Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ten Ways to Stop a Bully

Let me say up front that there are few things I find more repugnant in this world than a bully. Whether the bully is a playground hoodlum, a snotty cheeerleader or a third world dictator matters not.  Anyone who torments, teases or pushes around another person simply because he is stronger or because the person is vulnerable deserves to rot in a special circle of hell if I believed there were such a thing.  As it is, I think that evidence of bullying in our children and adolescents should be dealt with severely and swiftly.  Here are ten things you can do based on my own experience.

1.  Tell your Dad (or Mom).  This seems obvious, but it's surprising how many Dads will blow an opportunity to be a hero to his son because of some misguided notion that the kid needs to be tough and handle it himself. "I can't always be there to protect him." you might argue.  That's a truckload of fertilizer if you ask me. So what if you can't always be there?  If the times you are there to protect them are spectacular enough to put the fear of God into the young thugs, they will at all costs avoid a repetition of Dad getting into the act in future.  Sure your kid may get teased because Dad intervened, but the teasers will do so from a safe distance and no one will be left hanging by their shorts from a coat hook in the boys restroom.

A bully once threw rocks at my son and chased him home. I made my son tell me who it was.  As it happened the would-be felon was peddling his way back up the street at the time, having followed Micah home. I handed my son off to his mama for treatment, jumped in the car and burned rubber out of the driveway.  I caught the kid about 4 blocks away on his bike headed homeward.  I pulled up on the curb and cut him off with my car.  He stopped confused, wondering what was about to happen.  I jumped out.  Chris paled.  I strode up to his bike, place my hands on the handlebars and looked him square in the eye.  He started right into denials and trying to tell me I had no evidence. I shut him up with a look and in measured tones, told him this.

"You made a mistake going after my son. This time you get to go home lesson learned.  Next time, I pluck your fuzzy butt off that bicycle and drag you kicking and squealing down to the police station where I file charges. Then you will spend some time locked up till your mama comes to get you and then I will have some words with her. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

2. Confront the bully directly.  Worry about his mama later.  Yes the parents may try to get you arrested, but that only bothers you if you actually care. The cops will probably be on your side. If like me you'd rather go to jail than see your kid abused by some two-bit junior wiseguy, you prefer effectiveness to political correctness

The first word out of Chris's mouth was "BUT".  I cut him off.  "If you're going to tell me I can't, I can give you a demonstration here and now.  It's four blocks to city hall from here.  I can carry or drag you or you can indicate with a nod of your head that you understand that I will not tolerate your bullying my children - EVER AGAIN."

He nodded and that was the end of the bullying.  He never told his mama.  But I did!

3.  Follow through with the bully's parents.  Operate from the assumption that no parent wants their child to be a bully.

I later discovered Chris was bullying other children in our church youth organization and went straight to his mama.  He left the youth organization a short time later and the hazing stopped.  The next summer on a T-Ball team, Chris took to threatening base-runners from my team.  The kids were all emotionally disturbed and abused kids from a local group home. Again, I explained to him and his mama (their coach) that my protection extended to these children also and when my kids got up to bat, I loudly and clearly told my kids they need not be afraid of this child.  His mama complained to the umpire.  I told the umpire I felt the reassurance was necessary as Chris had been telling base runners that if they scored he would beat them up.  The umpire warned Chris that if he heard that complaint again he would be permanently removed from T-Ball.  He then asked me politely to issue my assurances before the child entered the batters box.  I assured him that given his support in opposition to the bullying in question, I felt quite comfortable doing that.  Chris' mother was heard complaining later about what a terrible example I was to the kids. One of the other mother's told her she thought I had done exactly the right thing.

4. Teach by example.  Isn't it odd how people with fight to protect a system of unspoken tolerance for bullying behavior and will even oppose efforts to interfere with the very system of silence that supports bullying.  We develop this elaborate rules system that treats telling about abusive behavior as somehow an "unfair" method of dealing with it.  Instead, too often, we support a primitive tribal sort of self-government among children in which the strongest and most willing to inflict pain become the leaders.  If that's not the kind of government we want in our society, we damned sure need to be teaching it to our kids.

I taught my sons and daughter to loathe bullying.  I taught them by confronting bullies, not with violence, but with steely determination.  They all came to despise it when kids who were smaller or more vulnerable were persecuted and mistreated.  They all three got into trouble at various times for standing up to thugs on behalf of smaller classmates in school. I was proud of them and told their teachers so when the subject came up.

5. Don't allow fear to prevent you from confronting the bully.  One young thug beat up my middle son in sixth grade. He and a friend held him down an beat his face till his eye bled.  I had to take him to the doctor for the damaged eye.  The school wouldn't deal with the problem, wouldn't even give me the boys parents' names or bring in the police or acknowledge that the incident had happened.  So I went to the parents house and managed to explain to them that I was unhappy with their son's attack on mine (they spoke little English) and that I would see him arrested next time if I had to arrest him myself and carry him bodily to the police station.  Whether they fully understood or not, the boy certainly did. He was translating.

