Bullied or Not Bullied . . . That is the Question
So I’d like to start off with a question. What was the goal of my blog entry on bullying?
To share what our daughter was facing as a result of how she was treated by another child, our reaction as parents and our path to treat the emotional stress and anxiety she was experiencing. I have received praise and appreciation from numerous parents regarding the decorum and subject matter of the blog and was told that it has been a great source of support and strength to many. I’ve also received national recognition for my blog, thanks to Macaroni Kids, and its heartfelt account of being parents and our attempts to support our child.
The awareness of bullying has been raised to a national level and with that comes the evaluation and reinforcement of civil rights. Laws have been enacted in response to parents advocating for their children, unfortunately, many of these parents are forced to advocate as a result of their child’s death. Although I cannot begin to imagine the pain these parents are experiencing, I understand the drive and determination to advocate for their children. My daughter came home from school one day and said, “Mommy I don’t want to live anymore, I want to live in Heaven.” How am I to respond to this? How do I advocate for my child?
After my last blog, a debate ensued as to if my daughter was really bullied or if it was just “kids being kids.” I wonder how these individuals would feel if they walked in our shoes as parents. As a parent, we walk a fine line between reaction and overreaction. When the incidents first occurred, we, as parents, thought we had followed the proper channels. What I did not realize was how we would have to defend our daughter, who was traumatized by the events that took place, that were beyond our control and how her psychological trauma can be so callously characterized as “kids being kids.” Again, I wonder if others would have a different perspective if it were their child.
So was my daughter bullied or not bullied?
Let’s start with: What is the definition of bullying?
According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is defined as:
Unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include: An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people; and Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
Social bullying: sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes: Leaving someone out on purpose, Telling other children not to be friends with someone, Spreading rumors about someone, Embarrassing someone in public.
In the instance of my daughter, over a period of time she experienced text book aspects of social bullying, her relationship with a new student was compromised, she was left out of recess activities on purpose, she was encouraged to join a club that excluded a new student, she was embarrassed in front of her peers, and she was told to keep secrets from her parents. I kept a dated and detailed log of each incident as something was being said to her an average of every day to every other day. How would you categorize these incidents that took place over a documented period of time and were not limited to a one time incident? “Kids being kids?”
When she came home from school, she was withdrawn, did not want to talk to anyone, she cried most of the evening. The only thing she said was that she would get into trouble if she told us what happened at school and she was afraid. When she finally confided in us as to what was going on at school, we did not immediately contact the school; we gave our daughter strategies to handle the matter herself. We told her to stand up for herself. However, her standing up for herself only exacerbated the situation.
I came across an article published in the Boston Globe; “Inside the bullied brain.” The article discusses in the wake of tragic bullying situations, resulting in the deaths of children and adults, victims suffer damaging psychological effects beyond common comprehension. “It is becoming clear that harassment by one’s peers is something more than just a rite of passage. Bullied kids are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal,” (Anthes, 2010, para. 1). The article highlights research being conducted by neuroscientists and psychologists regarding the psychological effects of verbal harassment by peers, (teasing, ridicule, criticism), and how it affects a child’s physical and emotional brain development. Martin Teicher, a neuroscientist at McLean Hospital “found that verbal abuse could be as damaging to psychological functioning as the physical kind, that words were as hurtful as the famous sticks and stones,” (Anthes, 2010, para. 9). This ongoing research is relatively new and in its initial stages; however, as scientists continue their research, they are discovering that verbal harassment can and does cause psychological trauma to those exposed to the treatment. “These early findings suggest that bullying, even the verbal kind, is more similar to physical or sexual abuse than we might like to admit. No longer can we draw a clear line between the two kinds of mistreatment – they can both produce the same kind of trauma,” (Anthes, 2010, para. 20).
What prompted us to seek a psychologist for our daughter was her behavior after the fact. She is a brilliant kid, but is hard on herself and wears her emotions. She began asking about being homeschooled. She did not want to go to school. She would cry when she got off the bus that she wanted to come home. She would cry during tests. What scared us the most was when she expressed that she did not want to live anymore. We did not connect the incidents that took place at school to her emotional behaviors that were 4 months removed at this point. At the end of the first visit with the psychologist the subject of how she gets along with others at school came up; to our surprise, our daughter burst into tears and through those tears explained how she was unkindly treated, in her own words, by someone she considered a friend. My husband and I were surprised; we did not realize was how much the situation still affected her. We had not talked about it because we believed it was resolved and we were past it; apparently, the incidents were still fresh in our daughter’s head and she replayed them often in her mind as if they were taking place in the present. It became a lasting scar to her. We could not deny her feelings. Again, how do we advocate for her?
