“Daddy, I don’t want to do recess anymore.”
Those are the words my then eight-year-old sheepishly uttered to me a year ago. I was baffled. My son is precocious, outgoing and is incredibly social. After an honest conversation I realized the nightmare of every parent was unfolding: My son was being bullied at school.
Two children were verbally abusing my child. No punches thrown, just mean, degrading, hurtful behavior that made my son feel inferior and insecure. One day they literally trapped him under a soccer goal and put him in “the net of shame” when he didn’t want to play with them. They physically stopped him from playing with other kids.
I felt rage and sadness as he’d detail these events. Honestly, I immediately hated the 8-year-old inflicting pain on my son and I detested his parents for allowing their child to be capable of the abusive behavior. My mind had me racing over to the boy’s house, knocking loudly on his door and confronting his parents immediately. I didn’t, of course.
We have gone through the proper channels. His school has done a decent job of squashing the problem. We need to revisit the school because the behavior is occurring again. My son is a people-pleaser and won’t break away from the bullies because he “doesn’t want to hurt their feelings.” Teaching an 8-year-old his first lessons about self-respect has been trying, but fruitful.
This week, he and I attended the movie “Bully” and it forced us to engage in a wide variety of topics that are connected to bullying. As we’re sitting in a packed theater he, rather loudly, asked me questions like, “Daddy, what does gay mean?” “Daddy, what does demeaning mean?” “What is sexual orientation?” All conversations I knew I was going to have with him. Just not at nine-years-old.
I was overjoyed when I explained to him what discrimination is and he responded, “Well, it’s like Martin Luther King said, ‘People should not be judged by the color of the skin but by the content of their character.’” When I asked what he will do if he sees bullying occurring, he got rather detailed with an analogy that “bullying is like a fire and if you stand by and do nothing it’s like supplying oxygen to the fire.” He’s beginning to understand the long-term effects of allowing bullying to occur and I’m so proud that he asked, “I know I can always come to you and mom and we can do this together, right?”
Still, in all honesty, I’m feeling a little empty and misguided when it comes to how to handle bullying. The advice I’ve received is, “You really have to stay on top of the school and make sure that they are taking your situation seriously.” That’s awfully frustrating. When my child attends school, there’s an implied nest of safety. Do I really have to struggle to make sure he’s safe? And, honestly, as a parent, I’m frustrated with other parents that either aren’t paying attention to their own children’s behavior or refuse to believe that their children are capable of the bully label. Perhaps if a parent acknowledges that their child is a bully, the parent will be forced to admit that his or her parenting has been flawed. And a lot of parents aren’t capable of that kind of self-honesty.
I’m no expert. I’m just a frustrated and scared parent who believes that communication and involvement with my child will help solve our problem. But in many ways, I feel like I’m navigating by the stars because the problem is being largely ignored.