This blog began with the fiftieth anniversary of the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the express purpose of telling the stories of ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things without regard for recognition or reward. It has evolved into lessons about governance and citizenship as well as stories about courage, compassion, and sacrifice. In May 2014, this blog begins to feature those who have little but persevere.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Giving Your Child Armor Against Bullies
Public schools are microcosms, little mirror images of the society at
large. Along those halls walk adults under construction, and they carry with
them the attitudes and codes of their own communities. If they leave from a
home where sarcasm reigns, then the chances are good that the child will be
sarcastic at school. If children come from a family that laughs with each
other, then they will probably have a more keenly developed sense of humor.
But all is not Nurture as parents of large families will quickly tell
you. Nature has an equal claim to the child. The same genetic mingling may
produce an extrovert and an introvert, a heterosexual and a homosexual, and
these children must make their way in school where understanding is also under
construction. Young boys and girls, adolescents, and teenagers seek their own
identities and purposes day after day. They test the values and principles that
their families hold dear. Often that testing involves comparing and contrasting
A few peers seem destined to be picked last for everything simply
because they are perceived as different. Their skin color stands out, they are
shorter or taller than everyone else, their taste in clothing diverges from the
current trend, their vocabularies are bigger, their imaginations boundless,
their speech halting or lisping. These different kids endure teasing from the
larger group; they become the bullied.
My own daughter endured verbal insults. She sprouted taller than her
peers in elementary school. Of course, the others caught up and sometimes
surpassed her by high school, but those interim years were rough, especially
after she developed severe acne several years ahead of her peers. One young boy, who
later developed the sort of acne that makes high school kids miserable, often
insulted my child.
I told her that I understood how much it hurts and explained that few
people stand up to hurtful words and gestures without some doubt or fear
wiggling through the gut. I told her to ignore the hurtful words, not to
believe them, not to give them any power over her, but I knew she would take
the hurtful words to heart anyway. How many of us are so sure of ourselves that
we never feel the sting of insults and judgments?
I talked to my child about her strengths and talents, about her good
heart, reassuring her that character matters more than appearance, but her
certainty about real beauty was years away. She needed affirmation from people
besides parents. She didn’t and couldn’t trust her parents to be completely
So I offered her a retort--words that she could use when that snarky,
insecure boy said, “Nice pimples.”
I told her to say, “Thanks for seeing the real me.” And it worked. He
never repeated his insult again. Apparently a conscience was under construction in
Probably more important, this exchange took place just as my daughter
and her tormentor were rushing to science class. The teacher overheard the
exchange and said to my daughter, loud enough for him to overhear, “I like what
you had to say. That shows real maturity.”
I am still grateful to that teacher for paying attention and speaking
up. Kids need to hear from people other than Mom and Dad. The judgment of
outsiders is so important to them as they go through separation phases, and
this outsider was a trusted authority figure. Her opinion mattered and made my
child smile. She also felt good enough about her retort to use it again
whenever the need arose.
Be assured that I don’t believe for a minute that the young tormentor
was a bad child from a bad home. He was simply still growing and learning to
discern. He wasn’t yet sure for what and whom to stand. He needed more time to
cook as a human being, and he turned out just fine, at least through high
school, post-puberty, perhaps because his own acne humbled him.
My daughter turned out better than fine. Those days of being different
are still part of her character, but they have helped her learn empathy.
They also made her stronger and more sure of her true self.
If I could
create the world, no child would ever doubt his worth and beauty. All children
would have equal opportunities to fulfill the promise that lies within them. But since many children endure insults and baseless judgments, teach
them to value the “real person” in themselves and others. It’s a timeless
lesson, one that must be taught, re-taught, and taught once more through each
phase and stage of childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and beyond.