Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bullying Awareness & Links

Today is Unity Day, and this month is Bullying Awareness Month. To pay my respects to this, I've joined Rachel at When a Lion Sleeps, Let it Sleep to talk about my personal bullying experiences. Note: If you've written a post on bullying this month and would like to share it with Rachel, you can email her at pertinax_puella [at] Hotmail [dot] com.

I could easily talk about my own bullying experiences, starting in kindergarten, when I came home with various bruises and cuts, culminating in a stab wound from scissors being shoved in my back. I could tell you that my parents, after constantly trying to work with the school to stop the bullying, finally told me to fight back or deal with it, born of the frustration of watching their child take beating after beating with no recourse on their end. I could tell you about sitting in the corner, dunce cap on my head, chin held high, after I finally punched my bully back and took him down.

I could tell you about how he never touched me again after that.

I could tell you how that experience hardened me, made me determined not to be hurt again.

I could tell you how that determination wasn't good enough.

I could tell you about constant bullying in middle school.

I could tell you how I taught myself, through sheer force of will, to never let them see me blush or cry. I could tell you that I never blushed again until after I had children.

I could tell you about the Hell that was high school, my cliche-ridden clique-prone upper-crust high school that didn't welcome a poor kid who didn't have the newest stuff, the best stuff, the same stuff as everyone else.

I could tell you about the teachers who were a part of the cliques and bullying at Hades High School.

I could tell you how it hardened me even further, to the point that I look back and question whether the bullied became the bully? I could tell you how I hurt the ones who used to hurt me before they could hurt me anymore.

But what I want to talk about is what it's like to be a parent and see your nightmares come true. To see my own child suffer, my worst fears come to light. I want to tell you how it came full circle.

When my son was in his second year of preschool, he was bullied. It broke my heart, made me feel helpless to defend him. I couldn't exactly walk into the classroom and take care of the problem. I was filled with such rage that the adults I was entrusting my child to weren't protecting him, keeping him safe when I wasn't able.

I didn't immediately know what was happening. In fact, by the time I figured it out, it had been months. Months where my son was being called names. Months where he was being hurt. Months that I had no idea anything was wrong, because there weren't any unusual marks. Sometimes kids get bruises. Sometimes kids get scratches.

You see, I'd trained my child that tattling wasn't okay, but I hadn't done a good enough job of letting him know the difference between tattling and finding help when it was needed.

My son, my sweet, calm, gentle, mild-mannered child. The one teachers had told me for two years in a row was liked by EVERYBODY. I asked, you know. I wanted to know that he was making friends, not just learning what they were teaching on paper. I wanted to know he was okay in that social sense.

They told me he was okay. Safe. Fine. Well liked.

And he was, but not by one child.

My child became violent, but only toward me. He had insane temper tantrums. He screamed with rage, head butted me. I had to drag him out of public places, humiliated by his behavior. I'd never dealt with misbehavior from him before. He was always perfect in public.

One day, he ran at me when I wasn't paying attention. He slammed his head into my pelvis so hard one of my ribs dislocated.

I began to panic. What was happening to my baby? What was WRONG with him??

It was that same week that a conversation began among the preschool parents. He had told me the night before that a child in class had bitten him. Sure enough, there were marks, but we didn't get a chance to have a good talk about it. I made a note to talk to him the next day after school, and to speak to the teacher when I picked him up. Before I had a chance to bring it up, a kid came crying out of the classroom (we were waiting for pickup). He was being led to the office.

We all clearly saw scratch marks down his neck and chest. Deep, bleeding scratch marks.

The moms started chatting, discussing one child in particular. That child was the same one who had bitten my son. Story after story poured out. Each mom had her own story about something this kid had done. One mom declared she was putting her twins into karate so they could defend themselves. Another said she'd spoken to the teacher and gotten nowhere. It seemed the little girls in the class were more willing to talk than the little boys, and those moms held the most information about what was going on.

