In the times as a parent when I have found out my kids were being bullied, I’ve had what I would consider a pretty standard reaction:
… but then when I thought about it for like five minutes, I realized I wasn’t actually that interested in hell-fire…
I just wanted this shit never to happen again.
It turns out, there’s right ways and wrong ways to go about this. I have done both.
Here’s the wrong way:
When my first kid, my daughter, started getting bullied it went something like this:
And here’s the bad part – this went on for YEARS.
WHY? You ask. Well, the situation was complicated. There were politics. People were friends. Parents knew each other. Worked together. It was entangled. Oh, and the people responsible did NOTHING.
This all happened in the kind of place where they go on about “you can be yourself here!” and “this is a safe place where everybody looks out for each other!”
Yeah, except when IT’S NOT and THEY DON’T.
What I did wrong was: I focused too much on my own kid. Sounds weird, right? But I coached her, and consoled her, and sat up with her at night, and it was all about making her strong. People are jerks, you rationalize. You’ve got to handle it yourself.
[I’m going to add an UPDATE right here. Because I had a conversation with someone dealing with this Right Now, and this popped into clarity in my head like a firework:]
Here’s the deal. Yes, at some point the bullying ends. Someone moves away, or gets bored, or whatever. It ends.
Here’s what DOESN’T end: Your OWN feelings about how YOU handled it.
And THAT, people, is what stays with you for the rest of your life. Your own relationship with yourself.
That’s what keeps the experience fresh. Not the actual bullying, which will recede into the past. But your own fresh reminders to yourself basically forever of how you wish you had handled it, you wish you had stood up for yourself or your kid or your friend.
And as time passes, the ability to confront it does fade away because it’s not relevant any more. The other person can’t be dealt with any more. They’re gone. Or old. Or married to your cousin or something.
Your own response is the must durable thing you can take out of a bullying situation.
[Okay. That’s the update.]
NOW: Here’s how I discovered how to do this right. It was when this happened to my youngest, my son, at school:
This time I picked up the phone. That day. That hour. Contacted the principal. Said what happened. Because guess what, shitty behavior is done by the shitty behave-er. Not by the behave-ee.
Next day, kids were called into the office. Apologies were written. Video reviewed (turned out the whole thing was on camera). DONE.
Next year, different school: Crap going on. Verbal abuse in the hall every day. Throat-slashing motions. Other garbage.
Again: I’m saying words. That day. Honey Badger.
Again: Handled, next day. DONE.
That’s my learning. Take this crap out at the knees the day it happens. It’s not worth your time to cope with it. You’ve got better things to do.
Get in its face and stare it down like a Honey Badger. This isn’t about you, or your kid, being a target. This is about somebody who needs interpersonal training wheels.
[Okay another edit]
This is not between the bully and the victim. It’s between the bully and whoever is in charge of preventing bullying in a given venue. Make this adjustment in your thinking.
[Okay end other edit]
If you’re dealing with professionals who care and know what they are doing, you get a response. It’s their venue. Their space. They don’t want stupid poop going on in it.
If you’re not dealing with professionals, you get endless excuses and conversations and spectacularly long emails and hand waving to make you go away while nothing gets dealt with ever ever ever.
Then you know you either need to escalate, or walk. Take your badger-butt somewhere else.
Choke that shit by the neck immediately, don’t let it have air. Not even 24 hours worth of air.
(BTW I get that sometimes you can’t walk. And with adults, at work, you can’t just quit your job.)
But maybe if we jump on this with kids, more of them will grow up with the expectation of being treated right. It’s a start.
Special Note for the “Oh, toughen up” crowd: You know what takes balls? Being kind. THAT takes balls. NEXT.