School shouldn’t be scary

When I was 12 I was the victim of tween bullying. It happened over the course of an entire school year and reached a rather frightening climax. I’ve managed to forget most of what happened, and the well of anxiety that came with going to school each day. But there are a handful of vivid memories that remind me how hard it was. I can still recall the fear and panic I felt. The actions of one immature and misguided girl marked me forever. To this day, more than 20 years later, I struggle with issues of self-confidence because of it.

I was in grade 7. She was in grade 8. She was popular and from a privileged family. I didn’t have a very good opinion of myself, but I projected an air of confidence. I remember how that made me easy prey. She had a circle of friends to fortify her torment. I was afraid to greet her and her posse in the stairwell. The words and her jeering cut to the quick.

I attended the grade 8 graduation dance. It was tradition that the grade 7 students be invited. I always enjoyed dancing and celebrating with my friends, so of course I attended. We donned our party dresses and kicked it up laughing and twirling to party tunes on the gymnasium floor. As the evening wore one, the crowd seemed to balloon. I remember there were kids coming in who shouldn’t have been there, kids from other schools. There was a rather large group congregating around this girl at one point. They seemed to be egging her on.

I was sitting taking a break on  a bench at the side of the gym when she decided to approach. It was dark and she had dozens of friends following her. I remember feeling a sense of doom and fear that I could almost taste. The words that were said were cruel and instigating. I tried to retort with indifference, to deflate her boldness and not show my fear. But she was fueled by the crowd’s energy. It escalated to pushing and shoving and I started shaking. And crying. I was overcome with despair and embarrassment. I remember wondering vaguely where the teachers were, why they hadn’t come to help. Eventually they came, our parents were phoned and I was left feeling somehow like it had been my fault.

As an adult, I’ve gained the perspective to know what she was really about, how terribly insecure she must have been and how keen her need to impress her friends. I now know that it really had little to do with me, and was all about her. Nonetheless her actions changed me.

So you can imagine my worry when my 4-year-old came home from school recently and told us that a boy in his class had kicked and hit him. It cut like a knife. I tried not to panic and decided to give it a day, to see if it continued, if perhaps it was just boys play out of hand. The next day he said it had happened again, and in the morning he declared he had a sore tummy and didn’t want to go to school. And I knew, I just knew.

I called the school and spoke to the principal. He assured me he would follow up immediately. Within an hour he called me back. You won’t believe this, he said, I went to the classroom to speak to the teacher and she said how interesting. The little boy was being punished at that moment for having had his hands on my son.

In some ways, that was the best thing that could have happened. It confirmed there was a problem to everyone immediately. The school took charge,and after a couple of additional minor incidents and a few phone calls back and forth, my son has settled happily back into his routine. It was just a blip, and yet how I know how important a blip it was.

Through his experience, and because of my own, I know that I have to equip my son with the confidence he needs to cope with these kind of challenges. I won’t always be there and I want him to feel secure. Always. His confidence will come from trusting adults to handle the situation swiftly and fairly. It will come from his own ability to stand up for himself and feel comfortable saying no when a situation is hurtful or unfair. He has to learn that no one has the right to hurt him ever. Important lessons, big lessons for a 4-year-old.

It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where people gain power from being mean to others. Where children as young as 4 and 5 already know fear and how to hurt. I hope for different. I think we can change this one family at a time. I wrote this post to raise awareness. As mothers, as parents, we have an obligation to teach our children how to treat others, and to give them the skills they need to be able to cope in a competitive world. A flawed world. A world where real life isn’t always easy, but where we can make a difference.

Image: ‘bullyingDM2810_468x720‘ via a Creative Commons license.
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35 thoughts on “School shouldn’t be scary

  1. How scary. And it can be hard to strike the balance of calm and assertive when we have our own histories. But you handled it so well!

  2. Amber says:

    I’m so glad that this situation was caught early, and handled swiftly. You did well, mama. Your sons are lucky to have you in their corner.