I spoke with my son that night, and that's when it all poured out. He was taking abuse from this child on a daily basis, most of it verbal, but plenty of it physical.

Mama bear was enraged.

I marched into the classroom after it let out the next day. I asked if they were aware of what was happening to my son.

They were. Yet not once did they think about telling me, his mother, what was going on.

I asked if he was acting out in class.

Nope. He's such a good boy in class. So well liked.

Well, other than this little boy. But he has troubles at home.

I demanded something be done about this child. I was told "God will take care of it."


Yeah, they felt it was not their place to do anything about it, that this child going through a divorce meant he shouldn't be disciplined in any way. In their opinions, he was to be given free rein, to do as he would, because it would all work out in the end.

Those of you who have worked with children know a child behaving this way is crying for help. He wants someone to step in and tell him what he should be doing. He wants to know someone cares about him. They weren't doing this.

I went to the head master. She gave me the same line. So I wrote a letter. I described the actions I would take if something was not done about this child. I addressed the sheer incompetence of these people, to stand by and watch an entire class be constantly attacked, the trauma we were dealing with at home. The damage they were doing to each and every single one of these children, including the bully.

At home, I told my son to stay as far away from the bully as he could. I told him to tell him he didn't want to play with him when he was being mean. I told him not to let him touch him. I demanded he tell the teachers each and every time this bully hurt him. Despite my great desire to tell him to punch him out, I knew that wasn't the best thing to do. (Probably...) I figured the best thing for him to do for now was to try avoidance and his words.

He did one better. My son managed to befriend the boy. He told him he didn't want to play with him when he was being mean, BUT he'd really like to play with him when he could be nice. He repeatedly invited him into games and play.

He accepted.

This little boy wanted a friend. He'd been crying for help. And not one of us adults really saw that or knew what he needed. We all let him down. But one little four year old broke through all of it and got right to the heart of the matter. Somehow, he knew just what to do.

The next time that clump of moms gathered, they talked about how their kids said the little boy had stopped hurting their children. How he was nice. How he played with everyone.

There's always a reason someone bullies. It's hard to see it in the moment. We want so badly to protect ourselves, protect our children, protect our siblings, protect our friends. All we can see is the pain someone else is causing them, and we want to fix it, usually with anger. But that doesn't do any good. As a kid, my way didn't fix anything. I got people to lay off ME. I defended others around me. I was never afraid to stand up to someone else once history had broken me. It became my job. But I defended myself with anger instead of kindness, which likely just reinforced what the bullies felt to begin with, and quite possibly meant other children paid out of my awareness.

I hope with my entire being that my son can continue to apply his gentle nature to any bully that comes at him, and that he won't pay by being tortured. I watch my daughter in fear that she'll either be bullied or become the bully. Do I see in her the possibility of becoming a "mean girl?" Is anyone being mean to her?

Today being Unity Day, remember to care for everyone, for the bullied and the bullies. Remember to take that moment to move past the hurt, the anger...the fear. Because that's what it comes down to, isn't it? Fear? Fear for what could happen, what people will think, that the same thing will happen to someone you care about, that it will go too far, that it will lead to more. Fear that someone will hurt you as badly as someone else has. Fear that you will be hurt, embarrassed, made a fool of.

Let's conquer the fear and try to see the humanity in those we interact with.

There's no good way to switch from such a serious subject to links, so how about I do so with an applicable link: Find information on signs of bullying and what you can do. If you'd like to post something about bullying, send the link to Rachel and she'll post it with the links of those participating.

Now for some links.

Accepting Submissions:

Robocup Press is seeking "raw, risky unpublished flash fiction" for Up Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers. 250-1000 words. Deadline October 15. Payment is $10, plus a contributor copy.

Divertir Publishing is taking submissions of science fiction-themed poetry and short stories for a collection on the unreal. Deadline October 15. Payment unknown.

