Our son Joe is a sweet kid. Everyone who knows him tells us this. He’s sensitive, open, and honest. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He shares too much. In other words, he’s bully meat. While he hasn’t yet come home with a black eye as a result of some attack, he does get pushed around. Literally. Of the fourteen children in his small class, he is one of nine boys, the quietest one. He is the one who likes science and who doesn’t catch a football well. He’s a bully’s favorite meal.
There are several boys in his class who regularly give him a hard time. I watch these boys with a wary eye every time I pull up in my car in the pick up lane. I scan the group of kids waiting to be picked up, and I look to see how Joe is faring. I’ve gone out of my way not to rush to pick him up because I think he needs to learn to stand his ground. Two of the boys who pick on him simply do so because he’s different. I understand that mentality even though I dislike it. The third boy, the one who bullies Joe the most, pesters him just because he can. I don’t believe that he dislikes Joe. I think he bullies Joe to fit in and try to be popular. He’s a kid who hasn’t had the best of situations in his life. While that doesn’t excuse his behavior, I remind myself and Joe that it does explain it.
Tonight we were at the Back-To-School barbeque at a local park. The boy in question was relentlessly chasing Joe. When he’d catch up with him, he would roughly drag Joe around by his shirt. He was also doing “boy” things to him, like trying to put a crawdad on him because he knows that would not sit well with Joe. It’s hard to watch this as it’s happening but, I know that because he’s 11, Joe is quite sensitive to parental embarrassment. I have stood back and not intervened so far because I’ve been respecting Joe’s wish that I not get involved. He’s afraid that if I stand up for him he will just get teased more. I understand that, so I’ve bitten my tongue.
As we were leaving the barbecue as a family, this bully came up to Joe right in front of us and began shoving him around. I thought he had lost his mind. Does he not see us right here? This went on for about ten seconds. Then the kid looked over his shoulder and directly at me, a challenge. I stared him down. He kept hold of Joe’s shirt and taunted him verbally. Finally, I’d had enough.
“That is not cool, Mike (not his real name). Knock it off,” I said using my Big Voice.
He acquiesced and released Joe. Then he ran off to join the other boys. Joe came running up to us and as soon as he was away from Mike I could see he was holding back tears. When we got to the car, Joe was full on upset.
“Why did you tell me it was time to leave? He was grabbing my arm, and I was about to pop him in the face before you stopped me. Why did you stop me when I was finally going to pop him?” he asked.
“I didn’t think you were really getting ready to pop him,” I replied. “If I had known that, since we’re off school property, I most certainly would have let you done it. In fact, if I had known that was a possibility, I might have videotaped it so we could relive the moment later,” I joked.
“Everyone picks on me because they think I’m a weakling,” he said. At not quite 70 pounds and 11 years of age, Joe is the oldest and the smallest boy in the class.
“No, Joe. First of all, not everyone picks on you. There are only a few boys who are rough. Beyond that, I don’t think Mike picks on you because you’re a weakling. He picks on you to feel important and brave and in control. I don’t think it has anything to do with your weakness. It has everything, however, to do with his weakness. Listen…I saw the fist you made. Mike has no idea how close you came to popping him in the nose. You are not weak at all. You are strong because you have self-control and you haven’t popped him yet even though you really wanted to.”
Joe thought about this for a moment.
“Well…I still wish I would have had a chance to pop him,” he said.
“Maybe next time.”
After tonight’s display, though, I’m pretty sure there won’t be a next time. I talked to Joe about it and I’m going to visit with the principal about what I have seen and what happened tonight. I’m going to leave Joe out of it, but I’m going to be a tattletale because it’s time for this behavior to stop. If it doesn’t, I’m positive that Joe will eventually deck this kid, and I’m not quite ready to home school Joe once he’s expelled. Now, I’m not generally an advocate of violence, especially between kids. Truth is, though, that Mike is lucky that there were other parents around tonight. Joe wasn’t the only person who wanted to pop him. And, unlike Joe, I’m bigger than him, stronger than him, and I wear metal rings. I would have made an impact. You don’t mess with a cub when Mama Bear is around.
