I was happily preparing dinner the other day and I could hear my three children chattering away in the hall. Pretty soon the talking turned to bleeting, yes bleeting… and baaing, like a sheep. I could hear my 12-year-old son, JJ, say, “everyone is doing it at school.”
With my parenting radar on alert I popped my head out of the kitchen to ask what they were talking about and JJ explained to me that there is a teacher at school who looks like a sheep and all the students baa at her.
I was pretty horrified at this and I asked what ‘Miss’ (as they call their female teachers) said about their behaviour. JJ told me it was all done behind her back but she was a ‘good laugh’ and he couldn’t imagine she would mind. This of course was one of those moments that led to me abandoning dinner and sitting all three children down for a chat.
If I can help it, I don’t want any child of mine becoming a bully.
You might think I over reacted and that all children get involved in silly things, harmless teasing some might say. Character forming I’ve heard it called before and we’ve all heard the old rhyme ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’ but it is not true, names really can harm a person, especially a vulnerable one.
I know this first hand, I was called many names as a young child, most of them revolving around my weight and being just a little (and it really only was a little back then) bigger than the average girl but the main reason I know about the hurt and pain that continues for many years long after the name calling stops is because I was a name caller and I really hurt someone else.
I still feel the shame when I write that, I don’t think the regret for the damage I did to a little boy called Simon (name changed for obvious reasons) will ever leave me. I first wrote about having been a bully as a child back in 2010 and it was so important to face up to the past and really acknowledge what I did. I had no idea at the time that what I was doing could be so destructive, as far as I was concerned I was just a little girl desperate to fit in with the gang and going along with everyone else.
But when your whole class cross their arms and mutter ‘fleas, injected for all my life’ each time you come near them, it is a big deal. I don’t recall Simon ever letting on at school just how much this hurt him but I do think he spent a lot of time on his own. The sad thing is that I don’t really remember that much about the whole situation to be honest, as it was inconsequential to me but of course not to him, not when it was damaging his self-esteem each and every day.
That damage went on for a very long time too. I know this as when I was 28 (quite some years ago now) I was contacted by Simon through Friends Reunited and then Facebook. He asked me about our time at school (primary school, ages 7-10) and why certain things had happened and did I remember…. I had to honestly say ‘No. No, I do not remember most of it’. I think it was therapeutic for Simon to be in touch with a few of his bullies and to be able to finally get a heartfelt sorry from us.
I praise the Lord that he told me he had found a good partner and was at last finding some peace and happiness after years of counselling. He talked about his early upbringing with a stern father in the military and a mother who was never mentally present. Moving areas and schools every two or three years of his life had been tough and a bunch of middle-class kids made it worse and made him doubt himself.
As I quite seriously told my own children this story a couple of weeks ago I had a lump in my throat and I had to fight to stop the tears forming. They were pretty shocked and I really hope they understood what I was saying about how something that seems harmless and just a case of simple teasing can turn out to be life-damaging for some children or even adults.
From the 16th – 20th November, it is anti-bullying week here in the UK but I’d encourage you, wherever you live, to please have a chat with your children about bullying and help them to understand that the line between harmless fun and detrimental behaviour is very fine. Best to just never get close to it and to adopt a positive attitude towards all people, whether they are easy to be around or not.
Have you ever been involved with bullying, either on the receiving or doling out side? What impact has it had on you?
SPARK = Successful, Positive, Authentic, Resilient, Kids
The moment you sit down with Christine Guthery, a funny transformation takes place, you find yourself swelling with optimism, self-confidence and personal-potential. It’s a gift Christine has, she simultaneously exudes these attributes and brings them out in others. She’s passionate about what she does and her enthusiasm has a way of igniting passion in others.
Christine is a lawyer by training but as the mother of three children (now ages 16, 9 and 7), she has discovered that her real calling is as a community activist and SPARK Kindness is community activism at its finest.
SPARK is the offshoot of a coalition called Parents against Bullying and Cyber-Bullying, which Christine founded in 2010, and its sister organization, the Metro-west [Boston] Anti-Bullying Coalition (ABC). The need for an anti-bullying coalition arose from a wide-spread, cyber-bullying incident at a local middle school, which impacted more than 90 students and their families in 2010.
