Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kill the Beast - Bullying in Schools

         I know there has been a lot of press recently about the increase in bullying and the horrible consequences among our young people. Unfortunately, we have experienced that firsthand. The usual playground teasing easily deflected with “I know you are but what am I” is gone, and it has taken on a sinister twist that crosses into inexcusable cruelty. This is my daughter’s story.

Four years ago, my daughter, Megan, got accepted into the Gifted and Talented (GATE) program. She started the 4th grade in a GATE classroom at a brand new school. Soon after she started, there were several girls (led by one girl in particular) who started harassing her. She did not know these girls and could not understand why they didn’t like her when she hadn’t done anything to cause them to dislike her. Can’t tell you how fun it is to have a conversation with your children telling them that sometimes people will not like you and there really is no good reason. I told her to ignore them and to focus on the kids who were nice to her. What I didn’t understand at the time was the depth to which bullying is allowed to go these days. I say “allowed” because while the schools put on a big “No Tolerance” policy for bullying, there really is very little that is done to control it. I’m not even sure what schools can do to stop it and when did it become the job of schools to teach children not to be cruel to others. That should start at home. Where are the parents??

            I admit, I should have been more proactive when it started, but I had no idea how far it would go. Megan came home several times upset about the way these girls teased her in class. I tried talking to her teacher and she said she would do what she could. After a few months, Megan came home crying uncontrollably. She handed me a note that the bully ringleader had given to her. It read “If you hate Megan sign below.” She had gone around the class and had all the kids sign it (willingly or not). Then she gave it to Megan and said “See, everyone in class hates you not just me.” After taking some time to calm my own “seek and destroy” mother bear instincts, it became clear this was no regular case of playground teasing. I went to the principal with the letter and voiced my concerns about the constant harassment. The principal assured me action would be taken. The bully ringleader was sent home for the day and was given some kind of lecture about her behavior. That was it. Of course the behavior continued.

I decided to take matters into my own hands and followed the girl until she met up with her mother. I then talked to her mother about the incident. She apologized and asked if we had received the apology letters from her daughter. When I told her we had not received any letters, she again apologized and said she would try to remember to have her daughter do that. Try to remember? Since when does your child being completely cruel to another child not register on your priority list or set off alarm bells in your head??!! I continued to talk to the girl’s mother and even befriended her to keep her daughter away from Megan while constantly fighting my own urge to beat some sense into her.

Thankfully, things got better for Megan.  She is now in the 8th grade and has a lot of friends and is doing well. However, yesterday, we were reminded of the cruelty that still exists. I had been away on a short trip with the kids and when we returned, my husband was laughing and saying that I needed to listen to the messages on the answering machine. He said there were several crank calls from some kids who were most likely from Megan’s school. He said they sounded funny. Our digital recorder is old and sometimes the messages are difficult to understand. There were three of them (two from a boy and one from a girl), and I had to listen several times to be sure of what I was hearing. Among the silly rambling, all three messages included “Megan you are fat and ugly.” One even ended with “Megan you are fat and ugly. Suck my dick.” Are you kidding me??!! The caller ID was blocked of course, so there is no way to track them. I will be going to talk to the principal on Monday when school starts back after break even though I know there is nothing they can do. Megan keeps bugging me for a cell phone, like we really need her to have a direct way for kids to harass her.

Compassion is not like breathing and swallowing. It has to be learned and it needs to start at an early age. Parents have to be the first line of defense against teasing and bullying. It has to matter to parents when their children are being mean to others. It has to be taken seriously by ALL parents involved. This can no longer be tolerated as “kids can be cruel” sometimes. If it takes a village to raise a child, we need to get out our torches and pitchforks my friends because there is a beast among us and it is called “Bully.”


  1. My nephew(4 at the time) was on the playground playing in the gravel by the swing set. Two boys, neighbors of my sister, were there as well. They began to throw rocks at my nephew. It had happened several times before. When he got home, my sister saw the bruises and lost it. She went to the boys' mother's house and started banging on the door. When the mother came out my sister read her the riot act(nice way of saying cussed her out) and told her that the next time that happened, she was going to beat the mother up. My sister is retired military and believe me she would do it. Thankfully, the boys never bothered my nephew again. **I hate that she repaid violence with violence, but parents need to be held accountable for their children at that age.

