Friday, April 15, 2011

A Girl, A Boy, and Bullying

I have hesitated about writing this because my kids are older than eight, which is when early childhood typically ends, but I think there's a big lesson in this story, so at the risk of one of them one day googling it and knowing that I told the world about what they did, I'm going to trudge ahead.

My son is almost fourteen and in eighth grade.  He's developing his own style, his own opinions, and has even got a girlfriend.  That's a whole other story, but let me warn you--regardless of how goofy you think your son might be, there IS a girl out there who will date him, so the answer, "Sure you can have a girlfriend if you can find one," is NOT acceptable.  Lesson learned.  Anyway, this is the first year my kids have ridden the bus.  Like, in their lives.  And my son, being in that moody, mean adolescent spirit, decided the bus stop, as well as the ride to and from school, was the perfect time to pick on his twelve-year old sister.

He had taunted her in front of her friends several times with the old, "You're fat and ugly" routine, which of course not only did she believe but was humiliated he would do such a thing in front of her friends.  And who wouldn't be?  I'm fat and hardly Miss America, but I'd want to backhand anybody who said it out loud, in front of my friends, on a public street, then laughed about it.

When their father and I found out about the teasing, as parents inevitably do most times, I pulled my son aside.  "Look," I told him flatly, "I understand it isn't cool to have your sister riding the bus and talking to you.  But if you call her any more names or bully her, you'll be riding MY bus to school, and I charge two bucks for gas each way."

He looked stricken.  "But then I won't have any money, Mom!" he despaired.  Have I mentioned he's not quite out of concrete operations yet? (inside teacher joke--if you didn't get it, don't worry about it.  It's hardly relevant to the story.)

Doing my best to look serious without rolling my eyes, I returned, "That's kind of the point, son."

Fast forward two weeks, and we're all gathered near my daughter's bed discussing school or some such thing.  Suddenly she smiles slyly and the words--oh, words, with any other child I would never have expected but somehow in retrospect I should have expected from her--slipped from her tongue like the slither of a snake.  Calling her brother by name, she continued:  "You have man-boobs and they shake when you run.  You should wear something to hold those things in place."

Man-bra, anyone?

She was giggling madly as her brother stormed away from her and I sat, mouth hanging open in disbelief  as I processed what she said, then fought my own inner demons as the hysterical laughter lay in my neck.  One glance at my son was enough to quell any giggles.  He certainly wasn't giggling, and wasn't only mad anymore, but incredibly hurt.  Tears welled in his eyes as they met mine, and I said all I could think of, "Honey, that's not true, and it was a mean thing for her to say."  He closed his door, crying and convinced he had boy breasts.

My daughter, the pubescent demon who regularly collapses on her own bed in wails of "why me, world?", was still snickering at her own cleverness.  "That," I said firmly, "was absolutely one of the meanest things I have ever heard you say."

She continued to snicker for a moment before turning to me and saying, "He deserved it.  He's a bully to me and embarrasses me in front of my friends on purpose."

And he does.

As a mom, I don't want either of my kids to pick on the other, but I know some of it is inevitable.  I did insist she sit and think about how her comment affected her brother, and she did later apologize on her own.

The battle of the bus stop seems to have settled down for now, and we have had no more man-boob comments that I know of.  The reason I told this story is it's a great example into the dynamics of bullying.  Clever little arrows that cause a great deal of hurt get cast and even bystanders find themselves drawn in, sometimes with laughter or their own smart-alecky comments.  Do I think what she said was funny?  Yeah.  But not when it comes to how it hurt my son--or how it would hurt another child.

Bullying takes on a life of its own very easily, and we as parents and teachers are called upon to stop it.  To stand up for kids who can't; to deflect the painful comments; to teach children more empathic ways to handle situations.  Even situations that hurt them.

I can't guarantee that another zinger won't find its way out of my daughter's mouth because she's loaded with them.  I also can't guarantee that my son, in all his angst, won't pick on someone because it feels good to be top dog.  But I can guarantee that I, as their mother, will address the situations as logically and empathically as possible.

And pray for their souls and my own strength to handle adolescence.  A lot.


  1. Haha, I enjoyed: "Sure you can have a girlfriend if you can find one," is NOT acceptable. It reminds me of when I was very young and my brother and I were allowed to "keep all the squirrels you can catch" as pets. We would chase them for hours and hours, yet somehow even with our parents' permission, we never managed to get a pet squirrel :)

  2. LOL, Erin. Your parents were smarter than me...or else my kid is more clever at getting a girl!