Sticks and Stones–Bullying and What We Can Do to Help
Posted on September 23, 2014
My first grader came home from school the other day to tell me about a boy who hasn’t been very nice. “He doesn’t want to be my friend, Mom. I was trying to be his, but he doesn’t want to. He never wants to pass the frisbee to me. He just isn’t nice to me and I don’t know why.” My heart broke. I’m pretty sure I held back tears as I thought about what a tough world he was now a part of. And then a moment came to my mind from many years ago. A day that I probably had filed in the back of my mind to be forgotten. But as we walked up our driveway, the thoughts came flooding back.
I can remember the moment vividly. I was a senior that year, and my assigned seat in Mr. M’s class was just a few back from her and her friends. In front of her sat a larger guy, someone I guess you wouldn’t call “cool.” In fact, to put it bluntly, he was a geek. He had bottle cap glasses, pimples, his clothes were old and baggy, and he ate lunch at that one spot in the commons area with all the other dorky kids. I don’t remember his name, but I certainly remember hers. Everyone knew her name. She was one of the most popular girls in school. Pretty, athletic…she was what every girl wanted to be, who every boy wanted to be with. As Mr. M wrote on the board the room was silent with scribbling pencils. Just ahead, I saw her pull out a quarter. Getting the attention of her friends, she smiled and leaned forward in her desk. In front of her, his pants opened like a plumber’s, giving just enough space for a quarter to slip through. Her friends stifled laughs as the quarter dropped from her fingers. His head jerked up. As he ran to the bathroom to retrieve the object now located in his britches, she smirked as several laughed at his expense.
And life went on. The boy was humiliated, the girl got a good laugh, the cycle continued. No one stood up. Not a classmate, not a parent, not a teacher.
Even while writing this my heart races with the memories of those days. Honestly, I was just a bit scared of her. Of all of them. And so I kept my thoughts to myself. If only I could go back. If only I had the courage in those days to stand up for those who were torn down. If only I’d put myself in the lines of fire to save someone else’s self-esteem, image, and heartache.
…But I didn’t.
Maybe by watching and not doing anything My lack of action was just as bad as what they had done.
“When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:
It’s that simple.”
–Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I have no idea what the answer is. Listening to my little boy broke my heart, and I desperately wish I had an answer. But the more the story brewed in my mind, I did have a few thoughts. Maybe we can still change the tides of bullying. It’s worth a shot.
- How do we talk about others in front of our children? They listen even when we don’t think they are.
- Do we show them courage by standing up to others who rip those less fortunate (or more, jealousy is a strong emotion) down with gossip?
- Do we actively encourage our kids to treat others with kindness and respect? And do we show them every day how that looks in our interactions with friends, family and strangers alike?
- Do we happily serve others and encourage our kids to do the same?
- Do we encourage our children to play with others who are different from them and encourage them to include those who aren’t being included?
I’m only a mom to small children. I know the teenage years will prove to be much more difficult in these regards. But maybe if we start now. Maybe if we try to teach them while they’re young, it will stick. And maybe it won’t, but it’s worth a shot.
Looking back, I struggled with situations like these, not so much because of the girls who thought others were less than them, but because the adults around us didn’t seem to notice or care. In some ways it was even encouraged, without them knowing, of course. It was discouraging as a kid, and now as an adult I continue to watch it from this side of life. A bully doesn’t always attack with fists. In a majority of situations, bullies attack with word and deed. And they hurt. These predators are often charming, charismatic, lovable, pretty or handsome, seem to be well-liked, athletic, and smart. But what they do to classmates “less” than them is devastating. If we as adults joke around with them, put them on a pedestal and treat them as if they were high and mighty, try to be their friend, and laugh at their seemingly harmless jokes, the cycle will continue. Do we really want that?
We don’t have to be mean. We don’t have to stop treating them with respect and kindness. But let’s try to be more watchful. Let’s try to bring those up that otherwise might find themselves down. We must be conscientious of how we treat all children, charming, funny, cute…or not.
I wish I knew the answers. I wish I could go back and stand up for others instead of idly standing by. I wish I could change unkind words I have said in the past to and about others. I wish I could protect my son from those boys and girls that don’t want to be his friend and who don’t want to be kind. I wish so many things, but for now I will hope that we can encourage our children and do better ourselves. Let’s stop the bullying, no matter how old we happen to be.
A great 10 minute video. Definitely worth the watch!
Bullying–Stop It by Dieter F. Uchtdorf
And here’s just the talk:
The Merciful Obtain Mercy
Oh, it’s so horrible when children have their innocence used against them by bullying. I really really hate that for them. This is a subject close to my heart believe me you. And your ideas are right, but the problem generally isn’t with the kids who have parents that would teach them to “play nice and be nice” but instead with the ones that don’t have those kind of parents. And therein lies the real problem I think…..how can we counteract the breakdown of the “American” (or “nuclear”) family? How can we teach our kids to go out of their way to try and fill a void that never should’ve been there in another child when our psychologists can’t even seem to do that? It’s such a huge problem and I think the schools really are trying to react when things are reported, but the problem with that is, it’s starting with small things like this (i.e. non-physical) that will only escalate down the line. It really is quite an issue and we all need to find a way to make a difference in it no matter how small….that one small thing could be the difference between a kid going off the deep end or not.
