When Destany first began talking about wanting to write articles on bullying and asked me if I would like to contribute, I thought it sounded like a good idea. I know my middle child is on the sensitive side, I was sure that if I asked him, he would give me all sorts of material to write about. But what he told me came as a great shock. My son wasn't being bullied - he WAS the bully!
This revelation went like this:
Me: I'm wanting to write an article about bullying.
Son: Oh. Okay.
Me: I think it's really important to talk to kids about this stuff and find out what they think about it... ...Bullying does a lot of harm. It makes kids feel really bad about themselves... ...One of the things that Destany has been talking about, is that bullying is a normal human instinct that we all have...
*Each break in my dialogue represents stony silence from my son. And then, after a particularly long pause:
Son: I know some kids that get bullied a lot.
Me: Really? That's too bad. Why do you think they're getting bullied?
Son: Well... I don't want to say that they bring it on themselves... but...
Son: Well one kid, he is just soooooo annoying. If he would just leave everybody alone, no one would make fun of him. And this other kid, he lies all of the time. If he would just stop telling lies, people wouldn't get so mad at him.
Me (trying my best to keep my face impassive): Are you saying you think they deserve it?
Son: Well, no. But it just gets hard to be nice to them.
Me: Do you bully them?
Son: Wellllllll... define bully.
Me: Do you pick on them?
Me: And you feel like this is ok?
Son: I don't like that I do it, it's just, everybody else does.
Me: Ok. So you pick on them to fit in?
Son: Pretty much.
Me: Have you ever been picked on?
Son: All the time!
Me: And you know what it feels like.
Son: Yeah, which is why I do it to [those kids], so people won't pick on me.
Me: Do you really think your friends would notice if don't call someone a name? They might be doing it to fit in with you.
Son: Well, I feel really bad about it.
Me: I'm glad to hear that.
Son: I guess it just makes me feel powerful.
Me: I can see how that happens.
That wasn't nearly the end of our conversation, but it's how it got started. He told me he wanted to see the school councilor about it, then we talked a bit about finding out if he needed an appointment to see them. We talked about what might be causing him to feel angry. He is in puberty, and I do think most of his anger is hormonal and normal. And I also think his anger is a response of fear, fear that he will get made fun of if he doesn't buck up and assert his dominance over these other two boys. (Kill or be killed mentality)
I also talked to him about what might be causing these two boys to behave the way they do. It is likely a cry for attention, to compulsively lie, or to constantly be in peoples faces trying to get noticed. They are getting negative attention, which to them, is better than none at all. Sort of the way kids will act out to get attention from their parents. I suggested that they aren't trying to be outcast, but the opposite and they do not have his natural social skills. They would go about making friends the right way if they knew how, and that he should feel sorry for them. They must be pretty desperate if they're willing to face ridicule like that, just to try and get friends.
We decided that it would be best for him not to go to the school councillor at this time. We - his dad and I - are counselling him at home instead, because we don't want the school to label him as a bully at this point. I have shared Destany's story with him, and we are planning to go and see the new documentary "Bully" together. I showed him the trailer and he felt so low. I want to be nonjudgmental, because I want him to remain honest with me about this and feel that he can trust me. At the same time, I want him to know what bullying does to kids and how it makes them want to hurt themselves. We keep talking about it, and we keep working on it.
I think that we are making good strides. He says that he has not bullied any kids since our first conversation, and slowly, very slowly, he is beginning to stick up for other kids when he sees they are getting picked on. I believe it takes vigilant parents with good communication with their children, to stop and prevent bullying from happening. Parents have to ask their kids about this stuff, or it just goes on being ignored. If I had not asked him, I never would have known.
What should parents do if they find out their child is a bully? What would you say to your child if you found out they were picking on other kids? Would it surprise you to know that many parents condone and even encourage kids to bully because they feel if they don't, their child will be a victim instead?