Friday, April 20, 2012

Boys & Bullying

We need to talk about bullying.

My news feed this morning contained not one, but two, disturbing stories of boys who were bullied. Boy #1, a 10-year-old, has been charged with a crime after taking a BB gun to school to intimidate his bullies. Boy #2, age 9, has been suspended from school after allegedly punching his bully in the face -- after the bully kicked and punched him.

These stories are not isolated. Close to home, I know a teenage boy who was suspended from school for physically standing up to the bully who'd harassed him for the better part of a year. I'm willing to bet that you've head similar stories in your hometown.

What's the answer?

I don't know. But I do know this: What we're doing isn't working. Telling our boys to ignore bullying, to walk away, to use their words and to tell a teacher isn't working. Our anti-bullying programs aren't working; if they were, there wouldn't be anymore bullying.

On my Homeschooling Boys Facebook page, we recently discussed the Daily Kos article, "'Bully': Getting Past 'Boys Will Be Boys,'" an article about the new movie Bully. The article notes that:

Bully is also concerned with how bullied kids are penalized for fighting back. Most powerfully, Ja'Meya faces more than 40 felony charges; obviously no one sane would argue that pulling a gun is the way to handle teen bullies, or that her action should go unpunished, but it's striking how the routine harassment and abuse bullied kids face is tolerated in contrast. Ty, the 11 year old boy who killed himself did so, his father says, after he was suspended from school for fighting—fighting back. Alex never fights back himself, but when his parents complained, backed up by the filmmakers' footage of Alex being assaulted, it was Alex, not the bullies, who is made to ride another bus.

I agree that we absolutely need to teach bullying prevention. And I agree that all children need to be taught multiple ways of handling conflict. But I do not agree that bullied children should not be allowed to stand up for themselves.

I am anti-violence in almost every way, shape and form. But I am also the mother of four boys, and as the mother of boys, I've learned a little bit about boy culture. For better or for worse, boy culture includes competition and dominance. Walking away from a fight almost never engenders respect among other boys; instead, it marks the walker as an easy target.

When my boys' father was in high school, one boy picked on him frequently. Finally, their Dad stood up for himself physically. The bully never bothered him again. How many of you know grown men who have similar stories?

I'm not saying we should encourage our boys to fight. I'm saying that we need to stop imposing the same penalties on both bullies and the bullied. Hitting someone (or physically intimidating them) once is not the same thing as consistently harassing, belittling and assaulting someone.

What do you think? How do you help your sons deal with bullies? What would you have done if you'd been the school administrators in the cases above?


  1. Jen, you hit this right on the head with this statement: "Walking away from a fight almost never engenders respect among other boys; instead, it marks the walker as an easy target. "

    That is 100% correct. It's those who are taught to stand up for themselves and show confidence that the bullies stay away from.

  2. This is one of the reasons we are homeschooling. My son was hit repeatedly by the kid who sat behind him in class.... this was largely ignored. Whenever my kid retaliated, he was called out on it. The teacher "only saw him" probably because he wasn't slick about it.

    Fortunately (weird, I know) my son was also bullied in church and was allowed to handle business. The kid was several years older than him and had bullied him for a year. The adult in charge of the group told me that he hid behind a pillar and allowed my son to take down his bully without question. Sometimes that just has to happen.

  3. I agree. This is tricky to navigate in this culture at the moment. My husband was raised with the direction of his father "never start a fight, but if they start one with you, finish it." I recoil a bit from that, but then I know the truth in that. As a parent in this climate, I'll have to be prepared to step up in the principals office if my boys are dragged in for defending themselves.

  4. As a mum of three young boys, being my eldest son is in grade 1 (second year of primary school), bullying is a subject that I have not, as yet have encountered but it does weigh on my heavily on me.
    My eldest son is a very sensitive, easily lead astray child that likes to make people happy. Therefore I feel as though he is the most vulnerable out f my three boys to be bullied and not be able to fight back.
    I completely understand when you discuss boy culture- this I am still learning, both from my husband and my sons. They handle situations so differently from me. Quite often I am rendered speechless by how rough and tumble they are with each other. It is also quite apparent that boys naturally struggle with communicating their feelings, I wonder if this is nature or nurture? I boys were able to speak their feelings would this help to reduce this bullying epidemic or would this just be an encouragement to the bully’s and make matters’ worse?

  5. Haven't had to deal with this yet, but I worry about it. I'm interested to see what others have to say. After a girl hit my sister once, we had a family night learning how to throw a punch. I never had to use the knowledge but I did feel somewhat empowered.

  6. I agree with this 100%. It takes two to tango so they say, but it only takes one person to push "play" to the music. And once the music is on, it's on to be heard. And the one who did not push play should not be punished for hearing it.

  7. This topic, bullying, both infuriates and terrifies me. I was bullied as a child and no one ever told me that I had a RIGHT to my well-being and I learned to "take it." As a result, I allowed people to push me around and I became a frightened, timid, individual until I reached my mid-30s. Now I have a small son of my own and I am teaching him that he has a RIGHT to personal well-being and safety and that no one is entitled to abuse him in any way, shape or form.

    But I am also fully aware that this society is full of wishy-washy, spineless, paranoid individuals who are reluctant to really deal with those children who have no reluctance to deal chaos and hurt to others.

    What really scares me about bullying is that I know if my son is bullied and stands up for himself he will be the one to suffer the consequences not the bully. How many times do we hear this happening in the adult world as well? We hear all the time about people defending themselves against a violent person and they are in turn penalized and treated as the real problem. Sometimes I feel as if society tells the innocent to just shut up and take it and let's just hope it will all go away.

    So what do I tell my son? Do I tell him to stand up for himself when the need arises and defend his person against the violent acts of others or do I tell him to use his words and go tell a grown up and then hope for the best because in reality he has no right to defend himself against a violent individual? What kind of mixed messages are we, the "grown-ups," sending children who bully and are bullied?

  8. @LisaBlyth -- You bring up some very important points. When we don't act -- and when we punish children we do stand up to bullies -- we send them a msg. that subconsciously encourages them to put up with bullying, and that negative msg. can have a life-long effect on their relationships.

    Thanks for pointing that out -- and check for today's blog post about bullying.

  9. I have had a couple of sons bullied. At one point, I thought about calling the police and filing assault charges, but I spoke with a school counselor who said don't do that, let us handle it. I backed off, and the bullying went on. Unfortunately, I advised my ds per the conventional wisdom of the time: don't fight back, ignore the kid(s), etc. One day a boy spit on my son, and in reaction my ds grabbed the boy's collar--just as the principal looked out his window at the two of them. The first and only time my ds "fought back" and it wasn't really fighting! Ds and the other boy got in-school suspensions, and shortly after that, we pulled our son out of school and began homeschooing. If I could go back in time, I'd have told ds to fight back the first time and/or I would have called the police. Instead one of the bullies was allowed to torment a few other kids all through his school career, until, shortly after high school, we saw his name on the police blotter. I wonder if his criminal end might have been averted if the bully had been stopped way back in 4th grade? Not only do victims suffer when not allowed to defend themselves, but so do unchecked perpetrators, who may never learn appropriate behavior.