6: Parents

This is the sixth post in a series about my son’s recent experience with bullying at school.

After our inspiring meeting with the school counselor, we picked out a handful of the awesomest parents we know at our school and wrote them this email:

We are writing to ask for your help in making change at our school.

Our third grade son, Sam, has been bullied for his differences since he started kindergarten. Primarily he’s been targeted for his gender expression, but recently it’s also moved to body type and other issues. Sometimes it’s his classmates harassing him; other times it’s children in higher and lower grades.

We have attempted to work with the administration for the past four years, requesting both immediate help for Sam and a school-wide anti-bullying curriculum. The school responds effectively to acute problems—the classroom teachers, especially, have been fantastic—but there has been no effort to do the work necessary to prevent the bullying from happening in the first place.

To give you two examples of what Sam has faced: he has been kicked and yelled at in the bathroom by younger students who were alarmed to see someone in the bathroom they didn’t think was supposed to be there. Sam was forced to show his genitals to an older student in the boy’s room, to prove he had a right to be there. These things are not the fault of the kids involved. They are the fault of an administration who—alerted to Sam’s previous problems in the boy’s bathroom—did nothing to teach kids how to respond appropriately to this situation.

In recent weeks, the bullying has escalated for Sam, and he is now being harassed by kids in third grade who have never bothered him in the past, in addition to kids who have a history of bullying. We don’t fault these kids, or their parents. But we wonder, just how bad does it have to get for Sam before the administration thinks it’s important to address the problem on a larger scale?

Kids are bullied for many different reasons; Sam is certainly not alone in the world, nor at our school. Bullying affects every one of our children, and every one of us as their parents. None of us want our kids to be bullied, to bully other children, or to stand idly by as their friends are hurt. We have, for the last four years, considered Sam’s bullying to be our own private issue. A friend and fellow parent pointed out recently that this is not the case—that we are all affected, that we can reach out to ask for help, and that asking for help—to a broader group of people than we have in the past—is the right thing to do. Not only to protect our child, but to help build a more loving, accepting community.

This morning we met with the school counselor to discuss our options. He was incredibly supportive. To our surprise, he recommended that we convene a group of parents to discuss how to move forward with bringing anti-bullying curriculum to the school, and he offered to host this meeting.

We are inviting you because you are parents who we believe are concerned about this issue.  We are not so much interested in discussing specific instances of bullying, but rather brainstorming solutions to help the school develop policies and procedures for future bullying prevention work. We also need fellow parents to help the administration understand that this issue is important not just to our family, but to the whole community.

And you know what? Every. single. one. of those parents wrote back with words of support, encouragement, and/or a commitment to get involved.

My heart is just about a-bursting.

 

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Comments

  1. Gloria says

    I am just so impressed with the way you are handling this, and how articulate and inclusive you are. I still harbor regrets about not doing more when my kids were bullied in grades K-9. Keep up the good work! Makes me wonder what “might have been” not just for my kids, but for the bullies, too. One parent of a female bully responded “I don’t get involved in my kids’ social relationships.” And that totally deflated my hopes of bringing about a change. I see now that I gave up too easily! Sarah, you are giving many parents a template for how to protect their children. Bravo.

    • shoffman says

      Thank you, Gloria! I am feeling my way through this, battling self-doubt, trying not to be dissuaded when people don’t respond as I wish…there was a parent who, when I talked to her about her third grader’s bullying behaviors against Sam (then in kindergarten) told me that I should lighten up, that “Kids will be kids!” This experience made me wary of talking to other parents…and now I’m realizing, not everyone is going to respond well, and that’s OK. That’s why I want to involve so many parents–the more I involve, the more likely I am to find kindred spirits. And some who don’t respond well at first will come around.

  2. says

    I am totally keeping this as a primer to dealing with issues if/when I see them in our school. I was horribly bullied by a girl when I was a kid, and my mother? Loved her. So I am hypersensitive, which to me means I might not have the best toolkit to advocate for a healthier school … but your writing is officially now my inspiration. I will be forwarding the link for part 1 both to people I trust at my school, and to the school board, the district PAC (parent advisory council).

  3. says

    Wow, I second Gloria’s sentiments. I know this has been a long road for you guys, but it sounds like you’re handling this in the most productive manner possible, which can’t be easy. I’m sending all the good thoughts, hugs, and prayers I can muster your way, and hope that future meetings with school administrators, teachers, and parents continue to be fruitful!

  4. says

    I love how supportive the parents have been. Good for them!!

    Decided I better subscribe to your blog because I need the encouragement of your posts. I told my son he could have a purse if he wanted one & he asked for one of my mine.

    I said yes, but it is still in my closet. So far, I just can’t do it.

    I am afraid people will think he is a girl (they used to when he was a baby), and when they find out he isn’t, will look at me like I am Strange Mama for giving him a purse & putting him/them in an awkward situation.

    Plus, I am afraid kids will say mean things to him. And maybe adults, too. I can’t even stand it when he has to get a shot. I’m not good with the pain thing, for either of us.

    But I want to do and be better so I better dive into your blog!

    Jeanine

  5. Gloria McCarthy says

    Dear Sarah,

    “Sam was forced to show his genitals to an older student in the boy’s room, to prove he had a right to be there.”

    This part of your post disturbed me greatly!!!

    While I know that you’re committed not to blaming the bullies, this is pretty much molestation, especially since the kid’s older! I’d file charges immediately!

    My son, Jacob, was a bit femenine like yours (he liked yellow thought that’s a whole other story). Anyway, when he was in the fifth grade, he was molested by some older boys in the bathroom who called him a “f*g” and other things I WON’T repeat here. My son was traumatised. Though this was in a mixed 5th – 8th grade school, and it was 7th and 8th graders that RAPED my son, I think it’s just as bad when it’s boys of any age, and when OLDER BOYS are asking him to show off to them, that’s when it all has to stop! You need to get that MOLESTOR expelled from school immediately.

    These bullies may think there cool kids and macho men but a lot of them are just SICKO CREEPS who want to get their jollies off using the “f*g” or the kid who is different. Kids at that age are expirementing so don’t think they won’t do it! Don’t let what happened to my boy happen to yours!!! One day it’s showing himself and the next day it’s GANGRAPE in the bathrooms. I know this is hard to hear but its serious, and my son relives the trauma every day. Fat, skinny, short, tall, pink, purple, or blue molesting can happen to ANY child these days and its often kids IN THEIR OWN SCHOOL that do it.

    You need to get that older boy kicked out immediately. What he did was SEXUAL HARRASSMENT at best and RAPE at worst! Any official that won’t kick him out is a pedofile too!

    Gloria

  6. shoffman says

    a reader wrote in….

    GREAT LETTER, SARAH!! I’m so very happy that other parents are willing to help you with this very serious problem. I look forward to hearing what happens.

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