Friday, April 13, 2012

Bullying and Those Bad Parents

I'm angry.  I know it can be dangerous to write when angry.  I also know that some of my best thinking and doing starts when I write while angry.

I was listening to The Bert Show this week on my drive in to work- as I almost always do.  The discussion was on the documentary "Bully" that releases this weekend.  You know I am going to see this movie at some point.  Readers of my blog know that we have dealt with bullying in a way that most people aren't so open about, I suppose.  I've been very honest and open here on the blog about our experiences with our daughter being the bully.  (If you're new here- I suggest clicking that link and you will see all the posts where I have shared about our experiences with our child being a bully.)

Here's where I get angry.  The radio show was taking calls and they had some experts in the studio.  They were talking with kids who witness bullying or who are bullied.  Facebook blew up with comments and the conversation took the turn it always does- to blame the parents of the bully.  This morning, as a follow up to one of the more heart wrenching calls from the previous day, one of the hosts full on stated that bullies have bad home situations.  One of the hosts stated that he wants bullies to hear the call from the girl who was a tortured victim of bullying and he wants them to feel shame for what they've done if they are a bully in their own school.

First quick thought was- yes, they should feel something when hearing this little girl crying on the radio about how she's been bullied for 5 years.  Second quick thought was- but it shouldn't be shame that we focus on.  It should be that if you are a bully and you hear that call and on the inside, you are feeling bad for her and you are recognizing that the choices you make in your peer environment could be impacting someone in the same way, you are feeling something appropriate and should be encouraged to act on it.  Not encouraged to feel more shame.  Because one thing I do believe to be true is that the majority of bullies suffer low self esteem and are already feeling shame and beating themselves up.

Then the comment about the home life of bullies was made and I blew up in my car.

I tried to call in but they had moved on to another topic and it was suggested that I leave a comment on Facebook.  Which I did.  But having my blog as my platform is far more satisfying.  And I can say more.

I got to work and posted on Facebook my thoughts.  And then began to see the comments from other listeners and their opinions of the parents of kids who bully and I had that heart-sinking- punch in the gut feeling that I had when I first heard that my daughter was bullying other kids.  I wanted to message each of these people and tell them that my husband and I are GREAT PARENTS and we LOVE our kids like crazy and our home life is fun but also disciplined but not abusive or overly strict or cruel.  That my kids are the focus of our family and are not neglected or abused.

And I thought about blurring out the names- but these folks posted on The Bert Show's Facebook page so it's easy to find their names anyway.

I get that there are situations where parents will disregard their child's mean choices.  I get it that there are homes where kids are being abused or are growing up with "rough" parents who teach them to be tough.

But I want the message loud and clear- that isn't the situation with every bully.  That isn't the home life of every mean child.

Yesterday, The Queen of Free and her husband celebrated the freedom from the last of their debt with a spot on The Dave Ramsey Show.  One thing that the King of Free stated and has really stayed with me is that "The death of communication is the birth of resentment."

If your child comes home and tells you that my child said terribly cruel things to her, please find a way to contact me.  Send me an email, contact the teacher, call me.  Please don't assume that my husband beats my daughter or that I am emotionally cruel to my child.  Please don't assume that my daughter is in a wretched home situation.  Please don't assume that she has parents who are disengaged or don't care about her.

Instead, please consider that she has parents at home who are aware of the problem but aren't aware that it has happened again.  Please consider reaching out so that we have the opportunity to correct the problem with our child.  If you are going to assume anything, please assume that my child has engage and passionate parents.  Maybe you've reached out to other parents with issues before and been disregarded or put down.  But please don't stop trying.  Because at some point you might find me at the other end or you might find another parent like me- one who is trying to work through this behavior problem on a consistent and ongoing basis.

