Written by Anonymous
I can hear the anger and hurt in the mother’s voice as she stands in the lobby, her arms around the shoulder of her daughter. The tears in her daughter's big blue eyes are real as her mother lists off the things that another student has done to her daughter.
What she has been put through. How there are nude pictures jumping from one phone to the next. Rumors and accusations. All untrue and all to hurt her daughter. To embarrass her. To make her feel ashamed. Maybe to even question if she can go on another day.
She goes on to tell me that no one can control that other young lady. Not her parents, not her friends, and not even the school.
This is where I step in. This is where I get defensive because what I have been doing, is making sure her daughter is safe at school. What she says is going on, has not been going on in school. Even her daughter admits to that. But what the mother needs to understand is that I can’t grab a phone from another student to look through her pictures and texts. I can’t confront this other student with the same accusations.
What I don’t tell the mother is I’ve talked with the other girl, I’ve talked with her family as well. The same accusations. The same threats. Two girls who used to be such good friends, now that friendship has been severed by hate and mistrust. A friendship that might have been salvageable, like many are, now cannot be because lawyers and police are now involved.
Is this what bullying is like in all middle schools? Are all eighth-grade girls this vicious?
As an educator, bullying is one of those subjects that make me feel uneasy. To say something mean to someone to intentionally hurt someone physically or mentally does not mean you are a bully. We all have done that to someone in our life.
Maybe even to our own spouse or children out of anger. Are you considered a bully? No, maybe a jerk or a meany or even a bitch but if you continue to do this after I told you to knock it off, you are crossing that line.
“Did you tell him/her to stop?” This is the question I’m supposed to ask a child when they come to me for help. I don’t like this question. I don’t think a child needs to say “stop” for someone to know that what they are doing is wrong and unwanted.
Schools don’t tolerate bullies. The parents want us to make sure that there is no bullying. They want the bullies to be punished. No one thinks that bullying is not an issue. We all want the bullying to stop but the question is how? What do we do?
What I do, is listen.
I listen to the talk in the hallway, to the talk in the cafeteria, to the talk in the classroom, and I watch. The smug little grins, the eye rolls, the pointed fingers.
When kids come to me and tell me that someone is picking on them, being mean, or bullying them, I become a super sleuth. Trying to catch them in action, a note, a look, something that I can call them out on without them thinking someone had snitched. Because we all know, snitches get stitches. I’ve heard this said a few times.
Believe it or not, the easiest bully to deal with is the most violent of bullies. They use their fists and are loud. Their behavior is easy to recognize and easy to control. Separation, suspension, and even police in some cases.
But what we are forgetting is, we don’t grow up to be a bully.
What we learn is, there is something to gain if we do. Those gains, which can be hurtful to so many, are so powerful to others.
To bully is to demand respect, to be perceived as having power, to be known for being in control. The question is, why? Could it be because these are things that we all deserve, even as children?
We say respect is earned but where does it start? What does it mean to be earned? It’s like what came first, the chicken or the egg? Can we start life feeling respected and heard without doing something to get us there? Can a three-year-old feel empowered or in control if given the chance?
Hell ya, my daughter ran around the house when she was four. For days she dressed as Batman and if anyone called her Batgirl, she quickly corrected them.
She felt empowered and strong. She didn’t demand respect and we didn’t make her earn it, we just did it. Did she have control?
In her little four-year-old brain she did because giving her a chance to make choices is allowing her to be in control. I might say no to chocolate chip cookies for the third night in a row but giving her a chance to choose between crackers or pretzels, allows her to feel in control, heard, and respected.
I can honestly say, I don’t believe my girls were bullies but I will also say, I’ve seen them say mean things and do mean things when they felt angry or hurt.
Maybe we should start listening to the bully, asking the bully what they need. What can we do to help them?
I’m not saying, forget about the victim, we need to protect them as well, but we need to stop seeing bullying behavior as just sticks and stones and hurtful words but as white flags of surrender and S.O.S signs written in the sand.
And am I blaming the parents? In a way, I guess I am but I need to stop and wonder, where they allowed a choice or was it always pretzels?
About the Author
This post has been written anonymously. The author has been a teacher for the last thirty years and teaches eighth grade in a mid-sized urban school. She is a single mother of two teenage girls and enjoys spending time with her girls, hiking, skiing, writing, and being on the beach.