Bullying: What’s a Parent to Do?

cupcakes

My daughter is possibly the most kindhearted person I know. She sees people in the best light, cares about them, and does anything for them.  She is the type of person that I would like to be.  In addition to being simply wonderful, she is exceptionally talented in many areas – acting, speaking, singing, writing, and baking.  The cupcakes in the picture to the left are her creation from this past weekend.  Chocolate espresso cupcakes infused with marscapone cheese mixed with espresso and frosted with a cream cheese espresso mixture. As she has grown up, she has become a true friend to me.  I adore her, I love spending time with her, and I feel as though she understands me.  I cannot imagine why anyone would ever want to be mean to her.

From time to time, though, it happens.

My daughter loves school.  Over the years, she has had some bouts of illness that have kept her out of school for a week or more. This makes her so frustrated because she loves school and because she loves her friends. School seems to be a breeding ground for mean. If kids have issues at home, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, they tend to go to school and act out their anger on others.  Well, one of those girls decided she needed to take out some of her “stuff” on my daughter.

From fourth grade to eighth grade, my daughter attended Beacon Academy, a charter school in a suburb of Minneapolis that had small class sizes and only two classrooms per grade. There are many advantages to small schools with small class sizes. Although this has many advantages, one of the disadvantages is that there is not a lot of room if there are issues with someone in your grade.

The girl that we now refer to as “the mean girl” had a similar build to my daughter.  In addition, my daughter wore glasses.  Following in her mother’s footsteps, my daughter is not terribly athletic and does not really enjoy team sports. Like me, gym was easily her least favorite class in school.  For some reason, the mean girl decided to be mean – to my daughter.  She gave my daughter dirty looks, talked about her to other kids, and taunted her in gym class.  As we were discussing this blog post, my daughter could not remember a lot of specific details, but she did repeatedly say, “She was just mean to me, Mom.”

I remember that.

For five years, my daughter ate lunch with this girl, attended gym class with this girl, and possibly even rode the bus with this girl. When she started being mean to my daughter, I asked my daughter why the girl might have chosen her.  The only reason that my daughter could think of was because my daughter had friends and the other girl did not have that many.  So – my first suggestion was that maybe my daughter should be nice to the girl and maybe even try to be her friend.

That is a pretty hard thing to have come out of a mother’s mouth.  Be nice and be friends seems like a ridiculous thing to say.  The MamaBear in me wanted to say, “I’ll tear her up.  I’ll take that girl out and teach her what it feels like to be picked on. If she even looks at you funny, I will take care of this.”  Instead, I tried to help her gain some perspective. If the girl was jealous of my daughter because she had more friends, maybe she just needed more friends.  My daughter had plenty of friends, and she was a good friend to those friends. Adding another friend to the friend group would not hurt anyone.

Oddly enough, as my daughter remembers things, this worked.  It did not work right away – there were plenty of bad days and even some tears (and yes, I am sure that I probably mentioned it to the classroom teacher at least once so that she could keep an eye on the situation) – but eventually it did.  In fact, my daughter now refers to her as “my friend *insert name that is being left out to protect child’s identity here*” when she talks about middle school.

The pain from those years of the words, the looks, and the actions is not entirely gone.  When I asked my daughter if she would consider herself to have been bullied, this was the situation that she shared. We talked through what advice I had given, and she said without hesitation that it was the right thing to do in the situation.  As she reflects on the mean girl, my daughter is pretty sure that the girl had some home situation issues that were not ideal. None of this makes it “all better, “ but it seems to hurt less now than it did then.

I realize that not every situation turns out this well. I have been fortunate to have gone through the past eleven school years without either of my children being targets of severe bullying.  However, some parents escalate situations rather than help situations by getting too involved too quickly.  I am not advocating that parents do nothing.  However, parents do need to take a step back and assess situations before jumping in too quickly.

One of the things that truly bothers me is what parents call bullying. When your child comes home from school and says that they were “bullied today,” take a step back and remember that bullying, by definition, needs to be repetitive. In order for a child to truly be involved in a bullying situation, it needs to happen more than once.  If the mean girl in my daughter’s school had been mean to her once, she would not be a bully.

In fact, by the true definition of bullying, the situation that I shared in yesterday’s blog would not be considered bullying unless Michelle stuffed me in my locker day after day – which she did not.

As parents, we need to protect our children.  That is one of our main callings.  We cannot keep them from harm entirely as I mentioned in Monday’s post (again – not sure that the situation would meet the true definition); however, repetitive, intentional, hurtful behavior that involves an imbalance of power needs to be addressed. Schools vary in their approaches to this, and – as I have mentioned – sometimes those who claim to have the best approach to bullying are actually doing the worst job.  Either way, though, teachers and school officials need to be informed of situations so that they can address the issue in accordance with their school policies.

Additionally, parents need to “load up” their children with Developmental Assets – a toolbox of internal resources that bring many benefits to those who have them.  According to the information about these assets on the ParentFuther website, the more assets that youth have, the more likely they are to succeed in many areas of their lives.  This toolbox of 40 values, experiences, relationships, and qualities will also help children stand up to bullies, build resilient behavior when bullying happens, and keep children from becoming bullies themselves.  The difference of this approach in comparison to anti-bullying curriculum is that the assets create long-term impact rather than short-term solutions that simply put band-aids on the issues.

My daughter is in her second year of high school now and is having a great time at school.  I actually envy her a bit because she loves school that much. I am glad that she left middle school considering the mean girl a friend from that time period. I know that our situation ended well; I think in part this was because of the way her teachers stayed on top of the bullying situation. However, more than that, my daughter has a pretty full toolbox when it comes to the assets.  As I look at the list of assets, I realize that my daughter has a lot of them.

And for that, I have many people to thank.  You know who you are…and I thank you.

“I have a dream”… that someday all children have a “village” of school, family, and church/community to raise them in the way that our children have been raised – ready to take on the world with a huge support network behind them.

2 Comments

Filed under Education, Parenting

2 responses to “Bullying: What’s a Parent to Do?

  1. Melanie Anderson

    One of the best things my husband and I did as parents was to move our kids into a different school district after trying to resolve issues with bullying for two years. One of my biggest regrets is waiting for so long to actually make the change. I was dealing with adults (very much like the kids) who would say things like “boys will be boys.” Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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    • Agreed – this was a good move on your parts as parents. Sometimes it does get so bad that the culture itself will not allow a resolution. Unfortunately, that is when parents need to act in drastic measures, and – in doing so – you show your love and support for your kids. That extra mile or two that it may have been to drive them to a new district is a mile or two (or twenty or thirty – depending on the location!) of love. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

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