The Bully

My doorbell rang when I was upstairs cleaning up. Both of my kids were outside playing with friends. I sighed, irritated already because the doorbell rings all the time whenever I’m at home, neighbor kids constantly wanting to hang out here or see if my kids can play outside. I suppose I can have worse problems, like previous summers when the kids had no one to play with and were stuck inside bored. But not this summer. This summer, all the neighbor kids came out of the woodworks and my kids suddenly were more popular than ever.

I put down what I was doing and went downstairs to open the door.

“The Taz was hurt,” my son’s best friend said. My attention was caught. “One of the kids hit him and he’s crying.”

“Who did it?” I asked.

“Trevor*.”

I knew the kid. He’s the biggest kid in the complex. I had seen him before, swearing up a storm at the basketball hoops, picking on little kids by stealing their toys and shoving them aside. A previous incident had happened when Trevor had stolen my kid’s skateboard. The Taz managed to get the skateboard back and run all the way home. As he ran, Trevor yelled out, “Faggot”, a word the Taz had never heard before. The Taz had asked me what it meant, and I explained it to him, and said it was a mean word I never wanted him to use. And I warned the Taz and his friend that I didn’t want them to play at the basketball court when Trevor was there because I did not want them to get involved in a fight that was way bigger than they could handle.

Truth is, while I wanted to keep him safe, I also did not want to be faced with having to handle the aftermath with this boy. Trevor was not only larger than the Taz, he was larger than me. Seeing how he was with the other kids intimidated me. Could I handle this giant of a boy if he put his hands on my son? I didn’t know. I was afraid that if I stepped in, I would be the one to receive the brunt of his anger. And I was also afraid of the revenge he would place on my son for involving his mother.

But then we were at this moment when my son’s friend was on our porch, the Taz had been hurt, and I had to decide how to handle the situation. It all sounds like it was a calm enough interaction, a moment in time when I had to process the facts and make a decision. The thing is, from the moment I heard that my son had been hit by a kid three times bigger than him all reasoning had gone out the window. I was fuming mad. I was seeing red. And I wanted to take this kid’s head and twist it till it popped off his shoulders like a grape. He wanted to touch my kid? He was about to find out what it was like to deal with an angry mother protective of her son.

I grabbed my shoes and headed out the door. My son was coming up the walk with his sister securely at his side. It’s funny, the two kids can’t stand each other under normal circumstances. But if either one of them is threatened, the other is right there to protect them. And this time was no different. The look of concern on my daughter’s face was evident, and she asked me what I was going to do.

“I’m going to go talk to him,” I said through clenched teeth. “Come on Taz, come with me.” His face turned to terror.

“No Mom, please, don’t make me go!” he cried. But I insisted and kept walking. He kept back about 10 feet, but followed me still. I knew he was scared. And I knew that the most comfortable thing for him would be to go in the house and hide. But I wanted him there so Trevor could tell his side of the story and not alter it because no one would hold him accountable.

Trevor sat on the bench at the basketball courts. Kids were all around him, and he looked up at me with surprise. And even through my anger, I suddenly got a glimpse of just how young he was. He was still scared of dealing with parents, and his alarm by my presence was evident.

“Trevor,” I said firmly.

“Yes?” he asked.

“Where are your parents?”

“They’re at home, over that way.” And he got up and led me to his parents’ house. I could feel every kid’s eyes on us, following us all the way to Trevor’s family’s house. Several of the kids followed, and I heard whispers that they could serve as witnesses. It was reminiscent of a mob scene, the only thing missing were the burning torches. But the mob must have disbanded somewhere along the way. When we got to the house, no one stood with us.

Trevor had beaten us to the house, and was coming out with his parents. Both of his parents were noticeably rougher than me. I won’t bore you with the details, but they were definitely of a different crowd. Yet they were polite to me and asked what had happened. Before I could talk, though, Trevor heatedly told his side of the story, complete with several “F” bombs that his father eventually corrected him on. I stopped him midsentence as I saw that he was twisting everything and becoming more and more agitated.

