Authors Against Bullying: Never mind Sticks and Stones. Words CAN hurt you

Earlier this week, authors Mandy Roth and Yasmine Galenorn put out a call to all authors to speak out against bullying. The ugly subject raised its head yet again in my country after 15 year old Amanda Todd, of Vancouver B.C. killed herself after being relentlessly bullied. Unfortunately Amanda is not alone. Over 300 children in Canada kill themselves each yet because of bullying.

Last year another teen, Jamie Hubley, committed suicide too. Rick Mercer, who is famous for his weekly rants on his own television show up here, did a rant about teen suicide and bullying and in my humble opinion put the blame squarely where it belonged and turned it back on us all, saying every single one of us, every teacher, every student, every adult has to step up to the plate. Though he’s talking about bullying of the LGBT community, I love the point he makes in this video about us all taking responsibility and stopping bullying in its tracks. It’s time for everyone to say “enough”. No more kids should feel that suicide is the only way to stop the bullying. So when I saw Mandy and Yasmine put out the call, I didn’t waste any time in responding.

Listen: PSA_Bullying_dot_org_30_secs (PSA from Bullying.Org)

When I sent my youngest son to school for kindergarten, he was a bubbly, enthusiastic, outgoing child who thought of everyone as his friend. I felt safe sending him to that school–his big brother was happy there and better yet, his school had such an excellent reputation both for their academic record and their discipline, people would pull their children from the other local school and enroll them in his school until the school was over-capacity.

Then when he was in grade one, the principal retired and a new administration was brought in. Things rapidly changed.

The first time I became aware of the bullying, he’d come home from school with his brand new glasses broken and bruises around his eyes where he’d been punched in the face. I was horrified to learn that this incident had happened in the classroom, in front of the teacher. Yes, right in front of the teacher. Who did nothing. I didn’t even get a phone call. I was up there the next morning only to hear the teacher try to shrug it off and say “kids will be kids.” Then the verbal abuse started along with the physical abuse. What did the administration do? They’d send him to the time out room along with the other child who had hit him. The administration’s reasoning? They need to work it out between them. Yeah, I didn’t get it either.

My husband and I had meeting after meeting with the administration who kept trying to “blame the victim” saying he needed to learn to stand up for himself and I was “hovering too much.”

His big brother looked out for him as much as he could, but it didn’t protect him from the taunts in the classroom. He withdrew and started becoming clingy or sick to his stomach at the thought of going to school. So we tried meeting with the parents of several of the worst offenders, only to be shrugged off yet again. We discussed moving him to another school in the area, except some of the kids who were bullying him in the neighborhood went to that school too. Plus we’d recently bought our first house and couldn’t afford to move, and since I didn’t own a car, I couldn’t easily get him to another school further away. And since I worked and my paycheque helped put food on the table, I couldn’t afford to home school him either. Though it made paying the bills extremely difficult, I changed my hours and worked part-time. That left me free to walk up to the school during recess to help patrol the schoolyard–I’d discovered that the yard duty teacher would come out from the staff room, take one circuit around the yard and then disappear inside again, only to be told off by the administration, that I was “smothering my son and he needed to learn to deal with it himself”, along with the mind-blowing “there was no bullying going on in the school yard.” My jaw dropped on that one. You see, not fifteen minutes before that statement was made to me, a little boy had been roughed up by two others and pushed into a chain link fence behind one of the portables. His face had been cut by a piece of wire right between the eyes. Since I was the only adult around, other kids brought him to me. I took him to the office and found…no one. The janitor and I took care of that little boy until the principal and the office staff drove back from their jaunt out to a local coffee shop.

Yet I still didn’t feel I had any choice in removing him from that school. Especially since my mother, who worked at a school in a different school board, repeated exactly the same things they said to me: he has to learn how to deal with it himself; it’ll toughen him up; he’s a boy, boys will be boys. I kept hoping it would get better. That the bully would move away. That something, anything, would change.

Then one day he clung to me, crying, and saying that he didn’t want to live anymore.

He was eight. Eight! And my beautiful son was ready to stop living.

Luckily around that time, my husband got hired by another firm for a substantial raise and we could finally afford to move to a new school district. He thrived in that new school—and I started to see the child I’d known return, that spark of his laughter in his eye brighten again. I wish we could have done it earlier and saved him all that grief. Because although he’s regained some of his confidence, it has changed him. He’s not so outgoing anymore. He’s much more guarded.

