I remember when the rash of teen suicides from bullying happened in 2010. I also remember when the middle school in my town hushed the suicide of a student from bullying, that same year. Turned out that I had a friend whose son was in the class-- but I also had a friend who was the teacher for the class. I remember being outraged that the school hushed it, but it turned out they kept it out of the papers to prevent copycats and a rash of suicides.
But that was a year ago. Tonight, I want to talk about my child.
My oldest is 9 this year, just finished third grade. He's an excellent artist, a creative story writer, quirky, helpful, has a wonderful sense of humor and I'm certain that he's going to be an excellent SCA heavy fighter when he's a teenager. He's in the gifted and talented program. Very proud of how smart my boy is. But during the last month and a half of this year, my straight A student started bringing home Cs, Ds, and 3 Fs. He started sassing. And not listening. And becoming more difficult. And started bullying his little brother a bit. And when I asked him what was going on, he would shrug his shoulders and give me, "I don't knows". I look back on it and realize it probably didn't help that I was angry at the inexplicable bad grades and nasty attitude I was seeing.
I have a long standing habit of cuddling with my boys at night. It's a chance for us to talk about their days, visit for between 15 and 60 minutes before bed time, and usually ends with a story. It's happens often throughout the day that I don't stop to immediately listen-- I'm cooking; They're asking questions just to talk and don't actual want to hear the answer; They're playing; I'm busy; Whatever-- there are simply too many times throughout the course of the afternoon when our attention is NOT focused on each other. So I set this time aside at the end of the day for us to talk.
I will admit that my oldest sometimes tends towards drama and really likes to complain, so most of the time, when he gets going, I give him about 5 minutes, empathize, then ask him what was GOOD about his day. I always prefer to end on a good note.
But sometimes, what I'm hearing makes it very clear that he was being bullied. I sent notes to his teacher to take care of the issues that I could, as soon as I heard about them. And she addressed them and things got better. But tonight, I learned that there were 2 classmates that bullied him frequently. In ways that could have seriously hurt him (like pulling him off the top of the monkey bars). And I didn't know. I talk with my children every night, and I didn't know.
Until tonight. Tonight, I -asked-. And I really listened.
These two boys would physically go after him at P.E. They would push him in the classroom. They would call him names like "Gay" and "Faggot". They would make hand signs (flipping the bird, jacking off, and other sexual innuendos-- not that they knew the name of any of these), but they would also make up new ones and tell my son that they meant 'homo' and 'gay'. He's interested in girls, but he knows it doesn't matter to his Daddy and I either way.
I have always told my son to tell an adult who is present-- they are the only ones who can take care of it on the spot. And he did. And the teacher wouldn't do anything. She might tell him to tell the PE coach-- who would put the boys in time out on the line, if he did anything at all. Or he might tell the Vice Principal-- who also wouldn't do anything. And so my boy was shown, over and over, by adults that he should have been able to trust, that there was nothing anyone was going to do about him being bullied. And so he didn't even tell me.
Until tonight. See, tonight, I came across StopBullying.gov while following the link to a blog that a friend had posted called Free to Be...Not Anymore. And both of them advocated that the first way to stop bullying is to start talking. And tonight, my son and I talked for over an hour. No. That's not exactly right. Tonight, for over an hour, I let my son talk. And I really listened.
This school year is over, and there is nothing I can do to fix the hurts I did not know had happened, save to let him know that I am on his side and here to listen. But next year, I will be better armed with information and lines of communication-- so that it never happens again.