About two weeks ago, I reconnected with a girl I had not seen since grade school. One thing she said which really struck me was my mom seemed so "sweet" and I seemed so "sad." I don't dispute her claim. But I was shocked that was her memory of me after 20+ years.
The reason I seemed so sad back then was because I was miserable. General sadness was my best attempt to fake it. The primary reason was bullying. Every once in a while, bullying is brought into the national conscience because it drives someone to their death. In my book Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures, I use Phoebe Prince as an example. Prince made national news because bullying helped lead to her suicide. Over time, the topic subsides until the problem claims another victim.
I would argue that the problems and effects of bullying are more quiet on a day to day nature. This is something that concerns me greatly. One of the many consequences is sadness/depression. Don't get me wrong. This blog is not meant to be a pity party because I was "sad." The problem of bullying is too difficult for anyone to quantify but I'll tell you what it did to me and let you make your own conclusions.
True bullying started for me by, of all people, a football coach in third grade. It carried on in some way, shape, or form until high school. By the time I made it to high school, I was a mess. I didn't have any self confidence. My grades were average to below average. It wasn't until years later I considered myself intelligent. The fact is I had to work harder than some others in high school because certain building blocks of education I should have had in elementary school weren't present.
In grade school, I was always worried about what was "next" instead of the lessons in front of me. When would I have another problem in school? When would I have another fight on my hands? Would I find pornography in my yard when I returned home? Would there be another egg to clean off my bedroom window? I can safely say when I was more worried about factors outside the course work in school than the work itself; it reflected in my overall learning. I don't think I realized how much intelligence I had until I completed my Masters program with a 3.7 grade point average. Turns out I wasn't as dumb as many had perceived- including me.
Although schools have a big part to play in solving the problem, my regular readers know I don't like to rely solely on any school. There are too many kids and too few adult eyes. My advice to parents has two simple parts.
1. Teach your child about bullying before they enter a classroom. Some parents stink at teaching manners to their kids and your children should be well aware. Children without good manners are excellent bullies because they don't know any better. It's also a good idea to create pretend bullying situations at home and then discuss how they can be handled. Bullying takes on different forms the older a child gets. Therefore, if you do this before 2nd grade and expect that lesson to last through high school, odds of success are minimal.
Also, if you wait to teach your child their lesson when the bullying occurs, you run some risks. Perhaps the biggest one is the damage accomplished before you get wind of the problem. To use a boxing analogy, I'd rather teach a boxer how to punch before a fight than after he steps in the ring with a trained professional . I'm not saying that you have to teach your kids how to fight. That is your decision. But, I want kids prepared for problems they may face in school. As a former teacher, I promise it can help limit the overall effectiveness of the bully.
2. The other thing you can do is keep your finger on the pulse. When you see mood swings in your child, that's a warning. Some of us attribute mood swings to hormones or "kids just growing up." I'll argue that while those factors are in play; there's usually more to it. Dig deep enough in your child and you may discover the underlying problem. Once a problem is discovered, it can be attacked with vigor.
I'm sorry if I left out a lot of aspects of bullying. It simply can't be covered in one blog. I wrote an entire chapter for my book and I'm still not sure if I did enough.
I wish you and your family the best. I hope your child never goes through what so many others have. More importantly, if they do, I hope you can help provide the tools to give them the support they need. If you have further questions, please post a comment here or contact me through Facebook.
Friday's blog is a free for all. There have been some hot Facebook topics and I have several ideas on my own. No matter if your child is throwing a tantrum, staying in trouble, or looking like a treasure; give an extra hug and tell why you love them.