A Parent’s Perspective (A Personal Story)

The pain a parent feels watching their child suffer through bullying problems is not only real, but also one that is hard to deal with. Even as a person who works on the bullying issue, I struggle to find good solutions to offer to my own children as I listen to what they go through. Michelle shares her own story as a parent below and the all to common issue of trying to work it out with the other parents who are usually difficult at best to deal with. ~Alan Eisenberg

As a parent, I have read a few stories that were posted on a website about bullying. My son was being bullied by someone who he had been friends with for a long time. A fight broke out over the summer and as a result, this child made a disparaging comments everyday to my son for about 7 months. My son told me about it and I told him to avoid his old “friend” and I warned my son not to do or say anything to him.

This turned out to be the worst advice. I was trying to keep the peace because I was very close to his mother and I did not want her to get hurt by the kids fallout. I thought it was just a kid issue that would be worked out by the kids. A mutual friend told me that I had to do something. My son was getting upset everyday and I thought he was just being sensitive.

Basketball CourtOne day, on the basketball court at recess, my son took a shot and landed on this bully’s foot. He pushed my son and while my son immediately apologized, the bully was angry. As a parent, I tried to contact the bully’s mother via email. She never responded. I tried to get the boys together to work on a mutual friend’s surprise birthday party, but there was no interest from the other family. I thought that if we could supervise a fun activity and get them to become friends, then the issues would dissipate. It took me too long to figure out what to do and I take responsibility for that.

I thought since the issue was at school that the school should know what was going on. I was hoping to find out how they handle bullying situations and so I called the school principal. Though she told me that it could be reported confidentially, the parents claimed that they were told “with a nod and a wink” who it was that reported that her son was bullying my son. I admitted that I had a conversation with the principal and the father called our house and stated that he thought it was unbelievable that I would do such a thing. They said that their son was not to blame and that he was not going to be punished.

My husband told him that we just needed to keep the boys away from each other for a while and that they should be encouraged to act civilly towards each other. The father was concerned about his family’s reputation. You see, these were church goers who dressed  in the finest clothing, and yet there was no control in that house over the kids. They told their son that he was not in trouble for hurting our son. In fact, this kid was rewarded with a new basketball hoop and a Disney vacation. In addition, the lunch aide told his son that he was not to come back to the basketball court because he was harassing my son. The father told his son to go right onto that basketball court and tell the aide that he had every right to play there. The principal called me to ask me if I would allow conflict resolution between the boys. I agreed to it, only if an adult was in the room with them.

The other parents refused. The kids were told that they needed to take turns on the basketball court. They have been successful in avoiding each other. However, the story does not end there. I sent an email to my former “friend” explaining how unfortunate I thought this was. My message was one of peace. I got a response a few days later that said that the events were unfortunate and that I was aggressive and underhanded. Anyone that knows me understands that I am far from those words. I struggled with how to deal with this since we had issues with the kids in the past and she was unable to handle them well. She is a permissive parent who never corrected her children, so they just walk all over her.

Then I sent her another message explaining my actions and she wrote one back saying that she told me that I must have misunderstood her previous message and that she was not interested in a reply from me since she was disappointed with how I handled everything. I responded “ditto.” Then a few minutes later, I received a call from my former friend who was “calling on a whim to see if we could discuss this in person because it would be sad for things to end this way.” The woman was not calling to apologize for insulting me with hurtful words, she wanted an opportunity to kick me around verbally. That is just how that family deals with these issues.

Well, I did not call her back. Friends encouraged me to call her. But I will not. My son’s happiness is far more important to me. I never insulted them even though my son had to go through hell everyday. I spent thousands of dollars trying to figure out why my son’s jaw was hurting him. His attendance suffered, his grades went down. My son is a gifted student and to watch him suffer in every sense of the word was horrible. A TMJ specialist in NYC explained to me that he had never seen a child with such tight jaw muscles. The specialist called me while we were on vacation to try to follow-up with how my son was feeling. He told me that he did not think it was TMJ since the pain was not going away. I sat in my pediatrician’s office for 2 and a half hours when we returned from vacation to try to rule out some horrible diseases. My son, who is petrified of needles had to have his blood taken at a hospital.

The conclusion was that this bully caused my son to suffer. What is sad is that this kid was rewarded for some really bad behavior. The best thing that happened is that we are no longer involved in a friendship with that family and we have moved on happily with my son knowing that I stood up for him. He actually hugged me (and he is not the most affectionate child) when I told him that I had spoken with the principal and she was going to handle the situation. I was voted “Most Shy” in middle school, and so reporting this incident and confronting this bully was not a comfortable thing for me to do.

I avoid confrontations at all cost for peace, but sometimes you just have to stand up for what is right. I have advised my son that he should surround himself with people who make him feel good. I think we all should do this. He has managed to find those other kids who are more like him and who make him happy. So, unlike many other stories, this one has a happy ending. I really wish that the message that I could convey to other parents is to stay involved and listen to their kids. Stand up for them. They deserve that much.


