Are You Proud of Your Sweet Little Bully?

Recently I read one of the most amazing (and terrifying) blog entries called “Memories of a Bullied Kid,” on bullying from single dad laughing, a man who reflects back on a time in his life where he says he was systematically terrorized for years – but that he never said anything to anyone – except once. And he went further to report that when he reported the bullying, things got worse for him. Afterwards, he remained silent and endured the torture for over a decade. With so many students killing themselves these days, it amazes me that he is alive to tell the tale.

In the all the bullying literature that is out there, there is one piece of the puzzle that hasn’t been particularly well documented, and so I’m putting out there. Guess what? Sometimes parents of bullies are proud that their children are bullies. I have heard parents admit they would rather have their children be the ones “standing up for themselves” than the ones being bullied: that they have actually encouraged their children to get physical first, so that they are never made targets themselves. For me, this is the ugliest, darkest side to parenting.

Having been a teacher for 20 years now, and a parent for 11, I see that there is precious little time for elementary school to get to know each other at school. I know this because at the end of their 5th grade year, my son (and one friend) could not identify several of the children in their own class.

“I don’t know his name,” my son admitted.

His friend, who happened to be over that day shrugged: “Me either.”

It was unbelievable to me that my child and his friend could spend an entire year with the same people day in and day out and not know everyone’s first and last names, perhaps some tidbit of personal information.

I guess the sense of community has fallen out of the curriculum. Children are no longer taught to be good citizens, the ethics of being good people. The game is all about getting ahead, getting into the best schools — and kids learn early on that they may need to stomp on a few folks to get there. And I am sad to report that many parents encourage this type of aggressive, mean-spirited competition in athletics and academics. And meanwhile everyone is surprised that bullying in on this rise? Shocked when there is another incident reported, this time more gruesome than the last?

I never thought about college until 11th grade. Now, parents discuss college with their 1st graders. That’s a lot of pressure to put on children. When adults are stressed, they can go for a run, swim a few laps, take a yoga class. Well, kids get stressed out, too.  But sometimes their stress comes out less constructively. So if you don’t even know all the kids in your class . . . well, why not pick on her? She’s weird. Or him? He’s quiet. Or, if you are really sneaky, get someone else to do it for you?

Once learning their children have been acting as bullies, I’m always amazed at how unapologetic parents are. When I hear of kids who have been bullied and that some type of administrative action has taken place – even suspensions – where the school has agreed a particular child had overstepped too many times with too many kids – I am always shocked that part of the restitution never includes a written apology from the bully. No-one ever makes the offending kid write a note to the person he has been kicking around.

If my child intentionally (or unintentionally) hurt someone, he’d either be over at that kid’s house apologizing in person or he’d be writing letters: to the kid he hurt, to the principal (indicating that he understood the infraction), to the parents of the bullied child explicating in essay form precisely what type of punishment(s) he would be receiving at home that would befit his behavior at school.

Apparently, most parents spend more time worrying about their child getting bullied than about their child being a bully. As a result, when they find out their child is bullying others, it takes them by surprise and they don’t know how to handle it.

What would you do if you found out your child was a bully? How would that conversation go? Would you be proud or horrified?

26 thoughts on “Are You Proud of Your Sweet Little Bully?

  1. SPOT ON. Parents mistake their OWN child’s bullying for “standing up for yourself.” There is NOTHING wrong with teaching your child to not be a target, but there is no reason to advocate meanness in its place. I would be absolutely mortified if I found out my child was bullying someone in ANY way, whether it’s in throwing a snide comment someone’s way or being physical with them. I won’t tolerate it. Period.

    1. I’d be mortified, too – but you aren’t there to police it – and being mortified doesn’t change anything. What if your daughter is THE mean girl? Or your son kicks other kids in the “twigs and berries” for fun?

      What does, “I won’t tolerate it” mean? I’m curious. Because I feel the same way, but it is so fr-fetched, it’s almost impossible to imagine. That said, I know a woman who HAS the meanest daughter, and mom simply doesn’t see it in her daughter. At. All. Blinders.

  2. I would be furious to learn my child was a bully. We’d be having a serious heart-to-heart about why, and a close monitoring of behavior from that point on to reestablish trust – even if it meant watching from a distance, during the school day. To intentionally physically or emotionally hurt someone is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    1. I think I would be so disappointed and sad – and scared, too. I’m not sure I would know what to do… but I’m pretty sure we’d be headed to a therapist pretty damn quick to figure things out.