  3. Amber says:

    I get this. Get this. There were days during middle and high school that I was scared to go to school because of certain boys. Jerks. Even though I hope they have grown up, I still have angry feelings when I think about them and know that if I never saw them again, I’d be okay with that. Ironically, my elder sister was one of the so-called mean girls in high school. She was the year ahead of me. Yeah, I think there isn’t a coincidence of my hatred toward school. (She was awesome and tried to protect me. But, I wasn’t as popular or beautiful like her so I was an easy target.)

    • Christine says:

      It’s interesting isn’t it how our siblings can have completely different experiences than us. I’m the oldest. My brother was part of the “in” crowd, and is still close with his group of high school friends to this day.

  4. Shell says:

    So hard to see when we are in a situation that it isn’t really about us, that it is the bully who has problems. I’m glad the situation with your son was resolved quickly. I’m so worried about my kids having to deal with something like this. My oldest is in kindergarten and while he hasn’t had problems in his class, he is having problems on the bus. Some punk older kid SPIT on him. I was livid.

  5. I think schools do a much better job today than they used to when it comes to bullying. My kids (10, 9 and 7) have had a few minor run-ins with other kids over the years – situations that had the potential to escalate but didn’t. Now they are part of the school PALS team – looking out for other kids that are maybe too afraid to stand up for themselves if there is a problem. I’ve told my kids that yes – they need to tell us if they are being bullied, but also that they need to tell us or get involved if someone else is as well. It means I hear a lot of things that maybe I don’t need to be told – but I’d rather know too much than too little.

    Now on-line bullying…there’s something I’m not sure quite how to handle. Mine are still too young for it, but I kinda dread navigating those tween years…sigh.

    • Christine says:

      Denise, you raise an important point about making sure we teach our children to intervene when it’s appropriate. I hadn’t thought of that angle and how important it is. I suspect it can make a huge difference too, for a bully to see that there peers don’t accept their behaviour.

  6. Corinne says:

    I’m so sorry that happened to you guys.
    I guess not surprisingly, I was also bullied, but in high school. I was homeschooled through 8th grade, and then when I got to high school I was a very easy target. I remember a friend coming up to me, telling me “I just wanted to let you know, on one of the chalk boards read… “so and so(a boy) likes boys and Corinne S…” and so it went and from then until about my junior year and I just kept my head down and plugged away. I never said anything to anyone. I wish I had found my voice.
    What’s shocking is it’s happening younger and younger. I spent an hour on the phone earlier this week with a friend who’s first grader is randomly being bullied, and they’re considering homeschooling. I would be lying if I said the thought never crossed my mind. It’s a problem, and it’s just getting worse. I can’t even begin to imagine what my life would have been like during those tough years with the addition of non stop bullying in regards to the internet and texting and on and on and on…
    (obviously, you hit a nerve with me tonight 😉 Sorry for the novel… thanks for the opportunity to vent in your comments!)
    I’m glad your sons school took things seriously.

    • Leslie says:

      Bullying has always been scary – but Corinne is so right: the way the social timeline is changing is terrifying.
      A long-ago classmate got in touch with me online recently and wanted to talk about what happened after she dropped out of high school. She didn’t have much of a home life, and she was bullied in the hallway and in the classroom. For the life of me, I don’t know why. She wasn’t less pretty or smart than most of the kids in school, and we were all poor – but for some reason, most of the other students in our class chose her to pick on. I was nice to her – nothing more – and of course I wish now that I’d aligned myself more assertively with the right side. Now she’s grown and happy and was glad to get in touch. But now there are students like them, and like us, and like her, venturing into these awful games earlier and earlier, with more speed and spread and frequency.
      And the idea that it all starts as early as 4? It terrifies me. I hope it’s at least still a simpler matter at that age – for me at 5, it was Elaine, a pincher – so that our children get enough time to be children, and some practice in confidence and care.