“Trevor, calm down,” I said, repeating it several times before he finally stopped. At this point I had stopped seeing red, and realized that I needed to just get to the bottom of the altercation so that we could diffuse the situation. “I just want to hear both of your sides to the story.”

Trevor told his side, and then the Taz told his. The short version of the story was that the Taz had laughed at him for a mistake that had happened, and Trevor had retaliated in anger by hucking the ball at him in a very private area.

“Taz, look at Trevor. See how big he is? First of all, you never make fun of anyone. But you definitely do not start anything with kids that are bigger than you.” The Taz sniffed and nodded. “Trevor, how old are you?”

“He’s 12,” his parents answered. Oh wow. 12? The kid looked to be about 15! He could have easily tried out for high school football with his size!

“Well, Trevor, the Taz is 8. I don’t care if a kid is making you mad, you do not pick on them, especially if you are older and much bigger. If you are having a problem with my son, you go to your parents, or you come to me. Do you understand?” Trevor nodded. “And do you understand?” I asked the Taz. He tearfully said yes.

His parents thanked me for involving them instead of just dealing with him on his own. I had the feeling that any confrontation towards Trevor was not new, but involving his parents was not the norm. I don’t know how I got the idea to talk to his parents. On my way over to the basketball courts, I was ready to lay into him, and felt the urge to hurt him 10 times worse than he had hurt my son. But instinct took over and I found myself demanding to see his parents. I wanted them to know what their son had been up to, how he acts when they’re not around to supervise his behavior. And I wanted him to tell the real story of what was going on instead of trying to lie his way out of a hole.

And maybe I wanted protection too…..

I was also learning.  Just like the kid from camp, it was better to not focus too much on the result of the situation, but to try and get to the root of it and fix that.  When I replayed the event in my head later in the evening, I thought about how this situation could be changed for the better.  Here was this kid who was headed down a slippery slope with how he was interacting with others.  What if he had positive interactions?  It gave me something to think about for the future……

But for my kid?  I’m at a loss.  No one wants their kid to grab the attention of a bully.  Of course he should stay away from bullies, and he shouldn’t do anything to antagonize them.  But sometimes no prompting is needed for a bully to pick their victim.  I never thought of my son as a target, yet I wonder what I can do to give him the tools to be assertive enough to stand his ground and not seem like easy prey.  Parentingteens.com recommends teaching your child to say NO with authority, and to not give in to a bully.  “Giving up possessions or giving into a bully in anyway encourages the bully to continue”, the site says.  But my question is, what happens afterwards when the bully decides to beat the kid up for not giving them what they want?  It’s a Catch-22.

For now, I think I’ll stand by my decision that when Trevor is at the basketball hoops, the Taz is not.

*Trevor’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

Do you have a bully situation on your hands?  How have you dealt with it?

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4 thoughts on “The Bully”

  1. During the second half of my eighth-grade year, my mother decided to go back to college at Humboldt State. She enrolled me in Sunny Brea Middle School, on the fly, because she thought it was a good school and it was in our district. Long story short, I was picked on, relentlessly. I was from Laytonville, a small town with a small school district. Suddenly I was in a bigger school, with bigger kids, and the “tests” they administered…well, I failed them. I didn’t understand what was required of me. As a hippie kid who was raised by a pacifist, I was taught NOT to fight. So I didn’t.

    One of the kids who picked on me was a boy named *Tony*. His favorite thing to do was show up for gym and locate me. When he did, he would -because he was a judo student- drop me on the mat, just to hear the wind come out of me. Whenever he had the chance, he took a shot. I was an easy target. He was bigger, outweighed me by about fifteen pounds, and also maintained a flawless rep with all the teachers. He was like a cross between Bluto and Eddie from “Leave it to Beaver” all smiles when the teach was looking, venom and kidney punches when they weren’t.

