Bullies: An Uphill Battle

gandhi quote

Sometimes I wonder if it’s more difficult for the victim of bullying or that child’s parents. I mean, obviously I have experienced the emotions that bullies evoke as a child who was bullied and it’s terrible, but watching your child be bullied is also pretty terrible.

I hear a lot of stories about kids getting bullied. My child is in 5th grade and does not have the maturity to handle a phone or any sort of computer that he keeps in his hand. I am not judging other parents who choose to provide their child with these things; I know I could have easily been trusted with them when I was 10, and I know my husband could not have been. I know Cameron is not emotionally ready. Today I heard about a child being bullied via Instagram, with one child writing that this child is a “loser” and then this post being “liked” by 40 people. That makes 41 students who lashed out at one child. These kids probably would not have considered bullying him in person, but when it comes to doing it on the Internet, it’s a lot easier to join the bullies than risk being bullied. And this child who was bullied is a “cool” kid. Imagine what it’s like for any child who’s the least bit awkward.

I recently needed to call Cameron’s principal to talk with a group of students who are bullying him. I do not call often. In fact, I’ve called probably three times in the past five years, so I do not make it a habit. We try to teach him skills for dealing with bullies on his own, but sometimes his Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD) really does prevent him from making good decisions when it comes to people. He could choose to sit in a different place on the bus, where he would be less likely to be bullied, but he doesn’t want to because he feels like they should move since they’re the kids who are causing the problems. He’s actually right, but every day he sits near them and sets himself up for more teasing. The other frustrating thing about his NLD is that we don’t know if they are actually teasing him or if they are just joking around like kids do. He could be misreading their facial expressions and tone. Either way, he perceives that they are being mean-spirited, so even if they are joking, his emotions affect him like they are being mean. This happens in other situations too. He has come home from school saying his teacher was mad at him, so I asked if it was possible that she wasn’t mad at all but she was just stressed and he wasn’t reading her emotions correctly due to NLD. He admitted that this was a possibility, but it doesn’t change the fact that he feels like she’s mad at him, which upsets him. Frankly, even though his feelings are often inaccurate, they are very real to him.

So while I never can be sure if the kids are joking around or not, I do have lines that I draw where I break down and call the principal to tattle on these kids. The first time I called was because Cameron was being called “gay” (which greatly offended him because we have family members who are gay, and if he felt like he was actually gay, he would just tell us and it would not be a big deal) and “Nazi” because we have German ancestors. I felt like I had to call the principal in the name of human rights. The second time was because they were teasing him about being a good reader (you read that correctly– they actually pick on him for reading. At the risk of being a bully to them, they are super LAME), but were adding in some really inappropriate sexual things about private parts since he had admitted that he had a crush on a girl who he considered his “girlfriend.” This made him very uncomfortable and embarrassed, so I called partially because it was rude to him and the girl, bordering on harassment, and partially because they knew way too much about grown up things (like strippers!!) for 5th graders to know; I was actually concerned that these kids’ parents should know what their kids were talking about. The last, relatively recent, time I called was because he came home crying because one kid mimicked him, flapping his hands in the air and making silly sounds, saying, “I’m Cameron in a bookstore!” Cameron said he was acting like “a drunk idiot.” This made Cameron very upset, because he knows that sometimes he does get excited and flap his hands and speak in a silly voice. It was straight-up bullying, and it isn’t okay.

Because I have called the principal and because there was a time last year that I got very upset with kid in the neighborhood for unrelated reasons that don’t need to be rehashed here, the kids call me a “female dog.” Basically, I have made it worse for him sometimes, and he does not like when they call me names. So my choices are to watch my child suffer or step in and try to help from afar and still watch him suffer. It’s a complete lose-lose.

Sometimes when I am at a school function and I see these kids’ parents, I don’t know how to react so I don’t say anything. But here’s the part I don’t understand. If I got wind of my child teasing other kids and I saw those parents, I would probably approach them. I would apologize. I would make sure Cameron apologized, too. Instead, I feel like I’m a narc. Those parents barely make eye contact with me and I feel like I’m an outsider amongst them. The kids are mad at Cameron and the parents are mad at me.

I think it’s hard with Cameron because he looks like a regular, adorable kid. His struggles are not obvious unless you really talk with him. He can be a great friend and teammate but can also be extremely awkward. This awkwardness includes a goofy, fake smile, short-strided tiptoe walking, and “T-rex arms” with a quick, silly wave when he’s nervous or excited. It includes having his hands in his mouth or somewhere on his face any time they aren’t actively engaged in something. I’ve watched other boys his age and have noticed that it’s not just him; many of them are socially awkward. So why is Cameron such a target? After doing a lot of thinking and observing, I think the reason that he is so often a focus for bullies is that he sets himself up for it. He doesn’t know when to quit. He doesn’t know to just keep his head down and be an observer. He frequently calls kids out on the “right” and the “wrong” because he wants to tell everyone how to follow rules, even if he doesn’t necessarily follow the rules himself. One day, he told me that the kids on the bus swear, to which I responded, “Yeah… that doesn’t surprise me.”