Ironically, though neither Christine nor anyone in her family has ever been a victim of bullying, Christine is on a mission to prevent it. “Bullying is a social justice issue,” Christine says. “in order to rise above it, you have to be resilient, empowered, self-confident. I’m a lawyer by training and this idea of building resiliency inspires me. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. That’s my cause.”
“The definition of ‘bully’ used to be pretty straightforward. It was a label once reserved for kids, who were considered outliers or playground thugs, the type of kids who committed physical acts on their victims. But times have changed. Now it’s not just the kids who are insecure or outcast that are doing the bullying, rather it’s also the popular kids, both boys and girls, who are trying to reach the top of their social/athletic/academic pyramid that can be the perpetrators,” Christine says.
“Not too long ago,” Christine continues, “a slanderous note passed around at school could impact a whole class of students or even a school community but when the kids went home at the end of the day, they left the incident at school. Now, with the Internet and smart phones, [and thanks to social media sites like Facebook, MySpace and Instagram,] bullying incidents can enter the cyber-sphere and quickly go viral. Kids have no way of leaving an incident behind them,” explains Christine. “In fact, these days, a great deal of bullying occurs during out-of-school-time.”
Christine believes that genocide and ethnic-cleansing—such as the ones that have occurred in Darfur, South Sudan and Nazi Germany—is “bullying taken to extreme measures.” And it’s really this mindset, this deep desire to eradicate the cause at it’s root, that has given rise to SPARK Kindness. The evolution came in 2012, when Christine realized that just talking about bullying wasn’t making progress.
“For two years [2010 & 2011] I had been focusing on bullying and trying to understand it better,” she says, “but then I realized, what if we shifted the conversation away from the outcome (bullying) and toward the prevention (nurturing kindness and resiliency)? What if our efforts were proactive rather than reactive?”
She compares this shift in mindset with the approach of Western medicine, where the focus is on addressing the illness, not on maintaining and promoting wellness. “I was finding that just talking about bullying was disempowering,” Christine reflects. “When I focused on the positives of resilience, kindness and courage, I felt empowered. It was exactly like the emotion of ‘elevation’ or self-transcendence that psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, described in his 2012 TED talk,” she says. “In other words, when you witness someone doing something positive or altruistic, it inspires you to do something positive or altruistic. This is where SPARK Kindness came from, how can we build the community we want rather than just address the ills we want to avoid?”
teach children not just about kindness and emotional self-awareness early on but how to be resilient and seek support when they are feeling insecure or are suffering. SPARK Kindness, ignite positive change in your community.
To find out ways to SPARK Kindness in your own community, click the logo above or visit http://www.sparkkindness.org/.
This post summarizes an interview between SPARK Kindness founder, Christine Guthery and World Moms Blog Managing Editor, Kyla P’an. This is a World Moms Blog exclusive interview.
If you Google bullying, there is a whole plethora of websites to choose from. Most of them deal with how to prevent your kid from bullying, how to react when your kid is bullied/being a bully, how to talk to your child about bullying.
But what if it is you—a fully grown adult—who are being bullied and there is really nothing you can do about it because the bully is also an adult…and your boss? And you cannot afford to lose your job.
Here is the situation: years ago I worked for a small, family owned business (You will understand why I do not name any names). I can best describe my boss as the Belgian cousin of Miranda Priestly, the Devil-boss who wore Prada. Believe me she had her down pat. From the sneering “that’s all,” the calls outside work hours, the berating because I could not divine her thoughts and causing her to suffer the indignity of having to actually tell me what was expected, the pout…
Oh yeah, they were related all right.
After little more than a six months, I was actively looking for another job. And then, a week before I planned to resign and tell her to go do something to herself, I found out I was pregnant. And the game and the world as a whole changed completely.
We had just started building our house, there was no way my husband’s salary would cover all the bills and finding a job while you are pregnant is not easy.
So I stayed on. But it was obvious right from the start that they did not like the idea of having a young mother as employee.
