On Bullying

Bullying is quickly becoming a hot topic every where you look. Chances are, you or someone you love has had a run in with someone who definitely did not have your best interests at heart. And though bullying is on everyone’s radar, I am still surprised at how bullying is dealt with.

Check these articles out for a deeper discussion on bullying: 

We’ve had our fair share of run ins with the “b-word”. One of my boys is a magnet for such behavior directed towards him. And since I have spent many hours speaking with the school authorities about each situation that arises, I am certain that, while he certainly has a part to play, he is not usually the instigator.

And perhaps I should take this opportunity to let you know that I do not believe my children walk on water. I will be the first person to tell you that before they are saints, they are sinners. For all of their faults, I still love them, and will forever be a mother bear in their corner when it comes to someone else choosing the wrong. But I will always, always, be there to correct their behavior when it comes to someone else’s right.

So what surprises me the most about bullying in the schools?

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I mean, I’ve stated that my children are often guilty of bullish behavior. So, is it fair for me to have a voice?

PUT ADULTS BACK IN CHARGE

Yes, I believe it is, because as adults, we are responsible for directing the rising generation through the game of life. How we engage with our children, and other children, when the rocks hit the fan is how they will learn to negotiate conflict in their own future.

When I have engaged with the school in a dialogue about bullying, I find that I am not at liberty to know who the other child is. Alright, I respect the right to privacy, true, but one of the things that deterred me from attempting stupid behavior twice was facing an adult.

Every time.

Every time I had to face the offended adult, I was immediately aware of how ridiculous and juvenile me actions had been.

Even if the adult was just accompanying the kid I had offended, remorse was immediate.

When kids don’t have to face up to adults, they begin to believe that adults don’t exist, and that their behavior isn’t really wrong.

I’ve observed this in my own neighborhood often.

I will call my kids out for acting like hooligans because I am there to see them. When the other kids act like hooligans and their parents aren’t there to call them out, they just continue on as if their behavior is acceptable.

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But, the caveat–they have seen my children be disciplined for the same behavior, and now believe that only my children are in the wrong. Then, the neighborhood kids take it upon themselves to serve my kids threats and warnings just as if they were a parent, instead of kids.

I cottoned on to that pretty quick.

At first, I felt a little guilty directing someone else’s child away from disciplining my kids. But after a while, I realized that no other parents were stepping in, and a wonderful learning opportunity was going to waste.

I don’t feel guilty anymore.

I am not rude to the kids, I just let them know that my responsibility is to be a parent, and their responsibility is to be a friend first.

SCREEN TIME

And that leads me to my second argument.

What is with all this screen time?

The more time kids spend with their eyes glued to a screen, is less time that they learn to socialize.

Staring at a screen, and interacting with an app or a video game teaches kids to expect instantaneous results. And not just instant results, results that are always agreeable. If the results are not agreeable, the kid is likely to delete the app, start again, or comment below.

When interacting face to face, there needs to be a give and take. A give and take, because not everyone is created using the same programming. Our brains all work differently, and our experiences give us all a unique world view.

The word desensitized is often used to refer to violence or language or pornography, but how about we apply it to human interaction.

Our children become desensitized to social interaction when they no longer rely on social interaction for primary entertainment.

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By entertainment, I don’t just mean having fun. I mean anything that we now use our phones or tablets towards engagement.

Maybe I should have said engagement first…hmmmm.

But think about it, seriously.

We used to be bursting to share the news with our friends at school the next day, and now, we share it through text seconds after it happens. What’s left to talk about at school?

When kids get bored, and have nothing to engage over, that’s when trouble starts. Their brains start looking for something to amp up the adrenaline.

And perhaps the perfect thing to amp up the adrenaline is GollyJess and her ugly brown shoes…

Studies on ADD show that the children with ADD are more likely to give themselves a buzz by engaging in negative behavior because it is easier to accomplish, and it gets everyone involved. Then the child can sit back and watch the show.

I believe the concept is similar here.

Before lone, a chemical and electronic rush is zinging through the school as a simple text spreads the news.

Behind a cell phone keyboard, and without little adult supervision, kids are engaging with html codes and computer apps more than they are engaging face to face, no longer witnessing the destruction of their actions.

LEADING BY EXAMPLE

And now I find myself at my next point–adult supervision.

Supervising kids of all ages is no one’s idea of fun. I can think of a million other things I would rather be doing than being bombarded with all the chaos a group of kids can bring.

Let’s just not, and say we did, okay?!

But the thing is, adults do need to be there.

We don’t need to be hovering a helicopter’s distance away and critiquing everything and everyone, but we need to be present.

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And honest.

We need to be honest with our kids, and with ourselves.

We need to be brave enough to admit that perhaps our kids really can be devious little brats sometimes.

And when the time comes to face up to this truth, we need to be willing to accept that truth and move forward.

One of my sons came home from school in hot tears over an episode at school. When I found out the nature of this interchange between kids he thought were his friends, I was…well…to quote a favorite movie:

flames…flames were shooting out of my eyes…”

I couldn’t speak, I was shaking, and I was raving for blood.

I slammed into my car, and raced over to the school. I can only say that the administrative staff was lucky that they were safe in their cars on their way home from school.

