Bullying, School Safety and Teaching Kindness

My head has been a jumbled mess of random thoughts since February 14 when innocent teachers and students lost their lives  in Florida.

Yesterday I watched a video of a man who confessed that he would have been a high school shooter if he had the resources as a kid to purchase a gun. His story was a sad one of being bullied and unloved, and while he did carry weapons to school, a gun was not one of them, simply for the fact he couldn’t afford it.

It’s not an excuse to kill or even think about killing, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much of the violence we see happening in schools starts with a child being bullied, and that is something we as parents can change.

A few months ago my husband overheard one of my daughter’s schoolmates making horrible racist comments during school breakfast. Some of the kids around them started laughing at what she was saying and he had to step in and say, “no, we do not talk this way and this is NOT funny.” This is only FIRST GRADE friends. Where would a child learn to say these things?

We had a long talk that night about how the things that were being said were wrong, how badly they could hurt someone if they overheard it and why we choose to be kind to everyone, no matter their nationality or differences. I told Rylie I really didn’t want her to hang around this girl. But was that the right thing to do? According to Rylie it wasn’t.

A few weeks later I just casually asked who she’d eaten lunch with that day and she said she didn’t want to tell me because I’d be upset with her. When I finally convinced her to tell me, she said it was the girl we had talked about that said mean things. She followed it with “Mom, wouldn’t you rather I be friends with her and teach her to be kind than to not be friends with her and she just keeps saying mean things about people?”

What could I say to that? I check in regularly on their discussions, but I have to say that these days I fully trust that Rylie knows right from wrong when it comes to the words we use, and isn’t afraid to speak up when she feels they are inappropriate.

She asks that we change the radio when a song using the words shut up or hate come on and she changes words in books if she’s reading and doesn’t feel comfortable with them. She’s learned to step away from people who are treating her or her friends poorly.

Most importantly, last week, her teacher called me to tell me she was proud of Rylie for her bravery in reporting something that made her feel uncomfortable. Can anyone explain why my child had to report a boy in her FIRST GRADE class for telling her FIRST GRADE friend that he wants to rub his penis on her? Are we taking the #MeToo movement to the lunch line in elementary schools?


My Personal Experience with Bullying

You see, I was the bullied kid in school. I never felt that I fit in. In elementary school I was teased about where I lived, the clothes I wore and the people I sat next to in school. I had a brick thrown at my face by an older neighbor who should have known better.

In junior high I was an easy, naive target for teasing and playing pranks on. My “best friend” would boss me around, and when I stood up for myself she pushed me down in the hall knocking the wind out of me and landing me on my face in front of everyone between classes.

But worst of all in high school I was stalked and humiliated by a classmate who was known to be the “best shot in the state” on the school rifle team. How was that even a thing? He set the wool on my sweaters on fire as he’d walk past me with his lighter. He poured rubber cement under my chair in shop class and set it on fire. He paid people to come and humiliate me in the cafeteria at lunch. But what was most scary was that he managed to steal my drivers license. He knew where I lived, which was in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania, and could explain in detail parts of my house and would tell me he saw me in my bedroom or in the bathroom. We had no neighbors at the time, there was no reason to keep my windows closed or curtains drawn until he said these things. He had my social security number MEMORIZED. I’m thankful for the one teacher who put an end to it.

I was sensitive, fragile, naive and afraid to ever say anything to stand up for myself. While I never had any intention of being a school shooter, these words and actions did affect me and still do affect me. Words do hurt, and they affect different people in different ways.

I realize that there are a lot of other actions that need to be taken to make this world a safer place, but just based on these few experiences my child has already had in only two years in elementary school, there is a lot of room for parents to step up, to teach their kids compassion, empathy and kindness. I realize not everybody will do this, adults can be just as cruel as kids, but at least we can encourage our kids to inspire their friends to be kind, even if their parents aren’t.

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