Now I’m older, now I’ve realized how much power I have against the school system, I would do things differently. I would have taken my fight beyond the school administration, beyond the school trustee and even beyond the board. I would have taken him out of that school after I didn’t get satisfaction on that first meeting. What we would have done from there, I’m not sure. But I wish I’d had the confidence to stand up to them then, to have protected him the way I didn’t feel I could back then. I wish I’d had websites like Bullying.org or BullyingCanada.ca back then.

And I hate to say he was lucky, but in a way he was. He’s lucky because the bullying didn’t resume when students from his old school reappeared in his life because everyone from all the schools from that board attends the same high school. He’s also lucky because when he was being bullied, the internet was only just starting so he didn’t have to worry about Facebook, or Twitter or cyberattacks.

The internet allows people to hide behind a cloak of anonymity, but from what I’ve seen online, these kids are quite proud of bullying others, even if they don’t know the person. Especially if they don’t know the person. Troll doesn’t even begin to describe them. And what’s even more abhorrent is the parents and adults who heap more blame on the victim.

Approximately one in 10 children have bullied others and as many as 25% of children in grades four to six have been bullied. A 2004 study published in the medical Journal of Pediatrics found that about one in seven Canadian children aged 11 to 16 are victims of bullying. Studies have found bullying occurs once every seven minutes on the playground and once every 25 minutes in the classroom. ~ Source BullyingCanada.ca

What can you do to help? Even if you’re not from Canada, you can go to Bullying.org for more information on what you can do in your community, or even just at home. They have some excellent PDFs you can download about what bullying is, and what it isn’t. Here are few that I’ve downloaded to save you a trip, but really, take the time to go to their site, there is a lot of information about what you can do for your child, or other people’s children.  For instance, did you know in 2002 a British survey found that one in four youths between 11 and 19 years old, had been threatened via their computers or cell phones, including death threats. One in four! And that was back in 2002, before Facebook, before Twitter.

Information you can find on the Bullying.org site:

Bystanders have the power to help stop bullying.
·Bystanders (other kids watching) are present most of the time (85%) when there is a bully episode on the playground or in the classroom.
·Most kids feel uncomfortable witnessing bullying, but very few intervene.
·When peers step in; the bullying stops within ten seconds 57% of the time

Bullying Information

Bullying.org_Bullying_Myths-Facts Pamphlet

Cyberbullying and what to do about it

There are lots of other pamphlets you can download to your computer that will help you talk with your child about if they’re being bullied or seeing someone else bullied.


PARTICIPATING AUTHORS:

17 thoughts on “Authors Against Bullying: Never mind Sticks and Stones. Words CAN hurt you

  1. I’m so sorry your son had to go through that. What a great mom he has. You changed jobs to be able to walk up to the school and monitor the playground for him.

    I’m glad things finally turned around for him at the new school.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. My school had the same policy of blaming the victim and downplaying the abuse. I’ve never understood that stance. It’s a policy that makes the faculty part of the abuse. Hopefully sharing our experiences will help create positive change. Thank you for sharing your story.

    E.J. Stevens
    Read my Authors Against Bullying post at From the Shadows.

  3. I’m so sorry for what your son endured. No child should be made to feel that way. I’m glad he had you to turn to and that you were able to eventually find a solution.

    • Thanks, NJ. The school has since been closed, but the principal is still working and making headlines in the news over at another school. They didn’t learn. :(

  4. Oh Leah, so hard to read this, I can’t imagine living it. My son’s principal was useless. They had a “no touch” policy at my son’s school. One day he was knocked to the ground in front of the the yard duty person. My son looked at her like “what are you doing”? She shrugged & said, “That’s just “John Doe”. JD’s mom was a real bitch & I knew they were afraid of her. I realized that day that I had to make them more afraid of me than her. I not only blasted the useless principal but I told him my son had express permission from me to defend himself since he was not protecting him. I didn’t care if it was one incident. You did the right thing in going to the school & making your presence known & being his advocate. My house backs on to a school & I can see the yard duty people just chatting to each other or facing away from the wind while some kid is being pushed into the fence. I had the school number on speed dial.

