Loving the Bully, part 2

Follow up from Loving the Bully, part 1

We live in an area where bullies are a part of day to day life. There are kids who have families that are not exactly on the right side of the tracks, and who are destined to go down the same road. Except, in this day and age, that road is a lot rougher. A mom wrote me today regarding an article I wrote about bullying, and relayed her own story of her son being bullied. When the school wouldn’t do anything, her husband finally went down and let the bully know in no uncertain terms that if he bullied his son again, the bully would be dealing with him, the dad, in the same sort of manner. This was years ago, of course. Nowadays something like that could never happen without legal repercussions resulting. But how many of us parents have been tempted to knock the block off of the overgrown kid that is tormenting our child?

As you remember, my son has also been the victim of a bullying situation. Basically, there was a 12 year old kid, “Trevor”, who was as big as a linebacker and picking on all the other kids who like to play basketball in our apartment complex. My kid happened to get in Trevor’s way, and the kid pushed my kid around. I found out when the neighbor kid came running breathlessly to my door to let me know that the Taz had been hurt. The Mama Bear in me came out, and I wanted to wrap my hands around this “little” twerp’s neck and squeeze. But I couldn’t. However, I did get involved by marching Trevor over to his parents (all 5’4″ of me to his 6 foot brawny self) to settle matters. Thankfully there have been no problems since, and the kid has actually been staying away from the basketball courts.

At the time, I was furious. I wanted to murder this kid for touching my child. And I don’t excuse that feeling. Kids who are victimized over and over grow up with feelings of low self worth, and are constantly haunted by the bullying they endured in their youth. I’d have a hard time feeling any kind of love for anyone who was hurting my son, now and in the future with the repercussions that ensue.

However, everyone has a back story.

As a counselor at the summer camp the kids and I attend every summer, I came across one of these difficult kids. This boy had done his best to be as difficult as possible with the staff, and with all the campers around him. He didn’t want to participate in any of the activities. He would verbally berate anyone who tried to get him to join in, going so far as to tell the teen staff to “F- off”. He threw rocks at the other campers. Whenever I’d step in, he’d glare at me and ignore me.  The last straw was when he broke the bathroom door, and then denied that it ever happened. It seemed like every bit of trouble that was going on involved this kid. What was worse, he was starting to gather a following of boys who were joining in on his misfit actions.

“What do you want to do?” one chaperone asked me when I came to him about the situation. “Call his parents? Send him home?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “All the staffers are throwing their hands up in the air. We just don’t know what to do.”

We ended up talking with the camper. I started out really closed off. I wanted nothing to do with this kid who was making everyone’s life miserable. And if we ended up sending him home, that was fine by me. But one little trick I learned was to keep my mouth shut and listen as the other counselor asked him about camp and how he liked it. And little by little, the kid opened up about his home life. He didn’t see his mom at all, and he lived with his dad. The only other camp he attended in the summer, besides this one, was one called “Alateen”, a camp for kids of parents who abuse alcohol.

The kid was acting out because of his anger at a life that he had little control over.

It’s just like that kid who was going down the bully path in my daughter’s 3rd grade class who I wrote about in “part 1″ of this topic.  He was the one that caused trouble in class and was kicked out, and I followed behind to talk with him and see what was going on. It became clear that this kid was hurting. He had no mom, and he hardly saw his dad. When his dad was around, he came down hard on this kid. The kid, in turn, lashed out at everyone around him to compensate for the hurt he was feeling on the inside. For the rest of the year, it was apparent that there had been some sort of connection. He would actually smile and wave when he’d see me, and seemed to respond to me the rest of the year whenever I called him on his behavior in class. Of course, I’ll admit that it was easier for me to be kind to him because he had never tried to hurt my child.

“Whatever happened to that kid in your class?” I asked DQ today as I drove her home from school.

“He moved away,” she said.

“He kind of has a sad home life, doesn’t he?” I mused outloud.

“Yeah. His dad scared me,” DQ said.

“What do you mean?” I asked her.

“His dad was huge, and looked like a gangster. And he always seemed really angry.”

When it comes to dealing with bullies, I really have no concrete advice. It’s easy to feel helpless in such a situation, not knowing how to wrangle in the wild horse that wants to run free and lash out at anyone trying to corral it. But in one of my comments on the story of Trevor and my son, Jo came up with a more positive way to deal with bullies:

“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….

