Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Bullies

It is turning out to be a turbulent year for my kids. I must have gone through my childhood in a rose-colored bubble, because I have few distinct memories of bullying. I remember my brother coming home with bloody noses from grade school, I remember an overweight girl getting teased and other teasing because of glasses or braces or whatever. I am sure bullying existed close to me, but I don't remember. I was never a target, nor do I remember being a passive participant.

Now, as a parent, I am thrown into situations for which I have no reference point. My son was teased and "messed with" in 4th grade. He didn't want adult help, just a sounding board. It never went far enough to be "actionable". He has told me about the way the school covers bullying and the videos and lessons presented yearly. He has also told me about things he witnessed and we discussed how he could remove himself or distract the focus. All from a distance ... not close to home ... not hurting my child.

A child has had problems with a bully in school this year. This boy acts as his friend, and then hits his head against the wall when adults aren't looking. Not all of the abuse is physical, but all of it is emotional. He doesn't want his "friend" to get in trouble, so he doesn't speak up. I am also discovering more about his school personality and bothers me. He is an easy target because he really wants to be friends with everyone. He will do things that kids tell him to do, even if he is uncomfortable. The school says he needs to be more assertive, but I just want to bring him home and not let him get hurt. I never thought I would say that home schooling had advantages!

My latest education involves a Girl Scout troop. This group has been together since Kindergarten. Some girls joined in later years, and one just joined this year. There are 11 girls in the troop, and they have achieved much and made the parents proud. Until this weekend. There was a sleepover that involved a group of girls who are all members of the troop. They made prank calls and sent hurtful messages to another troop member. Some of the girls say they didn't know that it had gone too far. They are telling their other friends that it was just a joke and they didn't mean it. They are defending themselves by pleading ignorance.

The girl who was targeted is not popular. The girl who was targeted did nothing to instigate this. The girl who was targeted has been a target by others before. The girls who did this knew all this. They have all been part of this group for years. Why now? Why these girls? What went wrong? I am torn between wanting to know who instigated the abuse so I can take action, and not wanting to know so I can look all of them in the face. The Girl Scout Council advised the leader that the abusive girls need scouts as much (if not more) as the targeted girl. I am not in a place yet where I can accept that. I want them to have to pay in some way for this breech of trust. They have ripped apart the group in a way that I don't think can be mended. One night of "fun" has left anger and hurt that will be scars for a long time.

I am more understanding of the individual boy who bullies in school. I can say ... he is troubled. I can say ... he is taking out his aggression and emotions in an inappropriate way and he can be helped. I can also say to the school separate these boys and protect the victim.

The girls though ... how do we protect our girls? How do we help them navigate this new world? Friends are punished for abusing another friend. A group that was a haven from the stress and emotional rollercoaster at school has been torn apart.

Any why? How did it happen? How could it have been avoided? I am searching my memories for clues that warned of this. I am looking for connections that weren't there before. I am coming up empty. There were small things, insignificant things, really nothing. Did I not notice? Were there warning signs I should have seen? How did this happen? Why these girls? What went wrong?

The girls who were not involved will need help through this. I don't know that I could continue to lead this group. I wouldn't want to have anything to do with the abusers and the abused has withdrawn. What is left of the haven the leader was trying to provide? I remember my years in Girl Scouts as a child. I have seen the high school girls in our town who stuck with scouts, they are strong, they are poised, they believe in themselves. I want my daughters to grow up with high self esteem. I want to give them a foundation that will permit them to hold their heads high and speak up for what is right. I want them to have the strength to make the right choices, even when they are the hard choices. I want them to be able to say NO and not apologize. I want this for other girls too. I want them to have a place where they can just be. Where no one will make fun of them for singing badly or trying something new. One night of "fun" can rip this apart.

How do we recover? How do we move on? How do I teach my children assertiveness? The victim says "he didn't mean it and he's still my friend". The witness says "they were just joking and they said they were sorry". While I didn't deal with bullies in my childhood, they are haunting my life now. This is becoming the biggest challenge I have faced in parentlng. My bullies -- my children -- my challenge.


  1. Margaret - my kids' school gave a parent the same advice - "your child should be more assertive". This however doesn't line up with the stated "Zero tolerance" policy we got in writing from the school district. The parent pushed back, and now has put that child in a private school, and may or may not re-enroll in high school. Most states have laws that require school districts to take action, but you have to weigh it against so many other factors. Tough call.

  2. Hi Margaret!
    Tough issue, bullying. So many factors with each kid having a different take.
    My sister always counseled me - and I found it to be the best advice - that the best advocate for any child is their parent.
    If that parent isn't capable or willing, the next best is the group don't leave the group - look every kid in the eye and let them know how this hurting isn't only to the girl they called, but to their own selves, too. You can't impact everyone, but maybe a few...and that's important.