two, one was in 5th grade and one in 4th, eventually admitted to this and a bunch of other stuff including taking my son’s lunch and hiding it in a different spot every day for 2 weeks, not letting him sit down on the bus (until the bus driver was yelling at him), taking items from his desk and throwing them away, etc.
AND WHAT WAS THE REACTION TO THESE REVELATIONS?
He seemed to feel like he was just being a practical joker. He said he had no idea that it was hurting my son so much. The staff was pretty supportive, I think largely because they really dropped the ball on this one. This kid was really tormenting my child day in and day out right under their noses for weeks. Luckily, the boy’s parents were having no parts of any excuses he had. They were mortified.
DID YOU INITIALLY FEAR THEIR REACTION?
I did. You never know if they are going to take the “not my child” approach. If they’re going to make excuses, or if they’ll even do anything about it. But they, particularly the mother, were very understanding and apologetic. I remember the mom kept saying in the meeting, “I don’t understand, I know he knows better.” She must have said that ten times. I actually felt a little bad.
WHY DID YOU FEEL BAD FOR HER?
I think because she is a mom too and people automatically assume that bullying is the result of bad parenting. And I really don’t think that was the case here. I don’t know what other factors are at work, I am not an expert, but they seemed to be very loving and involved parents. For me, I felt a camaraderie almost, because she was essentially suffering knowing that her child had inflicted pain on someone else. She felt like a failure. And I felt like one too for not being able to protect my son.
SO WHAT LESSON WOULD YOU SAY WAS LEARNED HERE?
Well, I learned that you can’t protect your kids 100% of the time. I also learned that in this day and age you really have to watch the signs and cues that your kids give you. The nonverbal stuff. Kids lack vital communication skills these days. And when you add in a child who is not overly communicative to begin with, it’s even harder. I also learned that you can’t really judge people’s parenting. And I know my son learned that he has to speak up and tell someone if he is feeling intimidated or harassed. And if he is scared, we need to know. And I think really importantly, the boy who had been bullying my son learned something too. He learned that it’s not okay to harass someone just for being different. And he learned that it’s actually much nicer and cooler to stand beside someone who is a little different and misunderstood rather than to try to act tough because you don’t understand someone.
YOU’RE VERY LUCKY TO HAVE HAD SUCH A POSITIVE OUTCOME ALL THE WAY AROUND.
We really were. I was very scared at first. You hear so many stories on the news. It doesn’t always get tied up so neatly for everyone though. It’s rarely a happy ending all the way around. That is why I think attention and focus need to stay on it. There are parents burying their children because of this. I am beyond fortunate that I am not one of them. I am fortunate that our incident of bullying wasn’t near what some kids endure. My son got his happy ending and my daughter has not had to endure anything like this. I’ll tell anyone and everyone my story just to remind them that it happens and that it may be happening right under your nose.