She expressed, in a number of the sessions, what hurt her most and what she did not understand, why someone who she thought was her friend could be so mean to her. She felt guilty because she wanted to be friends with this child and children within this specific social circle, but was conflicted and afraid that it would happen again. We have never told our daughter not play or interact with certain children nor have we told our daughter that anyone was a bully. Our daughter needs to learn to trust and choose her friendships, and learn from her friendships; our job is to be there for encouragement and provide a soft place to land when she needs one.
I have been asked if we reached out to the other family. Simply stated, no. We were confident in the way the school was handling the situation and did not want to jeopardize the school’s progress. We maintained an open dialogue with the counselor and encouraged our daughter to speak with the counselor herself in lieu of us contacting the counselor on her behalf. We wanted our daughter to be comfortable in speaking with the counselor on her own. The incidents occurred at school, the school has a procedure to follow and we respected that procedure.
How do you define a bully? Is a child who speaks unkindly to or rejects another child a bully? What is the magic number of incidents that constitutes the situation as being labeled as bullying? I really do not know the answers to these questions. I can only attest to what my child experienced and how we as parents chose to handle the situation. We can label the situation and label people, justifiably or unjustifiably, however, when feelings are hurt, lessons need to be learned; this can only be achieved by having an open mind to understand the situation, addressing the facts and respecting the advocacy of parents for their child. As I stated in my last blog, that in the instance of bullying, all parties involved deserve and should get help, preferably in the form of counseling.
I came across an article on PBS Kids entitled “Bullies: Who’s a bully?” According to the article:
Remember, though, that everyone is different and lives with different experiences. If we looked even more inside a person’s head, we’d probably find some extra reasons why he or she is acting like a bully:
- She’s having problems in other parts of her life, like something going on in her family or struggling with school.
- He may not feel like he’s getting enough attention from parents or teachers.
- She’s watched her parents or older siblings get their way by being angry or pushing other people around.
- He’s being bullied himself, maybe by another kid or a brother or sister…or even his own parents.
- Her parents have spoiled her or haven’t taught her about not hurting others.
- He’s getting exposed to a lot of violence in movies, TV, and video games.
Retrieved from: http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/friends/bullies/article2.html
Relating the PBS Kids article above to this situation, my daughter may have been targeted out of jealousy or the fear of a social imbalance among peers. What I did learn from all of this? In the world of 8 and 9 year olds; their friendships, their play time, their imaginations are taken very serious within their social circles and when there is an imbalance, emotions can run very high. What else I learned is that children are most forgiving, more so than adults. Why do I say this? Because my daughter misses her friendships with certain children in her class, of whom she cannot interact with outside of school and there is not anything I can do to rectify the situation. I believe she has become an outcast due to my outspoken stance regarding the situation, as have I.
Was my child bullied? Depends on how you define bullying or how you view our situation. Compare the stopbullying.gov definition of bullying to the facts of my daughter’s situation: mean things were said to her, she was told not to be friends with someone, she was taunted, she was left out, and lastly there was repetition with the potential of future incidents. I think what she experienced in the time frame was bullying per the definition noted above. However, we are free to agree to disagree; and I respect that. In our instance, the school considered it a bullying situation and followed protocol as if it was a bullying situation and we supported the school’s actions. We had confidence in the school’s protocol and how they treated the situation; most importantly, we respected the school’s involvement.
My goal of this blog entry, there are two sides to every story and there is more to what has happened to our daughter, beyond perception, opinion and hearsay. The difference comes when people are willing to listen to the whole story before passing judgment. As the saying goes, “Ignorance is bliss.” However, is the bliss in being ignorant worthy of treating others with contempt potentially coupled with revenge and denying someone’s feelings and emotions? In the long run, what does that teach children?
As I evidenced with the above blog, I am not a woman of few words. I do have a few blog entries in the works, possibly even short ones, but I do have some others up my sleeve.
And of course I will end with a quote.
“Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.” ~Tina Fey, Actress and Author of Bossypants.
Anthes, E. (November 28, 2010). Inside the bullied brain. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/11/28/inside_the_bullied_brain/
Bullies: Who’s a bully? (n.d.). PBSkids.org. Retrieved from: http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/friends/bullies/article2.html
What is bullying? (n.d.). stopbullying.gov. Retrieved from: http://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/definition/index.html