I just saw a story of a middle school boy in Florida who took his life last week in the school’s bathroom. He had been the target of bullying for years. This story, like all bullying stories I hear about, broke my heart and made me sick to my stomach.
I was never bullied in middle school or high school. However, I did know people who were endlessly picked on. I was friends with some of these folks. But looking back, I realize I was not a very good friend. To this day, one of things I regret most about those years was that I was a complete wimp when it came to publicly standing up for people who were teased and treated as outcasts.
I didn’t participate in the teasing…but I didn’t try to stop it either. I did, on occasion, try to encourage the victim when I thought it was “safe” to do so and when I didn’t think the “popular” kids were looking. I feared that if I fully embraced the victim…I would become a target too.
I talk to my son all the time about how wrong bullying is. I pray my son is never a bully AND that he is never the victim of bullies. I want him to treat people kindly. I want him to be treated kindly. I want him to stand up for those who are mistreated. As a parent, I want my child to know all the right things to do and then will make the courageous choice to do those things.
Anytime I hear a tragic story of kids ending their life over chronic bullying like this I really wish I could hear from the parents of the bullies. Did they have any clue their child was a bully? I want to believe that one of the reasons kids are so extremely hurtful and destructive to their peers is because they haven’t been taught by their parents that bullying is wrong. But, I think that’s naive and wishful thinking. I’m willing to guess that if we were able to interview the parents of bullies, we would find a mixture. We would find those who did teach their kids the right thing to do and those who neglected to do this. Some times parents can do all the right things and kids will still make devastating choices. As a parent, this scares the daylights out of me. Ultimately, I am not with my child 24/7. I don’t have control over the choices my child ends up making in that lunchroom or on that playground…or, sadly, in that school bathroom.
The only thing I know to do is to keep talking to my child, to keep asking questions about his day, to keep my eyes open. And here is a pledge I make today: If my son is ever caught bullying another child, there will be harsh consequences. I will not blow it off. I will not down play the behavior or excuse the behavior. It will not be tolerated.
On the flipside, my heart breaks just as much over the possibility of my son becoming a victim of bullying. I want to protect him. Again, the only thing I can do is keep talking to my child, to keep teaching him and reminding him of who he is. I want that truth to shout louder than any taunts he might hear come out of the mouth of a cowardly bully.
What is your experience with bullies?
How do you talk to your kids about bullies?
Has your child ever been bullied? How do encourage them and give them hope?