My first grader came home from school the other day to tell me about a boy who hasn’t been very nice. “He doesn’t want to be my friend, Mom. I was trying to be his, but he doesn’t want to. He never wants to pass the frisbee to me. He just isn’t nice to me and I don’t know why.” My heart broke. I’m pretty sure I held back tears as I thought about what a tough world he was now a part of. And then a moment came to my mind from many years ago. A day that I probably had filed in the back of my mind to be forgotten. But as we walked up our driveway, the thoughts came flooding back.
I can remember the moment vividly. I was a senior that year, and my assigned seat in Mr. M’s class was just a few back from her and her friends. In front of her sat a larger guy, someone I guess you wouldn’t call “cool.” In fact, to put it bluntly, he was a geek. He had bottle cap glasses, pimples, his clothes were old and baggy, and he ate lunch at that one spot in the commons area with all the other dorky kids. I don’t remember his name, but I certainly remember hers. Everyone knew her name. She was one of the most popular girls in school. Pretty, athletic…she was what every girl wanted to be, who every boy wanted to be with. As Mr. M wrote on the board the room was silent with scribbling pencils. Just ahead, I saw her pull out a quarter. Getting the attention of her friends, she smiled and leaned forward in her desk. In front of her, his pants opened like a plumber’s, giving just enough space for a quarter to slip through. Her friends stifled laughs as the quarter dropped from her fingers. His head jerked up. As he ran to the bathroom to retrieve the object now located in his britches, she smirked as several laughed at his expense.
And life went on. The boy was humiliated, the girl got a good laugh, the cycle continued. No one stood up. Not a classmate, not a parent, not a teacher.
Even while writing this my heart races with the memories of those days. Honestly, I was just a bit scared of her. Of all of them. And so I kept my thoughts to myself. If only I could go back. If only I had the courage in those days to stand up for those who were torn down. If only I’d put myself in the lines of fire to save someone else’s self-esteem, image, and heartache.
…But I didn’t.
Maybe by watching and not doing anything My lack of action was just as bad as what they had done.
“When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:
It’s that simple.”
–Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I have no idea what the answer is. Listening to my little boy broke my heart, and I desperately wish I had an answer. But the more the story brewed in my mind, I did have a few thoughts. Maybe we can still change the tides of bullying. It’s worth a shot.
- How do we talk about others in front of our children? They listen even when we don’t think they are.
- Do we show them courage by standing up to others who rip those less fortunate (or more, jealousy is a strong emotion) down with gossip?
- Do we actively encourage our kids to treat others with kindness and respect? And do we show them every day how that looks in our interactions with friends, family and strangers alike?
- Do we happily serve others and encourage our kids to do the same?
- Do we encourage our children to play with others who are different from them and encourage them to include those who aren’t being included?
I’m only a mom to small children. I know the teenage years will prove to be much more difficult in these regards. But maybe if we start now. Maybe if we try to teach them while they’re young, it will stick. And maybe it won’t, but it’s worth a shot.
Looking back, I struggled with situations like these, not so much because of the girls who thought others were less than them, but because the adults around us didn’t seem to notice or care. In some ways it was even encouraged, without them knowing, of course. It was discouraging as a kid, and now as an adult I continue to watch it from this side of life. A bully doesn’t always attack with fists. In a majority of situations, bullies attack with word and deed. And they hurt. These predators are often charming, charismatic, lovable, pretty or handsome, seem to be well-liked, athletic, and smart. But what they do to classmates “less” than them is devastating. If we as adults joke around with them, put them on a pedestal and treat them as if they were high and mighty, try to be their friend, and laugh at their seemingly harmless jokes, the cycle will continue. Do we really want that?
We don’t have to be mean. We don’t have to stop treating them with respect and kindness. But let’s try to be more watchful. Let’s try to bring those up that otherwise might find themselves down. We must be conscientious of how we treat all children, charming, funny, cute…or not.
I wish I knew the answers. I wish I could go back and stand up for others instead of idly standing by. I wish I could change unkind words I have said in the past to and about others. I wish I could protect my son from those boys and girls that don’t want to be his friend and who don’t want to be kind. I wish so many things, but for now I will hope that we can encourage our children and do better ourselves. Let’s stop the bullying, no matter how old we happen to be.
A great 10 minute video. Definitely worth the watch!
And here’s just the talk: