Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Some Thoughts on Bullying

When we were kids, my brother and I were often bullied by other kids. We were always the new kids, and as such were teased and tormented by our peers. That was just the way it was back then, and while we fought like cats and dogs with each other, when you picked on one of us, you had to contend with both of us. Family sticks together, especially when you're an Army brat who moves often. We sometimes had to physically fight, but most of the time we just had to deal with exclusion, ignoring, teasing, or other events that were just as harmful. For instance, some boys buried my brother in a box in the back yard of the apartment building in which we lived; he went along with it because he wanted them to like him. In my own case, a group of girls knocked me down one day when I was wearing a dress and gave me a wedgie.

We were visiting my brother's house a few weeks ago, which seems to be the place for everyone to meet. Zane was having a blast, running around, playing in the back yard, etc. Being a happy three year old. He decided that he wanted to go upstairs and find his cousin Tristan. I followed Zane up the stairs several steps behind to make sure that he got up there okay; while I was on the stairs, I could hear voices talking and laughing. The second Zane got to the top of the stairs, there was dead silence. That got my attention; silence is not a normal occurrence at my brother's house. I had to investigate.

It took me a second to realize that MY child was being specifically excluded from this particular gathering. These kids didn't want to play with my son, but rather than tell him that in some form or fashion, they were excluding him by pretending to be asleep. That exclusion, if it happened at school, would have been called indirect bullying. I was angry, hurt, and horrified to realize that my son was experiencing bullying at three years of age. I never expected that someone would be deliberately cruel to my child, but there it was, a big, stinking pile of it. I was so horrified/angry that I was shaking. It was as if I was reliving all those moments years ago when I was excluded as the "weird" kid. And I felt helpless. After all the things I try to do to protect my child, it didn't mean a damn thing.

Once I calmed down, I started thinking. Tristan is your average, garden-variety teenager. He is a good person. He's generally polite, if monosyllabic around adults. Tristan has spent hours playing with Zane, teaching him how to play soccer. He doesn't get into trouble for anything except forgetting his chores and forgetting his homework. Yet here Tristan is, engaging in bullying. Bullying behavior seems to be pervasive.

Our new kitten has a habit of attacking our ankles and legs when we walk past her, and I have lots of little cuts and scratches on my legs as a result. My husband and I joke about a "death by a thousand cuts" from her attacks. Bullying is like that, I think. Death by a thousand cuts--a thousand moments of teasing, exclusions, and threats. A person dies a little every time they are bullied--if they can't defend themselves against it. I am not talking about violence, I am talking about resilience. Being able to pick yourself up off the ground, dust yourself off, and go on about your day and not letting the bullying emotionally beat you down. We seem to be focusing so much on the bullying itself that we aren't working on the very survival skills a kid needs to handle being bullied. I wish that wasn't so. The fact of the matter is that we as parents cannot be there every single second of the day to shelter and protect our children; they need to be able to handle this on their own. And we have our own bullies to deal with, be it our boss, a coworker, a parent, or that police officer who pulled us over for a bad brakelight this morning. It is in watching us that our children learn the most about what they will face as adults. How do they see us dealing with the bullies in our life?

My brother and I survived the bullying over the years because we were smart and, more importantly, resilient. I personally made a decision to never to define myself as a victim, and I began to shrug those feelings off like an old coat that no longer fit. That does not mean that I don't remember what it was like to be bullied; it means that I can handle being bullied. And make no mistake--bullying behavior happens everywhere, every day, every place. You can let it get to you, or you can let it roll off of you like water, right into the gutter where it belongs. That's what I want to teach my son.

Oh, and those girls in fifth grade who gave me a wedgie? I got up, walked about ten feet away from them, and smiled as sweetly as I could through my tears. Then I mooned them. And ran as fast as I could, laughing, all the way home.


  1. I'm not sure I agree that what happened is really bullying. Kids shouldn't have to play with other kids if they don't want to, I've always hated the whole "forced sharing" thing that parents do to kids, at least around here. Maybe he could have handled it better, but I don't know how old he is, but if he doesn't want to play with his cousin it doesn't make him a bully. In my opinion.

    And, I was bullied in 8th grade; pretty badly, actually. I'm absolutely terrified of it happening to Jake, and I'm sure it will.

  2. That was my point--bullying is going to happen as some point, so shouldn't we be working on teaching kids like Jake how to deal with it now?

    And for the record, I wouldn't have called what Tristan did bullying, either, but all the literature calls it indirect bullying. Girls mostly do it, because we are evil like that.

  3. Girls are so evil. I am so glad I have boys.

  4. I just found your blog and I am now following you. I remember the first time I saw kids being mean to my son. It broke my heart. We were on the playground and Zachary who was 4 at the time went up to two older boys (probably around 6) and asked them to play. They ran away from him. Bless Zachary, he didn't get that they were being mean to him. He thought that they were playing a chasing game. I realized how much confidance he has, it never even occured to him that kids wouldn't want to play with him. Sadly I see him slowly losing that innocence...

  5. Hi, new follower here... Very good post. Very true also. I was bullied & was a bully. Not fun. And while I was a bully at one point - I was not happy. I am glad we are more aware of bullying these days. I have had to deal with it a little bit with my kids, but it has always passed before becoming a big issue.

    I wanted to let you know, I have 2 giveaways going on if you're interested: We Don't Have It All Together


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