Probably living some miserable life, where karma is biting you in the butt daily and not even your little cronies could possible still consider you cool.
Or maybe you are living in some amazing house, with a beautiful family and still bullying everyone, but getting away with it because you have a circle of friends that enables it.
I mean, I would much rather envision scenario A, but let’s face it, that second tale happens quite frequently I’m sure.
I try to think back to my school days and figure out where I was on the spectrum. I am pretty sure I was bullied here and there, definitely made fun of, and maybe even the ‘mean girl’ myself a few times. But for the most part, I don’t think I had a large role as the bullier or the bullied.
Now, my main concern is that my children can look back on their childhood and have similar feelings. There are so many things you want for your children and to not fall prey to bullying (as perpetrator or receiver) is right up there at the top of the list.
Confident and kind. Confident and kind. Confident and kind.
If I whisper it in their little ears at night, will it take hold? The way cheesy sitcoms (and I) used to say putting a science book under your pillow would help you ace the test through osmosis. (See? It works! I know what osmosis is!)
All of the news lately about bullying people who are gay already had me thinking about this topic…and then I saw this article about bullying in childhood 2010 style. As the mother of two little ones, it definitely grabbed me. It seems to be starting earlier and earlier, guys. Buckle those seat belts stroller straps.
So, um, yikes. First grade? Kindergarten?
The first time I was made fun of in a way that it hurt enough that I remember it clearly was in fourth grade. (ie. NOT kindergarten!) I was brand new to a small town and on the first day of school I wore what I considered the coolest outfit imaginable: A chambray skirt with a matching chambray vest that had tiny ribbon bows in different colors all over it. White tights. Watch out world. This new girl was ready to own that elementary school!
The first grade teacher had the nerve to have on the SAME. EXACT. OUTFIT.
I kid you not. (KGB, if you’re reading this, you want to speak up and vouch for this fact, please?)
Then, I spilled chocolate milk on myself at lunch. A group of kids spent all of recess chanting what started as “The new girl pees her pa-ants! The new girl pees her pa-ants!” and by the end of recess had turned into “The new girl pees bro-own! The new girl pees bro-own!”
Yeah, I know. Crazy. 45 minutes and they still didn’t manage to figure out my name. Too bad for them. It would have almost rhymed with pants.
But the truth is, even though I say that I remember that event clearly, I am fully able to laugh at it. At myself. Because I quickly had friends and only suffered the normal cruelties of childhood: Braces. Groups of girls hating me. Being called ‘A carpenter’s dream’ by boys that I wanted to think I was cute. Falling at inopportune times.
But there was real cruelty back then, too. Kids who were being truly bullied. Who would take it and take it and take it until they couldn’t take it anymore. Who would, maybe once a year, lose it and explode on someone who pushed them too far. Punching and punching and punching, red in the face and clearly out of their mind with hurt and anger and confusion.
Why won’t you just leave me alone??????
Or worse. Which I can barely type because it has me choked up. Because I can’t imagine losing a child due to the cruelty of others. Of other children.
And now I ache for my own boys. Because I know that they will have to navigate all of this ugliness. All I want is for them to make it through to the other side a happy, confident person who can also honestly say they never bullied or ganged up on someone else.
While this article largely focused on girls and I do know, first-hand, just how vicious girls can be, I worry about my boys too.
Just the other day a little boy hit Carlitos on the playground. Carlitos just stood there, looking confused and hurt. Then he started saying, “Don’t do that! That’s not nice! Not nice!”
Luckily, the other mom saw it happen and took her son home, while telling him that hitting is bad.
When I told my husband, he asked if Carlitos hit the kid back. I could tell a part of him hoped that he had. Didn’t want his son to ever take someone’s abuse lying down. Wanted to make sure we are sending him into the world capable of defending himself.
But I had to remind him that our son just turned 3. He is mere moments out of toddlerhood. We can’t teach him to defend himself because he would never be able to comprehend in which situations it is okay. So we teach him to say Stop. To tell the person he doesn’t like that. To make sure an adult knows what is happening.
And then I realize how ridiculous it is that this is something we have to navigate with a 3-year-old. But this is the reality. As the article discusses, not only are kids demonstrating bully behavior younger and younger, but parents are more and more enabling of it. Not even just unaware. Enabling.
In the three years I have been a parent, I have seen this up close and personal. Often. It is hard to give your child a Time Out for yelling at another child when you saw that child shove your child while the other parent did nothing. Actually, it is more than hard. It is frustrating and infuriating at times. But we do it. Because I have also seen the teenage and adult versions of those children whose poor behavior is enabled.
It ain’t pretty.
While there will always be some bullies out there, I think that if we all use this anti-bullying momentum to remember to treat others with kindness and to teach our children to be inclusive and thoughtful, maybe we can save a child or two some genuine pain. It doesn’t hurt to try.
And I am not trying to be all ‘preachy.’ I will work on being nicer, too…
*The teacher in me says “Here’s a link if you want to learn more!” I’m not the author of the article(s) below, but it’s still decent writing, I guess… I mean, if you like writing that isn’t mine.*
The Playground Gets Even Tougher, by Pamela Paul; The New York Times (The same article that is linked to within this post)
Bullying, Suicide, and Punishment, by John Schwartz; The New York Times