In his own words – justifying bullying

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this is my own version of what bullying looks like

this is my own version of what bullying looks like (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

M was upset when he came home from playing across the street.  In the past, he wouldn’t tell his dad or I what had transpired and would just act out.  Tonight, he asked me to wait until we got into the house before we discussed what happened.

Turns out, the two older boys (11 and 13) and found a small toy and proceeded to smash it, while saying it was M.  This hurt his feelings and probably scared him a bit, although he would never admit that to me.

This is not the first time these children have picked on M.  Individually they are ok kids, but there is a Lord of the Flies dynamic in effect when they get together.  Mis definitely on the lowest rung of the ladder.  He’s one of youngest, definitely the smallest and probably the mouthiest.  I’m his mother; I know he can be highly annoying.  Because I know he doesn’t back away and can give as good as he gets, I rarely intervene when there is an issue. 

But tonight, I was visiting with a neighbour not far from where M was and the other boys were hanging out.  He didn’t appear to be doing anything to get up their noses.  Their tonight actions seemed to be just plain mean.

So when M told me what the boys had done and said, I went across the street to talk to them.  Since I know M can sometimes be flexible with the truth, I told them what M said they were doing and asked them what had happened.  The older boy admitted to destroying the toy, but denied that it represented M.  The younger boy, however, confirmed that they were pretending to smash M.

When I asked the boys how they justified bullying a younger and smaller child, the older boy said that M was often annoying.  When I asked what M had done tonight to bug them, he replied “nothing,” but he had been bothering them last week some time.  He doesn’t hit them, he just hangs around them.  But since they don’t want him around

It was a frustrating conversation.  The boy felt strongly that he was justified in bullying M because he annoyed them.  He wouldn’t stop when they asked.  I asked the boy repeatedly to explain how M’s behaviour justified their actions.  And each time, he would repeat the same argument. – M was annoying.  

We didn’t end up resolving the issue.  In the end, I reiterated my view that what they had done was unacceptable – there is no excuse for bullying another child, especially someone who is younger and significantly smaller in size.  I also told him that if it happened again, I would speak directly to his family. 

I know that both the boys have been taught in school that bullying is wrong.  But somehow, the older boy has decided that in some cases, hurting another child’s feelings and deliberately being mean is ok, unless they do what you say – e.g., go away.  I know he is only 14 and teenagers are not always capable of accepting responsibility for their actions.  This child probably understands that it would not be right to hit a girl, even if she did something he didn’t like.  But it is a slippery slope. 

I grew up with an abusive father, who constantly justified his actions by blaming others.  When I was 11 years old, he kicked me hard enough in the leg to leave a visible bruise – he told me it was my fault for stepping on his sore toe.  I was well into my 20s before I realized that I was not to blame for my father’s behaviour.  I was a kid and didn’t know he had a sore toe.  But since that’s the environment I lived in, I thought it was normal.

I don’t want M to think he deserves to be bullied.  He knows these kids aren’t nice to him, but he’s having a hard time letting go.  While there are lots of kids in the neighbourhood, they don’t live on our block.  This makes it hard just to go our and play.

But since M is having trouble protecting himself, his dad and I will have to take action.  It’s one thing to get teased in the context of a game but this type of behaviour occurs almost every time M gets together with this group of kids.  We’ve told him that from now on, he can’t go over and play with the boys.  No exceptions.  If the younger boy’s sister is around, then he can hang out.   But if it is just the older kids, he will have to come home. 

I know banning M from playing with these kids isn’t fair to him, but I honestly think the alternative is worse.  I don’t want him to think that he deserves to be bullied.  His behaviour isn’t perfect but that doesn’t mean he has to accept being treated like crap by another child.  And I am going to do everything I can to help him understand that real friends don’t bully each other.

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