Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bully for you

When Lulu was in kindergarten, she came home from school one day with a Blue Slip. Blue Slips were filled out for disciplinary actions, and were just about the worst thing a kid could get before they started calling parents in for conferences and handing out detentions/suspensions. Needless to say, I was shocked and horrified. MY CHILD?! A behavior problem? Surely not. There must be some mistake.

Turns out, a little boy on the playground took a swing at her, so she used her kung fu training (she came to class with me four times a week), and delivered a textbook mountain punch to the kid's gut. I asked if she was okay, was she hurt when the kid punched her, and she said, "Of course not. I ducked."

It took all my Supermommy power to keep from cracking up at her response. She'd obviously been paying more attention than I'd thought in kung fu. We talked about how it's not okay to hit someone, even if they tried to hit you first. We talked about appropriate responses to anyone who hurt you, whether with words or actions or physical violence. I thought we had this covered. I was wrong.

Lulu's in 7th grade now, and she barely even remembers the incident with Punchy McSluggerton way back in kindergarten. Until yesterday, I thought she'd at least remember the lessons we talked about back then, and over the years in between. It seems that every year the school sends home letters about bullying, how the school has a zero tolerance policy for dealing with bullies, and how they are having assemblies to deal with the topic, and class time dedicated to talking about it. It sounded to me like the teachers were all over this issue, looking to nip any sort of aggressive behavior in the bud. Once again, I was wrong.

She'd been a straight-A student, especially excelling in English class. This year her honors level class only has 16 students (which is a near miracle when most of her other classes have upwards of 30 students each). So you can imagine my surprise when she's bringing home consistent C's. I thought she must not like her teacher. Maybe she didn't care for the poetry assignments (always my own least favorite English class unit). I couldn't fault her for that. But then she was getting dinged for not turning in classwork. She'd been in class, so why didn't she turn in the work? She'd done it perfectly. I couldn't understand, and I was beginning to think she might have some sort of problem with her memory. I was considering taking her to the doctor to ensure she hadn't sustained some sort of head injury. I couldn't think of any other way to explain her sudden memory lapses, her refusal to talk to me about why she wasn't turning things in, and why she wasn't able to focus in class.

Yesterday she reached her breaking point, and finally told us what was bothering her. Or, more specifically, WHO was bothering her.

Let me be clear, I am an involved parent. I volunteer with her Girl Scout troop on a near-continuous basis. I know half the kids at her school, and most of them know me. I am The Library Lady, and everyone from her old elementary school knows me. I have asked her on numerous occasions if she's seen any incidences of bullying at school, and she's told me about a few things she's seen happening with other kids. I thought we had this covered. But we really didn't.

After she told me everything that had been going on, essentially since the beginning of school back in August, I was heartbroken. "Why didn't you tell us about this? Why would you let this go on so long?"

She looked me in the eye and told me she didn't say anything because what could we do? What the kid was doing to her was not bullying, so she couldn't do anything to stop it.

Go back now, reread that last sentence. I'll wait right here.

Done? Are you as shocked as I am? Everything she described to us, from him deliberately knocking things off her desk every time he walked past, to telling her to "shut up" on a daily basis, to making faces at her in class, to recruiting a group of girls to laugh at her, THESE ARE ALL THE THINGS SHE'S BEEN TAUGHT ARE BULLYING BEHAVIORS, AND SHE STILL DIDN'T THINK SHE WAS BEING BULLIED. SHE THOUGHT SHE JUST HAD TO DEAL WITH IT.

She knew teachers had seen this behavior, and because they did nothing to stop it, she assumed she just had to live with it. Despite all the talk about bullying at school and how to deal with it, despite her strong group of friends, despite all the Girl Power lectures, despite our repeated conversations at home about how she should never let anyone make her feel lesser, she thought this treatment was somehow either deserved or something she had no power to stop.

*pauses to sob*

This is what I'm having the hardest time understanding. My daughter knows what bullying is. She can tell you right away when she sees it happening to someone else. She supports her friends when they're going through frustrating situations like the one that's been bothering her. She has always been told that she should NEVER put up with anyone who makes her feel small in any way. In theory, she carries this knowledge with her all the time. I have no idea how to remind her of that when she's feeling alone, hurt, and defenseless, and I'm not there.

This is why we rely on the teachers we entrust our children to every day. I handed her over, in the hopes no teacher would permit any student to belittle another student in her class. I am so disappointed in this entire situation. Disappointed in myself for not pushing for more answers when I saw my child struggling with her grades. Disappointed in the teachers and school staff for not holding her tormentor accountable for his actions. Disappointed in the other kids, some of whom I know personally, for not only doing nothing to stop it, but sometimes participating in it and encouraging it. Disappointed in my kid, for not thinking she had the right to stand up for herself and seek help from any adult within shouting distance the moment another child said or did something that made her uncomfortable. And disappointed that despite all the training and speeches they give the kids at school, she STILL felt as if she were the one in the wrong for feeling upset by another child's abusive behavior.

I am at a complete loss. What could I have done differently? I know there's no way to shield someone 100% from bad feelings. There are always going to be jerks in the world. I just wish I knew how to give her the tools she can use to defend herself. Hopefully this will be a good practical learning experience. It's the best outcome I can hope for at this point.

I spoke to the guidance counselor at school this morning, and I'm waiting to hear back from her on how they intend to deal with this. I am at a complete loss. I don't know what more I can do, other than to constantly remind her that she is awesome, and that nobody is allowed to make her feel otherwise.