  2. I believe there has always been bullying in schools and playgrounds. I know I was on the receiving end quite a lot.
    There difference today is in the parenting. Good parenting these days seems to consist of letting kids do whatever they want, whenever they want, and praising them no matter whom they hurt.
    Bullies are also identified as victims, themselves—which they may well be—but then, schools refuse to punish or admonish them for fear of hurting their self-esteem!
    I guess that's the problem. The goal of parenting has shifted from bringing up a moral, intelligent, self-sufficient, contributing member of society to someone with unassailable self-esteem. If that self-esteem depends on hurting others, well, that seems to be okay now.

  3. I hope you remind the school they act in loco parentis for your child, they are legally liable for her wellbeing. When you tell the school about the phone calls, say the local police have taken an interest, and hold copies of the recordings. Ask them for a copy of their anti-bullying proceedures, ask them how they implement it. Encourage the school to repeatedly re-inforce the message to children that bullies are lacking in self-esteem and basically have problems. Make sure they encourage other children to be on the lookout for bullying, and to rally round the child being singled out for bullying, rather than joining in.

    I encouraged my son to join an out of school club. He chose the Air Cadets. He made new friends from all different schools, and learned several new skills (not least flying, driving and first aid). If you can find a similiar club for your daughter, she can make other friends, and won't feel so daunted by schoolkid politics.


  4. River - I agree, violence isn't the answer, but I have to say that I understand her reaction. It is hard to stay calm when someone hurts your child.

  5. Scott - I'm afraid you're right. There is so much emphasis put on not hurting kids feelings that kids who are bullies don't really get punished. The schools just try to appeal to their conscience. If they had a conscience, they wouldn't be bullying other kids.

  6. Julia - Thank you for your comment. Because both of my kids have had problems with bullying in school, I knew early on I would have to look at other social outlets. Thankfully, I have my kids in positive activities in church and in taekwondo.

  7. mom i just want to say that i love you.

    everyone who's reading this, I had no idea this crank call episode had ever happened. i really don't know what to think right now.

    i always tell myself that it doesn't matter what other people say, but we, as humans, are very social creatures. we need company, whether alive, imaginary, or inanimate. when you feel so alone and that everyone is against you, you feel helpless, like there's nowhere to turn. you don't know what to do and you feel trapped, like nowhere is safe. you're always just waiting for it to happen, waiting for them to find you, to hurt you. mental bullying might not sound as bad as physical, but trust me, it's much worse. physical wounds and bruises can heal, but when you're called fat and ugly in fourth grade, it sticks with you forever.

    what i've come to realize is that repetitive bullying happens in 4 stages (victims reaction):

    what did i do to make this person so mad? why do they hate me so much?

    I haven't done anything! They need to leave me alone!

    3.Breaking down
    (This is when the little voices in your ehad start to take control.)
    If they say all these things about me...they must be true. Why else would they be this cruel? maybe i am ugly. maybe I am stupid.

    I give up. It's hopeless. I don't want to fight them anymore. I'm all alone. Nobody can help me.

    The problem with bullying at such a young age is that it leads to a very suspicious, untrusting personality. Children who have been bullied in their early years are so afraid. one of the problem with bullies is that they usually don't see how their torture affects a person. they don't get to see that little girl they teased grow into a highschooler that's afraid to talk to anyone, let alone boys. that little boy the kicked grow up and never have any friends, because they were just waiting for somebody to backstab them. They were waiting for a repeat episode. They were just waiting to feel empty and alone and miserable again.

    And nobody wants that, so why take the risk?

    Thank you for reading.

    Love, Megan.

  8. Wow... Megan sounds like such a mature, thoughtful person! That was amazing.

    I've been the mom on both sides. My daughter is 12 and has special needs. When she has been accused of bullying, I pushed the school to make sure she faced serious consequences instead of just getting a lecture.

    Although I can't support returning violence (or threats) for violence, I have to admit that when my daughter was the subject of bullying (they spat on her) my initial reaction was to hunt down the child & parent, then if they didn't immediately apologize and make a clear plan to change the behavior, I would take a shovel to their face.

    No I wouldn't.

    But I really, really wanted to...

    There has always been bullying, but what we grew up with is trivial compared to what kids endure today. Yes, there are some bad parents, there always have been, but that's not the key difference. Today it is incredibly easy to start a bullying campaign anonymously, with computers and phones etc. It is way too easy for kids to keep the bullying away from adult eyes, and I'm not sure how to fix that.

  9. I see you didn't listen to me and tracked my blog down somehow. I didn't want you to see this.

    Having said that, your wisdom and insight has left me speechless and in tears. You constantly amaze me. I wish I could protect you from all of this. Thank you for sharing, baby.

    I just want you to know that you are one of the most amazing people I know. I thank God for you everyday. You are incredible and don't let anyone ever tell you anything different.

