Tuesday, March 4, 2008

On Being Bullied

This post could be considered a companion to this earlier post.

Here are a few points that need to preface this discussion:
-- My oldest child is very young compared to his 3rd grade peers at school.
-- He is very obviously their intellectual superior in every way (this is not to brag, but it accurately describes what he is), performing somewhere 3 to 7 grade levels above them on most subjects.
-- He is very obviously their emotional inferior in every way, performing at least 1 grade level below them.
-- He has led a sheltered life away from inappropriate media of all forms, so is ignorant of nearly all things that most consider to be immoral.

Okay, with that setting the background, let me share a story with you.

My son apparently has a crush on another little girl in his class. He doesn't even know what it really means to have a crush, but he knows she's pretty and she's fun to be around. About two weeks ago, there was some kind of incident where the two of them fell down and they didn't extract themselves from the situation in a timely manner. My best guess is that he was rolling around on the ground being silly, but she took it to be something else entirely.

After the situation was over, the little girl ran to a teacher and told her that my son had been trying to "hump" her. As you could expect, everything went berserk at that point. He ended up in the principal's office and the parents of this little girl are naturally very upset. My son, for the record, didn't even know what that word meant, nor did he have any intention of doing that act; he was just being silly.

Well, later that night, my wife and I had a discussion with him about leaving the girls alone. A few days after that, we actually had a very frank and honest discussion about sex. Judging by the size of his eyes during the talk, he really was quite ignorant of all things related to that topic. Nevertheless, he's a smart kid, and he knows now probably far more than his peers do on this topic.

(As a point of information, we know he has learned this knowledge from us, his parents, in a controlled environment; and not by watching TV, looking at pornographic material, or listening to raunchy talk from friends. This is the right way he should be getting this knowledge. The little girl, evidently, has older siblings who are careless in their speech and attitudes, which explains how she knew that word and what it means.)

My son has now been educated and he has been doing better at school leaving the girls alone, so it would be good to move on. However, it is not to be. Now he reports to us that many of the kids now tease him and hit him at least once a day because of the incident. They regularly talk behind his back, laughing at him, he says, and even "the whole class" piled on top of him at one time to "get him".

At this point, we could choose to get upset about what is going on, but we know that our son is prone to not being truthful and to exaggeration. We went to a parent/teacher conference with his teacher yesterday, and expressed some of these concerns to her, and she indicated that she has not been privy to regular beatings. Regarding the "whole class", apparently it was a few kids who pushed him because he was throwing sand in their hair. Now we know the whole story, we weren't so concerned about him being the frequent target of bullying.

But then something happened yesterday that got me thinking. I walked up behind him and he literally flinched at my approach. This was unnerving. The poor kid seems afraid of something, so I sat down and I asked him if he was afraid I was going to hit him. He said no, but it seemed he's jumpy for a reason, so I asked him if kids at school hit him. He then expressed to me that there are several kids that regularly "try" to hit him, or actually do hit him. I asked him to demonstrate to me how it was he was actually getting hit, and he related to me how one boy in particular would come up behind him and punch him in the ribs -- he showed me how it was done. Then he said that this boy then runs off to his friends and they laugh about it.

This scenario seems pretty dramatic, and knowing his propensity for exaggeration (and that he doesn't seem bruised or anything), I didn't completely fly off the handle at his story. Nevertheless, there is probably some bit of truth to the story. I actually know the little boy's parents, so I determined that I would call the mother and talk to her about it.

What followed was a fascinating study in blind parenting. Not only did she deny that such a thing could possibly be happening because "I know my son, and he would never do anything like that" (really, she actually said those words!), but that it was actually my son's own fault for provoking her son because he regularly annoys her son and tries to make him his friend. This last part I could totally understand -- my son can be amazingly annoying (remember the emotionally immature part?), and he does really want everybody to like him.