Blank Fiction Magazine is accepting pieces for their first three issues with the themes Literary Fiction, Noir Fiction, and Science Fiction. October 15 deadline. $50 honorarium for now; they hope to be able to increase this after time.

Strength From Within: An Anthology is seeking submissions of stories of recovery for a charity anthology. Proceeds will go to Asbury House. Deadline October 31. Will pay a flat $25 fee.

Thunderdome Magazine is looking for new myths and urban legends that will make people believe they're true. The anthology will be called Legend: True Stories From a Friend of a Friend. Deadline October 31. Pays $25, plus a contributor copy.

Clarkesworld Magazine is putting together a science fiction anthology concerning cyborgs. Deadline October 31. Pays $.07 per word. While you're there, check out the regular magazine submission guidelines, as well.

Of Interest:

Thrillerpalooza is holding a giveaway for 23 signed thrillers by 24 authors. To enter, all that's asked is for you to leave a comment on their blog, tweet about the giveaway, and do a Facebook status on the giveaway.

Blog Hops:

J.L. Campbell is holding the Who's Your Hero Blogfest October 22-24. All she asks is that you write up to 300 words about someone who has inspired or encouraged you in some way. This is in celebration of the upcoming release of her sequel to Christine's Oddysey, and will fall on Jamaica's Heroes Day.

Spooktoberfest is being hosted by Dani and Jackie October 25-28th. 300-500 word flash fiction based upon an image and three mandatory words.

Sara C. Snider is putting together a Halloween Blog Hop for Halloween Day, October 31. Simply post a short story or poem that fits the Halloween theme.

Have you ever dealt with bullying, either for yourself or someone close to you? What do you think is the best way to deal with it? Do any of these links interest you? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.


Anonymous said...

I think people who bully others whether it be children or adults are very insecure in themselves.
A very common problem and one I hope passes over the years.


D.G. Hudson said...

Not all bullies react as they might when they're younger. My daughter had to deal with several young MEAN girls who just loved spreading lies and threatening her in middle school and in high school. Bullying is NEVER acceptable. One girl in particular, who had a father lawyer was particularly nasty. I went to the school board, the parent teacher association and threatened action if something wasn't done.
After that (and other kids were also being targeted at the school by one clique). I made that school committee aware. There is now a police presence there after two other incidents with other kids. We live in a nice neighborhood, this isn't common, this is a respected school. But it shows us that these kids don't know how to handle mean bullies. (I dislike a 'leave it alone' attitude - that accomplishes exactly zero.)

It's an ongoing problem - it takes place in offices and workplaces too. Bullies seldom change.

jp said...

Hi Shannon I read your post with interest. My first book is about bullying and the effects on the victims from a psychological point of view. It is currently being revised for the YA group for whom it will be most use. It is being serialised for free all this month on my website at click on the book cover image.

Andrew Leon said...

My experience with bullies has always been that ignoring them (I mean completely ignoring them) was the best way to deal with it (at least on an individual basis). Bullies are after a reaction, and, if they can't get it, they move on to somewhere they can. Of course, this isn't an easy thing, because they will, for a while, try escalation tactics to get that reaction, but, if they continue to not get it, they stop.

With kids, especially young kids, though, it's not about the bullying, it's about attention. And that kid in your son's class definitely needed some. Acting out to get negative attention is always preferable to no attention.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Yvonne, I agree, insecure and unhappy.

D.G., that's true. The bullies I dealt with through my school years were brutal. They never changed. It was me that changed through it all. It's too bad the situation is so bad that police now have to be involved. Schools in this area now have police officers, usually just one who deals with anything that occurs at several locations, but some have one full-time. I wonder how things might have been different had we had that when I was a kid? So much of the bullying was emotional over physical, though not all of it.

JP, that's a great book to be written. I hope you checked out Rachel's page. Let her know about the serial book available and perhaps she'll post information on that, too?

