There Be Bullies

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.

This month, we are focussing on issues in the school system (and this means any school system: homeschooling, charters, etc are not exempt) that are prevalent, insidious and hard for us to talk about with our kids.

Bullying has been around since Cain and Abel, but if Eve had given them smart phones I think they could have avoided going out into the field altogether and Cain could have ruined his brother from the comfort of his couch.

What this means for today’s kids is a perceived power imbalance (which is what sells technology in the first place) so magnified that the result, more times than we want to look at, is death. Death of an idea, death of self-worth, death of a child. Please stop right now and call, text, message, hug, or high-five a kid. It doesn’t have to be your kid. And you don’t need a reason. Every kid needs that little ping of positivity because – people listen up – we are fighting an undercover avalanche of insidious bullying.

And you count. I’ll wait while you send it….

According to my many teacher friends, schools are educating kids about proper web use and ethics. They know it’s hard for some kids to admit to being bullied, so it’s discussed regularly in the classroom. Some teachers have an app that can check a kid’s iPad at a moments notice to see if it’s being used appropriately. They have counselors, social workers, and technology staff and partner with police and programs for nonviolence and peace. The message they are sending out is: “Bullying is not right. Everyone deserves a safe place to be in school.”

But of course, there’s a flip side: how do you distinguish between bully behavior and normal, age-appropriate immaturity, or even teasing between two children who both think it’s funny? The “bully” label is easily triggered in students and parents alike and they expect dramatic reactive steps on the part of school staff, regardless of the circumstances. (Here’s my fun story on that.)

Usually a quick, real-time intervention by the teacher, having kids apologize or just a stern talking-to, resolves many incidents. Seasoned teachers definitely know the difference and they also know their students personalities.

But the teacher is not you, the parent. (Unless of course you are homeschooling like Eve was and we are praying for you. Get yourself a favorite aunt who will take your kid for ice cream and have this conversation.)

You, the parent, should also be using real-time intervention by talking to your kids about when they were bullied and also when they bullied someone else. The answers are perhaps not so important as the process of opening the discussion. We all have to find ways to get along on the planet and this is a good place to practice the conversation. Earn their honesty by trusting them to find solutions along with you. Suggest ways they can hand out those little pings of positivity, too.

Conversation Prompts:

  1. Technology is just a tool and you control the “off” button. No one can access you via technology unless you allow them to. Others can block you, too, if you lose their trust.
  2. Bullying can be physical, emotional, or verbal. Harassment or intimidation via technology is called cyberbullying. Look up your school policy on it and read it together.
  3. Make an action plan as a family. Consider and act out scenarios where you are the target, the witness, and the bully in turn. How do you feel? What can you say? What will you do?
  4. Restorative Circles will give you the dialogue you need, and here is the other side of that with examples.
  5. Find resources on stopbullying.gov.
  6. Find more resources from the national PTA here.

“Love your enemies as yourself” Lev. 19:18

The Forgetful Files is a safe, supportive space exploring different life challenges and big questions with courage, kindness, humor, and practicality. Please join the conversation by offering your unique perspective!

And How Was Your Week?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I spent Sunday night cowering in the corner of my new sofa, under two blankets and whimpering.

I read a book to distract myself from the fact that the sky was falling.

In the pitch black howling madness, our little overnight storm whipped rain horizontally, uprooted trees, flooded and eroded everything, and made me pray for the dawn.

I’m sorry to report that the rest of this week has been about the same.

If you replace rain with the boys’ school projects, spats of hail with Hubby’s work load, and wind with the level of general stress in the house, there’s no wonder I could hear occasional slammed doors, moaning around the corners and whimpers over impending doom.

As a seasoned mom, I’ve weathered worse, but when Wednesday night rolled around and I had had to personally talk down my menfolk from abandoning ship, my radar told me to look a little closer into things.

Somewhere, the sky was about to fall.

“Mom,” said a son, “I’m not going to school on Friday.”

“Is it written on the calendar?” I asked, not skipping a beat, “Because unless it is, oh yes you are.”

So he went over and wrote it on the calendar.

His spiel was something about a class project that his group needed to pull together or his grades were ruined. Forever. He didn’t know where or when or how…but could I find a pop-up canopy, a table and four folding chairs, a collection box, and oh yeah, can I drive him around on Friday morning?

Because grades trump all other life activities, including, as it turned out, bathroom breaks.

“Here,” I said, looking deeply into his eyes, which was not easy, because his eyes did not want me to look into them, “Let me just stop the planet from spinning while I tend to your business.”

Upon further investigation I discovered that this was a “student-led” activity.

One where – you guessed it – students were in charge of everything.

Well there you go.

Does it mean my fourteen-year-old gets to write his own off-campus pass, his own attendance note, make up a day off and drive himself to Starbucks for a good grade?

My other son stepped forward.

His list included signing up for the SAT (“like, yesterday, Mom”) and the tutoring that came with it, a class he needed to prepare for his church group, a major essay due Friday, a major project due next week, and both boys had two basketball games and a team dinner to squeeze in.

I reached out a hand, and stopped my spinning planets. I started rolling up my sleeves.

“Well boys, brace yourself. Incoming life lessons starting now.”

I spent yesterday gathering supplies, filling out online registrations, proofreading essays, collecting permission forms, washing uniforms, going over notes, blocking out my Friday morning, and putting gas in the car.

It’s very rare for me to be involved in the kids’ schooling anymore, and as much as I’m in favor of independence and learning the hard way if you need to, once in a while, I rise from the couch and remind them who’s in their corner.

I talked them through each step of the process, they took the next thing off the “to do” list then I did, and so forth until things began to fall into place.

I spent this morning at a dog-friendly park, watching my son (from a polite mom-distance) pull off his school project all by himself.

Because the other kids in his group, perhaps, had failed to mention this project until *sigh* today.

Who knows.

He spoke to everyone passing by about the plight of pit bulls, raising money and awareness for their non-profit organization, Villalobos Rescue Center. You may be more familiar with the show, “Pit Bulls and Parolees”.

He had a very good response and has some donations to turn in, and I imagine will get a decent grade on his project.

The Friday weather is beautiful today, clear skies, sunshine, gentle breeze.

We’ll enjoy the calm while it lasts.