    One day, he and I met up out of school, by chance, and it was like that world suddenly didn’t exist. We sat together on the bleachers by the football field and got high and I asked him “why do you pick on me?” He said, because you won’t fight back. You wouldn’t fight in middle school, you won’t fight now. Until you fight, everyone will pick on you. And the next day, it was as if our exchange never took place. Tony was back to treating me like dirt. It was up to me to change it. I never did. I switched schools a year later, so I didn’t have to. Other kids aren’t so lucky. My son is a purple belt in Karate. He’s taught not to fight unless he’s given no other choice. While I applaud the way you handled this bully, it seems unlikely to me that the exchange will protect your son. Quite frankly, *Trevor* may hunt him now.

    Confronting bullies in this day and age is far trickier than when we were young. The attitudes are sharper, the available weapons far too lethal for such trivial matters. But in the end bullies must be faced down. I doubt the parents of this boy will be able to change him, since I suspect that home life is likely a source of his anger and need to lash out. I don’t know what’s best for your son, only what happened to me, and I know that I wish today I HAD fought, if only to show the bullies that they don’t always win, that no one should have to live in fear. Good luck to you.

  2. The only real ‘fight’ I was ever in was in 8th grade.
    I was going to school in a small town in Oregon, it was my first year there and I was even less of a popular kid than I had been back at my old school where I had friends I’d grown up with.
    One day, for apparently no reason, a girl that I had considered a friend — not a close friend, but still a friend — started picking on me. That day it seemed that I couldn’t turn around without finding her there, waiting to antagonize me. Some of it was verbal, and some was more physical and she got other friends of hers to join in ridiculing me, for no apparent reason.
    I did fight back a little — when she hit me in the back of the head with a book I stabbed her in the arm with a pencil…I don’t want to portray myself as an innocent little angel that did nothing wrong in the situation, but heck– I was 13! 14? Whatever.
    Anyway, the day culminated in her finding me by the lockers after school, a little shoving and her punching me in the face. I ran off towards the busses crying and got a black eye, still not knowing why she was picking on me.
    I found out at the inevitable parent/principle meeting.
    I had hurt her feelings in a class we shared but implying that I didn’t want her in my (already full) group for the project we were working on. She picked on ME because she felt like I had slighted her — and I hadn’t even known it was a big deal–it hadn’t been to me.

    Now, of course, not every bully situation is like this — some kids are just jerks. It happens. Others have a lot of anger that they don’t know how to deal with due to situations in their lives. I don’t really know where I’m going with this…I guess I just wanted to say something about the fact that, especially during adolescence and teen years when they are getting all filled up with weird chemicals and weird feelings and weird hair, a some young adults will lash out at others (often because they were’t taught not to at home) but it’s because they are upset by stuff in their own lives and don’t know how to deal.

    I do think that suggesting your son stay away from ‘Trevor’ is a good choice, as Trevor seems not to have a good hold on his anger issues…but from what you described, I don’t think that Trevor is necessarily a BAD kid either, and maybe he’ll get lucky and grow up into someone really awesome.

  3. Being the eldest of 10, and having worked with kids a lot (not having any–by choice) I would like to suggest something. It may not feel like the right thing to do but I’ll bet it just might work.

    Taking a batch of cupcakes out to the basketball court some afternoon with your little ones may put a period at the end of the sentence….Part of the issue is the not knowing when it will happen again—and in Trevor’s case–looking good to his buddies. So many kids these days don’t have enough supervision, attention, love –whatever. When a group of kids come together over “goodies” and sit around enjoying them they can begin to shift the focus…if nothing else all of the other kids will see your attempt and appreciate it…your two will have a community of support and I’ll bet Trevor will be among them. I think you might have his respect and your children will see that by taking the high road it just feels better.
    I don’t suggest this will work in every case–but I have a feeling….
    Good Luck.

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