Andrew, I tried ignoring that kindergarten bully, which earned me scissors in my back, being hit over the head, etc. The verbal ones, I do believe that works on. If you aren't responding to the nasty things they say, it's no fun. Unfortunately, I have a major FIGHT or flight complex, and have a hard time not fighting back. I've improved as an adult, of course, but as a kid, I automatically defended myself. It's hard to do the right thing sometimes, whether that's ignoring them or befriending them or whatever else is right for that particular instance. And I definitely agree it's about attention for the little ones. Though I'm discovering just how early little girls get mean. The fearful trinity exists already in kindergarten, where if three little girls are friends, one will almost always be ganged up on by the other two. The next week a different girl will be pushed out, with the other two bullying them. I rather hate it, but I don't know how to conquer it. I'm working on that with my daughter. No trinities!

M Pax said...

Bullying is terrible. It wasn't allowed in my k-12. Our principal made it her mission. I wish more schools had her attitude.

Christine Rains said...

My heart aches to hear about bullying, but especially about smaller children being a parent of a preschooler myself. I remember when I was in school, the general idea was that bullying was just part of growing up. Adults didn't do anything about it. I wasn't physically bullied, but there was the verbal bullying, and by high school, I was invisible. My son's preschool has a zero tolerance policy for bullying. I know two years ago, they had a girl that was bullying and bit another student. She was not allowed to come back to the school. My son's preschool is a co-op, so the parents are involved in many things. I know all the other kids in his class, and I've been around to see how they interact with one another. My son's a gentle soul too. I hope he'd be as wonderful as your son in realizing all the bully needed was a kind friend.

Cathrina Constantine said...

I believe every child will be bullied at one time or another. It takes a responsible and caring adult with a million eyes to help sort through the mess.

dolorah said...

I think all kids are either bullied, or are the bully, at some point in their childhood. Its the support and direction from adults that make them become victims, long time bullies, or just a kid that stood up for himself or others and moved past it.

I'm glad your son finally had his say, and was able to turn the attitude of the bully kid. I can't believe those pre-school teachers would just turn a blind eye. That kid was completely crying out for attention to his needs, and they were essentially turning their backs on him with their inattentiveness. Kids will be kids, and act out on occasion, but clearly the adults recognized a problem, and failed to offer guidance. They could have ruined that poor kid at the most impressionable age. Shame on them.

I'm glad you and your son were able to work things out. Its always nice to see that a little assertive kindness can change a world view.

Lots of excellent info in the rest of the post Shannon. Thanks for bringing it to my attention :)

Pat your son on the shoulder for me.


Becky Fyfe said...

That is a beautiful and honest post. I love that your child handled things the way he did.

A Beer for the Shower said...

Wow, what a heart-wrenching story. I'm just glad it worked out okay in the end. At that age, violence is definitely not the answer. Later on in life... well, sometimes it is. Sometimes people who have been bullying their whole lives are just past talking and need a good ass whooping. In self defense, of course. I don't advocate just walking up to someone and punching them in the face.

Rachel said...

You've told me this story before, but it breaks my heart every time. Anger and violence is the last thing that will help and should only ever be used as a last resort. Trying to get help for the bully (and the bullied) is the best thing that can be done. Unless they are literally a psychopath, there is no reason that somebody is a bully without cause. Reacting with hatred and anger only makes things worse for everyone.

Jagoda said...

Both your and your son's story about bullying are heart-breaking. What a special person your son is--my hat is off to him. You must feel very proud.
I too was bullied in elementary school. One day after school, I beat up the girl that had been doing it to me. Other kids from our class stood around in a circle, cheering me on. They too had been hurt by her. She never bothered me again. Funny thing is that a year later, she and I became friends. If I'd had half the wisdom and kindness your son exhibited, I might have had a friend much sooner.

J.A. Kazimer said...

I love you. This post had me in tears. I know exactly how you felt, both as a kid being bullied, and much worse, when your son was bullied. That is the worst feeling in the world.

Thank you for sharing.