And here's a shocking idea.  Let's say the school does know that the response from the parents won't help.  Or maybe you reach out and you do discover that the kid is in a difficult home situation.  Does that mean you just brush it off?  Does that mean you don't take action?  Holy crap!  If I know a kid who is in a tough home situation... who has parents making dumb, selfish choices or who has a parent who pushes them too hard... you know that situations where the kid feels out of control or the kid feels worthless... I can't imagine turning my back.  I know that not every situation can be turned over to the authorities and not every situation can be helped by school administration.  And if my kid is the one getting picked on, I know that I will be angry with that other child.  But I also know that if I am aware of a kid in a hurting place, I do what is within my power to do to show them that they are valuable and they are loved.  Even if it is as small as looking them in the eye with a smile and a hello, giving them a hug when appropriate, taking time to sit and talk, and maybe even being there for them to talk to when the moment presents itself.

I'm starting to get scattered with my thoughts.  It's a big subject.  And maybe it's something I should focus on and write about in more detail at some point.  But like I said- right now, I'm angry.  Right now, I want to defend myself.

My child has the capability to be a cruel bully, a true mean girl.  My child also has the capability to be incredibly thoughtful, empathetic, and compassionate.  My child is funny and charming and smart- and can also be manipulative and verbally slay other kids without being detected by adults.

My husband and I are parents who love our children.  We are focused on raising them to be compassionate, caring, generous individuals.  We believe that our kids have great things to do in this world.  Finding out that our child had the ability to be so cruel to others turned our world upside down- I cried and cried.  I questioned everything I had done to that point as a parent.  I wondered if I was too hard on her or if my expectations were too high or if I was too soft on her or if I was just plain doing everything wrong.  Eventually, we figured out that there were reasons for the things we were seeing.  Now, almost 2 years into our school experience, we know that this is an aspect of her personality that can be honed into something positive or, if left unattended, will run rampant and create a truly cruel teenager.

So we work on it.  We try our best.  We address is consistently every time it comes up.  All I ask is that if your child encounters a bully, please consider that the parents of the bully are more like you than you may want to admit.



Unknown said...

I'm really glad to see this on your blog. I'm new-ish here (and I have not yet clicked your link to your bullying posts - but I plan to). My son has been bullied, and will probably continue to have a problem throughout his entire school career. It makes me so sad, that at now ten, this has been going on since he was 5. We've spoken to schools, involved counselors, parents, teachers and everything we can possibly do. My son is smart. In fact he could skip to high school without any problems. He's also been classified as aspergers in the past. It saddens me so much to know that just because he's being himself, kids will tease him and be cruel.

I do not automatically assume it's a bad home the bullying child comes from. Sometimes the homelife can be good - no abuse, etc. But when something or someone is different, plenty of people will fear it and place ridicule. It is wrong.

I applaud you for standing up, in the unpopular position as the parent of a bully, and saying my child is having some issues and we are doing everything we can to make sure our child knows what they are doing is wrong and are trying to make sure they act appropriately in the future. So many parents of bullies just place the responsibility elsewhere, if they acknowledge it at all.

I hope your child chooses not to bully again. If they do, all you can do is try to correct the behavior and recognize it as a problem that everyone needs make better.

Nej said...

I can honestly say I was never the bullied or the bully in school. But, I saw plenty of it. I think that bullying CAN be the result of poor parenting...but (hear me out) I also believe that it can happen DESPITE marvelous parenting. There is no black and white with these situations....there is no rule's life, and life is difficult. You care for your kids more than anything else in the world. They get tons of love and affection from the both of you. This is a hurdle that the three of you are having to deal with....but there is no blame to be laid here. There are parents that can either cause (or chose to ignore) the situation...and that is the furthest from the case in your situation. To pile all cases of bullying into one big lump is ridiculous and very close minded. You just keep doing what you're doing.....being a great and loving parent!!!!

Momza said...

