Friday, July 29, 2011
on bullies and parents
So B had her first real taste of bullying in school. This older, bigger kid apparently had it in for this girl "Kitty" -- picking on her, making her do things, etc -- and subsequently decided to spread her intimidation to a couple of the other kids in Kitty's class as well, including B.
So B would be walking to the washroom with Kitty, for example, and "Harriet" would stop them and order them to do something. If they didn't answer appropriately, she wouldn't let them pass. Or, she'd see Kitty somewhere downstairs, and tell her to go look for B somewhere upstairs, to tell B to "go down and see Harriet now". That one particularly annoyed me, because B yielded to Kitty's fearful urging and obediently went downstairs to find out what Harriet wanted (it was to tell B that she'd better not catch her running).
This had been going on for a few days before B finally told me (though Harriet had apparently been going at Kitty for quite awhile already before that). It bothered me to see that B was quite affected by it -- it disturbed me that she finally said that she wasn't upset by Harriet's behaviour per se, but by the consciousness that she was being picked on and meanly treated, and that she was actually afraid.
Like most grown-ups, my first reaction was to tell B to "just ignore her", but I was aware as I said it that it's just not that straightforward. I've been a victim of bullying in school myself, and while, like B, I never showed my fear and in fact fought back -- I hated that feeling of intimidation and anxiety. You should be able to just go to school and do your lessons and play with your friends -- not continually keep a fearful eye out, wondering when some ass is going to pop up and mess with you.
I was very glad though, that B chose to tell me, that she had that... I don't know... confidence? trust? in me, and was comfortable with confiding in me, that I was the first earthly person she turned to. I was glad that she felt the injustice, the "wrongness" of the situation, enough to want something to be done about it. And I was glad too that she cared about the unhappiness of her classmates (it turned out that Harriet was bullying other kids as well, including one on her schoolbus, whom she'd tell to "go to sleep or I'll punch you").
I decided to address the issue as practically as possible. I felt there wasn't any point saying, "Just ignore her" when I knew it was easier said than done. It is, I think, the easy-way-out option some grown-ups choose. Instead, I talked to B for a good hour or two, explaining why bullies might behave the way they do, and how she could avoid being bullied.
I told her that she should not ascribe any power or importance to Harriet just because she was bigger or older -- and she need not obey or submit to Harriet's bullying, and that doing so in fact "fed" Harriet's meanness and blustering.
I also decided to speak to Harriet's form teacher about her -- not just for B's sake, but for the other kids as well. That seems to have been very effectual -- Harriet has not messed with B since. But I was a little perturbed that those other kids had just been suffering in silence all the while; for some reason, they just didn't feel they could approach their parents about it. But if, as a child, you can't turn to your own parents for help... Kris, the girl on Harriet's schoolbus, was so miserable that she confided in Beck.
I feel so strongly that parents -- at least one of them -- must be there for their kids. Take the time to know your child so that you can pick up on anything that's not quite right; take the time to know what they're going through every day, what they're experiencing, dealing with, having to overcome. Just because they're little doesn't mean that what they're going through isn't important, or of enormous, far-reaching significance.
So many parents are out at work, busy making money and material investments; of course that's important, a practical necessity, but I really believe that somehow parents have to make the time and effort to factor their children in -- not just in a "I'm making and investing money for my kid's future" kind of way, but in a "I'm growing and investing in my kid's emotional and spiritual welfare now".
It's common these days for kids to be left in the care of relatives or nannies or people at daycare, but I don't think it's really their responsibility to mould our kids into truly successful human beings. We're called parents -- we need to parent.
Self-confidence, emotional stability, proper values, a real sense of right and wrong, of peace and security -- these are all things, call them "life skills", which children need to develop in their formative years. I don't know if Harriet's parents are taking the time to do this with their little girl, I don't know if they're even there at all.
Author and psychologist Dr James Dobson once wrote in a newsletter: "What a price we pay for the speed at which we run. Most of us remember these last 12 months as a blur of activities. There is so much work to do, so many demands on our time. There is so much pressure. Meanwhile, what should have mattered most was often put on hold or short-changed or ignored altogether.
"Millions of children received very little love and guidance this year from their busy parents. Husbands and wives pass like ships in the night, and our spiritual natures languished amidst over-crowded schedules and endless commitments".
In his book Margin, Dr Richard Swanson writes: "Progress has given us unprecedented affluence, education, technology and entertainment. We have comforts and conveniences other eras could only dream about, yet somehow we are not flourishing under the gifts of modernity as one would expect.
"We have 10 times more material abundance than our ancestors, yet we are not 10 times more contented or fulfilled. Margin has been stolen away and progress was the thief. We must have room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal.
"Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity – no one has time to listen, let alone love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions".
In the meantime, B has learnt to "just ignore her". Also a useful life skill.
Kids Health has a great article about bullying here.