October is Anti-Bullying Month


I didn’t even realize this until I read this post about it over at This Lil Piglet. But the post haunted me. It brought back memories of my own sixth-grade year, and refreshed the memories of my youngest son’s fourth-grade year. So I’m linking up with Shell for Pour Your Heart Out.

I went to a very small rural elementary school, with about thirty kids total in each grade. It was wonderful. Then we moved away to a neighboring county for my fifth grade year. That was okay, too, although changing schools is hard for any kid. Then we moved back for my sixth grade year, and I was thrilled that I would be reunited with all my old childhood friends – the girls I’d spent every recess playing with, the ones who’d congregated at each other’s houses for birthday sleepovers, who’d done gymnastics classes and ceramics classes together. But that wasn’t how it happened.

Evidently one of the girls I’d considered a close friend felt threatened by my return to school, and went to great lengths to make sure I wouldn’t be welcomed back by my old friends. I didn’t know what had happened – I actually didn’t find out until many years later. All I knew was that all my friends were ignoring me, and saying mean, cruel things to me when the teachers were out of earshot. I sat alone at recess, ate alone at lunch. Our teacher obviously did notice what was going on, because I remember her rounding the other girls up, putting her arm around me, and telling them all to “stop being mean to Angie”. Of course all that achieved was adding “teacher’s pet” to the hissed insults. Those long country bus rides were hell. I begged my mom not to make me go to my sixth grade graduation. I just didn’t want to stand there with people who hated me for a reason I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t explain to my mother what was going on, though, since I didn’t really understand it myself. So there are pictures of me in a striped dress at graduation, a rictus of a smile on my face.

I eventually made new friends in junior high, although it was hard since I didn’t have the self-confidence I once had. Most of the girls from elementary school went to the same junior high and high school I did, but we were never friends again. At some point in high school one of them did finally tell me what Christina had done way back in sixth grade. She’d pulled each girl aside individually and told them I’d said horrible things about them. With the special sense mean pre-teen girls have she zeroed in on the thing that would be most hurtful, most unforgivable, to each one. I don’t know what she said to everyone, but I know she told Anna, a brilliant, beautiful, talented girl with the most infectious laugh I’d ever heard that I’d made some sort of racial slur about her. I mourned losing Anna’s friendship for years  – all over Christina’s vicious lie. I didn’t know at the time I was being bullied. Back them bullies were boys who hit other boys, not spiteful little girls who set out to make other little girls’ lives miserable.

John’s bully was named Isaac.  He was physically smaller than the other boys in the class.  Again, not your “typical bully”.  He taunted John throughout his fourth-grade year at the parochial school connected to the church we’d attended for many years.  His bullying tended to be of a sexual nature.  He’d push John toward the girls’ bathroom and tell him he should be going in there, not the boys’.  He’d tell other boys that if they hung around with John at recess or lunch that they were “gay”.  When a girl invited the whole class to her birthday party Isaac insisted she and her friend go to John at recess and tell him that even though he’d gotten an invitation they really didn’t want him to come to the party.  Isaac drew obscene pictures and cruel insults on John’s desk, folders, and books.

When John finally told us about it (after it had been going on for months) his teacher flatly denied that there was any issue.  She said it was just “boys being boys”.  I went to the school counselor and the principal, who inspected his desk and supplies and found the written evidence of what was going on, and even heard the taunts in the classroom.  When called into the counselor’s office Isaac pretended to be penitent, but the counselor heard him threaten John on his way out of her office.  She referred to him as “an Eddie Haskell” – telling the adults what they wanted to hear while continuing to bully the other kids as soon as they were out of earshot.  The one time John stood up for himself and threw a ball harder than he should have at Isaac in gym class John was the one punished.  All of this, mind you, in a Catholic school with a “strict no-bullying policy”.

At the same time all of this was coming to a head there were other changes going on in the school and the parish that made me start to wonder not only if John belonged at this school, but if our family belonged in this parish at all.  I talked John into finishing the year (by the time we’d reached this decision the school year was only a couple of weeks from being over) so that he could start his new school the next year without a blemish on his academic record, but I told him to go immediately to the office and call me if he was made uncomfortable in any way, and I told the principle that I would be leaving work and picking him up from school at the first hint of bullying.

All this just to say: Talk to your kids about bullying, especially the more subtle varieties, and encourage them to come to you if they feel harassed in any way.  Watch for any changes in their behavior and quiz them in detail about how things are going at school.  Do not ever tell you child to “just ignore” a bully.  Contact your child’s teacher, counselor, principal – insist someone take action.  If they can’t or won’t, get your child out of that situation.  We switched John to a new school and he has blossomed in the years since.  He has fantastic friends who share his interests, a much more active social life than mine, and a maybe-sorta-kinda girlfriend who lives around the corner.  I’m just sorry I didn’t get him out of that situation sooner.  Be an advocate for your child and show him or her that bullying isn’t allowed.  Because bullies don’t change much as they grow up unless someone intervenes early.