3 thoughts on “A Parent’s Perspective (A Personal Story)

  1. Michelle, as a kid who was talked about and picked on regularly from elementary school until college, thank you. I finally had to gain confidence to leave people alone who don’t make me feel good about me. I didn’t do that until my late twenties, early thirties actually. I wanted so bad to keep friends and be accepted that I looked the other way when they did or said snooty, underhanded things. Although my mother tried, she worked a lot and had her own personal issues preoccupying her so I had to figure out a lot for myself. It is commendable that you have pinpointed this issue, and recognize the need to take proactive efforts to reinforce your son’s self-image now while it’s still taking shape. The despicable things people did and said were so pervasive in my life that I had to get it all out of me in a four-year process that ended up being my first book. Major kudos to you for taking matters into your own hands, and for sharing.

  2. Bullying exists at every level….Even in the corporate world. If left unchecked the cowards go undetected and take it into adulthood. Imagine if you would, growing up in a former British Colony and ending up in a Roman Catholic British boarding school even though you were born a Hindu.
    Well, you must realize the mesmerizing effect on my young mind, the smartly clad kids in uniform, marching to Church on Sunday, had. The blazers and baseball hats with the gold embroidered crests and tassles,the black knee high socks and black shiny leather shoes were captivating. I just had to join, regardless of the price I would have to pay…which at this point, I had no idea. The school, I and my parents knew was by far and away the best money could buy. But like what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,…what happens here stays here. The school shall remain nameless for now even though it’s still there and is still a very highly rated one,with a lot of changes for the better.
    Starting out with initiation (hazing),the doses of mental and physical torment and bullying increased on a daily basis, even by the Prefects who were elected by the student body to protect and guide us. It began to become apparent to me in time, that this was like a cult on the inside and nothing could be done about it.
    What’s worse is, one evening after Chapel and at supper I asked staff what kind of meat it was because it tasted pretty good. I was told it was a cut of beef,and so now I’m thinking I was misled all this time by being told it was lamb. Having been born a Hindu I figured I had broken the code and felt a deep sense of guilt and isolation….pretty deep for one so young.
    When I called Mom and told her, she consoled me by telling me the same had happened to her a long time back, when she was in a Catholic convent. I decided to go with it and after repenting I began to embrace Catholicism as well and in fact was fascinated by Categism,Chapel every day and Church on Sundays, all dressed up. The Scripture classes were interesting and the teachers were captivating. So I went along and the journey and life in general began to be more bearable although I had moments of borderline depression and tremendous homesickness.
    Our lockers would get broken into and cookies and candy etc. our parents sent would be gone. If you complained there were consequences, so you kept it hushed up. Caning and other retribution were pretty common back then and you either survived or you did’nt. That is when a friend of mine and I decided we had to stand up for ourselves, because we’d had enough and more and it just was,nt for us.
    You see all of the free- for- all fisticuffs, with knuckle dusters etc. traditionally were settled on a lawn behind the chapel, surrounded by huge hedges and trees. The trees were a good platform from where to view these, all out kick the crap out of the bully scraps we engaged in as often as needed. It was a ritual that had been around for ever and funny thing was it worked. After weeks of being bloodied up…broken noses, fingers, black shiners, stitches in places you did’nt want them and so on, my friend and I having won more than we lost….finally became liberated! We were not bullied and did not turn into bullies either. We formed a cohesive group that was to keep the peace, but we were kinda rough and ready and got in trouble. The gating bell went off and we knew we were in for a whipping pretty shortly. It had an eerie sound to it and made you cringe. One day we actually took it off its moorings and tossed it in the dung pit at the dairy farm on campus. It was next to the quarantine cottage and the matron spotted us, and we were back to install a new gating bell the very next day. From there it was off to the Principals’ (‘Warden’Reverend Thomas’) office to drop our shorts to the knees, bend over and grab the door knob….ouch, ouch and ouch. The cane would sometimes get frayed…that’s how passionate they were about caning….and the welts were usually long lasting and sometimes needed attention by the sick room matron, who was deranged as well and took much pleasure attending to them at length.
    We also had a small collection of ‘Homos’ as they were known among prefects and staff as in teachers.
    My message is, stand up to bullies, they’re more afraid of you than the other way around….We did and are here to tell the story. By all means, if you are a little kid being targeted by an adult….teacher or older student or anyone else for that matter….tell somebody that will listen to you and do something about it. Someone you can trust, and please don,t put it off. THERE IS NO reason to hesitate, not embarrassment for sure. You are the intended victim.
    Today we have the added element of Cyberbullying….how bloody cowardly!

  3. Michelle: Yours is an interesting story of a painful process where your courage prevailed. You made the right decision in terminating your relation with the bully’s family. You stood by your son which was wonderful; many parents don’t. I’d like to see a book of best practices for parents of bullied children. Your story, Michelle, should be included.

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