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A Bully in My Backyard?

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I am so naive -- I thought that bullies existed in other schools, in other cities. I was wrong.

mean kid

Katie Wisdom Weinstein: My son is 13 years old and in 7th grade. He is a small guy, and fairly quiet at school. Imagine my surprise when I get a call that some older jerk teenager/a**hole grabbed my son's cell phone from his hands, rode around with it, and then threw it as hard as he could into a puddle, laughing as he rode off. I should feel lucky -- this is a tame story. This got me thinking about how I have not talked to my kids about bullies, protecting yourself, or teasing and taunting.

Naturally, after this incident, I wanted to post up in the front of the school and find this bike-riding jerk. My momma bear instincts turned me into a vengeful, raging mother, hell-bent on teaching this kid a lesson before he escalated his behavior and bullied in a more dangerous, physical way. I wanted to call his sh*tty parents and tell them they really messed this one up. When I calmed down, I realized my rage was not helpful. Perhaps this kind of emotion is what fueled this kid's behavior in his own house.

Rationally, I know that bullying is a learned behavior. I know that bullies are often bullied at home or at their school. Bullies put down other people to feel better about themselves, and have trouble feeling empathy. They have trouble following rules and can glorify violence. I have a vague notion of this nastiness. I was a 6th grade girl once. I pulled some crap back in the day. My friends and I once wrote naughty things all over a bathroom wall about a girl who did not like us -- seriously. Our egos were that fragile, and we took our stinky markers to the walls to really show her. Thankfully, my parents and the school put an abrupt and strict end to that. Big trouble in little Miss's world. I regret it to this day. Sorry, Donna. It is 31 years later, and I am mortified by our attempt into borderline bully behavior.

I have learned that the parents of bullies can be overly permissive, lack supervision, discipline harshly, and are often bullies themselves -- what a recipe for disaster. I see these parents in the street or in the grocery store. I always have to stop and stare, waiting for them to yank their child around or slap them. I wait because I am just sure I will scream at them to stop, or call the police. Maybe I can be a "Bad Parent Citizen Police Mom." I suppose most of this is all done behind closed doors. Sometimes parents of bullies were bullied when they were young, and feel that any form of discipline is a form of abuse -- and therefore go to extremes to be permissive and lax. Let me tell you, after working for years in schools, summer camps, and youth programs, this is NOT doing those little farts any favors.

My husband and I work hard to create a supportive, creative, loving, and structured family. We are clear on rules and how to treat people with respect and responsibility. We are involved in our children's lives, and we know what is happening (well, I know we cannot know EVERYTHING). We have a healthy balance of when to intervene and when to let go. We choose our battles. This does not mean that we do not lose our cool, or that we have even an inkling of what we are doing. We know our kids can be little a**holes. But, we seem to be learning as we go along. I told the kids my story about being a 6th grade delinquent, writing bad things about Donna on the wall. I told them I was embarrassed and ashamed now. It was wrong. My kids think I must have been an idiot. They would be right.

For this cell phone situation, it struck me that if I became overly involved and intervened at this point, it would not be helpful to my son. He is building his own toolbox to deal with real-life scenarios like this. The pressures, ills, and activities in middle school and high school are intense, and I won't be there to help him decide what to do in these scenarios. Our job is to help him make a good choice when we are not around.

My son did the right thing -- he told us about the incident and talked with school officials. The school is on the lookout, as this teenage dipwad did not go to school there, and they are serious when they say they want each student to feel safe. We were able to talk about it at length, and my son generally feels safe in his life and at school.

Rage and bullying feels like it is more prevalent now. I think that perhaps bullying and rage is due to the fast-paced society we live in, the lack of time parents have to spend with their children, the lack of empathy and respect being taught to children, and a general lack of responsibility for our own actions and behavior. If kids have poor self-esteem, they will do what they can to feel better about themselves. I am not a professional on these matters, but I am a mom with an opinion.

I believe that since I chose to have children, my first job is to make sure I raise healthy, confident children who will contribute positively to society. Of course, I want their lives to be happy, fun, and filled with positive experiences. But we cannot always avoid unfortunate situations, and frankly, I am not sure we should. It helps us learn about the world around us and prepares us for the next situation.

As for the jerk on the bike? I cannot speak for him. I hope he grows up and out of his bullying. I will keep a lookout for him, on the sly. Watch out, Buster. You have messed with the wrong Momma Bear.

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
k December 9, 2009, 11:36 AM

In the small town I grew up in bullies came from rich families and picked on other kids if you didn’t wear brand named cloths everyday. I don’t think many bullies come from verbal or physical abuse from home but from wealthy homes where parents model how they think they’re are better than everyone else. Yes I think it does have something to do with how the bully is raised but not by abuse. Abused kids are withdrawn and don’t want to draw attention to themselves

Anonymous December 9, 2009, 10:23 PM

Abused kids come in many shapes and forms.

Aurora December 13, 2009, 5:06 PM

While I sympathize with your son and the situation, no 13yo needs a cell phone. I know, I know…the bully would have found something else to bully about. That’s what bullies do. But still…I’m 20 now, and only just got my first cell phone this year, and only because I needed it for work.

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