    • Mary, we’re in the same school district so that doesn’t surprise me. The principal from the original school now works over in your neck of the woods and recently hit the headlines for a boneheaded stance she took. Yet she’s still in power. *sigh* I still feel guilty that I didn’t feel like I could do more, but finances being what they were, I felt like my choices were limited.

  5. Thanks for sharing. My daughter had a breaking point like that as well when she was around 7 or so and a little girl threatened her with bodily harm. It’s a scary painful thing when you see your child hurting like that.

    I shared my story on my blog.

  6. I was too tall, too skinny, to smart, too whatever. Haters are going to hate. I was never one of the cool kids so I was bullied on occasion at school but it was nothing compared to the bullying I got at home.
    I think my kids had it worse at school as some of the social filters we had as kids have eroded to the point of non-existence. In some ways it is better. There is more information out there and role models are speaking up and out against bullies. More needs to be done at home, in schools and in the media.
    My daughter is Jewish and a lesbian living in the bible-belt. How she has grown into the incredible woman she has despite all the negativity is one of life’s great mysteries and one of my greatest blessings.
    I think blogging about this is a good thing. Thank you for sharing your story.

  7. I’m sorry to hear about what your son went through. When teachers do nothing when these things happen right in front of them, it’s like telling the children it’s ok…. and as a parent, it makes me livid. I hate the “kids will be kids” mentality.

    Thanks for sharing your story, Leah. I’m very proud to be a part of this important event, and empowered by all the stories of hope and encouragement I’m reading today. It’s wonderful that people can get together and promote the positive.

    • When the teachers do nothing, and the ‘kids will be kids’ mentality kills me too. To me it’s saying to the bullying kids that it’s okay to bully and then they’ll turn into bullying adults.

  8. You said “Because although he’s regained some of his confidence, it has changed him. He’s not so outgoing anymore. He’s much more guarded.”

    Another memory. When my son got glasses he got called 4 eyes on the bus. When he came home & complained I said, “so call them half brains”. He did & no one mentioned 4 eyes again. Now the results. I taught my son to say something mean back. To this day, I’m not sure that was the way to go. Yes it was satisfying at the time & it worked but I’m not that person. Is it self defence for the child? My son is good looking & he hears it a lot. One day looking at him I told him he really was a handsome guy. He said, mom, “I’m still the nerd with the glasses in grade 3 inside.” That killed me since it was about 12 years later. So just imagine how multiplied is for someone who is truly bullied.

    • Oh Mary, that would slay me. All the pictures of Curly before school show him with this really bright smile, but I was looking through all our pictures taken while he was at that school and couldn’t find a single one of him smiling. It’s heartbreaking still.

      I had been bullied a bit in high school on the bus (it was 20 miles each way) but I’d parked myself in the school office for weeks on end until they put me on a different bus (why jam 72 students & fill the bus to capacity, causing problems, when there’s another that’s only half empty going past. It didn’t make sense to me and I used that argument. It still took me a year to convince them, even after my hair had been set on fire. But when it came time to write this post, it was nothing compared to what my son had endured so I focused on his experiences.

      • You feel helpless as a parent. I reminded him that happy people don’t tease or downgrade or bother others. They have more problems that he ever will. That doesn’t wash with kids who are bullied because it becomes their problem too.

  9. I am absolutely enraged by the reaction of the school staff. “He has to learn to stand up for himself.” What a way to shrug off responsibility! What a way to support bullying – because that is what it comes down to!

    I’ve been reading lots of blogs about bullying today, and some made a really good point: if you don’t say anything, you allow the bullying.

    Those teachers should’ve stood up and protected your child.

    God I’m so angry I don’t know what to do with myself.

  10. I’m so sorry to hear about your son. No child–let alone someone only 8 years old–should ever feel like there’s no more reason to live. Breaks my heart to hear about what he went through.

    Thank you for sharing this and being part of the hop.

    <3,
    -J

  11. I was bullied in school. I was told all those things, too – ignore them and they’ll go away, stand up for yourself (how can you when someone bigger than you is holding you down?). I thank the goddess every single day that there were no cell phones, twitter, or internet back then.

    When I went off to college, I expected more of the same but instead it was a miracle. People were nice! I was stunned.

    I carry bear spray now and I have two dogs that go with me everywhere. That fear never really goes away.

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