Monday, July 30, 2012
When Friends Are Bullies ~ Recogonizing When Your Child is in a Controlling Relationship
Parker didn't really have any friends and I thought at first it was because of his torn frumpy clothes, messy hair, occassional knock-me-over body odor and I knew that he was terribly neglected by his mother. His father worked late hours and was rarely around. The stories Parker told me from home were pretty heartbreaking. I was glad he had my son, if he had nobody else.
But then I began to notice things that bothered me. Whenever we had other boys over and Parker showed up, the other boys would leave. So his friendship with Parker was costing my son all the rest of his friends. I did on occassion, talk the other boys into staying, however, and that's when the real problem made itself clear. Anytime another boy didn't do exactly what Parker wanted, Parker would begin with the name calling and insults. The words flying out of that boys mouth shocked me.
The kids would be playing tag football and Parker would get angry if he wasn't given the ball. Suddenly his "friends" were all idiots and morons. When he was with my son and a third boy, he would always chase the third boy off by calling him names, insulting the other boys family members and just outright berrating the third kid. They other boys would call Parker out on his behavior and stick up for themselves and Parker would be even more insulting - he would say that he was only joking and the boys were too sensitive. Maybe they should go check with their mommies to see if she had their balls - that sort of thing. No, anytime another boy became upset over the mean things Parker said, Parker made them question their feelings and continued making them feel worse. Their solution? Avoid Parker like the plague... Except my son.
By the time I realized this dynamic, my son and Parker were two peas in a pod. Sometimes my son would come home from Parkers upset, if Parker pushed him too far. I talked to my son frequently about Parker's manipulation tactics but my son insisted that he wasn't like that with him - only other kids. Still, I hated it. I knew that if I demanded my son not see Parker anymore, it would be unlikely he would listen. He was too enthralled. Not only would he see Parker at school and in the neighborhood and I couldn't legitimately prevent the two from being together, my dissapproval of Parker at this point would only drive my son further from me and closer to Parker. I couldn't say a single word about Parker without my son becoming angry and defensive of his friend.
As time went on, I would do my best to make sure my son knew he could come to me with any problems he was having. I kept a watchful eye, ear and heart. I knew that my son was being bullied and manipulated by his dear friend but he couldn't see it. Parker could be very nasty when he wasn't given his way - he could be just as rewarding with praise if my son did what Parker asked. I was distraught, but eventually, we got through it. One day, my son came in me in distress. He couldn't take it anymore and wanted help out of the relationship. Parker had taken some of his dads alcohol and would drink it in the mornings before school. He was pressuring my son to drink it also and my son didn't want to but he knew it was a matter of time before Parker persuaded him into it. Not only that, but Parker had stolen some of his parents cigarettes and was smoking them, when he was caught by his dad. My son was there when Parker was caught, and Parker told his father that my son was smoking too. My son swore to me he didn't, and that Parker would lie on him and try to get him into trouble was his breaking point. While my son insisted to Parkers dad that he hadn't been smoking, athough Parkers dad didn't believe him - he agreed to keep the secret and not tell me, my husband, or even his own wife, as a favor to the two boys.
Now, not only were red flags being waved, glaring alarm bells were ringing complete with sirens and flashing lights. NO WAY was my kid going back to this boys house. Not only did I realize the minimal supervision I thought was present was actually non-existent, Parker was getting into some pretty dangerous behavior and determined to get my son to participate - but now this adult was keeping secrets about my own son from me? Yeah, I was pretty freaked out at this point. I had had my suspsicions, I didn't like the kid. But it was more a vibe I was getting from him and I felt bad because I had had no factual basis for my feelings.
I wasn't angry at my son, but he wanted help avoiding Parker and so I agreed to ground him. We made up an excuse and I thought this would be the end of it. My son could be grounded for months and in that time, the boys would grow apart.
Then on the last day of school, my husband went to the bus stop to collect my son to drive him to school so they could have some quality time. Only when he got there, my son was not present. The other kids informed my husband that my son hadn't ridden the bus in some time. He had been sneaking off to Parkers house and getting rides to school with Parker and his dad. We of course, were very upset. Now my son was grounded for real, but later that day when it was just the two of us, I cautiously but thoroughly questioned my son about the things that went on at Parkers house. I was even more disturbed at the chaos and neglect that Parker's parents created for their children - but I was satisfied that Parkers father had not abused my son. I did make it clear to my son that that is a concern I had. I had always been very honest with my concerns about Parker and told my son what behaviors to watch out for - though I worded it carefully so as not to sound accusatory. Violent tendencies, abuse of Parkers little sister at Parkers hands, cruelty to animals were all on the list.
After two weeks of my son being confined to the house (I hated taking that measure, but my concern for his safety meant not letting him out of my sight for fear that he might run off to Parkers house behind my back), he began to express deep relief that he was finally away from Parker. And after a month, Parker and his family moved away. It was another two months before my son felt safe enough to share more of what he knew about Parker.
My concern about violent tendencies and cruelty to animals was legitimate. Once he was away from Parker for a few weeks and Parker had moved to another city, he could reflect on the things he saw Parker do and realized for the first time how deeply under Parkers control he was. He didn't even realize when he was spending time with this kid every day, but he was terribly afraid of him.
Two years have passed and my husband and I have counciled our son a great deal. We are confident that our son stayed true to himself and didn't participate in the things Parker did that were really upsetting to learn about. But we knew that we had intervened just in time. It really only would have been a matter of time before Parker convinced my son to do things that would have changed his character possibly damaged him for life. Because we only found out about the extent of Parkers behavior well after the family had moved away, there was no one we could talk to about getting the little boy some help - not that we have any confidence that Parkers parents would have gotten him any or would have believed us.
We have been working with our child and teaching him lessons and skills that we hope will make him less vulnerable in the future. We know that he is deeply impressionable and that, we feel, is one of his inherent qualities - something he was born with and not likely ever fully countered. We have other family members who share this quality to the point that they let others completely run their lives - and run them into the ground. But hopefully, because we see this as parents, we can teach him through validation to trust his own feelings and instincts and not get so caught up in others.
Have you ever been in a controlling relationship? Did you need help getting out of it, or were you able to get out of it on your own? How would you help your child if you believed your child was being controlled by one of their friends?