Nevertheless, her blatant denial that her son could possibly punch another kid simply because she "knows" him and he's "a good kid" is ludicrous. First, a child's behavior at home is, in my experience, never that child's behavior in other environments. Second, her son is a big kid, very strong, with an ego to match; he doesn't have an ounce of patience in him nor does he have any interest in befriending my son (which is fine by us, to be honest). Our two boys are on opposite ends of the eight-year-old spectrum in every category -- their teacher literally has them sitting on opposite sides of the classroom.

In my conversation with her, I honestly indicated that I do not know what really happened. I admitted that my son is prone to lying and exaggerating. I outlined how my son can be immature and, yes, even annoying. Then I asked her if she could just simply ask her son to leave my son alone -- a painless request that would take her about ten seconds. She flatly refused! She said she wasn't going to tell her son to stop doing something that she was convinced he wasn't doing. I pressed her, indicating that simply asking him to leave my son alone wouldn't do any harm, and is an easy thing to do -- again she refused! It was astonishing.

My son can be an annoying know-it-all that makes funny noises, says weird things, and is really uncoordinated. Nevertheless, none of these things means he deserves to be hit on the playground. Again, let me state that I do not know for a fact that he has actually been hit. My son can't produce any witnesses. He tells us that he tells the teachers on duty on the playground and they don't believe him (we had a very interesting discussion on why that might be the case). Therefore, we've instructed him to make sure somebody sees what's going on when it happens, then he does need to tell the teachers on duty what has happened, and be sure that they believe him.

So much drama. It is far too much for a kid his age. He should be blissfully unaware of bullies and the differences in the sexes, yet this has been thrust upon him -- and I honestly don't believe he deserves it. He's so socially unaware of the results of his actions that he can hardly be considered accountable for them.

I remember that I, too, was bullied as a kid. It wasn't fun, and I had several playground altercations. What I learned as a kid, however, was that if the other guy knows he's not going to get away without getting hurt, too, then he'd leave you alone. The playground can be a jungle. Nevertheless, my wife got very unhappy with me when I suggested that he should return the punch, and hit a lot harder than the other kid (but never throw the first one). I quickly back-pedaled in order to maintain harmony in my home.

However, I'm suspicious that I still might be right, as I believe he deserves the chance to defend himself, and if he doesn't squash his victim-hood now, he'll be the target of bullies until he leaves high school -- and that's no way to go through life. I'd rather he walloped the other kid, and good -- at least then the teachers would believe there really is great animosity between the two of them. There's no reason he should be living in fear at school, and cowering when his own father walks up behind him.

In any case, it's tough to know what is the right thing to do. What do you think?


Melissa said...

I feel your pain. As a teacher, I was regularly flummoxed by parents who would defend their kids to the death instead of admit that they might be at fault for something. I just read "Parenting With Love and Logic" (which I HIGHLY recommend) and if I'm not mistaken, they might advocate your methods over Angel's. As a mother and being opposed to violence myself, however, I'm not sure I'd advocate your methods. There must be another solution! One idea is to turn each assault into something positive. Nathan could keep track of how many times he is supposedly attacked and once he reaches a certain number, he gets something cool he really wants. Then he might not be fearful of being hit, and that would take all the fun out of it for the kid who is doing the hitting. I know it sounds crazy, but it might work!

Anonymous said...

This is a difficult situation. It is hard to beleive that Nathan is facing this. I wish the other parent would understand bette. I hope Nathan gets a chance to retaliate in front of the right witnesses. Even if he gets called into the office.

Good Luck. Grandma Glad

martysjotd said...

"Nevertheless, my wife got very unhappy with me when I suggested that he should return the punch, and hit a lot harder than the other kid (but never throw the first one). I quickly back-pedaled in order to maintain harmony in my home."

Sorry, I think you need to take care of this with your boy and your wife, stat. I think maybe she’s been on the left coast too long...

With 4 boys, I’ve had my share of bully stories. One word of advice, "Karate".

Get him some self defense, where they’ll teach him to “defend” himself, and never to “provoke.”

Food for thought.

Maybe I’m off base, but you asked. (Grin)

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