  7. It’s awful when we see it happening to our kids, at any age. And when we’ve been bullied ourselves, it touches on memories that make it all the more difficult.

    I think bullying has always been around, and sadly, to some degree, may always be. The underbelly of human behavior. The need to feel better about oneself by intimidating or putting down someone else. I don’t get it, but it’s always there. In adults, as well as children.

    Perhaps all we can do is teach our own kids not to do it. And bit by bit, the bullies will be outnumbered.

    • Christine says:

      I agree BLW, one by one I think we can make a difference. Teaching our chlildren what to do when they are bullied, when others are being bullied and how to be kind themselves can make a big difference.

  8. Aging Mommy says:

    I experienced bullying at school for a period of time too and it has affected me throughout my life – one of the reasons I always keep my guard up, so as not to risk getting hurt. I never told my parents about the bullying. What I hope with my daughter is that if such things happen she will tell me about them. Your son did tell you what happened and you acted totally the right way and handled this perfectly. There will always be bullies, it is sad because nine times out of ten the bullying child is a miserable child. All we can do I think is encourage our children to always speak up if they are being bullied and to always stick up for another child who is being bullied.

  9. Rudri says:

    How scary Christine. I am so relieved that the school handled this situation properly. Bullying is something I don’t think I will ever understand. Your son’s communication skills were essential in eliminating this problem. He told you. You acted. The school got involved. And it appears this problem is solved. Kudos to your son and you for sharing such a relationship.

  10. Good for you, Christine–you knew–you just knew. You knew because you took a painful experience from your past and turned it into a weapon in your Motherly Arsenal. Bullies will always be there (alas) but with your help, hopefully your son won’t experience the kind of trauma that you did.

  11. Maranda says:

    It’s very important to be your child’s advocate. Often the school just want the problem – or the victim – to go away. I’ve been dealing with bullying at my children’s school for over two years and have had very little results, other than the trustee suggesting we transfer. I keep track of everything and am in constant communication with the administration and the teachers; it’s been my experience that you need to be very proactive and stick up for your child when dealing with the school.

    • Christine says:

      Fortunately it seems our experience with the school has been good. They took swift action and kept the lines of communication open and welcoming. I’m very grateful for that. But I also learned an important lesson about staying on top of things and proving to my son that there are adults he can trust.

  12. Great post, Christine. I was also bullied in 6th grade. I couldn’t believe the venom that this girl felt toward me, seemingly for no reason, all of a sudden one day. She decided to pick on me and “fight” me, and I felt like I had to stand up for myself and go through with it.

    That, in addition to other girls being mean, has definitely affected who I’ve become. It even affected me as a teacher when dealing with teenagers, my old insecurities rising.

    The thing I couldn’t understand was how someone could be so mean for no reason, and I also couldn’t understand how a parent allows it. I will never, ever tolerate that from my kid. But so many parents–bullies themselves–think nothing of it.

    Maybe you can start a blog carnival about this topic? I’d like to write about it as well! I’m so glad it has worked out okay for your son. I’m curious how that kid’s parents responded.

    • Christine says:

      You know what Jana, it’s the same for me in a room of teenagers. And also I still live in the same small town, so I run into this person in the grocery store and at other venues. She still causes my nerves to flare and my insecurities to strike.

      A blog carnival is a good idea. Let me give that some thought!

  13. Kameron says:

    It is terrible that it exists at all, let a lone at 4 years old. I was picked on, mostly just name calling, but it changed my attitude. I always had to be the hard ass because that was the only way I knew to defend myself. I would say now that I have a bark that my bite can’t back up because of it. Luckily, my bark was always convincing enough that I never had to prove it. I hope all is well in your son’s classroom and he has a better experience going forward!

  14. Christine, this is a timely post as I just wrote about school bullying myself (scheduled to post next week) and your words confirmed what I thought: that bullying needs to be nipped in the bud as quickly as possible. Glad your son had such a good advocate!

