Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bullying - It Takes A Village.

I was interviewed here yesterday on the subject of bullying.  The producer of the show sought me out because of this post she found on my blog.  My son's aggressive behavior which was of concern to me in the post was not chronic (which I think would have better suited the show's purposes) but they liked what I had to say on the subject and how I said it so they invited me on the show.

Let's see...

Lisa Belkin/Motherlode blogger - ALSO LOVE
WNYC - hometown radio, LOVE

After initial jitters and concerns, I was in.

Since the interview, I've been reading the discourse from commenters here and here and here and it's obvious that bullying and the extent to which parents are responsible for it is a heated and thorny subject.  A majority of the commenters feel that having a bully for a child is solely the fault of the parent, whether through modeling or encouraging of bad behavior or through ignorance of their child's action or whereabouts.  I have more to say than was possible on the radio so I thought I'd say it here and then open up the floor for discussion.

First let me say, that though the radio show labeled me as the "mother of a bully" (I'm still wincing), what didn't get revealed was that, as a teenager, I was the victim of bullies (three different sets of them).  Once in summer camp where I was placed on trial in front of a jury of my peers who judged me guilty and then silently and wickedly tormented me (as girls do) for the remaining two weeks of camp.  Once in junior high when a group of my friends (including my very best friend who suddenly became popular) turned on me and made my life miserable causing me to fake illness many a day so I wouldn't have to face them.  And then again in high school when I joined in with a group of kids who spent more time hanging out smoking pot in the back of school than studying.  When I realized I'd rather get good grades than good weed I stopped hanging out with them and they took it as a rejection (which, I guess, it was). 

For most of my junior year I was verbally teased, taunted and threatened by them.   They called me J.A.P., snob, and scolded me publicly for thinking I was better than them.  For months, I found different ways to get from class to class and quiet places to eat lunch just to stay out of their range.  One Saturday night they called my house at 2am, drunk, threatening that if I showed up at school that Monday they'd push me into an open locker and lock me in.   My parents eavesdropped on the call and it was at that point that I finally told them what was going on.  Before that I WAS TOO EMBARRASSED to do so.  My father gave me a wrench to put in my purse and instructed me to hit them with it if they came near me.  They didn't.  But they continued their bullying and I made light of it at home not wanting my parents to get further involved and risk me additional humiliation. 

During the last days of school, during NY Regent Exams, I was exiting the building after a test and walking to my car alone.  Some of the girls, my ex-friends, appeared behind me and started in with the usual taunting.    What wasn't usual about this time, what upped the ante, was that they had with them a new friend, a six foot tall, heavyweight, black kid whom I'd never seen before, yet who seemed to hate me every bit as much as the girls did.  I said a few words, telling them to back off and stepped up my pace to the parking lot.  They too sped up and before I knew it the big guy was throwing eggs at me.  I made it to my car and as I pulled out of the lot covered in yolks and tears, I watched as they huddled, convulsed in tears of their own, of laughter.

So I know what bullying is about first-hand.    I am sensitive to it.  I do not role model this behavior for my child and I do not condone it.   Yet my son was acting like one anyway.  That is why I was so concerned at the first sign of his unacceptable behavior and why I sought help from my blog readers, our coaches, and some professionals.  That is why this argument from commenters about parents of bullies being bullies and encouraging bullying behavior incenses me.

You cannot just blame the parents.  Remember Hillary Clinton and IT TAKES A VILLAGE - well it does.  It takes the parents, the school administrators, camp counselors, after-school coaches, and any other adult your child comes in contact with in their busy life.  If you have this kind of support you could be in good shape, but even with it, I feel that the argument the commenters are making forgets one very important thing - the influence of your child's peers.  Notice how I don't say friends.  A teenager is often more influenced by a kid they don't like - a more popular kid, better athlete, dangerous kid - than ones they do.  Teens operate out of wanting to belong and out of fear.  So while I think parents have "control" over their kids when they're young, they lose it as the children become teens and their actual hands-on, day to day involvement becomes less, and the outside influences of their peers becomes more. 

I believe as parents it is our job to teach them to be good moral people with compassion, empathy, sensitivity and respect.   But I also believe that as they grow older and gain independence we have to (to some extent) cross our fingers, hope they listened, and hope for the best. 

Your child is a part of you, they are OF you, but they are NOT you.  Even the best parents cannot be with their children at all times, nor should they, and even the best parents do not have ultimate control over their child's thoughts and behaviors.

It would be wonderful, comforting, and easy to think we do but we don't.   I am not arguing that some parents in some situations are, in fact, responsible for their child's bad behavior for the reasons mentioned by some commenters.  But I do argue with the statement that ALL parents of ALL bullies are bullies themselves and I think that those who believe this are wrapping themselves into a nice, warm, cocoon of false security.  It can't happen to me because I'm not like that. 

Obviously I am passionate about this.  What about you?  Share your opinion but please be civil.  We are all adults here, not bullies.  :)


gorillabuns said...

