A friend mentioned that his son was being bullied at the local middle school. I can personally attest that children in middle school, and especially the male varietal, are the worst assholes they’ll ever be. My friend is no pussy — he’s actually a big, scary looking dude. And his kid isn’t all that small either. His son got wrapped up with the wrong bunch of idiots, and his life is miserable. His son is depressed and hates going to school. His grades are suffering. Fortunately, he has spoken with his father about it. At least he has a vent. When I told my own father I was bullied in middle school, he laughed at me and smacked me around a bit to teach me a lesson.
I hated to be a downer, but I told my friend the truth. No matter what you do, no matter what your school administrators say, and no matter what threats are implemented by school districts, city governments, and state law enforcement, you are powerless to fight bullying. You have no authority as a parent, and the bullies know this. You can’t beat it, because you can’t go to school with your children to protect them. The world is not yet mature enough to tolerate smart, small, weak, or quiet humans.
I can summarize my advice to him in one single word: MOVE. You have no choice if you want to save your child. Get him or her out of the situation the moment you become aware of it. Move out of town if you can. Change school districts. Home or virtual school your child for a few years. It sounds dramatic, but this may save your child’s confidence — or his or her life.
Lamar Hawkins’ mother arrived at the school to pick up her son about 5 p.m. Wednesday, but he wasn’t there. At about 7 p.m., the family went to law enforcement to report the boy missing. Deputies searched the family’s neighborhood and surrounding area. When they began searching the school, they found the boy. Lamar, who was small for his age, committed suicide at Greenwood Lakes Middle School in Lake Mary after being bullied, Morgan said. The boy’s mother, Shaniqua Hawkins, fought back tears at a news conference and blamed bullies for pushing her son over the edge, saying she tried doing everything possible to help him. Her husband, Lamar Hawkins Sr., sat by her side. The mother said she felt paralyzed by the inability to stop the bullying. “It was a feeling I hope no other parent has to fear,” she said. “They won, because he took his life as a result.” Had they moved their boy, he might still be here.
Tricia Norman, whose 12-year-old daughter, Rebecca Sedwick, jumped to her death in September 2013 from a tower at an abandoned cement plant in Lakeland after months of alleged cyberbullying might have been able to save her daughter had she known about the bullying and pulled the plug.
This topic is so common and so important, I pulled a chapter out of Diary of an Angry Father and I’m giving it to you for free.
I wasn’t always a musclebound bad-ass. I was a pretty small kid in middle and high school. I think I weighed about 70 pounds soaking wet as a freshman. Of course, there were kids who had developed faster, but there were also a number of kids in my size 5 shoes. Teens will be teens, and bullying is apparently par for the course. Fortunately, I was smart. I took several advanced classes – with much bigger sophomores, juniors, and seniors, who seemed to take a liking to mini-me for whatever reason.
There were a couple of kids in high school who plucked my nerves. Bullies will beat you down daily and won’t cease unless you either stand up to them or stop going to school, both options which were not convenient in the 80s. But everyone has their limit, even we 70 pounders. Finster (names changed to protect the asshole) was the worst bastard of them all.
One day, after a particularly rough day, I found an old iron rod in someone’s trash that was short enough to hide in my backpack. I was determined to use it to beat the living dogsnot out of Finster – in self-defense, of course. Sitcoms had taught me that if I decapitated the head honcho, the bullying would end. I firmly believed that. I was a pretty smart kid, so I had a plan. I watched his patterns, knew where Finster’s locker was, found when he was most vulnerable, and was ready to execute the attack. I was scared, shaking, and probably would have chickened out. I figured I’d talk to him first and give him the chance to chill (which would have failed miserably). Fortunately, just before I was going to attack, one of my bigger buddies happened to walk by and playfully pounced Finster into his locker, knocking him over. My buddy rubbed my head as he walked by laughing. I laughed and walked away.