First off, you're right. Not all parents of all bullies are crappy parents. I have never heard of the show you're referring to--is it local to your area in the US?
Another thing is that the topic is a hot one right now--and it's relevant, so that's why there's a movie about it, actors, activists and ordinary people are passionate about this behavior in our society. It's damaging--that much we all agree upon--on both ends of the abuse. And where it starts, how to address it, must not be easy otherwise it would've been extinct by now, right?
It's a touchy subject for many people. My own kids have had to deal with bullies as they've gone thru elementary, middle and high school. We reported some of the bullying to either the parents or the school and this was our experience: When we told the parents directly, they were either embarrassed and apologetic OR they were rude, smug and in denial. When we told the school, the behavior was kept in check and the bully was pulled into a school counselor's office and our child was no longer a target for the bully. At the very least, the bully knew he/she wasn't going to get their way with our child. Usually, they just moved onto another child as a target.
One child threated to break my son's neck last year--in 5th grade. We did come to find out that that young boy was being abused at home. A girl that my daughter was being bullied by, threatened to kill her if she told anyone because as she said, "It'll be my word against yours." We told the parents instead of the school, and the parents denied that their little angel could've ever said such a thing. To this day, my daughter avoids being seen by this girl. I don't know why kids turn into bullies, but I am happy that it's become a topic of discussion and focus in our society. It is much-needed. As for your little girl, I can't think of one thing you could do better than what you're doing, Liz (and hubby). You can have peace in that. Sorry for the long comment.

Rebecca said...

This is a very long post :)

I just wanted to add for anyone reading comments out there that a good book to check out about bullying is The Bully, The Bullied and The ByStander.

The book is about the full circle and that bullying is the problem of EVERYONE involved. Even the bystander.

It really opened me up to speaking to my children about how it's important to help out if someone is being bullied.

Jaime said...

Bless You Liz. I truly love how you share your honest thoughts and I pray that more parents find this blog and hear what you have to say. Even though Teagan has gone through some rough spots, it's given you knowledge to share that very well will have wide reaching impact on this social situation. HUGS FRIEND!!

Mellodee said...

Excellent post! Should be required reading for all parents. No matter what people might want to think, not everything is the parents' fault!! Nature vs. Nurture?? Sometimes nature really is the culprit!

Nancy said...

Oh Liz, my heart breaks for you. I know your family and I know the struggles that you go through with this. Just know that you are doing great jobs as parents and I know that T will pull through this. Hugs to you my friend!

Garret said...

Wow. It's definitely not always on the parents. I agree with Mellodee... nature vs. nurture.

Heather said...

I was listening to that show as well and I thought of you & Jeff. It made me sad that as usual, the first instinct is to blame the parents, especially when I know how much you have all been trying to do your best with Teagan. I'm sorry for what those people said, it was callous and not very well thought out, on all ends of the spectrum. People fear what they don't know. said...

I completely understand and completely agree. We had one child who was the one to poke, antagonize, and harass other kids. Guess what? We love our kids and take care of them but that child has issues and he always needed more supervision until his emotional maturity caught up with his age-maturity. We have homeschooled for 3 years partly because of this need and he is a totally different kid.

Also? I hate classifying kids. To classify my child as a "bully" would mean that he is still a bully. Which he's not. He is a fairly average kid now. If we were to classify the children who are picking on other kids as bullies for the rest of their lives, how do we classify the kids who are picked on? As "victims"? Is that how anyone wants their child labeled? As a victim?

Human beings have some horribly twisted, inborn need to have a pecking order and it is never as strongly present as it is in the school years.

I hope your daughter is having a more peaceful year. I hope the school and other parents in your district are on the same page for ALL of the kids: that they want all of the kids to grow up into responsible, strong adults.

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

I can completely understand your frustration and you are right - parents are not always to blame. Research does show that home environment CAN be a significant factor in bullying, but it isn't always. The simple fact is, any one of our children could end up being a bully at some point, even if we are working really hard to try to keep it from happening.

I can also understand how so many are quick to judge/blame the parents. It's an emotional and complex issue. People need someone to blame, and they want to believe there is an easy answer/fix. There isn't.

I appreciate your writing about this and sharing it on The Mom Pledge's page. Thank you!