***UPDATE: Two sides to every story***

I heard back from the school today, and it turns out Lulu is just as responsible for the bad behavior as the kid who made her feel bad. And you know what, *I* might be partially responsible for it. Let me explain.

Lulu has a few words that really bug her. Pet peeve words. Apparently the boy who teases her has a favorite word, which is at the TOP of the list of Lulu's despised words. That word: Swag.

This kid is the king of swag. He loves the word, and applies it to himself regularly (as 13-year-old boys are wont to do). Every time Lulu hears it, she yells back "Yes, you are curtains." She's had it with swag, YOLO, and half a dozen other irritating catch phrase words, and she inherited a large dose of snark from both me and her father. Her friends think we're funny when we tease each other back and forth, but a kid who doesn't know she's just playing around, just trying to be silly, would likely take those comments the wrong way.

So we have a lovely opportunity to remind her that teasing someone for their word choices is also bullying. I might correct her usage and vocabulary at home, but that doesn't mean she's allowed to make fun of others for using words she doesn't like. Unless someone's words are derogatory or hurtful in some way, just let everyone else be.

So there you go. I feel like kind of a jerk for getting all bent out of shape yesterday, now that I know this whole situation started because of something she said herself. I'm not saying she's entirely to blame, but I know that she's at least 50% responsible for it. She's definitely responsible for letting it escalate to the point where it's interfering with her school work, for not saying anything sooner. There will be a big discussion tonight.


  1. This sounds like the school is the weak link.

    Teachers aren't blind - SOMEONE had to have seen this happening.

    Sometimes teachers don't know what to do, or even want to bother until the wheel starts squeaking.

    Lulu sounds like a quiet wheel, trudging along through the bullshit that this kid and his ilk set before her.

    I applaud her strength, and *hugs* to you. The good news is she finally told you. It took way too long, but she told you.

    Dialogue is open. Now something can be done about this.

  2. Ugh. ((((hugs))))

    That helpless feeling is the worst. Sometimes, though, even after all the confidence boosters and bully education, there's nothing you can do to counter the insecurity that comes along with puberty.

    Hang in there, Mama. You're doing all you can and it sounds like Lulu has a strong foundation.

    But do be sure to give the school hell for me, because I tell ya, I'd like to have a word or two with that English teacher.

    1. Yeah, but now that I know the full story, I can't really blame the school. :/

  3. I'm sorry you and Lulu are going through this, even if the situation is even sided. That doesn't make it easier.
    I know you said you can't really blame the school, but you can. haha You and the other child's parents should have been informed of a situation and called in for conferences. There is no reason that it should have gone on this long.
    Dealing with this age group so much, I fear the number one thing to blame is something we can do nothing about - hormones.
    My biggest question is, and something maybe to think, is why is she letting her grades slip? Is it to get out of honors class so she's not with these jackasses anymore? Is it the teacher? Is it really because this kid bothers her so much she can't focus?
    But since you did two sides, so will I. Sometimes teachers don't know how to deal with a group of advanced students when they have 'regular' class the rest of the day and sometimes they allow things to go on that they wouldn't in other classrooms.
    If you have a group of smart, elevated kids, the first thought may be, let them work it out whereas in a normal classroom, you have to nip it in the bud. I'm not saying it's wrong or right, and my personal opinion is rules are rules and teaching is teaching, but I know a lot of teachers who take this approach.
    I hope there's an easy resolution and that everyone comes out a little stronger and wiser.
    having said all of those things, the boy probably likes her and doesn't know how to deal with her rejection besides lashing out. 13YO boys are hormone laden idiots. (I know several I adore, but that's what it boils down to) The other girls probably like him and jump on his bandwagon to get a look from his dreamy eyes. :)
    That doesn't excuse it, but it may be part of the reason.

    1. I have a feeling that's all part of it. Stupid hormones. Middle school is like that. It's something we all go through, and even the most popular, coolest kids are still insecure and have the same need for reassurance and acceptance as everyone else.

      Things just get out of control really fast sometimes, and before they know it, everyone has hurt feelings, and not enough social savvy to find a solution.

      I think the main reason she's let her grades slip is the same reason they haven't been able to work out their little differences: An abundance of hormones combined with a lack of proper preparation. At least know I know. Knowledge is power. :)

  4. As a teacher, I hate how much I can miss going on in my own classroom. I am quite sure I have not always done what I should/could, but I am glad for the times when I have.

    Knowledge is power indeed. I worry about this kind of thing all of the time with my own kids. As they get older, we are always trying to arm them with the new strategies. What worked in 3rd grade won't work anymore at 7th. Ultimately, I have always tried to emphasized with my kids that if nothing else, just telling us about things makes it better - easier. Letting it out is one less burden in the knapsack. Of course, we then can come up with strategies, but I feel like sometimes the "I'm all on my own" hurdle must be jumped first.

    I'm not surprised about the academic connection. Stress can impact performance in all kinds of ways.

    From everything I've heard about Lulu, I know she's strong and resilient - just as you've modeled for her and taught her to be.

  5. Looking back at my own childhood, it's kind of amazing how many times I was bullied without ever thinking of it as bullying. And I got off easy compared to many.

    I'd hoped all the recent rule changes might have changed things for the better, but if a kid as swag as that can still be bullied... :)

    But seriously, I hope you and Lulu and Curtains and everyone else involved gets through this and is stronger for it (not to mention nicer to each other).


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