Suddenly, I was vindicated. Finster’s teasing no longer bothered me. My attitude changed as I began to stand up to him, slowly shutting him down. I had backup, bitch, and he now knew it. Eventually, Finster found another victim.
My entire outlook changed, that day. I became uber-confident. I no longer allowed myself to become a target, and was never bullied in school again. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Who knows what might have happened? That bully kid could have died, I could have ended up in juvie, and who knows where that could have led. I was one of the lucky ones.
Bailey O’Neil was an 11 year-old 6th grader, in a suburban Philadelphia school, who was punched in the nose in a schoolyard, in a bullying incident, during recess. Administrators sent him back to class with an icepack. Days later, he began to suffer from seizures and was admitted to the hospital. He was placed in a medically induced coma, to allow the swelling in his brain to subside. A day before his 12th birthday, little Bailey O’Neil passed away.
Bailey told his father that he tried to walk away, but another bully pushed him into the kid who’d hit him. The bullies were reportedly suspended for two days.
And then there’s Amanda Todd, a pretty 15 year-old Canadian teen who endured one torment after another, in the years leading up to her death: sexual exploitation online, cyberbullying, and a physical assault at school. Amanda made a sophomoric error at age 12 and flashed her chest to some asshole on a webcam. That asshole posted her photo all over the internet. Kids are harsh, and they never let Amanda forget it, with a constant barrage of teasing and taunting. Amanda couldn’t take it any longer, and she took her own life.
Bullying happens. And it can happen in many different ways, some subtle, some very open. You, as a busy parent, may never be aware that it’s happening. One of your jobs is to protect your children. You need to pay attention and be in tune with your child’s moods and activities. If you suspect bullying, no matter what they tell you, he or she needs your support. You will need to recognize certain bullying warning signs, including but not limited to the following:
- Marked change in typical behavior or personality. Appears clingy, sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed and that mood lasts with no known cause.
- More insecure than usual. Talks about feeling helpless, remarks about “killing myself.”
- Sudden aversion to friends or social media. Doesn’t want to go to school.
- Unexplained marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes. Afraid to ride the school bus.
- Unexplained headaches or stomach aches.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Loss of clothes, school supplies, electronics, clothing, lunches, or money
- Sudden and significant drop in grades. Difficulty focusing and concentrating.
- Bullies siblings or younger kids.
You will probably have to ask leading questions to get your child to feel confident or safe enough to open up. Ask them about tears in clothing, missing items, mood swings, or bruises. If you’re paying attention, you’ll know if something is not quite right. If your child won’t talk to you, check with a teacher or someone else at school, who might have a clue. Subtly ask your kid’s friends what’s going on. Tell your kid that you are always there to talk, and it’s your job to help.
If you can’t get anywhere, but you suspect something is wrong, seek the help of a trained mental health professional, sooner rather than later. And get your kid the hell out of that school as soon as humanly possible.
Now, if you suspect your little angel is the bully, you need to collar that prick, as soon as possible. Bullying laws are finally beginning to pop up with zero tolerance policies, holding you as a parent legally or financially accountable. Having a child who’s thrown out of school can be socially embarrassing and financially inconvenient for you, the parent. Hopefully, you’ve taught your kids to do the right thing, and this will never be an issue. Here are a few ways to determine if your little angel is truly the prick:
- Does your child need to feel powerful and in control?
- Is she hot-tempered or quick to resort to aggression?
- Does she feel she does no wrong?
- Does she show little empathy for others’ feelings?
- Is she aggressive toward adults?
A child with the above traits shows a high propensity to bully. The biggest red flag is if your child seems to enjoy insulting, shaming or attacking siblings or other kids.
Finster is about four inches shorter than I am today. I bumped into him purposefully outside an office building about twenty years ago, almost knocking him on his ass. Finster didn’t recognize me as I smiled back towards him, and I didn’t apologize. I felt like a bully for a moment, and I felt bad about it later. I wouldn’t do it again. But I have to admit the vindication was sweet. Guess I’m human too.