Oh, I agree so much. The breakdown of the nuclear family is scary to say the least. And you’re right, it’s not necessarily families who make a conscious effort. A friend of mine commented on this post on Facebook and wrote about the pain she went through in high school. She said, “…I was not the witness nor the bully. I was the one being ripped to shreds and feeling absolutely devastated. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I was doing wrong or what was wrong with me. As parents, let’s be sure to tell our children that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.” Maybe if we start there, help ALL kids know that they have potential and are loved. Especially those that don’t have a family that will tell them. I was shocked to hear my friend say that because she is without question one of the most talented women I have ever met. You’re completely right, something must be done, no matter how small it seems! Thank you, thank you for sharing your wisdom!
This is a very good place to start and I wholeheartedly agree! One other thing I also try and do with my son is to give him the “long” view as opposed to just what’s in his face right now…(i.e. Once you’re out of high school…. or, In the real world after middle school…) Luckily, for him, he’s in a good high school and hasn’t been subjected to these issues here. But I’m especially sensitive to bullying and the like because of what he went through in middle school. It’s a tough thing to make your kids strong from the inside out and it’s a very long process. I don’t actually know that it ever ends….bullies still upset me! 🙂 But yes, even baby steps are steps in the right direction….and all babies do learn to run someday!
As I read this, I was trying to figure out who all the characters might be, and I can’t even remember who Mr. M is! I’m going to have to pull out a yearbook now 🙂 All light-heartedness aside, I actually had a conversation with my good friend last week about this very topic–how I wish I could go back and change some of the things I did (and didn’t do by standing aside and not speaking up for someone else) and how I hope I can teach my daughter to be a better kid than I was. I sure hope I raise her to be secure enough to not only stand up for herself but to stand up for others as well.
I actually had the opportunity as an adult to apologize to someone from elementary school. He was tall, awkward, and didn’t dress well and was the target of some pretty bad bullying. I’m ashamed to admit that I participated in that bullying on occasion. I don’t know if it made a difference, me apologizing fifteen years later, because I never saw him again. I really hope it did, though.
I try hard to not write bad things about people (except maybe my ridiculous blunders), so I really, really debated on putting this post up. After I posted it I felt like such a hypocrite the rest of the day remembering all the horrible things I wish I could go back and change. I suppose everyone has their regrets. I hope my kids are better than I was too!
And good for you for apologizing! I think it takes so much courage and selflessness to tell someone you’re sorry. I was wondering after writing this if I would have the guts to apologize to others now for things I did (or didn’t do) in the past. I have a hard enough time admitting I’m wrong and saying “I’m sorry” to my husband! 🙂 I really admire your bravery, Alex!
Oh what a heartbreaking story. How my heart brakes for kids in his shoes everyday. I really like your ideas of how we as parents can help prevent it from happening to and around us. I cannot imagine how you must want to shield your sweet boy from all the pain of this world. I feel the same. However, your approach to it is to be admired and I am truly inspired as well.
Parenting pulls at your heart strings in so many ways, and this one is especially hard for me. If only we could protect them from all the bad out there, but I know we can’t. A friend posted a comment on my link on Facebook that said:
“…I was not the witness nor the bully. I was the one being ripped to shreds and feeling absolutely devastated. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I was doing wrong or what was wrong with me. As parents, let’s be sure to tell our children that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.”
Just helping them see their potential and know they are loved beyond words might be the most important thing we can do, and maybe sharing that love with all those kids that walk through our doors, like you said in your post on domestic violence. If only those being bullied (and the bullies for that matter) could see their potential! My friend is unquestionably one of the most incredibly talented women I have ever known, and the thought that they couldn’t see that, and she might have questioned that, breaks my heart. Sorry for such a long response! Guess I’ve been thinking about it too much tonight. Thank you for your comment, Sasha!
Oh, I am so sorry for your boy. I dread the day when my little boy is treated poorly or has his feelings hurt. I feel the mama bear in me will want to make things better immediately. I so admire what you said. I really do think that as parents we influence the way our children view others. It made me contemplate how I treat people. I also love that quote by Uchtdorf. The best thing we can do is to simply stop a hurtful habit and decide to never revert back to it again. Great post!! 🙂
Thanks, Marla! My younger boys and I try to go and have lunch with him once a week in the cafeteria and I caught myself watching the boy out of the corner of my eye several times…yes, that mamma bear was hard to suppress! They played soccer at recess on the same team today and that seems to have fixed it. Guess I should remember things tend to blow over fast in first grade. 🙂 I’ve been trying to watch my attitude and things I say in front of my boys lately, and it does seem to be making a difference for all of us! These bad habits…I should apply your weeds and flowers analogy to this too I suppose! 🙂
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