Monday, May 7, 2012

Bullying: Where Do We Draw the Line?

We've seen "Mean Girls" - and many of us have experienced them in real life - haven't we?

If there is anything to be said about bullying in our house, short and sweet: It is not tolerated.

It's easy in a house with seven children (just like a small classroom) to miss incidences where one child who is a wee bit older than his sibling does something that falls into the "bullying" category. Whether it's "Na-na-na-na-na! I'm faster than you!" or elbowing a little brother, it's not okay. I don't even let the children tickle each other, because I have 6 boys (and one girl) and once the tickling starts, there's a chance that it could lead to more rough play...and then someone's crying or angry.

Back to the's a bad habit.

But, here's the thing...there's a fine line between "just being a kid" and being a bully. So, how do we teach our children the difference?

Example Incident #1

I'm not proud to say that just recently, my oldest child was sent home from school with a disciplinary note. We're talking about a 12 year old boy who is the oldest, most responsible child in the house. He is held to the highest standards, has always been an "A" student, and I hate to admit that I tend to lean on him the most, because he's 1) the oldest child, 2) so willing to help out, and 3) does a good job when I ask. He's the child who is constantly asking me, "Mom, is there anything I can do to help you?"

This boy is wonderful with his little brothers and the baby loves him. BUT, I'm not going to say that he's perfect, and there are times when we have to remind him that he's the oldest and that there are types of behaviors that he exhibits, here and there, that seem bully-ish sometimes. Some of the things our 2 year old Kodi would get away with (although he shouldn't...) are not okay for a 12 year old, ever. Like elbowing another child - not okay.

So, I'm sure that you're wondering about the incident...supposedly, he was "tease-playing" with one of his buddies, and although his buddy supposedly told the teacher that he didn't consider my son's verbal-teasing-behavior bullying, the teacher still took disciplinary action. (I did write a note back on the slip that he asked me to sign requesting more information about the incident, and have yet to receive a response.) My son is one of the most honest children that I have, so I tend to believe what he says, and I'm a bit baffled still about the disciplinary note.

We have, by the way, told our son that he is in school to LEARN, not to make friends, be playful, tease, etc. His frustration, however has led him to ask if he can go to another school next year, because he feels that the disciplinary action was completely unfair. To add injury to insult...

Example Incident #2

Then, last week, my 10 year old son came home from school and told his dad and I that he was physically accosted by another student, and that there have been ongoing problems with 2 students who have been bullying him. We're talking grabbing my son's shirt at the top of the chest, near the neck and getting in his face in the locker room, not a little verbal teasing!

My husband called the teacher and left a message, to which she responded by calling back and discussing the information that our son had told us. She was supposed to go talk to our son and find out who the bullying culprits were and put a stop to it.

(Mind you, this is the SAME school, with the two incidents within 24 hours of each other.)

The email message that I received back from the teacher basically said that the two boys were "shocked" when the teacher confronted them (were they really supposed to admit it and say that they were wrong? Come on, they are kids! Of course, they acted shocked!). There was an explanation about some kind of robot game that may have gotten out of hand and a "boys will be boys" excuse...

However, when I brought this information to my son, he said that he DID NOT participate in those games and that the boys were lying. Now, this son of mine hasn't always been the best truth-teller, so I take care when I deal with him and ensure that I believe him before I take any action. As far as this incident is concerned, I believe him.

Houston, we have a problem....

Here's the does one student have disciplinary action taken against him for "verbally teasing" a friend, while the boys who accosted my son "walk free" for their actions?  

My perception of what the problem really is...I think schools have yet to define that fine line between "being a kid" and bullying. Therefore, even in a "no tolerance" education setting, it is difficult to draw that line in the sand and stand firm on it, because every "incident" is different and each child is different in how sensitive or tough they truly are.

I mean, you can't tell the students not to talk to each other, for everyone to just get along and be simply doesn't work.  No matter how good the school is, now matter how much money you pay for it, no matter how "high class" the children are considered to be, there are going to be issues. They're children.

HOWEVER, each organization that deals with children MUST figure out a way to draw that line. Rather than boasting a "no tolerance" policy, they need to completely outline exactly what "no tolerance" means and what will happen when certain circumstances occur, using "real" examples, like situations that have occurred the past (without using names, of course!).

Should I say that again? Okay, I won't repeat myself, but I feel very strongly about this.

It's fine if you want to discipline my child for teasing another child, because you do not tolerate any bullying behaviors, and I agree that teasing can be considered bullying. (Whatever happened to the whole "I'm rubber, you're glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks on you" days?)

BUT. You can't discipline one child for a minor infraction and then not discipline other children for a major infraction. You get my drift? You have to keep disciplinary action firm and stick by it. If teachers are disciplining children for verbally teasing other children, then teachers should definitely be slapping a pink slip on children who are physically picking on other children.

No excuses. 

That's including "boys will be boys" and "well, you know how mean girls can be...".

Yeah, we know all of these things, and we knew them before teens started committing suicide because they were belittled, picked on, teased, harassed, assaulted, tormented and basically had the crap kicked out of their already sensitive self-esteem. To the point where they wanted to die. (Yeah, I said it).

I'm not going to go into a rant about the teen bully suicides, but I am going to ask you this: What's your opinion on what I've said? Where do we draw the line?

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