      I’m with you intentionally hurting someone is wrong, wrong, wrong. And the kids know it, and they have heard it since they were babies! So, why do we (parents and teachers and administrators) tolerate it when it is chronic?

  3. It’s no surprise that the parents of the bully either don’t recognize their child is a bully or are even proud. The stereotype of the bully is a child who’s parent(s) are themselves bullies. However, I find that in reality more of these parents of bullies just don’t get it. They refuse to see it. It truly is a case of “they know how to stand up for themselves” or “nice guy finishes last”.

    I’ve been told to stop babying my kid let her fight her own battles, when I’ve tried to talk to parents and teachers. Or my favorite is: “How do you think she’s going to handle the real world when you’re not there to protect her?” I think she is going to be a polite, caring, and assertive woman. Being self assured, confident and assertive has nothing to do with being mean or having to put others down and intimidate them. It is a sad situation we find ourselves in. Rude and mean and an “I deserve” attitude seem to be the defining cultural norms today.

    1. Denial is a powerful thing. No one wants to see that kind of meanness in his or her child. But if you have had the school call you on it, wouldn’t you HAVE to realize something is awry? This is the puzzler for me.

      And I don’t like how elementary schools seem paralyzed. They CAN expel students. Oh, it is expensive to have to hire a private tutor, but it seems like if there were bigger consequences (that were of bigger annoyance to parents) something might actually change.

  4. You’ve got some good points here. Yes, parents need to do better in recognizing what’s going on. I’ve seen both sides of this. The schools usually aren’t able to do a whole lot and that can be frustrating. I’ve had talks with crying kids of various ages. While violence isn’t the starting point (i.e. show them you’re tough) a targeted kid needs to be prepared to defend him or herself. It makes you feel sick though to worry about it.
    You’re also right about how we fear what we don’t know or who we don’t understand. Bullying someone becomes harder when you have a connection to them. That said, I’m not naive and there are gonna be jerks out there, male and female. We encounter them at every level in life. My personal strategy was always to befriend some of the big/touch/cool guys. Then when trouble came I had allies who took care of me. I was actually defended more than once that way.

    It’s a tough and timely subject. Sorry I wrote a book! I’ve raised kids and been a mentor to an entire high school so I’ve seen this from all angles, the worst stuff you could imagine.

  5. I think that if you were able to befriend a big/tough/cool guy then you were probably never in dire straits – ever. It’s the kids who are so alienated that anyone can do anything to them because they don’t have a single ally. And, as you noted, sometimes the schools aren’t so helpful either. I have seen kids stand around and watch blatant bullying and do and say nothing: the weak little bystanders; they slay me – but then I understand in order to take a stand you have to be damn comfortable with your place in the social hierarchy.

    One has to be a risk-taker to stand up against peers.

    1. Yeah, it’s scary stuff to stand up to the bullies when you might be next on the list. I know I was never personally in dire straights despite a couple scuffles. The cyber angle has changed so much. Kids used to be able to go home and at least escape for a few hours. Now with FB and phones and everything else it really is nonstop torture. Our high tech world has amplified nastiness.
      Whenever I teach tough moments of hate in history I sometimes apply our attitude towards those who are different and the old adage that evil wins when good people don’t act.

  6. Sometimes the definition of bullying is the problem. One bad day or moment may lead to a bad decision but it’s not really bullying. Some parents teachers argue that bossy/loud kids bully others by taking a lead role to the exclusion of others. That kid may in fact be a leader not a bully.

    Of course any physical issue should not be tolerated but is there any chance that byplacing bully status on behavior that may be things are made worse

    1. I’m not defining bullying as “one bad day.” That is not the definition of bullying. Bullying is a pattern of daily abuse. Bossy, loud kids are not necessarily mean. Constructive leaders know that you don’t get physical with somebody or tease somebody relentlessly on a daily basis.

      I am guessing you have never had one of your kids experience any bullying given that last sentence.

      What would you call it when a child steals another child’s gloves and hat – DAILY – makes him bow down to him at recess – DAILY – tells other kids not to play with that child – DAILY, and announces that if they do there will be consequences. What would you do when that kid gets other children to do his bidding? What would you do when you learn your kid has been punched and kicked and ignored by his peers – DAILY – for an entire year because of one kid whom the school is unwilling to suspend? And what do you do when you find out that your kid isn’t the only target? That the other kid has been tormenting others – DAILY?

