I still remember the fear I felt. I remember my heart rate rising as the adrenaline pumped through my veins. I can still hear his laugh as he choked me with my own hoodie (not to the point of not breathing- just enough to humiliate me). I remember the look of the other guys at my lunch table. Everyone one of them had found something really interesting on their lunch trays because they couldn’t take their eyes off of whatever is it was.
I couldn’t blame them. This guy was much bigger and much meaner than any of us.
This boy was constant. My entire sixth grade year was ruined because this kid wouldn’t let up. No matter what I did, he never stopped.
I still remember the shame I felt. I can still feel my checks burning as wave after wave of embarrassment slammed into me. I remember standing in the gym, in line at lunch, and in the hallways as kids made fun of what I was wearing.
You see, my dad’s roofing business closed just before I went into middle school. As he waited for other job opportunities; money was tight. There wasn’t much for clothing and none for name brand shoes. I wore whatever shoes we could afford.
I’m not complaining. I was well taken care of. I never needed for anything. But kids can be cruel. So when they saw some letters and numbers on my shoes that weren’t like the other kids, they came on like vultures.
I can recall talking with one young woman; we’ll call her Sally. I had another student come to me with a rumor about Sally. I knew Sally and her family well, and knew this rumor to be completely untrue. I also knew that if Sally heard it at school- it would devastate her. I quickly said a prayer as I dialed her number.
Sally answered the phone and I began to let her know what I had heard. I tried to reassure her that I knew it to be untrue and that everyone else would as well. She said that she would take care of it and thanks for calling. I immediately contacted her parents as well.
After an hour or so, I went to see Sally and her family. I could tell that she had been crying and crying hard. No words of comfort could help. She was destroyed. This rumor attacked who she was, it attacked all she tried to be.
I remember one young man; we’ll call him Johnny. Johnny was a young man with the sweetest disposition who happened to have a mental handicap. He was loving and very kind and never judged people by what they looked like or what they wore. All of which are truly strengths but never fail to be recognized as weaknesses.
Certain kids in his class saw them as a weakness and pounced. He was in math class. He was standing next to his desk; humming a tune to himself. The next moment he was writhing on the floor howling in pain. One of the bullies in his class had walked up and punched him with everything he had. Johnny didn’t stand a chance. He crumpled to the floor and rolled around for several moments before other students helped him up.
I’ll never forget the sound of his cry.
I remember my little brother in sixth grade. He rode the bus home every day. There was an eighth grade boy we’ll call him Homer (yes I’m poking fun). Homer decided that one day he was going to start calling my brother “Elliot” from E.T. My brother looks nothing like this character, so at first he just ignored it. But every day; there was Homer, ready to start chanting “Elliot! Elliot! Elliot!” For weeks this taunting continued until my brother finally came to us.
I was in high school at the time and I knew Homer. So I rode the bus for days waiting to have a talk with him. After our talk (and yes, that’s all it was) he never said another word to my brother.
This past week two girls in Minnesota committed suicide by hanging themselves, because they felt like outcasts in their middle school. They were bullied. One of the girls even left a note detailing her funeral.
Do you need more examples? This week was the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.
Another — Two weeks ago a Winfield teenager was arrested for plotting another Columbine “attack” on his school.
Need more? Turn on this evening’s local or national news.
According to education.com, 160,000 students miss school every day for fear of being bullied. Fifty suicides a year are linked to prolonged bullying and approximately 85 percent of all school shootings have revenge against bullies as a major motive.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do something about it. But it starts with us; the parents. If we aren’t shepherding our children then someone will. And the people they become will be out of our control.
So I asked parents what their greatest fear was when it came to bullying. The answer varied slightly, but it boiled down to two basic fears:
- That my son/daughter is being bullied. They don’t talk to me about it and something bad happens.
- That my son/daughter is the bully.
So as parents what do we do to ensure that our children communicate with us and/or that they don’t become the bully? Well, seeing how this issue isn’t new to this generation I have been afforded the opportunity to work with some amazing parents over the last decade. They have taught my wife and I some awesome tips on this very topic and I would like to share those with you.
Let’s address the fear of our students being bullied first. Here is what my wife and I have learned:
- Communicate. Create an environment at home where honest communication can take place. Whether it be the dinner table, the living room or in the car, there should be someplace and time where your student feels free to discuss what matters most in their lives without the fear of being lectured or judged. Students are learning as they go and need a place to openly discuss what’s happening. It may take you asking open ended questions. It’s not a quick process. It’s going to take time to build that relationship, so the earlier you start, the better! If you build that bridge before something happens, they will most likely involve you after something happens.
- Love, love, love! Never let your child doubt your love and devotion to them. They need be aware of the fact that they can never lose that love and acceptance from you. You are their shepherds- guiding, protecting, and leading them to adulthood. No matter what a student says to their parent, they need and crave that love from them.
- Allow them to participate in the solution. So often, our first reaction is to take care of the problem. But that can complicate the issue. Part of adolescence is learning to deal with aggressive and confrontational people. If at all possible, partner with your child to just that. If they aren’t in physical or emotional danger; allow them to handle it with your supervision. Give them the tools to handle situations and then let them do that.
- Be the bad guy. There are times when no matter what you do, your child can’t handle what’s taking place. It’s time for you to handle the situation. Sometimes doing the right thing will make your son or daughter not like you very much. We parents can’t be concerned with our children liking us or not. Sometimes we have to take care of them, even if they don’t understand that right now. Be loving, but be ready to wear the black hat.
As a middle school student who was bullied, my home was a safe haven. It was an oasis. On days where I was really picked on, I looked forward to walking in my front door and being greeted by my parents, my brother, my dog and ready to play with my neighborhood friends. I can remember sitting in my room talking with my parents about what was happening and the support that I got. I never felt pressured or threatened to tell or act a certain way. I just knew that no matter what happened anywhere else, that I was loved at home. Honestly, it made all the difference.
But how do we help our children see what bullying can do to others? How do we instill the values in our kids that will guide them to respect others? Here are a few suggestions to help you along the way:
- Empathy. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. The ability to take yourself out of your situation and relate to a person in a different situation. If we put our children in a postion to learn empathy, it will be much more difficult for them to bully other kids. Do this by putting them in a place of service. Feed the homeless, ring a bell, collect food goods, mow a yard — whatever it is they will see that people are just people; that their station in life doesn’t determine their worth. Empathy teaches that we don’t ridicule based on poverty, race, creed, religion or sexual orientation. Empathy teaches our students a better way.
- Model it! If you are modeling confrontational behavior (think about how you act when driving) then most likely your children will mimic that behavior. On the other hand, chances are that your children won’t be aggressive if you model servant leadership and kindness. If you teach them about putting others first, and more importantly if you live it; they will too. It all boils down to monkey see, monkey do.
- Teach them what bullying is. Your kids may not understand what bullying truly is. Be honest and let them know what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. Tell them where you stand and what your family’s values are on the subject. You would be surprised at how many students aren’t clear on what bullying is.
- Be invested. Over the years I’ve heard teens talk about their friends’ parents who let them do anything they want. Most often these teens live troubled lives. Their parents either don’t care or don’t know how to show they care. Make sure you know what’s taking place in your students’ life. Make sure you know where they are going, who they’re with and what they’re doing. Your teens may not like you digging, but it shows them that you do care. And just between you and me; I’ve had more than one teen tell me that they want their parents to tell them no.
The point is, bullying isn’t about statistics. It is about people. Young people. People trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in this world. If we as friends, brothers, sisters, and parents don’t fight for these children; who will?