Such a difficult subject to answer as my girls are younger but I already see it starting to happen. Children from good homes, parents very active in their lives and take great concern and action in trying to mediate their kids results.

I don't have an answer but can see both sides. I don't believe everything is a parent's fault just like I don't believe you can show 500 bajillion flash cards to insure their genius status.

My cousin's daughter is going through this very subject in a small town in Texas. She is so distraught, she didn't go to school today because a guy friend tipped her off that she was going to be jumped by a gaggle of girls. because? she's blond? who knows. The principal has been contacted as well as the teachers but they don't seem to take heed in the warnings.

Again, I don't have any answers but support both sides of the coin when it comes to blame on the parents for every little move a child makes.

Edadian said...

the statement that ALL parents of ALL bullies are bullies themselves ignores the parents who are bullied by there child.

I was bullied a lot growing up. Being smaller, always the new guy, having glasses, and with learning disabilities made me an easy target. It wasn't just the children bullying me but teachers as well.

Sometimes the worst thing about bullying is going to someone about it and getting told off for being weak about it. It maybe part of why I've been recommended for therapy.

Bullying can be a symptom of problems that need attention. Thanks for sharing your story.

EmmieJ said...

I totally agree. I don't know about anyone else, but I have one son who is just.like.me. I see his mind working, know just what he's thinking. Him? I'm not worried about not because he'll be perfect but because I know what imperfections to look for. The other son? He is much more like his father. He's the one I worry about not being able to anticipate his behavior. I won't go so far as to say bullies are likely to be the children of parents who were themselves bullied because it's much more complicated than that. But I do think that having been bullied does not in any way shape or form prevent your kids from engaging in the very behavior that tormented you as a kid.

Stefanie Hageman said...

My experiences during my youth are very similar to yours, making me very interested in tips and advice on the subject. My two boys are still very young, and I will do everything in my power to teach them to grow up being compassionate. But at the same time, how do we keep them from being bullied? How do we teach them that being nice, or quiet, or enjoying music, or simply being different can sometimes lead to the tormented behavior you and I experienced?

As I tread through the years ahead, my eyes and ears will be soaking up all of their lives. I hope that by doing this, I can teach them to defend themselves with confidence while showing respect and empathy to others around them. Your thoughts?

merlotmom said...

thank you for your input, guys. it breaks my heart to hear so many bully stories past and present. If we only knew then what we know now...

ByJane said...

I was bullyed as a child too. First time was first grade; last time was eleventh grade. I left the school after that. I think there are multiple reasons for bullying, multiple fingers we can point. Apportioning blame makes us feel better about such thing--"it's their fault or theirs or theirs..." Frankly, I think it's a bit like world peace--unattainable. I think every involved adult needs to intercede, but I can understand why they don't. Nothing like a protective parent in your face threatening a lawsuit for talking smack to his or her kid.

polwig.com said...

I really do not have much experience with bullying per say but I am a mom of 2 year old twins that constantly use force and verbal torment (even though I don't quite understand it) on each other. Unfortunately like other forms of bulling I think this is the only way they think they can control the situation. I really do not think that changes much from 2-92 years old the situation is what gets complicated. Are they trying to control what is going on at home by taking it out on their peers, or hurt for not being like anymore (like in your pot smoking friends case) or not having the same socio economic background etc... Maybe it is too simplistic but personaly I think it is just that.

dkuroiwa said...

Though I have no personal experience with bullying, I have seen it and had to deal with it as a middle school teacher when I was in the States and then again, here in Japan, where bullying seems to be a part of school life (and tv...adults on tv are terrible to those who are different..all for the 'entertainment' factor).
I have 2 sons (7 and 12)...we have raised them basically the same and yet, while my oldest is calm, mild-mannered (except for those pre-teen moments he has) my youngest is the one I worry about. he is so aggressive and I see him as one with bully-potential. is it because of something we, as parents, did or didn't do? if that were true, why not the oldest having the same behavior?
Saying that it is the parents' fault doesn't really fly with me. i tend to agree with your Hillary idea...there are so many influences our there that reach our kids...we have very little control (short of locking them away in a room until they are 18) as to who our kids come into contact on a daily basis.
I know that there are certain kids that my youngest is friends with that, when together, they tend to get into more trouble. i'm not sure who the instigator is...maybe they just "feed" off each other. i don't know.
I'm curious to read more about this and how to handle it as "we need to treat everyone nice and with respect" doesn't seem to be working very well right now.

mosey said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing that and I'm sorry on behalf of the human race that you had those experiences. I had my share of bullying as a shy kid, and on the other side of the coin remember what it was like to be bullied into bullying someone else too.

I have a six year old daughter and wrote a while back about wanting to surround her in bubblewrap as she grows. But it can so easily swing the other way. Your son sounds so normal to me, not a bully at all. But my daughter comes home with similar stories from school and it makes me realize I need to stay attentive.

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