      As a parent, wouldn’t you be mad? Or would you start telling your kid to kick the shit out of that bully kid? Unfortunately, by then, your kid is usually too scared to take action. He or she would rather be invisible: not make waves.

      Do you think “bully status” could make things worse there? If so how?

  7. You’re right, and there should always be an acknowledgment and apology.
    I am pretty shocked about the not knowing the name of everyone in the class. That’s startling.

    1. They have very little time to get to know each other. Gotta get ready for college or something. I would love to do a study because I bet I could link the increase of bullying to the decrease in “idle time” in the classroom. It’s much easier to bully people you don’t now or feel any connection with than people you care about.

  8. I’m not sure how old you are, but I’m twenty-six. I’m not surprised about kids not knowing each other people’s names. I only knew maybe twenty people in my class out of five hundred in high school. It was the same trend in every year I was at school. Unless they were my friends, I didn’t know their names. I always only had a handful of friends.

    I think bullying starts very young. Either the child gets bullied by an adult in their life and then they go act it out on others. Or they just don’t get disciplined as a child and then believe they should have what ever they want when they want it. Like that kid’s hat and gloves everyday.

    My daughter just turned two and this is the age that really worries me. I don’t want her to turn into someone who is easy to push around, but I want her to have manners as well. (No one ever brings their children to my apartment, because they are afraid that they will ruin something in my house. I can’t convince them that it’ll be okay.) When we are at other people’s houses and a child grabs something out of my daughter’s hands, I don’t want them to start fighting over it. (After all it is their toy.) So I get her preoccupied with something else so that she doesn’t care anymore. I worry about that, because I do fear later she won’t stand up for herself when she gets older. When she grabs something from someone else’s hand I tell her no and give it back to the other kid. Notice how the other parents don’t do this? This is where bullies come from.

    They might tell their children ‘NO.’ But they don’t get up and stop them. Now, none of my friends have the mentality that they’d rather their kid do the taking, but they aren’t enforcing the behavior they want their kids to have. So I’m torn. Should I let her fight them and only stop her when she does it? I don’t want her to suddenly become aggressive since right now she’s so calm and even tempered. She has only once ever thrown a kicking, screaming tantrum and it only lasted five minutes.

    I can see parents have the mentality that ‘It’s his toy and he has a right to protect his belongings.’ I can even understand it, but I believe this is where we get our bullies.

  9. Hi Jelzmar:

    I’m in my mid-40’s. I think I parent my son very much like you do your daughter, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Just because people aren’t do their jobs, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do ours.

    I have a great kid. He had suffered some hard knocks, but he has developed an arsenal of coping mechanisms to deal with the losers.

    But I’m with you, I don’t understand parents who sit on their butts and say, “No!” instead of getting up and making the effort to correct the behavior or (heaven forbid) cutting short a play-date or an activity as punishment for terrible behavior. As my neighbor said after a return trip from Disney, “We are a nation held captive by 5-year olds.” Ick.

  10. “Bossy, loud kids are not necessarily mean.”

    RASJ—hi, by the way, and long time no talk!—for some reason when I read these words I immediately thought, “and mean kids aren’t necessarily loud and bossy.” All I mean is that bullying—as many of us know all too well—comes in forms that can be far more subtle, and perhaps even more devastating than, physical abuse and more overt acts of aggression. When I read the above statement I suddenly had flashbacks to the behavior I witnessed at Country Day, by some people in my class, against certain individuals (also in my class). The sneering comments made in soft voices, the ostracism, the subtle but nasty takedowns made over and over again. Nothing was really overt and out in the open, but it was felt intensely by the victims and sometimes the tension in the air was of the proverbial cut-it-with-a-knife sort. I’m thinking of one person in particular who was particularly guilty of this sort of thing (not interested in naming names, but you probably know or can guess who I mean, and could probably come up with other examples of bullying you witnessed at our former school).

    Anyway, all that isn’t necessarily right on topic, but this entry definitely brought back some memories.

    And I consider myself one of the guilty ones, by the way—I definitely witnessed things I did not have the courage to condemn outright. I regret that to this day.

