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Bullies…

In the wee hours of a sleepless night, I like to pass the insomniac time by perusing and commenting at a site called Quora, where members dream up questions and other members write answers to them. This morning I came across this question:

If you had a child in middle school who was being bullied, how would you handle it?

Yeah…that one sure rang my chimes. Here’s my story, in response to folks who said you need to teach your kiddies to stand up for themselves and fight back:

Well… As a girl, no amount of “standing up for yourself” would have done a darned thing for me. First, I didn’t have the physical strength to fight off several boys, even if I knew how to do so. Second, indulging in any such unlady-like behavior (this was in the 1950s) would have caused unutterable trouble for me.

The only thing I could do was what I did do: watch the clock leading up to the 3:00 p.m. dismissal time. Have all my books and things stacked on the desk and ready to go. As soon as the bell rang, grab my stuff and RUN out the door and RUN AS FAST AS I COULD RUN back to my house. Fortunately we lived only about three or four blocks from the hateful school.

After about a year of this, my fifth- and sixth-grade teacher (whom I abominated), caught two of the little darlings where they had cornered me at the entry to the school.

To my horror, she said to dear little Tommy, “Go ahead. Hit her!”

I was too young and too terrified to understand what she was doing.

He stared at her.

“Go on! Hit her!”

Tommy, being a great deal smarter and world-wise than I was, paused. The temptation was huge, but he resisted and stood down. I got up from the pavement, grabbed my books, and ran away.

She must have given Tommy (and Barry, and Bruce, and the rest of the little charmers) quite a fine go-to-He!! lecture, because after that the worst of the harassment stopped. I was still miserable because I had essentially no friends. None of the little darlings would have anything to do with me. But at least they quit harassing me.

This took place in an American oil camp overseas, a compound much like a military base where we were trapped for the duration of each of my father’s two-year contracts. There was no place else my mother could send me to school. Finally, I got sick, and she and a friend who was a nurse persuaded the doctor to say I had infectious mononucleosis and must stay home. My mother hired my former third-grade teacher to tutor me — this woman had married an employee of the company; married women weren’t allowed to work for the company at the time, so she’d had to quit her job at the school. After some months of this, my mother managed to persuade my father that I was too sick to stay there and that she and I needed to come back to the States.

Never been so glad to get away from someplace in my life!

When we got back home, I tested several years ahead of my sixth-grade cohort, suggesting that home-schooling is a good thing. Once in the new school, where none of the new classmates knew I was the weird little kid, I got along just fine and in fact thrived. National Honor Society, accepted to college a year early, Phi Beta Kappa, three-year Ph.D. program….quite the opposite of what would have happened if I’d had to continue hiding from little criminals for several more years.

All of which suggests, I think, that if your kid is being bullied at school — especially if the kid is a girl and unlikely to have the strength or skill to fight back — one effective remedy is to take them out of the school. Transfer them to another school, even if it means you have to move to a different district.

2 thoughts on “Bullies…”

  1. Boy, did this bring back memories! I was relentlessly bullied in school. My mother (unbeknownst to me until I was an adult) consulted some kind of expert. This was late 70s-early 80s, and she was informed that if anyone intervened, I would grow up to be weak and incompetent. So she shrugged, said “too bad,” “what do you plan to do about it?” and, when I continued to be a target, “if you weren’t such a weirdo, no one would want to hit you.”
    As a direct result, I moved as far away as I could the minute I could. I don’t trust anyone to have my back or care about me, and the second a bully targeted one of my kids, I exploded into the scene with threats of legal action and backed the kid’s mom into a corner at pickup and yelled, a lot.
    My child was horrified. I told her she would probably need therapy, but at least she knows that I’m always on her side and care what happens to her. I had very minimal contact with my own mother for years, until a family member arranged a meeting where she told me about the horrible advice. We now talk regularly, but aren’t close. I know that hurts her, and I wish it were otherwise.

    • People can be so stupid! And when the stupidity comes from a supposed “ëxpert,” well…what can you be expected to do?

      In my experience (for what it’s worth…), kids tease and harry other kids who are “different” in any way. That includes “smarter than average”as well as “dumber than average.” It includes any interest in things or activities that might not be expected for your age, your social class, or your gender. I imagine the best thing to do would be to teach your child to keep her mouth shut about things that interest her (such as, in my case, astronomy — I always wanted to be an astronomer, a profession out of reach for females of my generation), to pretend to be interested in the boring things other kids are interested in, and to go along to get along. None of those are always propitious things to do…but as long as they don’t entail joining in the cruelty or doing things that are illegal, you might as well keep your mouth shut and pretend to be part of the crowd.

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