Since I was competent at my job they had no reason to fire me outright and because Belgian legislation is rather protective towards pregnant women in the workplace, it became almost impossible to fire me when I handed over the medical bill announcing my pregnancy.
And so the bullying started.
Little things at first. Saddling me with a huge amount of work half an hour before I was due to clock out. Making a mess of the client contact database, insisting it was my fault, even though there was actual proof that it wasn’t.
But when they noticed that I was relatively unaffected things got BAD. In capitals.
While the company was closed for the summer holidays I got a letter detailing every little thing that I had done wrong after I announced I was pregnant. And I really mean everything, like putting one (1!) sheet of paper for an invoice the wrong way up in the printer causing them the loss of a whole eurocent in paper because I had to reprint the page. After that it got even worse than you can imagine. Belittling me in front of clients, calls at all hours, at all times, screaming, yelling, throwing. One day I came into the office to find that my boss had emptied my trashcan all over my desk. Fun times… I can tell you.
You must wonder how I dealt with the situation. Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I did not deal with it.
No, that is wrong. I did deal with it, but not in the way you might imagine. I did nothing.
I showed up for work, I let them scream, I let them yell, I let them belittle me, when they called at 6am on a Sunday I answered the phone and made no complaint. Nothing. When I arrived at the office I did my job. Business as usual.
This was my defense strategy. I did my job and because I continued to do it well, they never had an excuse for firing me.
Yes, I could have filed a complaint for harassment and started a legal procedure. I even started collecting evidence in case I should one day be forced to do so. Chances are very good I would have won, since the evidence was pretty rock solid. Yet, this was never really my intention. I was 29 at the time and legal procedures in Belgium can take a looooooooooooooooooong time. Dragging my employer to court would take ages, it would cost a lot of money and it is the kind of thing which haunts you forever. I still had my way to make in the world, my career was just beginning. A court case was likely to follow me around for my whole life and I did not wish to bring this kind of baggage with me.
I collected—and still keep—the evidence just in case.
In retrospect, I should have gone to my doctor, explained the situation and asked him to declare me unfit for work. But I did not do that. As soon as it was legally possible I resigned and the happy dance I did on my last day of work might have come straight out of a Broadway musical. I never looked back.
Has this situation ever happened to you? What did/would you do?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in Belium, Tinne of Tantrum and Tomatoes.
The image used in this post is credited to Elizabeth Atalay.
Purnima’s son dressed up as a ‘Rockstar’ for the Fancy Dress Competition.
Here in India there are a lot of competitions conducted for children in a healthy way. Our son recently took part in a competition in early November. You see, it is Children’s Day on the 14th of November and the kids who win are awarded on that day.
It was a fancy dress competition. He was all dressed up. He had reached the final round after clearing two intermediate rounds. He dressed up as a ‘Rockstar’ for the first round and then as ‘The Earth’ for the second round. For the finals, the topic was a bit tricky. We had to dress up depicting any opposite. So I was thinking of good and evil and hot and cold and such things. But he came with Indoor and Outdoor games. Maybe they are not really opposites, so I got a confirmation from the teacher-in-charge and then dressed him up to depict Indoor and Outdoor games.
And just when we were waiting for his chance to get on stage and perform, there was a mother, whose child’s only competition was my son. She came up to us, and tried to discourage my son and demotivate him. I tried to shield him away from her and her stinging words. She joked about it so that I wouldn’t take offense and complain…but tried to do the damage nevertheless.
How would you keep your child safe from a persistent bully and a stalker?
I was thrilled when Jen asked me to write a post about online safety for kids/teens for World Moms Blog. I have two children, a boy and a girl. But it is my daughter’s story I’d like to begin with. My daughter has been modeling and acting since she was 8 years old and is very pretty, so we’ve been dealing with safety issues both online and off since she was small.
It started with a bus driver one afternoon on the way home from school. He found out it was her birthday, as we were carrying bags of presents. For some odd reason, he wanted to give her his 20-year service pin as a present. We gracefully declined. Over a month later, I was rushing up to the front door of my apartment, and he jumped out of his car and said, “I have a present for your daughter. I haven’t had time to wrap it.” He then proceeded to get the present out of his trunk. (more…)