I risked a lot by confronting him at home.  His parents had little control over him.  The boy later killed a man and fled to Mexico. As far as I know, however, he left my kids alone after that.

6.  Get involved at the local level.   It's all well and good to get involved in national anti-bullying programs or to watch Oprah episodes, but there is no substitute for direct LOCAL involvement.  After the incident with my son, a second incident followed that spurred us all to action.  A teenage girl broke up with her boyfriend at school one day.  He apparently texted his Mama about the girl having spurned him because Mama showed up at the school at 3:00 and attacked the girl right there on the front lawn of the school. Everyone scattered and no charges were filed again. The school did not want to get involved.

So a bunch of us parents decided we would get involved.  We began attending local school board meetings and ran our own candidates for the board when it was unresponsive.  We helped get the old school board voted out and replaced with concerned parents from our PTA anti-bullying task force.  They instituted a zero-tolerance policy.  That was the last time something happened like that on the school ground.

Did they over-react in their enforcement of zero-tolerance in order to be "fair" to certain groups.  You betcha!  A couple of times they got really ridiculous about stuff, but always we were able to talk them out of it.  It helped that the school administration knew that we were a group of parents who had no qualms about getting involved directly with the school board over issues like that.

7. Be willing to do what it takes.  The secret to dealing with bullies is to confront them hard and fast and do not let up.  It will mean inconvenience and discomfort on your part, but if you keep your temper and your wits about you and if you are brave, bullies tend to slink away into dark corners when confronted.  Like those big roaches, they scurry away from the light.  Talk about the bullying openly and name names.

One of the bullies we dealt with decided to get even.  My wife started getting obscene phone calls in the middle of the night after she had it out with the boy's mama.  The third time he called, she knew who it was.  When she answered the phone, she said, "Chris, I know this is you.  As soon as you hang up, I'm calling your mother."  She hung up and then dialed his home phone. It rang twice, a voice answered and she asked to talk to his mother.  He hung up and after that calls to his house received a busy signal.  The calls stopped.

8.  Don't let the teachers off the hook.  If there is rampant bullying, the teacher is not doing what he or she needs to do to stop it.  I taught school for five years and worked in a mental facility for kids and day care centers for 18 more years. There is no excuse for a teacher allowing bullying.  The kids will tell if they think you will do something about it.  Surprisingly, most parents of bullies will cooperate with you to do something about it if you offer to help them.  There are plenty of resources out there to help parents cope with bullying of their kids or deal with their own kids who bully.

9.  Come to terms with your own bullying.  The greatest tool you can have as a parent is a passionate moral outrage against bullying.  Unfortunately too many of us were jocks or part of the ruling clique in school and recognize our own school-age behavior in the bullying our own children do. It's hard to work up a whole lot of moral outrage against bullying if you were something of a bully yourself at that age.   If that's the case, you need to own your previous bad behavior and do what you can to atone for it.  You'd be surprised what a note on Facebook or an e-mail or letter to a kid you once picked on with an apology can do for that child as an adult.  You could save a life by asking forgiveness for your own bullying.  If you don't exactly save a life, you will certainly at the very least confer a little peace of heart on that person by your free admission that you did them wrong.

And it won't hurt you none, either.

10. Cultivate a culture of courage in your home.   Courage is the only effective weapon against a bully. Show your kids how to be brave, not by screaming and ranting and raving, but by steely-eyed, nose to nose opposition to the bullies of this world.  Hold up as heroes, men and women who had the courage to stand against thugs and tyrants. There are plenty.  As a kid, stories about King Arthur taught me that the strong have a duty to protect the weak.  My heroes were always looking out for the underdog. From Joan of Arc, Huss and Jerome, Jesus and Joseph, I learned how to take a stand for what's right, no matter what it cost you.  You may get yourself socked in the process.  I remember standing up to a bully in 7th grade who stole the basketball from a group of smaller kids.  I told him he was wrong and used a descriptor of his actions that he took offense with.  He hit me hard in the face.  Oddly enough, once you've been hit in the face once, you don't mind so much anymore.  Soon, taking a couple on the chin for a good cause actually feels pretty good.

And teach your family not to be afraid of lawsuits.  It's the latest form of bullying to become popular.  Using the fear of a lawsuit to control your actions is just another form of bullying and intimidation. But, that's why we have judges and courts to sort things like that out.  In my brief experience with the legal system, I was surprised to find that judges like nothing better than a plaintiff with a righteous cause and many of them hate bullies too.

So be of good courage.  I'm told the bullies are going to lose the war in the end anyway.



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