Thursday, April 12, 2012

Combatting Bullying One Child at a Time

'Bully Free Zone' photo (c) 2008, Eddie~S - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
My oldest son has been subject to racist bullying since the age of five.  He has not had an easy childhood on the playground, but the one truth I can always say about Destruction, is despite the potential blowback, he is always on the side of the underdog.  The kind of compassion he displays everyday simply cannot be taught; it is innate to him.

I had sent him to the store to grab a can of corn to go with dinner last night, and when he returned and asked me if he could go to the park.  Normally, my answer is yes, because I believe that children should spend as much time as possible playing, and breathing in fresh air.  This time I told him no because all I had to do was heat up the can of corn and dinner was ready to be served.  He responded saying, "Mom you don't understand, Paul [not his real name] is at the park and he is walking his dog.  Xavier [not his real name] is there.  Every time Paul walks his dog, Xavier bullies him.  He used to bully me to but now that I am larger than he is, he leaves me alone.  I just want to walk Paul's dog for him so that he doesn't get bullied again."  I kissed him on the forehead and told him that I would keep dinner warm until he got back.

It didn't take him long to walk Paul's dog and we sat to have dinner about fifteen minutes later. I know that I have said it before, but I am so very proud of my son.  When you have been a victim, it is so easy to keep your head down and hope to remain unnoticed in the future.  Bullying happens in a very public space and continues because people don't speak up.  Even when parents get involved and speak to the school administration, that is no guarantee that the bullying will stop.  The unhusband and I have made repeated calls to the school, as well as spoken with the various principals, only to find that nothing changes.  I know that there have been instances of bullying that Destruction has not told us about simply because he has seen the futility of our efforts.  This scares me more than words can convey, because I know that over time this leads to depression and for some children suicide.  We have made a point of asking our son each day what happened at school and if he had a good day.  We try to leave the lines of communication at all times.  On the days when he says he doesn't want to talk about it, we respect his right to refrain from sharing, and just remind him that if and when he is ready, that we always have time to listen.

At dinner last night, he told me that he decided to walk Paul's dog because it is the right thing to do.  He said, "at least today, Paul didn't get bullied. I wish someone had done that for me."  I was very emotional and just told him again how proud I am of him.  Bullying stops when we start to care about the victim, just as Destruction proved last night.  Xavier left Paul alone because he knew that he was no longer a match physically for Destruction.

No child should have to worry about being beaten up or bullied for walking their dog.  Too often, I have heard bullying reduced to a right passage and this negates the life long effect that it has on those who have been victims. He didn't act in the hope of getting a cookie or accolades and there was no one to witness his act of kindness. I think in part that Destruction did what he did as a way to take back his power and to fight back.  When we stand together against that which oppresses us, we can make change. It's always going to be easier to look away, or to hope to go unnoticed.  It's in those moments where we stand up to be counted that we have the potential to make the most difference.

I hope that Paul will one day return he favour when he has the chance.  I further hope that Xavier will think twice about bullying someone else.  I hope that he will realize the fear and pain that his actions cause and think about whether or not this is the person he really wants to be.  The mere fact that he stopped bullying Destruction when he became taller and heavier, tells me that Xavier is a coward, because when faced with his someone who is larger he sneaks away.   If nothing else, I know that my youngest son Mayhem learned something from his big brother last night.  In this family, it's always important to do the right thing.