Just this morning, my eldest son, who is almost ten, left for school a little early, excited, as usual, to get there. I watched him walk out our back gate in his cool "skinny" jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, thinking how he has grown so much this year. Before I had a chance to see his little brothers out the gate, my oldest was back (we live really close to school), in a rage, cheeks flushed, head down. I asked him what was going on. He told me that two boys in grade five had started teasing him about his clothes the moment he walked onto the school yard.
It's not the first time this group of older boys has pestered my son, but he is usually pretty resilient and can shake it off. But it's June now, and he's done with it. As I watched my handsome, athletic, and smart son walking to the house to change his clothes, caving-in to the crowd of jerks at school, I wondered - is no one safe from being bullied?
I thought back to my childhood. I was chubby, and I definitely took my hits from the "bullies" over the years. But somehow, my parents and my peers created such a strong network of support that I rose above the weak-minded teasing. As a result, I was a pretty confident, secure child. I learned through the experience of being teased, to become more resilient and self-assured, as I stood up to the bullies, and positioned myself socially. Eventually, I was a "popular" kid, played on sports teams, and had boyfriends (they were even pretty cute!) It wasn't always perfect, and I had my painful moments throughout my school years. I reckon we all do. Somehow though, I conquered my childhood enemies and skeletons, not by fighting, but by thriving in spite of it all. Don't get me wrong, there were some fights, but the biggest lessons were learned when I chose not to fight. Growth came in the quietest moments when I would grit my teeth, walk on and remind myself that only weak, insecure people say mean things to others.
Not all kids can do this. I understand that. I understand that some bullying does need adult intervention. All bullying needs to be talked about. But my hope is that I can pass this lesson of overcoming adversity to my children. I want them to learn that there is so much to gain from this.
But how? I look at my sons and feel a little overwhelmed with this thing. I wonder, what is the key? What is the "magic" message to give our kids about social teasing and bullying? I have come to the conclusion, through my life experiences, that every child will get bullied, teased or ostracized about something, at some point. All children are a little insecure, and insecurity makes kids say really stupid things. Sometimes even normally well-behaved kids say really mean things. Even toward a child with no obvious target on their back, the arrows will eventually fly.
I have embraced that my sons will all get teased, bullied or harassed at some point in their lives, and likely, even as adults. There are insecure people everywhere who seem to crush and soul-suck their way through life. This is a reality of life, and it doesn't end when you finish school.
So, I suppose in addition to trying to teach them that bullying is a sign of weakness and insecurity, I also want to teach my children that there is an important lesson to learn, and strength to be gained, through overcoming the insult and pain brought on by the tormenters and soul-suckers in our lives. We don't have to believe what people are saying about us. The angry words spoken to us have very little to do with what is wrong with us, and much more to do with what is hurting or missing in the bully's life. We can teach our kids that we have a choice - always - in how we react to others words. We can take these moments of hurt, and let them defeat us, or decide that we are going to change our frustration, anger or embarrassment into positive energy - energy that can push us to be a better version of ourselves. To be different than the bully. To be better than the bully.
How we face the bullies of our youth is an excellent exercise on dealing with the adversity of adult life too. Obviously, with safety at the forefront of each situation, we can teach our kids to assess the situation, have empathy, be reasonable, and find a solution that works for them. Encouraging our kids to work through these social issues can not only build confidence, but it teaches them that they are in control of their emotions, their bodies, and the outcome of the situation as it pertains to themselves. As a result, their confidence in their ability to problem-solve will increase. They will learn to rise above a situation and remain in-control, and ultimately confident in themselves.
Today, my husband's initial reaction was to storm over to the school and give these boys the what-for on behalf of my son. I stopped him, recognizing that we would be taking away an important opportunity for growth. Sometimes we have to be brave, step back, and say "You've got this!"
So, I gave him a hug and watched him walk back out the gate - into the world. What I want him, and any child who is being teased, bugged or bullied to hear is this:
You have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of. You are smart, funny, friendly, talented and loved. These boys that are bugging you know that. Maybe they are jealous. Maybe they don't feel strong and loved. Maybe they have a weird way of showing that they wish they were your friends.
Maybe they are so insecure they can't handle your awesomeness.
Whatever the reason, don't let them change who you are, and don't let them tell you who to be, or how to dress.
Be confident in who you are. Let them know that it will always be so. Eventually, they will realize you are a fortress they can't break, and they will retreat. Until then, fortify your mind with what you know to be true about yourself and your life. And when you can't remember what makes you special, talk to your Mom, your Dad, your family,your teachers, your friends, or your coaches. They know. They will remind you.
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