Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Fighting Back

We live in crazy aggressive times. The levels and types of bullying out there is nuts--NUTS! Last week we were waiting in the changing area at dance class, listening to a very pretty and popular girl and her mom talk about the bullying culture at their school.

My stomach grew into a knot listening to it. Hatfield's eyes grew big and she became very, very quiet.

This school is in the "best" school district in our area, and the median socio-economic level of the students is quite "high."

I was glad to see the mother and daughter so open and frank in their discussion on this problem. But as this mother pointed out several times, so many parents aren't even aware of it, and teachers are tired of dealing with it.

* * * * * * * *

Yesterday, as I picked up my kids at school, I overheard a conversation between a Mom and her maybe 9ish year old son.

The child was visibly upset. "Remember," the mom said, "If ----- bothers you today again during practice, just walk away again. The teacher will come and help you and take care of the bully. This won't go on forever."

It took everything I had to bite my tongue from saying, "Are you crazy?!? Of course it's gonna go on forever! You got a scared, little kid there and bullies sense that. And you can't count on others to always be there!"

So very often our kids are taught, Mom and Dad will take care of that for you. Or, the teachers are there to make sure you are safe. But the thing is, we Moms and Dads can't be there all the time. And we can't expect our teachers to either. Giving our children a sense that some vague "authority" will be there to protect them or to step in and help them is actually hurting our children.

Both incidents still upset me when I think about it.

* * * * * * * * *

When the Mister and I were first married, I was very vocal about my desire for my children to always remain pacifists and to "walk away" from confrontations.

The Mister was all, "you need to open your eyes, girl." Very patiently and very lovingly, he shared with me story, after story, after story, after story of the times in school when he was picked on, hurt and bullied.

All because he was a skinny, scrawny, smart brown kid.

The Mister grew up being taught to fight back. And so were his cousins. By the time he was in middle school, the actually bullying attempts were growing fewer and farther in between, because everyone knew that he wasn't an 'easy target.' While he was small and scrappy, he'd put up a fight. And even if the bully knew he could beat up the Mister, they also knew that if you picked a fight with him, you were picking a fight with his 8 cousins as well.

* * * * * * * * *

We have always taught our daughter to "fight back" any boy/man for any possible sexual attack. We've always taught her not to take any guff from any boy, and with that training and several years on co-ed soccer teams, Hattie is pretty unflappable for now, but we still work with her on it as she is approaching her teen years.

While it's pretty acceptable for girls to fight within those parameters, I think as a society, sometimes we feel the only "civilized" thing is to teach our sons restraint, to turn the other cheek, to walk away.

I once thought so too. But the Mister's stories stayed with me. And then I had my own perfect, little, brown boy, and I realized that a big difference exists between "bullying" another child and "defending" one's self. And man, I can't stand the thought of him being an "easy target."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Twice now, Atticus has been in situations where he had to defend himself. Both times it involved bigger, older child. One time, Atticus was being choked by a boy underneath our kitchen table (I was in the other room, visiting with the moms.) He couldn't talk and no one could hear them over all the racket in the house. So he bit the child's fingers to get him to stop.

The other time, an older, bigger child was holding Atticus' hands down at his side and pushing him back, so he couldn't play in a game with the kids. No parents were around, and Hatfield's request to this child (who was younger than her) to "stop" were ignored. Atticus eventually managed to free his hands and pushed the child away from him. The child, in turn, gave Atticus a bloody nose.

* * * * * * * * *

In both incidents, the other parents involved were very upset that their children were injured. I can't blame them, because I get very upset too when my children are hurt. And I get very upset when my children are bullied.

Interestingly enough, in both incidents, Atticus was vilified. When you are a parent of a bi-racial child, it's very easy to go to 'race' as the first possible reason. But I don't think that was it, in this case.

After a lot of thought, I think it is because he apologized for his actions. The other children never did. I can't help but think that because he took responsibility and apologized for his actions, the blame shifted away from the aggressor and towards the defender.

Not that this point really adds to anything; I just find it interesting.

* * * * * * * * *

So there you have it, living proof that the Mister was able to successfully get me to switch teams from the "Walk away, my boy," to the "You better believe that my kid's gonna fight back if yours is gonna bully him."

We have this good-hearted little contest, the Mister and I, as to who can get the other to change first. His goal being the aforementioned success, and mine, turning him into a vegetarian.

Don't worry, Mister. I may come in second, but succeed I shall. We will be a meat-scorning, veggie-munching, bully ass kicking bunch. Just you wait and see.


Sawatzky family said...

Oh do I hear you on this one! Last winter Jackson came from the hill by our house crying that two older, one the same age as Jack had been hitting him and then one kicked him in the stomach....did I see red! I have never wanted to spank somoeonelse's child but right then I just wanted to punch those boys right in there kissers! lol
We have also taught our kids to fight back when the situation warrants it.
Great post!
Bullying is SO damaging there are more and more stories coming to light of kids killing themselves over it. So scary!

Corey said...

I have switched sides.

When they were little, I told them, no hitting, kicking, blah, blah, blah. Tell a grown-up. Get help.

They have been hurt. And felt like they would get in trouble if they did those things back to the other person. Now I tell them, IF SOMEONE IS HURTING YOU, you do WHATEVER you have to do to make them stop. Hit, kick, bite, scream, spit, poke 'em in the eye, WHATEVER.

My 14 year old gets bullied at school every day. She won't eat in the lunchroom because of it.

I don't know what's wrong with kids these days.

Me said...

We've recently had some bullying issues. Like you, I thought it best to walk away. Like the Mister, James said fight back. James too was bullyed in school because he was brown.

Anyway, a boy at school hit Gracie every day for a week. Every day for a week she walked away. Although, she was too shy to tell her teacher what was going on. Then one day the boy hit Gracie and brought a sidekick-another girl who also hit Gracie. She had enough and after 2.5 years in a Haitian orphanage she knows how to fight. She hit both kids...hard. And guess what? She was the one that got in trouble. Needless to say, I was furious and had a come- to-Jesus-meetin' with the teacher the next day. Gracie's not had any trouble since.

I think you're right though-we can't always protect our kids and we can't depend on some sort of "authority" to protect them. So "walking away" is no longer touted in our home. We have made it clear they are not to start anything but should definitely finish any bully that messes with them.

bbbunch said...

This just breaks my heart. I very much believe in teaching my kids to defend is just really hard when school has a "zero tolerance" policy with regard to fighting. My nephew was jumped in the hall at school his Senior year by 4 guys. Two of the guys held him back, one pulled his sweatshirt from the back over his face and they started beating him up. My nephew is a power house, weight lifting machine...and he was also 18. Without being able to see (because his sweatshirt was pulled over his face), he blindly pushed one of the guys...hard. The guy slammed into the corner of the locker and split his head, requiring stitches. My nephew was arrested and because it was so late in the afternoon by the time this happened, he spent the night in JAIL because of this. The liason officer of school was trying desperately to get him released, with no luck. The 4 guys were expelled, but tell this zero tolerance policy fair? Absolutely not. He was defending himself (which every person that witnessed this attack agreed with). It's a shame!

By the way...this nephew is now 27, married and a father...and it STILL makes me mad...especially because this happened at the high school my kids will be going to.