Tag Archives: bullies

Bullied victim fights back

“Leave me the eff alone, you stupid insecure little runt!”

These were the last words of Casey Heynes, a 16 year old Australian student who had taken enough bullying from 12 year old Ritchard.  The bully (who was not only a lot younger, but also half the size of Casey and still found it a good idea to pick on the kid) was seen in a YouTube video repeatedly picking on Casey, punching him in the face and shoving him to the amusement of his friends.  And as the camera from a cellphone rolled, Casey lost his temper and told his bully off.  What happened next was what caused this video to go viral.  The bully was picked up by Casey, held high above his head for a few seconds before being slammed to the concrete ground in front of all his peers.  The end of the video shows the bully limping, practically falling over as he made his way towards the camera, his face contorted in tearful pain.  Casey is shown walking away.

See video HERE.  Warning, it’s brief, but it’s graphic.

As a result, the bullying Ritchard is now in the hospital with a broken nose and a shattered shin.  Casey is suspended from school and may face possible charges for defending himself.  And America has named Casey a hero as a victim of bullying who finally got tired and defended himself.

But is he a hero?

I watched the video, and I felt sickened by the whole thing.  It’s true, in all the cruelty that lies in schools in the teenage years, I’ve never had to endure torment as this kid Casey probably did.  And I know there are many who HAVE endured ridicule and bullying, and are cheering Casey on for standing up for himself against some kid who has surely been making his life a living hell.  I get the anger that has probably been building up, the resentment for being made fun of.  And it can be guaranteed this kid will not be messing with Casey every again. 

But should violence solving violence be hailed as heroism in our war against bullying?

Casey’s dad swears that his son is not a fighter, he just got tired of the bullying:

“There’ll be reprisals from other kids in the school and he still has to go to school somewhere,” Casey’s father said. “He’s not a violent kid, it’s the first time he’s lashed out and I don’t want him to be victimised over that.

“He’s always been taught never to hit. Apparently other people’s parents don’t teach their kids that.”

While the details of the whole story have been conflicting, it’s been reported that Ritchard is also suspended from school, and that his suspension is longer.  And protests have popped up online to “free Casey” from his suspension.

What are your thoughts on all this?

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Tackling Bullies

If you’ve been reading my stories for any length of time, you’ll notice that a common theme I discuss is in regards to bullying (like here, and here, and here). It makes sense. I’m a parent of kids who are only growing older. And as they grow older, the issue of bullying is becoming more of an epidemic in their schools. I worry about it. I worry that my kids will be targeted. I worry that any action or inaction I take will only make things worse for them. And with the way bullying can take any shape or form – from violence to mere teasing to using their Facebook pages as the ultimate tool in gathering the masses – I worry that my own kids will become guilty of bullying others as well.

More recently, I talked about a friend of mine who was potentially going through her own bullying situation. Her son was being challenged to a fight by a kid who was bigger and stronger, just to see who the winner would be. Basically it was a battle of brawn with an obvious outcome. As an update, nothing came up about it. The fight talk ended up being just that – talk. But in the meantime, my friend was suddenly faced with needing to know how to react to a kid who was threatening other kids, even just through empty threats. And the comments received on the blog (and any other blog that I have discussed bullying) were mixed. Some said to let the kids fight it out. Another said that school officials needed to be alerted immediately so that the bullying could be quashed. And another said to teach our sons and daughters to walk away.

The truth is, it’s hard to know how to handle a bully situation as a parent. Remembering what it was like to be a kid, the common feeling was that if a parent got involved, we were toast. Not only were we completely mortified, we were afraid of being more of a target for being a narc. So it was pretty much a given that any teasing we endured was kept from our parents so that we could at least save a little face.