“Aren’t you mad about that?” he asked. He clearly wanted me to be enraged by the fact that 5th graders swear. He wanted me to react like I would if he swore in front of me, since that is a rule, after all.

“What can I do about it? I just hope you make the better choice to not swear,” I responded. He just does not know how to stay quiet and let those kids be. But the flip side of this is why would I want him to stay quiet and let kids be? Don’t I want him to be strong and make good choices? His heroes include the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Abraham Lincoln. These are all people who have stood up for what they feel is right. So if my son wants to emulate these people, I am proud. Unfortunately, I fear that he’s not emotionally capable enough to deal with the backlash that occurs when you do stand up for what’s right. By no means am I saying my child is equivalent to these great people, but on a smaller scale, he does want to do the right thing.

Which leads me to another, related rant… Do I really want Cameron to be “cool” by today’s standards anyway? From what I know of “cool” these days, it isn’t what we do in our family. We are old-fashioned. Right or wrong, this is who we are, and it’s difficult to maintain this when very few of our kids’ friends’ parents are raising their families like we are. Our children watch TV once weekly on “Family Movie Night.” Cameron has started watching TV for about 30 minutes two other times during the week with my husband and I, but that’s it. They rarely play video games. They do not have iPods or iPads or computers of their own. Cameron does have a Kindle that is very controlled and has very few apps. We have family dinners nearly every night that do not include a television (except on Family Movie Night). We cook a lot. We expect the kids to help around the house, which is a constant argument-maker. We don’t sign our kids up for Little League because we like doing stuff together in the summertime. Not to say they don’t do activities, but we limit them because we like hanging out with them right now. We are close. There are times that literally all four of us and the dog are in the bathroom getting ready for work/school at the same time. We read a lot. We strive to be nerds. I recently read Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and was moved by something she said. She spoke to the fact that when she was in school, she liked hanging out with her family. She knew she was supposed to do well in school and didn’t mind; it was just part of her life. Being cool was not something she really wanted or cared about. This is how I hope we are raising our children. It’s hard to do–very hard by today’s societal standards.

I do not have an answer to this bullying problem. I try to teach kindness, gratitude, empathy, mindfulness, and strength to my children in hopes that they will not be bullies and that they will learn to appropriately deal with those who bully them. I also “mean mug” those bullies whenever I see them so they know I know. I am only human.

**** In an attempt to keep Cameron more anonymous, I was planning to change his name in all of the blog posts. When he heard this, he told me he does not want me to change his name. He was actually somewhat offended that I’d do that. So he’s still Cameron for now.***

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7 thoughts on “Bullies: An Uphill Battle

  1. As Cameron grows, I bet he will find his way to your blog and read about his/your struggles. He will connect with them in ways we obviously cannot. And I’m sure he would be offended if it were another name. He is Cameron.

  2. I’m still not sure how to handle the bullies either. It’s just hard. Sounds like you’re doing a good job of teaching Cameron to cope and ignore and move on.

  3. This post speaks to me on a very deep level. Our family is corny and old-fashioned too (tho politically very progressive), and my son “seems” “normal” yet tends to get bullied too. Just before April break (last week) some kids were calling him “gay” and I felt just as you do about that “slur.”
    However, i read this post hoping you had some more answers than i do! Wah!
    Well, we keep trying!
    Thanks and love,
    FSM

  4. I heard a great technique for “bulky proofing” your kid. Researchers figured out that the reason that certain kids are bullied because the bullies can tell which kids get the most upset. It’s the reaction they are looking for. So, one enterprising teacher decided to “bully-proof” his entire class. He taught them how to deal with taunts, essentially. It went like this: he first taught them a “cool pose”. Basically, a
    Practiced indifferent posture they could affect when then really felt like hiding. He would spontaneously
    Call out “cool pose” and the entire class would jump to their feet to strike it (in his case hands in pockets swaying back and forth, which doesn’t sound totally cool to me, but whatever). Then he would call on two students to come to the front of the class and proactive their response to a taunt. The instruction was that the kid listens to the full taunt completely without reacting (hence the practice). Then they would say, “wow, thanks for sharing that” in the mildest optimistic way possible—extra points for smiling-then immediately walk away. The bullies don’t normally get such a calm reaction. Worked like a charm, but obviously practice is key.

    Wondering if a kid with NLVD should be practicing his MLK? Rules are great but all leaders also break rules. These are subtleties that are difficult for all
    kids to learn. Maybe when the kids are breaking rules you can explain to him that all kids are learning, just like he is? By giving the other kids a break, he can give himself a break too?

    Finally, we too limit screen time but our neuropsychologist did give us some helpful advice that computers/video games
    are how kids (especially boys) make friends these days. It’s literalkh their lingua Franca in addition to sports, obvious. We limit our son’s time to weekends but Minecraft has been especially helpful for him in bridging friendships and now he’s interested in coding, where I suspect he will one day fully find his “people” anyway! 😉

    Thanks for your blogs and your honestly, I’m sure they help all kinds of people LD or no. Take or leave any of my suggestions. Only meant to help and say, I get it!

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