Our 10-year old son has a big heart. He’s kind, he’s considerate, he’s respectful, and as a result, he’s a prime target for teasing.
While he’s not being beaten up, threatened, or ridiculed to the point of tears as some who endure bullying are, he’s often confused as to why other kids pick on him when his only offense is existing.
The worst offenders are the girls. Holy Moses. The pack mentality that exists in 5th grade girls is out of control. They’ve spit in his food, teased him relentlessly, broken his pencils, and onward the list grows. What makes it worse is that one of the ringleaders recently received an award for her Anti-Bullying poster when the kids all graduated from a “Stop Bullying!” campaign sponsored by the local police department. I so wanted to jump up and shout, “SHAM!” as she read her speech about kindness and treating others with respect.
When Michael did what he was told and reported what was being done to him, a teacher (not HIS teacher) explained that no one likes a tattle-tale. Maybe not, but last I checked, no one likes a bully either. And without harsh repercussions, the cycle will only grow. Today’s schools will never put an end to bullying through posters and pledges. They mean nothing. The solution lies in diligence, punishment, and an open door policy when the bullied seek refuge.
Thanks to this complete breakdown in teacher responsibility, Michael stayed quiet about what he endured. Even as the antics continued and got progressively worse, he was too afraid to approach anyone about what he was experiencing.
Well, as parents, we could see that he was off. Parents have a sixth sense when it comes to their children and we could tell something was amiss. It took the equivalent strength and cutting power of the Jaws of Life to pry his brain open, but once we did, the deluge of spilled emotions was incredible.
The posters on the wall? The pledges made to the officers? The promises made to each other? It was all for show. In these children’s eyes, nothing has changed. Those who witness bullying are told to stick up for the child being bullied. They don’t. Not because they lack the moral fortitude to do so, but because they don’t want to become the next target.
Those who are bullied are told to approach an adult, but even if the adult does take action, the child has broken the unspoken law against squealing. The result? More teasing, only this time, with the added smack of being labeled a baby or tattle-tale.
Quite honestly, I don’t see an end to this because the schools are pretty darn powerless to stop it. In my opinion, it starts and ends in the home and throughout the community. If parents, adults, and people in power don’t deliver the message effectively, nothing will ever change.
And the problem doesn’t just lie in strangers or acquaintances. Even kids who we’ve entertained daily in our home are part of the problem. They claim to be Michael’s friend but have no qualms about turning on him without warning. While the teasing and mean-spirited comments are bad enough, I believe their biggest offense lies in their indifference and silence when others are targeting their “friend.”
When another kid started teasing Michael and threatened to hurl a basketball in his face, they didn’t tell him to stop. They laughed and joined in until Michael gave up and came home. Ten minutes later, they were on our porch apologizing. Twenty minutes after that, the cycle repeated itself.
If any of you are close to completing a functioning time machine and are contemplating a trip back to 5th grade, don’t do it. In fact, you’d be doing everyone a great service if you just destroyed the apparatus as it sits and burned the plans. 5th graders have almost no loyalty. It’s like the Serengeti. If the pack or pride sees prey being devoured, they don’t defend the weak, they participate. In Michael’s case, his friends M.O. is to tease him, send him home, and apologize. Tease him, send him home, and apologize.
Michael has had enough.
Around their parents, they are model children. They’re polite, overly gracious, and not at all shy about exchanging “I Love You’s” and friendly goodbyes. But once the parents are out of earshot, we witness crotch-grabbing, offensive name calling, petty arguments over absolutely nothing, and vocalized gangsta rap lyrics with such touching lines as “All the ladies in the hood ‘r gonna suck my…”.
Yeah. I’m not making this up.
As well, Michael is friendly with a number of girls at his school and has a romantic interest (as best a 10-year old can) in a few of them. Once his “friends” caught wind of this, they were relentless. They teased him over his affections, claimed he was crazy because so and so is “fat”, and even asked their Magic 8-Ball if “Michael and so-and-so were going to have sex.”
Again. I’m not making this up. These aren’t high schoolers. These are 10-year olds.
Over the past few months, we’ve worried about Michael regressing due to the behavior he’s witnessing and experiencing. We worried that he’d hide his jovial, innocent self and have his happy-go-lucky nature battered into submission by kids who clearly wear two faces.
