We all hate bullies. We watch too many American TVs that show how bullies behaving badly in high school. Beware, my fellow parents. Bullies had hit home, and it comes much much sooner than high school. We are talking elementary soon.
When my 8 year old boy went home and complained to me about some of his classmates, I closed one of my eyes and thought that this was a phase in his school life that he has to go through, even when he told me that one of the boys had physically assaulted him twice. Then, the day came when he asked me the meaning of some words. The bad ones! The harsh ones! Believe me; you don’t want to be caught off guard trying to comprehend where the hell these kids learned the foul language. When I asked my boy why he wanted to know, he answered because some of those boys called him those things.
My motherly primate instinct kicked in right away. WHO DARED TO CALL MY KID THOSE NAMES? WHO DARED TO ATTACK MY INNOCENT SON? WHO ARE THESE KIDS?
With my emotion boiling up to 100C, my first instinct was to tell my son to fight back. To retaliate. To make those kids suffer. Yell back, shove them, will ya? I think I scared my son even more during this not-so-proud counseling moment. He must think that his mom suffered from acute multiple personality disorder.
Things were not better at home when my maid advised my son to punch those kids like a man. No, no, wrong advice!
When my husband heard the story in the evening, his exaggerate fatherly hormone kicked in even harder. He told me to enroll our son in any martial art classes and to show him more fighting/war movies. He was barely breathing air when he jolted down instructions at me, then moved on to preparing our son for battle. You have no idea how confuse our son was. He was such an innocent kid, definitely not ready yet to stand up against his bullies, and here we were – his parents – telling him to fight an eye for an eye kind of thing.
At some point, we all breathed down and laughed at ourselves. What were we doing? Trained our kid to be a super spy? We were so emotional that we were willing to sacrifice our values that we taught our kids so far. This is not in line with be compassionate, be polite, be kind, never assault anybody values that we hold dear.
I’ve read many articles on bullying where the victims suffered so much from depression and humiliation that suicide was often the end result. Out of 2 types of assaults, I hate verbal assaults more than physical ones. Both of them are bad, but the verbal assault’s wounds can take more time – if not forever – to heal. And worst of it, we couldn’t easily detect it. It could stay hidden inside our children’s memory without us knowing, thus, we wouldn’t be able to help.
Advising my son to ignore those assaults is not that simple, where –for kids his age – peer's acceptance is becoming dominant in his life. On the other hand, advising him to fight could have ambiguous meaning as the child may take the word fight too literally. And if the kid is not built for it, he could become more depressed.
So we took our first step casually. We asked him to just ignore those bullies and hang out with the nicer ones instead. Then my son asked me, “Why do these boys – who treat others badly – get away with it? You said that saying those words are bad and wrong, but they said it often to others, laugh at others, and hit others. And at the end, my other friends seem to admire them. They are the cool ones.”
I am sure all of parents and other sane adults will volunteer to answer my son’s question. I, too, know the answer very well. Here was my answer draft in my head, “Yes, I know. The value that you’ve been taught is correct. And by all means must be kept. We will not change our values just by popularity. Just because the other people’s value or behavior got more followers or got admired more and tends to be more fun, doesn’t always mean that they are correct or suit us. If you believe in your value, then you act upon it. You are doing the right thing. The ones who bully you – by shattering and challenging every value that you believe in – are violating you. They are not fair. They don’t respect others. When that happens, and if it bothers you, you must make a stand. Fight back – not to show that you are more powerful or to take vengeance- but fight back to defend the values you are taught. On what right and wrong. Fighting back doesn’t mean you have to sink lower than those bullies. You must not violate or mock other people’s belief or behavior nor change your personality in order to get respected by others.”
Now, how am I supposed to translate all of those philosophy craps to my 8 year old son? This is how it came out.
“Be more like Optimus Prime, boy. He is gentle yet tough. He knows when to be nice and when to make a stand. He knows when to draw a line between right and wrong and everything in between. He knows exactly why he chooses to be with the Autobots and not the Decepticons. In all of his 3 movies, he always tried to talk first before drawing up his sword. You feel that he’s wise and protective, right? But don’t forget how he reacted when he was betrayed and his values were challenged. He showed no doubt in fighting back to the last battle.”
My son asked me again, “How do I know when to ignore or to fight? Are there any rules for this?”
I answered, “I am afraid this is the part where you must decide for yourself. If you can ignore those bullies, then ignore them. But, if you can’t, make your move. Firmly tell them you don’t like what they are doing or you take action or you can go to your teachers. Whichever one you choose, you must remember that you are better than the bullies. And whatever you do, be confident about it. Never show any fear.”
I was quite sure my son was still confused and scared. He asked his last question before went off to bed, “Does bully deserve to be treated nicely?”
Well, this is a tricky question. I had to make sure that my emotion was well checked before answering him. “Just remember this, behind every bully’s mask, there s a scared, lonely, battered soul desperately seeking attention. Don’t hate them. Feel sorry for them.”
I think, as parents, that’s the best that we can do. We can only protect our children to a certain point. They must walk the rest of their journey themselves. To learn, to fall, to stand up, to draw a line between right and wrong, to be himself/herself and to find his/her own way in his/her social life.
Bullies will always be around, not just in schools, but everywhere else. Our job as parents is not aimed at destroying those bullies, but to educate our children not to be bullies and to prepare them to be better confident people. Just like my advice to myself, “If you can’t kill the virus, increase your body immunity and stamina.”