Isn’t bullying supposed to be over?
Lately, ending the scourge of the schoolyard bully has become a popular cause. With the social media age bringing a new style of bullying to schools – and far scarier consequences with it – parents are on high alert. As a relatively new dad in a relatively progressive area, I hardly expected to encounter it.
Especially not in first grade!
Every day I walk Detective Munch to the bus stop, where he interacts with a couple of kids while they wait to be picked up. One of the kids is a fellow first-grader (Leo), and the other is a year older (Mark), which, to six and seven-year-olds, is an eternity. Both my son and his classmate look up to the older kid – mostly simply because he’s older. In Leo’s case, it’s also because he has a hero-worship thing with older kids that his mom has told me she wishes she could curb.
Leo and Mark are good friends; they live in the same apartment building and they frequently have play-dates. They have a rapport my son doesn’t share, especially since he really only sees them at the bus stop. This has made it easy for a two-on-one dynamic to develop, at Detective Munch’s expense. It’s not always terrible, and there are many mornings when the three of them play great together, but he’s never quite on the same footing with them.
They exclude him – from playing their games, from looking at their toys, from sitting with them on the bus. There was even a period when they were calling him a goofy nickname and occasionally pinching his cheeks. And all the while Detective Munch keeps giving it another chance, keeps trying to be their friend, only to return home after school and tells us something new one of them has done, usually on the bus there or back. Again, it’s not every day, but on those days that something happens, it’s the first thing my son mentions when he gets picked up. It’s affecting him.
I don’t want to rat out and vilify the six and seven-year-olds who are tormenting him; they’re only kids themselves! I genuinely like Leo’s mom, and I know she’s not thrilled with some of his behavior. Meanwhile, Mark’s parents are divorced, which is a whole different can of worms for a young kid to deal with, and the few times I’ve mentioned something to his father he’s been receptive. They’ve both tried to help, letting their kids know their behavior is not okay. Unfortunately that hasn’t worked either. This is not going away.
Detective Munch is a sweet kid. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a pain in the ass – a tremendous pain in the ass, huge, the best pain in the ass! – but he’s a sweet kid, and he’s my kid.
Bullying is objectively horrible, but when your kid is the victim, it can also be disorienting: why would anyone bully your beautiful snowflake? (As Mrs. Seinfeld would say about her son, “How could anyone not like you?”) Despite all the annoyances that you can’t stop obsessively sharing with the world because you’re a terrible person with a disgusting need for social media shares, you simply can’t see anything worth bullying about him.
Detective Munch is funny, smart, nice, friendly, handsome (and then some!), will probably become an American hero and maybe a movie star and also rich (but not privileged don’t worry) not to mention someone the world will eventually look up to and probably emulate and build statues to. He’s alright, is what I’m saying.
But he’s sensitive, and he’s only six. At such a young age, emotions are never far from the surface, and for a sensitive kid, it can be an explosive time. He’s been adjusting to a lot of things this past year, including a new baby brother and a concomitant lack of attention from us/status within the household, and lately his skin is a little thinner even than it usually is. This situation isn’t helping.
Mom and Buried, understandably, is furious, and after the latest incident – in which Mark’s refusal to let my son sit in a particular seat reduced him to tears – it’s gotten too big to ignore, or to naively expect it to magically resolve itself. So we’re not going to.
At our conference last month, Detective Munch’s teachers told us he’s acted up a few times this year, but when we told them about the bullying, they shifted from irritation to understanding. They were appalled, and understood the effect it could have on a little kid, especially a six-year-old, who is not emotionally equipped to handle this kind of thing. Frankly he needs outside help, both to stop things from getting worse and to stop himself from feeling worse.
So far, we’ve done what we can to equip him with some tools to withstand it, and to his credit, he’s tried his best. We’ve told him to be nice, we’ve told him to ignore them, we’ve told him to tell them to stop; he’s tried it all. Nothing has worked.
I hesitate to step in, as it not only might make things worse by putting a target on his back, but also because I worry it might further erode his confidence to need Daddy’s help.
It’s not like he’s being beaten up, he’s not being harassed on social media, he’s not having his lunch money taken away. But there’s a fine line between not making too big a deal about something and not making enough of one. His confidence is taking a hit, and his state of mind is far too stressed than any six-year-old deserves. Starting your day off under such traumatic, stressful circumstances can have terrible repercussions, academically, socially, behaviorally. Now we also have to ;make sure it’s not how his life starts off.
But as a parent, what do you do? I want to protect my kid, but stepping in might provoke worse treatment. Kids are terrible! And while it’s clear that the way he’s being treated isn’t fair, guess what? Life isn’t fair. My kids are going to face far tougher obstacles throughout their lives, and they’ll have to learn how to deal with them!
Of course, the Detective is only six years old, so WTF am I even talking about?
This isn’t a time to tell my son to man up and fight back! It’s a time when he needs support, from us, from his school, from a society that pays a lot of lip service to not tolerating bullying but also somehow just elected a bully as President. We need to step in and help set him up for success, help set a good example, and let him know that the way he’s being treated is wrong and won’t be tolerated.
That’s right: Daddy’s gonna take these punks down!