But, and I say this with complete pride, Michael shocked us during a heart-to-heart talk tonight in our family room. What he shared demonstrated to us that instilling proper values in your children from day one can pay eternal dividends. For he isn’t changing who he is in the hopes that they ignore him. He’s ignoring them in the hopes that they change who they are. And if they don’t? He says he doesn’t need them anyway.
He recognizes that just because these kids live down the street, it doesn’t mean he’s obligated to play with them or continue to be their punching bag. He doesn’t have to stand for it, and I’m proud of him for making the decision not to.
He doesn’t care if they don’t like who he likes. He doesn’t care if they’re in the habit of labeling girls as “fat”, “ugly”, or “creepy”. It isn’t going change how he treats or perceives the girls he gets “weird inside” over when they’re nearby. He doesn’t care if his decision means they won’t be his friend any more, because as he puts it, “If you think about it, they really weren’t friends to begin with.”
THIS…is who we raised.
He mentioned how uncomfortable he was when they started talking about overtly sexual topics and swearing “just because they thought it was cool.” When Heather pressed to be told what they said, he replied, “Mom, I just can’t tell you. It would offend girls everywhere. And you are one. Just know it was really bad. Women all over the world would be offended.”
We’ve had discussions with these boys before about their behavior and what’s allowed and not allowed in our home. It’s time for another one should the opportunity arise. If they’re on our property or in our home, they’re going to respect us, our son, and our rules. Elsewhere, if they want to be crass, disrespectful, and mean to one another, so be it, but Michael won’t be there. In the past, I chalked their behaviors up to boys just being boys, but it’s evolved into something worrisome.
Among Michael’s many quirks is his innate ability to take any compliment you give him and blow it so out of proportion that you almost expect him to be knighted by the Queen of the Universe as a result. If you tell him he ran fast, he says it’s probably a record. If you tell him he cooks some mean spaghetti, he sits down to craft a plan for his restaurant. And if you tell him you’re proud of him for letting behaviors roll off his back, he thinks he’s the son of God.
Heather: “Michael, I hope you know how proud we are that you don’t let this stuff get to you.”
Michael: “Well, it gets to me, I just don’t let it bother me for very long.”
Heather: “I know, but we’re really happy that you’re you and that you won’t change just because some people act this way. When these girls tease you, just tell them that you don’t understand why they’re picking on you but that you forgive them.”
Me: “He forgives them? Michael…have they ever apologized? Have they asked to be forgiven?”
Michael: “No. They like trying to make me miserable too much.”
Me (turning to Heather): “I don’t see where you’re going with this.”
Heather: “When Jesus had mean things done to him and the masses crucified him, he didn’t get angry, he didn’t lash out, and he didn’t seek revenge. He simply said that he forgave them. He was kind, compassionate, and didn’t change who he was in the face of adversity. Just like Michael’s doing.”
Michael (in all seriousness): “So I’m going to be the next Jesus?”
Heather (after a dumbfounded stare): “That’s…actually not at all what I meant.”
Me: “Uh, can I just say that I’d totally be down for that considering it would make me God?”
Heather: “Greg, stop. You know what I mean. And no Michael, you won’t be Jesus, I’m just proud of you for acting as he taught.”
Me: “Ya know. Let’s just say for argument’s sake that he was the next Jesus. If I were you, Michael, I’d march right up to those girls and say, “I don’t understand why you’re picking on me, but I forgive you. Now…enjoy your plague of locusts and watch as I turn your daddy’s wine into water. Oh, and, spoiler alert…you may want to get crackin’ on a boat.”
Heather: “Okay, now you’re just being stupid.”
Me (turning to Heather with palms extended): “I don’t understand why you’re picking on me, but I forgive you.”
Heather: “Sigh. Why do you always insist on being an idiot?”
Me (turning to Michael): “Uh, Michael? As mom has clearly demonstrated, this tactic isn’t entirely foolproof.”
Heather: “Ignore your father. Just do as you’ve been doing. You’re doing wonderful.”
Me: “I agree. We’re both very proud of you for that. But don’t forget what I said about the locusts. Girls HATE bugs.”
I’m not sure how Michael will deal with the next round of shelling but I do find solace in the fact that his skin is thick and his morals thicker. Unfortunately, it pains me to know that other kids aren’t so lucky. I just wish more parents took it upon themselves to put an end to the cycle.
Compassion, or the lack thereof, starts at home.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to make sure Jesus 2.0 hasn’t wandered off to Galilee.