  11. Beloved RAT:

    That is spot-on topic. (Or is it spot on-topic?) I know precisely of what you speak and, alas, the “whoms” have taken many incarnations over the years. As I have said before, it is very difficult for students to stand up to defend others when they are being bullied, physically or verbally. People have to be incredibly secure of their place in the pecking order in order to go out on a limb for others – and folks are generally not very secure during those middle years.

    Don’t beat yourself up.

    And yes, I think I have some inking of that rapscallion to whom you are referring. Like a black hole.

  12. I agree with most of the points in this post. Parents do tend to send their kids out into the world thinking it is okay to bully, among other actions which are unacceptable.

    I always thought when I was a kid to “stand up for yourself” and that when bullies hurt you, they deserved to be hurt back. My mother would remind me that bullies had more problems than I did, and did not deserve as much. They never deserve that much.

    Yet, sometimes people don’t even know if these kids’ parents are doing ANYTHING, PERIOD! Or worse, their parents aren’t even in their lives at all. Sometimes those factors make all the difference. No, I’m not implying that if a child has no mommy-daddy interaction or no mommy or daddy at all makes it okay for them to bully, but it puts the situation in a different perspective.

    One of my old friends used bully younger kids because his mother was dying. (His first mother died in Russia when he was 4, and his adoptive mother died in his freshman year of high school.) He had a bigger problem than standing up for himself. Eventually he learned other ways to cope with his losses than taking things out on other kids.

    I digress though, and agree with most of your points. Parents should not encourage this type of behavior and sometimes do not realize how much it hurts to be bullied by others, no matter what the reason for the bullying. Whether you’re just quiet, different, younger, smaller, or like me: The socially awkward non-talker who had anxiety problems.

    1. I have written many times about bullying on my blog. Earlier I have addressed the kinds of bullying about which you are speaking here, so I am well aware that there are sometimes hidden reasons that children and teens act out against their peers. As you said, sometimes, the bullying is a coping mechanism or release valve for troubled kids.

      What upset me in this particular instance was that I heard parents bragging about their children and their bullying behavior. Personally, I found that despicable. Just sayin’.

  13. So what? Bullying is just a part of life. It is simply a coward preying on a weaker person, so to be bullied a person must be weak and cowardly. It is just Darwinism. But bullying does not always have to be a negative experience. It helped me. Being shorter and smaller than every one else growing up, I learned that there is more to being tough than just being strong. I am actually thankful I was bullied as a kid. Being bullied made me the person I am today, and I like that person. Bullies are just a test for the strong and a barrier for the weak.

    1. Dear Kevin:

      Bullying is a funny word. I don’t mean it is “ha ha” funny. I think over the years the word “bullying” has taken on many connotations. I am not talking about kids teasing someone for a few minutes. Everyone has his or her moment in the spot-light when it comes to getting picked on once in a while. I am talking about daily, constant, unending, emotional or physical mistreatment that students inflict one upon the other that is largely ignored or missed. Bullying has been a big issue for me because in 4th grade my son was bullied. It had absolutely nothing with him being weak. He had just switched schools, and his new school happened to feature a lot of pretty mean boys.

      His school also happened to feature a pretty weak administration that – looking back at it now – acted pretty ineffectively and ineffectually.

      I don’t disagree that facing challenges will make a person stronger – and that facing up to mean kids can actually help build self-esteem. That said, when a child is at a school for 8-hours a day and feels unsafe riding the bus or going outside for recess, is afraid of walking the halls to go to lunch, or is afraid to speak up in class for fear of being tormented later in the day, this is a major problem.

      I am sure you are aware that each year people kill themselves as a result of their peers’ cruelty. It is this incivility part that disturbs me as I have seen this ugliness creep into the classroom. You think of bullying as a kind of social Darwinism. Okay. Does that mean you choose to be a Neanderthal? I choose to see the way we interact with each other as a choice that we make. Children can be taught to be kind rather than cruel. They can learn to be rescuers instead of bystanders.

      The irony is that once out of school, the picked-on “nerds” rule the world! To see an earlier blog I wrote on bullying check out the link below. Or don’t.

      1. When I was in first grade I had this bully who was older and bigger than me. He would chase me around the playground until I would puke. He would take my milk money every morning on the bus, and then get all the other kids to make fun of me on the ride home. It was awful, and I tried to get the teachers help, but they ignored it.