It would have gone down. Down to China Town.

Thankfully, I had some time to recover. And I had a friend who was a teacher at that school and she was able to discover who the culprits were.

And I was not shocked at all to find out who one of the kids was that had been involved. Since I knew the boy’s  mother, I called her and asked her if she knew what her son had been involved in that day. She said that, while her son had participated in the event, he had not actually physically been involved, and therefore she found nothing wrong with his involvement. I asked her if she had anything else to say, and she responded that no, she did not.

Blown away, I hung up.

Well…well….

My only thought was:

“I guess I know why your child is the way that he is.”

This wasn’t the first time that my son had negative interactions with him. And my husband and I had witnessed some of these interactions when we had been at the school over the years. We always told our son that he needed to give the benefit of the doubt, but after this episode, and subsequent interaction with his parent, we decided that there was nothing more to be done.

Just stay away from the kid. Nothing will ever change.

It is very hard to admit that something is wrong with someone you hold so dear.

I’ve had to do it myself–march my kid up to the altar, and offer him up as a sacrifice to human decency and respect for others.

To this day, I see that same mom at the school, and she has never offered a word of apology, and turns from me when I see her.

This past weekend, the same son was involved with another incident at school. However, this time, I received a call from the Vice Principal instead.

She told me that my boy had not done anything that he shouldn’t have, but that another boy had flipped his lid and acted way out-of-bounds. In fact, it was all there on video camera if I wanted to see it.

Again, I found myself stark raving mad. What is it about this kid that draws this kind of attention? What have I been doing wrong as a parent? Am I not teaching him how to manage conflict appropriately? Ran the thoughts through my head.

When my son returned home, I asked him about the situation. He seemed to shrug it off, and said that was just the way this particular boy was. When I asked who the boy was, I was stunned to find out that it was another boy that we knew, and well. In fact, he just lived around the corner.

With the luck I had last time discussing such issues with a parent, I was uncertain as to what I should do. But I thought to myself, “GollyJess, this is your son, and you are going to do your best to set an example, even if it kills you, and him.”

I’ve read the literature-sometimes it is a fatal mistake for parents to step in.

But I’ve also recognized that children aren’t fully ready to accept the responsibility of navigating social waters for themselves, especially if we don’t show them how.

So there it was, we went for a walk. Him kicking and screaming, embarrassed to the max, and me, shaking with repressed anger.

I admit I was ready to tear their house down.

But that was before I saw the shock on the parents’ faces.

They had owned their honesty. They were ready to sacrifice their boy on the altar of human decency and respect for others.

We all had a good long talk. My son and the boy went aside together, without any adults, and discussed how they could be better friends and supports to one another. They agreed to forgive and move forward as comrades.

My son and I told their family that we had forgotten the incident, and that we looked forward to seeing this boy again in the neighborhood when his parents finally decided that he could leave the house.

There were lots of tears.

As we walked back home, I thought long and hard about the first mom. And the first boy.

I thought about the lost opportunity to build up something that was more than pixels on a screen, or Facebook posts, or popular shoes. Something real, that would last beyond groundings, or occasional disagreements.

A friendship, one based on understanding that not everyone is the same, and a whole lot of hard work.

How many lost opportunities are there that pass by us each day that could solve the division that is rampant in our culture today?

It’s honesty that is going to save us, not twitter posts and Instagram likes.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?

As an adult, there is a lot that we can do.

We can start today to talk to our kids about acceptance.

About including others that don’t seem to fit in.

My son that has a hard time at school has no problem making friends everywhere else. He is a boy who excels at sports, art, reading, understanding, music, cooking, history, sheer determination, and clever wit. He is not a boy that is categorized by one factor, such as–jock, nerd, geek, or drama club.

Many articles I have read declare that kids without categories are the kids that get singled out as outcasts.

Help your children figure out how to include others in their groups.

All it takes, another article said, is one person to stand up and include a bullied child to end the cycle of bullying.

One. Child.

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That’s it.

What if that one child was yours.

Your child that stood strong, in between David and Goliath.

Ask your kids each day what happened at school. And don’t be afraid to make other adults at the school aware of situations that put your own ruff up.

Now is not the time to hand the reins over to our kids.

Now is the time to hold on and teach them how to ride.

Not to ride for them, and hover, waiting for mistakes.

But to hold them to it, for honesty’s sake. And to sacrifice them on the altar of human decency and respect for others.

If you are like me, and wonder about the future of our nation for our children’s sake, stop wondering.

Stop wondering how it’s all going to turn out for the better, and start making it better.

Start by having the hard talks.

The “come to Jesus” talks with your kids, and the same for yourself.

Our world can be a better place, if we arm our kids with the skills to engage with their fellows, and not so much with their electronic devices. It takes an effort to build something strong, something that fights back and demands attention.

And that’s what people do.

As parents, our job is to prepare our kids to be builders of the nation, and of each other, but they can’t do that if they hide behind a screen, and our own insecurities, and never get the chance to learn how to build.

That is my challenge to you, my fellow readers.

Teach your kids to build, and be prepared to sacrifice them on the altar of human decency and respect. Because it matters now, and it will matter for all of our future.

 

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