And the bullying I witnessed in school was truly mean-spirited. One girl who was on the awkward side had an obvious crush on a popular boy in school. A group of girls created a love letter to her from him, with his knowledge. The girl was floating on Cloud 9 – until the boy broke up with her in front of everyone, making everyone laugh. Another girl had rumors circling around school about her solo bedroom behavior. And then there was the group of kids who thought it was funny to pants other students in gym class, thanks to the convenience of drawstring shorts (apparently these kids never graduated; my 7th grade daughter says this still happens in gym class). There was teasing about body parts thanks to the absence of modesty in the gym locker rooms. And there was peer pressure to try things we never would have done on our own, like drinking hard liquor in between classes or smoking pot behind the school or cutting class.

In truth, the bullying of yesterday was not better or less than the bullying of today. It was just as much a reality then as it is now. But now it has become much easier to target others thanks to the advances in technology. This is why schools have stepped up their efforts to stop bullying in their tracks, even including consequences for “cyber-bullying” done inside and outside of school hours in their rules.

And some schools have adopted a new anti-bullying program called SSA – Safe School Ambassadors.

I learned of SSA when my daughter was recently nominated to take part in it. The program targets the escalating problem of bullying by tackling from within – training a group of influential students to work amongst their peers to help alleviate negative situations more effectively. Note, it does not train kids to break up fights or to take on violent situations. Nor does it set them apart from their classmates by making them wear vests or badges. But it instead gives them tools to handle situations on the spot within their own group of friends so that circumstances involving bullying can be easily diffused. Due to the “narc problem”, adults are more likely than not to be ignorant of what students are really going through. At one point in the training program, the students discussed the things they had witnessed on school grounds. As they mentioned the weapons they had seen, the drugs kids their age were taking, and other scary situations that were taking place, my daughter told me that the teachers were holding their hands over their gaping mouths in shock. We just don’t know what kids are going through. We don’t know what kinds of peer pressures they are being faced with. We can be the best parent in the world and still be unaware that our child is being tormented by others or that they are guilty of being the tormentor. So a peer based anti-bullying program makes sense.

But as parents, what is within our realm of power to protect our children from bullying? First, forget the narc problem. If you learn of something going on, discuss it with the principal or the teacher so that it can be handled quickly and effectively. If your kids are targeted more, speak up more. Send the message loud and clear that your child is not a victim, and any negative action against your child will reap a world of hurt in consequences.  Get to know your children’s friends and their parents, creating a network of people to fight this battle together. Go to PTA meetings and school events to broaden that network. If your children are on social networks, be a presence on there too. It is not infringing on their privacy to be their Facebook friend. It is being aware of their online activity. In fact, in my household my kids are only allowed to be on social networks if I am not only their “friend”, but if I also know their password to log on. It is common knowledge that I check up on them by accessing their accounts and knowing what they are up to – including their “private” conversations and viewing their friends’ pages. The same rule applies to my daughter’s cell phone.  It is not being nosy.  It is not snooping.  It is ensuring that my kids are safe, and that they are engaging in only safe and respectful activity.  And if I see something that goes against that, I bring it out in the open with them.

Do you have an opinion on handling bullying? Are there things you have witnessed that shock or anger you? What are some things that we as parents can do to help our kids, or that the schools should be doing to tackle this problem?

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.

Loving the Bully

Years ago, I was helping out in my daughter’s 3rd grade class. The classroom was a room of organized chaos as the parents and I helped out on the latest project. But the vibe in the class was good as everyone participated in something that was more creative than doing seatwork for hours on end. But in a corner of the room, there was a different vibe. One of the kids, a noticeably larger kid than the rest of his 3rd grade peers, was doing his best to create conflict. He was taking pens from another student to finish his project, and claiming them as his own. And when the student complained, the bigger kid yelled out that they were his. Seeing that he wasn’t going to get away with it, he finally threw his papers and the pens across the room in defiance.

“Outside!” the teacher yelled out. The kid was angry at being called out, and stomped out of the room, slamming the door as hard as he could. The teacher made a quick call to the office, and then went back to her students.