        So I know what your kid must of went through. I remember never feeling safe when I was at school, and I agree that it is a major problem. The school’s ability (or inability) to handle the situation just adds fuel to the fire.

        So what was I to do? He bullied me constantly, and I had no help from anyone. My parents’ advice was to “just talk to him,” but that didn’t work, and every time I tried he just got meaner. It seemed hopeless for me. One day I just snapped. I was tired of puking during recess, tired of choking down dry lunches, and tired of being humiliated on the bus every day, so I stood up for myself. I told him “NO, you can’t have my milk money,” and for just a moment, it terrified him. His fear quickly turned to anger, and he threw a hard punch at my belly. I took a step back and realized that I was not made of glass, and the power he had over me was gone. Lunging forward, tears running down my cheeks and swing wildly, I hit him right in his nose and made him bleed.

        In retrospect, the worse part of the whole incident was I was the one who got in trouble. I explained my side of the story, but they still did not care. Even though he punched first, even though he had bullied me continuously, and even though he was twice my size, I was still the bad guy. And when his parents walked in to the principal’s office, they seemed more upset that he got beat up by a first grader than anything.

        For me, being bullied made me grow, not just physically but mentally too. It showed me that one cannot rely on the higher powers in life to always protect them; that we have a choice to make our own destiny. The choice to be “kind rather than cruel,” the choice to be “rescuers instead of bystanders,” and the choice to be bullied or to be empowered. I know my views on life and religion are far different than yours, and I am sure you raise your kid completely different than my parents raised me, but no mater who we are or where we come from we all feel the same pain; it is how we deal with it that makes us unique.

        It is sad to hear about someone ending it because of the constant ridicule of others. Maybe kids should be taught to better deal with the situations they face, or maybe the teachers should actually do something about it? Who knows? Do I wish I could stop bullying? Of course I do. I would probably be a different person today if I wasn’t bullied so much as a kid. But bullying is there, and no mater what it always will be. It is just another challenge of life. So all I am saying is why not teach bully victims to turn their pain into power, so the “nerds” can “rule the world sooner?” I’ve always considered my self a “physically enlightened nerd,” and I was lucky enough to discover it at a young age. It has made my life better in every aspect.

        On a side note, not every bully situation I have had ended in violence.

        1. Kevin, first of all, thank you for sharing! You are right about a lot of things. To be sure, my husband and I found ourselves BEGGING our son to kick or hit or punch the kid who had bullied him. He wouldn’t do it. We told him that if he wound up in the principal’s office (as you did, and as we suspected he would), we would have his back. He wouldn’t do it.

          He is hardwired to be a pacifist. I was bullied on two occasions in my life, and both times, I went ballistic and fought back. No one messed with me again. I was small, but I would do anything – anything – to protect myself: bite, kick, etc. My own parents told me that I had the right to self-defense.

          My child wouldn’t do it. He said it would come back to haunt the kid.

          He has been 100% right. I’m proud of my Monkey for handling things in his way, and I’m grateful that now that he is in middle school, reunited with his old friends from his old school – the bullying has ended. My child is older now. He fences and is involved with all kinds of activities. He walks with a different kind of confidence. Could there be more bullying in his future? There could. Alas, I will likely still be that mom who advocates for him to just knock the bully down, but he will likely still be that kid who says no. Do I think my my child was weak for not fighting? No, because that was his choice. But I agree with you; a good fist to the face would have ended things a lot earlier. Sometimes the only language a violent person understands is violence.

  14. Most articles online suggest it is just school kids. Really bullies never grow up, but they do age, and their abusive skills improve.

    I am a grown adult, my father bullies me, and he is proud of it. I do not even have contact with him. He is a total loser, but he has a wife (my mom) who supports his insecurities. And my brother has carried on the bullying in the family. My brother bullies me, again, I have zero contact with him. My brother is a coward. That is what bullies are. Again, he has a wife who supports his insecurities. It is one big happy family of bullies. They can care less who they hurt. For me, it is like the Twilight Zone, but they are all happy, so long as they have someone to mistreat.

    I have no contact with them, but the bullying and gossip and demoralizing, social abuse, rumors, lies, hate and sabotaging continues. They are all perfect and I am “mentally ill”. Oh and I heard that my brother will be having his first child, he will be a “father” next month. Satisfying the desire to pass on the all important attributes of familial abuse.

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