By the way, Christina and Isaac are the bullies’ real names.  You change names to protect the innocent, not those torturing the innocent.

And because I think this is a really important topic, I’m linking up to Share Your Awesome at Momma Made It Look Easy.

Priced at just $4.99, it is now available in every format your little heart could desire at Smashwords, or, if you prefer, it’s also for sale in a Kindle version at Amazon or a Nook version at Barnes and Noble!

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17 thoughts on “October is Anti-Bullying Month”

  1. Wonderful. Wonderful for sharing and for standing up for your son. Is bullying a child centered issue or parent/teacher/adult ignorance issue? Blind eyes are turned everyday and it is overwhelming to think of all the tortured kids out there and how it molds and changes them in negative ways.

    1. Excellent question! It seems there is a lot of “bullying education” going on for both kids and adults, but I don’t think increased awareness has helped much.

  2. Last week I went on a field trip with Z’s class, and as I watched all the kids play together, almost interchangeably, it struck me that they hadn’t learned about excluding others yet. But they will, won’t they? But why do they have to? And who teaches them? Ok, enough rhetorical questions for one morning 😉 Great post!

  3. Bullying scares the bejeesus out of me, I really hope I recognize it if it happens to my kids and that I manage to take the correct course of action, cause sometimes it’s not cut and dry is it… ugh, food for thought…

  4. I too was “bullied”, although no one called it that then. I was a second grader and what was going on made me physically sick. I went to one doctor after another while losing weight. I lost almost 20 lbs. That is an incredible weight loss for a 7 year old and everyone was quite concerned. Eventually the doctors had ruled out any physical diseases and told my parents it was psychological. A 7 year old doesn’t know psychological…. but I did recover, made new friends and eventually got an apology from one of the girls. Connie, the bully, has had a life of addiction and loneliness. I suppose what goes around, comes around. I sure could use a little bulling

  5. I feel like adults who say “boys will be boys” or “it’s just kids being kids” are part of the problem. I’m sorry that you and your little boy had to go through that. I’m glad that you pursued it and made the best decision for your little one.

  6. We’ve already had to face this with my Big Girl. It is so, so hard when it is your child and you just want to beat the snot out of the other kid, but can’t. It is even harder when you have people at the school that won’t listen to you or do anything about what is going on.

  7. What an amazing post. I remember watching what was considered “kids being kids” back in the day when I was little. I thought it was awful then and I am a big advocate now to protect all children (and adults too). This was my favorite line…”By the way, Christina and Isaac are the bullies’ real names. You change names to protect the innocent, not those torturing the innocent.”

  8. Ugh, this took me back to my days in 6th grade through jr. High. Bullying is horrendous and I pray my kids are never bullied, but more so that they never become a bully! Thanks for sharing, I know it’s not easy to share.

  9. I was brutally bullied as a child. I was the fat kid. Older kids made the kids in my class say horrible things to me so they wouldn’t get beat up. I remember one day a boy waited for me to walk home, pushed me in a snowbank, shoved my face down in it so I couldn’t breathe, and held it there for a while. I was like 8 or 9. And I was terrified.

    People HAVE to speak out, and people HAVE to punish these children. If an adult did that to another adult it would be assault! They would go to JAIL. But people “pooh-pooh” bullying like it’s a rite of passage or something. Bullshit. It’s cruel and horrible and wrong.

    1. The pattern of the bully or bullies pulling other kids into the situation seems universal. They manipulate the other kids into “assisting with” the bullying, and the kids go along with it because they don’t want to be the one BEING bullied.

  10. Good, vivid post, Angie. Both my daughter and I had friends who suddenly turned on us, leaving us bewildered and tearing away the fragile self-esteem you have at that age. I think of the worst bully occasionally, and her birthday is still one of the days I dislike the most, even though it’s in my favorite month: anti-bullying month.

  11. Really powerful post, A. Wow. What I find discouraging is how so many kids don’t think of their behavior as bullying, and how their parents get defensive and try to justify their kid’s actions as a one-time incident or an unusual response. My 11-year-old has a tendency to gossip, and I try to keep her aware of the immaturity and meanness of spreading rumors or even listening to her friends talk about other girls. Our culture of “mean girls” starts so young and with seemingly insignificant gossip that we moms need to stay on top of.

    1. You are so right that parents need to stay on top of their kids’ actions. After John switched schools I found out he’d made some sort of verbal-bullying remark to a classmate and I came down on him so hard you’d have thought he’d broken all the ten commandments at once! I think so much of it is seeing or experiencing the behavior and then assuming it’s OK. As parents, we really have to draw a line in the sand AND do our best to model appropriate behavior (not always easy).

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