  15. Stacia says:

    I dread this. Dread. It. I had my own middle-school experience that left my self-confidence scarred for years, probably longer, probably still, and I hate that my children will be subjected to the same thing. And it could happen any day now really. I’m so glad your son’s support system rallied together to take charge immediately. That’s all we can hope for as we continue to love and watch and teach and hope, together.

  16. Jack says:

    I had a few experiences with bullying over the years in school and in the workplace. As an adult it was much easier to deal with as I knew how to handle it.

    But it is different with our children. Very different when they are the ones who are taking the punishment. Fortunately I think that there is greater awareness and that people are trying to do what they can to prevent or stop it from happening.

  17. This post cuts me to the quick. I am so, so sorry that you, and then your son, had to experience anything other than a warm, safe, nurturing school environment. I was never the victim of physical bullying, but I dread to think of it happening to my boys – or, really, to any child. I hope and pray that this will be your son’s only taste of such an awful experience. Good for you for supporting him and for making contact with the school right away.

  18. Chantal says:

    My oldest has been the target of bullying on and off since JK. I remember one day in JK when he got off the bus and he was white as a ghost and when Kevin asked him what was wrong he said a boy had punched him. It took everything Kevin had not to chase down that bus and throttle the boy (who was also in JK). We delt with it with the help of the principle.

    This year D has had an issue with a different boy in his class. Last week Kevin took matters into his own hands and went to the boys house to talk to his parents. Thankfully it went well, the parents listened and spoke to their boy and so far it is working. Turns out this boy is being bullied by another boy in his class and his way of dealing with it is to push D around.

  19. Hyacynth says:

    I’m really glad you were able to resolve the issue at school with your oldest. But oh my goodness. At four?
    Have you ever heard of The Protectors in regard to bullying. Google it. You probably would really appreciate it, and maybe your son’s school might even be interested.
    Sending you hugs tonight. 🙂

  20. Sandra says:

    Sounds to me like all bodies were moving in quick…more quickly than they did 30 years ago. I don’t even go there mentally. I remember telling my parents that I wanted to call the police, I was so fed up of the bullying. Their response: “It’ll all blow over.” You are a terrific mother.

  21. KittyCat says:

    This is a topic that really frustrates me. My soccerboy has been bullied his whole life. Just now as a sophmore in H.S. is the first time he has not been.
    There is only so much you can do. Even though most schools claim to have no bullying policies, that doesnt mean crap.

    Since it still goes on everywhere.
    My kid was bullied mostly cause he was always smaller than most the other kids his age.

    New here.

  22. Justine says:

    Oh Christine, at age 4??? Seriously? Poor guy. This rattles me. I’ve never experienced it – bullying in general was never an issue where I’m from. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing but this is what scares me – having had no experience with this, I just don’t know what to expect. And I’m not sure how I would handle it either. I know I can read about it and ask for help – both of which I’m fully prepared to do, but sometimes real world issues like that need real world experience. I can be idealistic and hope it never happens to my little girl but I’m more a realist. It doesn’t sound very likely that she will escape unscathed. How awful it is that it’s a rite of passage. Ugh!

  23. denise says:

    I applaud your handling of this scary scenario. And for brining awareness. xo

  24. Yankee Girl says:

    Poor little man! He is lucky to have to on his side. Hopefully with your help he won’t have to experience the same things as you.

  25. Oh Christine, what a hard thing to blog about. I went through a period around the same age where I was teased constantly. For whatever reason I was an easy target in middle school. Kids can be so mean, and their comments can have a long and lasting effect.

  26. Kate says:

    Good for you! I know when my 5 yr old tells me things, I try to keep a balanced reaction. Too much and maybe she won’t want to tell me again. (I protected my parents from many things that really they should have helped me with.) Too little, and she won’t trust me to help her.
    My daughter has been punched. She has been teased. Not in any organized way or repeatedly. It is awful.

    It sounds like you took care of business!

  27. Yo mama mouth so big, she speaks in surround sound.

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