    I love you Peanut. Love, Mom

  10. Megan, I don't know you and I don't know your mom, but I know what it's like to be bullied. I was bullied in elementary and middle school and it was horrible. Back then, no one did anything, and I felt scared and alone. I remember telling my parents that I'd rather face a room full of strangers than a room full of friends because I never knew what they'd do. There's no other way to say it, but that it was awful. However, all those horrible kids who did what they did helped to make me the strong person I am today. I can get through anything, because I got through what they did to me. I refuse to stand around and let others be bullied. I stand up for myself and my children. I know the difference between kind and unkind people and I make sure to surround myself with the kind ones. I'm great at seeing "through" people and knowing what they're like on the inside. I've learned to trust myself. And along the way, I've found tremendous love, support and happiness. I'm no longer powerless. I know it's hard to hear it, but really, you will be okay. You sound like you're an amazing person and that you've gotten this way with the love and support of your family. There are so many of us out there. Don't give up and just know that it really does get better (sorry, don't mean to sound trite). You will grow up and be a happy person, because you'll have learned what's important and what isn't. They will continue to be the miserable people they are. Give it time and know that there are always people out there who support you, even ones you've never met before.

  11. You're right AmyBeth. I don't know how to fix it either. Technology has made bullying a 24/7 problem. I don't believe in fighting it with violence either, but I definitely know the feeling of wanting to go after them with a shovel!

    Thank you so much Jennifer. Knowing that everything she is going through will make her a stronger, wiser person is the only thing that keeps me sane in all of this. I really appreciate your comment!

  12. Megan and M.E.,
    I'm a college friend of J.W that commented a little while ago. I too have dealt with bullies and a stalker in high school. Just wanted to say that it sounds like you have as good a grasp on the current situation as can be. It is no fun to learn that the monsters are real. But they are not the only thing out there. Do not keep silent about it in your community. If they are hurting you they are (or will) hurting others. Maybe many, but even one is too many. Keep the things you love, and don't stop any of it out of fear. More people are watching out for you than you know. Even strangers. If you notice something wrong, speak up. Other people notice too, and the school administrators take note when two or three or more kids complain the same day about the same person. For Megan, keep growing your horizons and meeting new people. I met Jennifer a few years after the stuff I was dealing with, and now all that seems so long ago. So much fun stuff has happened since then, and the rough spots seem smaller (I can't promise less painful) in comparison. Stay clear of whatever drugs the bullies are on; I'm only guessing but they sound like they were stoned when they crank called. All the best to you and your family.

  13. Someone RTed this on Twitter, and I wanted to come over and read. And, then, I wanted to comment. I'm from Brazil and it impresses me how much more frequent bullying is in the US than here. At least with older kids. When I was really young, maybe 5 or 6, some boys picked on me at school, and my mom went to talk to the principal. She did nothing. They continued to harass me, and my mom told me to take the matters into my own hands. Or, rather, my fists. Maybe it's not the most conventional approach, but, you see, the base of bullying is that they can intimidate someone who's somehow weaker. When I, skinny and small, made my fists meet their faces (or somewhere else, I don't remember), I showed myself for what I was: someone that was NOT going to be intimidated by them. I fought back. My mom was pissed when I was punished, "So, you can punish MY daughter for fighting back, but not the ones who harassed her? Well, *I* told her to do it." I think I missed a few breaks, but it worked. Everyone knew I was not one to be bullied.

    I'm not suggesting, Megan, that you should punch the bullies in the face, even because, in 8th grade, that may be a bit harder. But fight back. Don't take it quietly. If the school isn't doing anything for you, then do something for yourself. I'm serious. :) When I was older, I had sort of a mean girl phase. It's a long story. Nothing critical like creating hate lists, but I wasn't the nicest girl, and I'm not proud of it. (I did apologize years later). Seriously, if you stand up for yourself, it'll get them to look at you with whole new eyes :)

  14. Thank you all so much for the overwhelming response to this blog! I thank you for the kind words and encouragement and for sharing your thoughts and experiences regarding bullying. It really is going to take a combined effort from parents, concerned adults, teachers, school administrators, children and possibly even politicians to get this problem under control before it destroys another life.

    Megan and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts! ~Michelle :)

  15. Dear Barbie Furtado,

    I really appreciate you reading my mother's blog. Thank you for your comment. It made me smile. At least I know that I'm not alone in this, and other people understand how it feels, but that's also a saddening fact. That people nearly everywhere have experienced this. If I could stop on person from committing suicide from bullying, or one teen from self-mutilating because they've finally been broken, I think I would feel that I've truly done something worthwhile. Thank you for everything. :)