This wasn’t the first time that I had seen this kid act out in the classroom. My daughter had shared a class with him once before, and the story had always been the same. Teachers didn’t know what to do with him, and he didn’t care one bit about school or in behaving properly. But for some reason, I liked the kid. He was funny and had a great smile. And I knew there was something underneath that just wasn’t being reached.

I quietly excused myself from the classroom and joined the kid outside. He was kicking the wall to the classroom in frustration and defiance, determined that if he was already going to get in trouble, he was going to make sure that he got enough of it in. I sat next to him.

“Hey,” I said. He didn’t answer. “Rough day, huh?” He gave me a sideways glance and continued kicking the wall. “You know, your teacher called the office. And they are probably going to call your parents,” I said.

“So,” he said.

“Well, what do you think your mom is going to say?” I asked him.

“I don’t have a mom,” he said.

“Alright, what about your dad?”

“He won’t care,” he said.

The kicking of the wall did finally cease as he finally opened up a tiny bit about his home life. His dad actually got mad at him all the time. And he also lived with his grandmother. We talked about what things he liked about school (nothing, he reported), and what he liked to do for fun. And throughout the conversation I could see that this was a boy who was crying out for attention, somebody to notice him as a good kid and worth something. And he wasn’t getting that at home, at school, anywhere.

Sometimes we, as a community, fail our kids.

It’s not like my family is immune to bullies, or at being angry over victimizing members of our family.  Just this summer, the Taz was involved in a skirmish with a kid that was three times bigger than him.  It was a scary situation for him, and for me that had to then think quickly about how to deal with it.  In the beginning I saw red over a giant of a kid picking on a kid so much smaller than him.  And I was ready to string him up in a mob mentality.  But as I talked with him and his parents, I saw a young boy inside of a big body that was so insecure that he took offense at my little son laughing at him.

“Almost 30% of youth in the United States (or over 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved in bullying as either a bully, a target of bullying, or both. In a recent national survey of students in grades 6-10, 13% reported bullying others, 11% reported being the target of bullies, and another 6% said that they bullied others and were bullied themselves.”  (www.safeyouth.org)

Thing is, it’s hard to show love to a kid who is lashing out. You can’t hug a thrashing wildcat. And let’s face it, if it’s our kid on the receiving end of a bully’s rage, we’d prefer to throttle the kids than to try and help him.  Thing is, this kid had it so ingrained that he was unlovable that he was determined to fit the mold. Focus on a kid’s bad side too much, and that’s all they will see as well.

I was in conversation this weekend with a man who did work with kids who were classified as bullies. He passionately told me about these kids. These were the kids who were picking on smaller kids to feel power. They were the ones who decided that the rules didn’t apply to them. They were the ones being sent out of the classroom so that the rest of the class could actually learn something without disruption. Many of these kids who were trouble in their younger years were the same ones who were joining gangs or causing illegal trouble when they were older. The black and white of it is that they are a problem. They are picking on our kids and making them victims, causing so much fear in some kids that they are afraid to go to school.

But there is a gray side. And that is what their family life looks like at home, and the reaction to them as events escalate. It is very rare for a kid from a loving and attentive family to join a gang. Gangs feed on those kids who aren’t getting love and attention at home. And the kids who join, join up with the desire of being accepted once and for all, to have a FAMILY. And on the outside that is what they feel they are getting. For once, they have a group of people that are there for them through thick and thin. And the loyalty in a gang is strong. So strong that when a kid decides that they can’t be involved in the tumultuous life of a gang, it is near impossible to get out.

How would a bully’s life change if they had someone there to tell them that they matter, that they are worth it, that their talents are great and their possibilities even greater? The program that this man briefly told me about sounded so hopeful and enlightening, it made me wonder if programs like this exist in our community. What are we doing, or what can be done, to help change the direction of bullies who are going down a slippery slope? I hear all the time about programs dedicated for victims of bullying. And that is definitely necessary. But are there any bully prevention programs that help the child that might be reacting to something bigger than just victimization, and to ward off future violence and trouble?