Friday, May 08, 2009

Now just hang on a second...

I promise not to become a one-trick pony, going on and on about bullying in general and my son's (in fact both sons') experience of it in particular. However, there is something I need to get off my chest.

I have received a lot of support via Twitter, Facebook and email regarding the nightmare that is my son's life at the moment. For this I am deeply grateful.

On Twitter, I attracted the attention of Bullying UK, who sent me an email, giving me a list of escalation steps we can take, such as putting things in writing, going to the board of governors, then to the LEA, involving the police if appropriate, etc. All very useful, practical stuff. And it is good to feel that we have support in this. But there was one section in the email which jumped out at me:

See if your son can invite other boys home so that he has the chance to make new friends, once he has other people to go around with at school the bullies may keep their distance.
Maybe I'm reading more into it than is really there, but the phrase 'other boys' would imply to me that the assumption is being made that the perpetrators are boys. In fact, one of the ringleaders in this case is a girl. The alpha female of his cohort.

Did you just have a moment of "Oh, well that's different, then"? Many people would. When I mentioned to a friend recently that my son's chief tormentor was a girl, he was surprised. For a split second his face bore that look of "He's getting beaten up by a girl?" But this is a whole different kind of beating up. One that girls may even do better than boys. The truth of that dawned on my friend, and we discussed the preconceptions that exist.

Let's look at this. We're not talking about 5 year olds, or even 11 year olds, here. We're talking about 17 year olds. At a school with a catchment of high achievers from 'nice' homes. These kids have moved far beyond bloodied noses in the playground. The physical component of their abuse is subtle and deniable. Shoulder barges in the corridor, a bunch of them poking him with their badminton racquets and then saying it's because he doesn't answer when they call him. But they call him over and over and over. Several of them. All at once. In several lessons. All the time. If/when he finally explodes with a "WHAT?!?!" they all pack up laughing. If a teacher says anything encouraging to him, they make sotto voce remarks about how weird he is, or how he isn't actually that clever.

It goes on and on and on... and this kind of stuff is just as much within the reach of girls as boys. One of his teachers assured me that he should simply blank her, that she would get what was coming to her. Not in any vindictive way, but simply in a sense of reaping what she had sown. I don't really draw comfort from that. I'm not looking for revenge. I'm looking for resolution.

To give them their due, none of the teachers have adopted an attitude that this is less serious, less damaging, less hurtful, less anything because one of the chief perpetrators is a girl and the victim is a boy.

Bullying UK has twittered me just this morning to say that in 90% of cases, bullying is a same-gender practice. I wonder whether that's really true or whether boys bullying girls is treated as sexual harassment and girls bullying boys goes unreported because of the greater stigma attached to the acknowledgement.

Drew Buddy (aka Digital Maverick) sent me a link to this video from Digizen. While it addresses cyberbullying, and focuses on slightly younger kids, the story it tells is very much like my son's.

I can't promise that that will be the last mention I make of this situation. But I would like to move off the topic. I feel imprisoned by it, too, and it's twisting my gut.

So, on to other things. Let me see if I can find a Friday smile....


Caroline said...

Been there with our 11 year old son - it was very unpleasant - especially because it was girls! We have taught our boys to never hit or touch a girl so the girls knew that they could safely bully him without consequence. A few letters later and a little mention of involving the police got the headmaster's attention. All well now - but really soul destroying!

Karyn Romeis said...

@Caroline Glad your situation has been resolved. To be honest, in this age of equality, I'm begining to wonder about this 'boys don't hit girls thing' as girls are increasingly engaging in the sort of acts that used to the the province of the lads. I fully support the 'people don't hit people' idea, but wonder if the age of special consideration for the girls is not past.

Our younger son was badly bullied (by other boys) at the last school and we did involve the police there. Trouble was, on a campus of 3000 kids, with a high incidence of petty crime, it's really hard to stamp out that kind of thing. He (ironically enough) is thoroughly enjoying the new school and has settled in and blossomed. He used to hate being the 'freak little brother of the most popular kid on campus' and his big brother regularly had to step in and defend him!

But the behaviour in this instance is the kind of subtle, below the radar stuff that is the product of a more sophisticated age and socio-economic stratum. There is nothing to report to the police. However, the school has undertaken to stamp it out and I will hold them accountable.

John Byrnes said...

It is sad that we too often limit ourselves to the term “bullying” when bullying only represent part of a continuum of aggression. It is only when we consider the entire continuum that we can identify an individual’s (any individuals regardless of age, gender, culture, education or hierarchy) emerging aggression, which research has shown as the only effective means to identify a shooter, suicide or otherwise. If you would like to know more, let me encourage you to read a new free white paper, which outline the problems in our schools and a possible real solution. We can and must prevent these events, not merely react to them. For a comprehensive look at the problem and its solution,

Lisa McCulloch said...

Kids can be so incredibly cruel. Girls in particular. Wish there was a magic answer to fix things. Wish we could teach empathy. I know you have told him that it is truly more about them than him. They need to feel powerful and in control. Somewhere their lives are horribly out of control. My daughter worked with a Christian counselor for several years. The theatre kids were her saving grace. Almost all the theatre kids we have known are very accepting of everyone. Keep fighting the good fight. I pray for your family and for the kids who are the tormentors. But remind him that "this, too, shall pass." Remember Jer. 28:11-14. God has a plan for his good. (I just hate having to wait for it!!)
Lisa McCulloch

Karyn Romeis said...

@John Fortunately, since the gun laws in the UK are much stricter than in the USA, we have far fewer incidences of crimes of that nature on school and college campuses. But you are right, one word does little to cover the whole continuum.

@Lisa Thanks for that encouragement and yes, I must remind him that it is more about them than him. In another space, I have been engaged in a conversation that bears this out. And, yes, this experience will serve him well in the future... as my own catastrophes have come to serve me well in time. Recognising this in my head does nothing to ease the ache in my heart though, as I'm sure you understand.