Hey Justine, this is such a contentious issue, and everyone has different feelings on how to handle it. I have been wracking my brain as to how to say what I want to say, and I always can only come up with my truth and lay it out. My son is 14 and thankfully, he has not ever been in this situation nor has he ever been a bully. Having a son of 14, I can totally relate and applaud your sensitivity to not wanting to embarrass him and holding back in situations where his friends and peers are around. But, if I had to imagine myself in the situation you were in at the BBQ, there is no way I would have been able to control myself to the extent that you did. I, or my husband, or another parent would have stepped in way sooner and put a stop to what was obviously going on. My blood would have been boiling at the first hint of trouble and this Mama Bear would have lost the plot. We are not a violent family either, and my kids are sensitive beings too, but when bullying has appeared on the radar of our schooling environment, be it physical or verbal bullying, I have always told my kids not to put up with any other kids’ crap and to give back as good they get. This may be terrible advice and thankfully, it has never been put to the test (well, physically anyway, verbally definitely) but I have just always thought that by doing nothing, you are giving the bully permission to keep doing whatever it is that s/he is doing and getting away with. By giving it back, at the get-go, s/he will realise this is not someone they are going to get away with hurting and will move on. I also have encouraged my kids that if they see someone being bullied, to step up and take action and do what they can to stop it. Not to stand back and let the victim be victimised. Looking the other way and pretending it isn’t happening, is just as bad as being a bully. Good luck with your visit to the principal, I really hope they have some good strategies to help Joe out. I look forward to hearing more. Take care.
Thanks for your commenting. I appreciate hearing from others about their strategies and thoughts on this. Joe has finally decided that he’s put up with enough. I would just tell him to deck the kid, but they attend a Christian school and I’m serious about not wanting to home school him after expulsion. 😉
As a person who personally experienced brutal bullying in the 6th grade by Marcie who repeatedly threatened to beat me up, her being taller and quite brawny at her age really scared me, until finally I said “fine meet me after school, behind one of the scools detached buildings I want to fight you!” Marcie never showed up and she never teased or threatened me again. Your boy must stick up for himself. Later in the year I was picked on by another girl who decided to take Marcie’s place, well after we got off the bus and headed home, I beat her up. When a neighbor hood boy called my friends and my Mom racial slants, I beat him up! That bullying ended too. Yes, I resorted to violence but it taught me something, as a child it can be forgiven as an adult it taught me self control and I realized that those bullies were simply jealous of me. As the next year went on those 3 bullies were put in their place and I know didn’t bully anyone else. (small community) I can go on….but the point is, your boy is way smarter and stronger than those bullies and when he finds the internal strength to stand up for himself (which seems very likely, as you witnessed his hands clinching amd him telling you what he planned to do) he will put a stop to it all, naturally. Just as I did. He will come to his breaking point. Let him. Because like us smart ones, violence in childhood doesn’t lead to violence in adulthood. I give standing up to bullying a whole another league to why it’s doesn’t harm a child’s aging. I turned out a wonderful person! I hope those bullies look back and think “wow, that Jen taught me a valuable lesson,” don’t bite off what you can’t chew. Hope to hear your thoughts about my comment…..
Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jeni. I’m not worried about my son ending up violent for retaliating against a bully. That’s never been the issue. He goes to a Christian school and no one had yet noticed this other kid’s rough behavior after school. I did not want him to have to resort to hitting a fellow classmate until I’d had a chance to make a formal complaint because I do not want my son expelled for a fight he didn’t cause and didn’t choose. I think this can be handled another way. We’ll see how it goes. I’m glad you were able to stop the bullying you endured. It’s rougher being a kid than most people remember!
In addition Girl or not- it was brutal bullying! I’m thankful I verbally threatned back or kicked some ass in the other cases, because I had not have, it would of haunted me…. I think of my self as one smart, tough person! Your son will too! Now, let us suppose he does stand up for himself and a fight ensues and your Son is beat up or worse the bullying continues anyway by the same boy/boys friends ( which is very unlikely at that age ) I have no advice then and hope another reader has personal experience and comments….my guess is to assume the child’s home life is very very sad and even if you spoke to the parents they would care less. You may have to Bully? BTW regarding the other girl who started to Bully me after Marcie? She and Marcie were never friends, just another jealous and insecure Bully. The Boy? No one calls my Mom or my friends Mom a racial slur! 😉