I remember one episode when I was in 4th grade and went on a class trip to NASA. The class was misbehaving because our chaperone was not a strict disciplinarian. This lack of adult supervision emboldened our class bully, Derrick, to smack us around throughout the day. As he punched me, I defended myself the only way I knew how: by attacking him with stinging insults. My retaliation caused the other kids to laugh at Derrick which of course made him punch me harder. But the harder he punched, the more I insulted him, and the more the kids laughed. It was a viscious cycle and neither one of us was willing to give up. Thankfully, the teacher intervened and we were both able to walk away with a shred of dignity.
In middle school, I was a small and a prime target for bullies. It didn’t help that I couldn’t afford the Jordache jeans and Izod shirts that the other kids had. My clothes were obviously cheap and out of style. Kids would often pick on me on the schoolbus. I would fight back, but sometimes there were too many of them. Fortunately, some older kids from my neighborhood would intervene when they thought the bullying was out of line.
As a result of my experiences with bullying, I turned into a bully myself. My main target was a boy named Troy. I made his life a living hell. In science class, I called him Trashman Troy and wrote elaborate songs about him. In fact, I still remember one that I set to the tune of John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses”: Well there’s a trash man/with a trash truck/living in a trashy neighborhood…I would hum that song in our other classes just to watch Troy’s face turn red.
During P.E., I would torture him with well-placed kidney punches. He got fed up one day and told the gym teacher. The teacher looked at Troy, who was significantly bigger than me, looked at me and chuckled. After assessing the situation, the teacher essentially told Troy to man-up and deal with it himself. That only emboldened me to taunt him more.
I finally stopped bullying Troy when a girl, who I liked, confronted me. She told me that my treatment of Troy was reprehensible and that she wouldn’t be my friend anymore if I continued. Her words caused me to think about the times I was bullied and I realized that she was right.
My middle is very much like that girl. He has no problem confronting bullies. I get regular reports of how he stands up for someone on the bus or playground. But he also knows that I expect him to stand up for himself also. I’ve taught my kids to follow the proper protocols if another kid is threatening them. First they must directly confront the kid and let him/her know that their behavior is unacceptable. If that doesn’t work, they should tell the responsible adult about the situation; if that doesn’t work, they have the right to defend themselves. They also know that they can talk to their mom and me about any situation and we will work diligently to resolve it in the appropropriate manner.
I also teach my children that being a bully is also unacceptable. They were horrified when I first shared my Troy story with them and they actually admonished me for my behavior.
Many parents focus on talking to their kids about being bullied because no one wants to believe that their child is the bully. But I know how easy it was to become a bully and I don’t want my kids falling into the same pattern of behavior.
photo via Free Range Stock