It seems such a grandmotherly thing to say “you can catch more flies with honey”. But it’s true. The kid at camp? He smiled a lot more after our talk than he had the first part of the week. And the trouble ceased. I grew to understand him more, knowing where he came from, than I had when I just saw him as a bad kid. I was able to act differently toward him, with actual care. And he, in turn, would respond much more kindly. And my daughter’s classmate responded in much of the same way. But can every bully situation be handled so kindly? It’s hard to say. When it’s your own child at the hands of an angry kid, how can you remove yourself? There are so many different levels of bullying, and some of it is more than painful.  And there are times when more serious action needs to be taken.  But in every situation, whether big or small, the problem needs to be tackled somehow positively, whether by a parent, a teacher, an officer – anyone who can – so that the human inside is reached, and the bully is conquered.

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7 thoughts on “Loving the Bully, part 2”

  1. One of the most insightful and timely blogs you’ve ever written!!!
    Amazing how a change of perspective can influence a change in behavior when someone cares.

  2. I dread the day that my little girl comes home with tears in her eyes because of something another child has done. I certainly hope I can handle it with the poise and dignity that you’ve displayed.

  3. I can’t claim that pausing long enough to understand the entire spectrum of the situation is easy. I can’t even claim that I will always be capable of handling a bully situation in a peaceful way. Emotions have a funny way of taking charge when it is your own child who is being victimized. But I do have a soft spot for kids who have had it hard, and are given some hard breaks that aren’t their fault. When I can look past the current issue to see the hurt that might be lying underneath, that’s when it’s easier to react correctly to the situation.

  4. Crissi, I applaud your view and your writings on this topic, and generally I agree that problems at home can be the frequent cause of bullies and bullying. However, I do have one problem with your view; it seems to, on some level, absolve the bullies themselves of their behavior. I was bullied myself as a young man. There was a kid at my school up in Arcata, I’ll call him “Jason,” who bullied me relentlessly, dropped me on the mat with his Judo moves in gym class so he could hear the wind get knocked out of me, called me out in front of the other kids, picked on me for their amusement and his own. One day, when no one was around, he actually treated me humanely. We hung out on the bleachers by the football field and got high, and for one minute, we were alone, my bully and me, the same, and I asked him why. He told me that he had to do what he did, because I didn’t fight back against him or the others, which made me a target, and if he didn’t pick on me, he’d be a target, too. Sure enough, our cool dude moment notwithstanding, he was back to picking on me relentlessly the next day and, I say this with all sincerity and understanding of the ideas behind it, if I could have gotten a weapon to use against him, I would have. I hated him that much. Not because he was a bully, but because he had a choice, and his choice was to savage the smaller more defenseless ones to make himself larger. He knew what he was doing, and he did it anyway. He could have chosen another path. This was a smart kid, too, straight-A’s, loved by his teachers, reviled by the rest, and he played that rep for all it could accomplish for him terrorizing us, too. They exist, the ones that hurt because they want to and because they know they’ll get away with it, because there are enough adults who believe, like you, that it “isn’t their fault” that “things are tough at home.” These are the kind of kids involved in the Phoebe Prince case, the case that has now elevated bullying into the national conciousness. Right now, their lawyers are preparing a defense that will say their clients bear no responsiblilty in this girl’s death by suicide, and that, we all know, is a lie. I know my view is the extreme one, and is right now getting a lot of heads shaking. I understand. I’m a bit of a hothead, and a likely candidate to preform one of those legally questionable confrontations you mentioned. Of course, I cannot, I know that, and that’s why my oldest son has studied martial arts since he was six years old. My son knows, because I’ve told him so, that the righteous never attack, that we are the defenders; the final, most important Dojo creed is to refrain from violent behavior. But I also know he will defend himself, and others, if and when the time calls for it, and at that time he will use all his training to do so. He’s a purple belt now, one exam from his brown ranking and I pity the first punk who attempts to bully my son, I really do. When more kids learn to defend themselves the right way, the bullies will learn that cannot do what they do with impunity. Hopefully, if and when my son meets his bully, they’ll not have to learn this the hardest way.

  5. I think sometimes the schools use a blind eye to what is happening but good parents and teachers get involved! When I was in 5th grade many eons ago I was new to a school and two girls were bullying me because they thought I liked one of the girls boyfriends. I was very innocent and was just real friendly and definitely not interested in her boyfriend. They followed me home everyday after school saying they were going to beat me up. I finally told my mom I would not go to school anymore and I was a straight A student. My mom contacted the teacher and got involved. The following day the girls knocked on my door. I was so scared but my mom made me answer. They completely apologized for their behavior. They never bothered me again. I will never forget that teacher. I dont know what he told them. Inside I still think about that time today!

  6. Great blog, insightful ideas, but I sort of agree with darknight, in many respects.
    If a kid is truly bullying because of severe emotional issues due to a dismal home life, then the sooner a concerned adult steps in the better for all.
    Then there are those such as darknight describes who are manipulators, have no empathy and are quite possibly sociopathic to some degree, regardless of how much nuturing they received as children.

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