Thoughts on the viral post about bullying

I am sure you all have heard about the post by a mom blogger in South Dakota named Stephanie Metz.  Here recent post, “Why My Kids Are Not the Center of My World” went viral after being shared on Facebook and the response has been strong in both directions.

I’d like to address her post. As a parent, our first priority should be to raise our sons and daughters to be respectful, independent members of society with a strong work ethic and moral compass. That is our job as parents. We need to raise them to be able to solve problems and figure things out on their own.  Not only does this help them to be resourceful, but it encourages their inquisitive nature.

While I do agree with Metz’s mention of the sense of entitlement children often have, I do not believe that we are raising wimps–I believe we are actually failing to raise children to be responsible citizens with empathy.

I cannot help but be alarmed by her ignorant comments on bullying and the sweeping generalizations she made about gender.  Apparently, according to Metz, all little boys like to play with guns. No. I don’t think so. Years and years ago, perhaps. Do they now? No. I can’t think of any of the boys in the own children’s circle of friends who were 2 and 4 and loved a little bit of gun slinging. This notion that boys play with guns and monster trucks and girls play with dolls and like to dress like fairy princesses is antiquated.

Metz mentions “critical thinking” in her post.  To be frank, I laughed at that reference–not out of being snarky, but because I really think I was just shocked that the term came out of the blogger’s mouth (or keyboard).  As critical thinking is defined as “disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence”, it is obvious that this piece involved thinking that was neither open-minded nor informed by evidence.

First of all, the blogger’s children are just 2 and 4, so we need to keep that in mind as it relates to real world issues her boys will face as they become school-aged children. I had much of that same sense of idealism when my own boys were 2 and 4. I had similar plans as to how life would be based on my own parenting. And as a mom of 8 and 10 year olds, REAL LIFE has taken over and we have had to adjust for it. That is what happens in the real world.

As a mom who has taught her children not to let people walk all over them, who HAS encouraged them to defend themselves, issues consequences, holds them accoubtable, and who doesn’t give into their whims, I don’t believe I coddle my children. They are very active, polite, well-rounded kiddos. We encourage them to partake in activities such as soccer, wrestling, lacrosse, and basketball. In fact, my bullied child takes karate 3 times per week.

I admit that is very disconcerting that Metz can make such blanket statements on bullying, especially given the tone she has chosen to take. Here is what she says on bullying:

“There was a time – not too long ago – when bullying was defined as slamming someone up against a locker and stealing their lunch money.  There was a time when kids got called names and got picked on, and they brushed it off and worked through it (ask me how I know this).  Now, if Sally calls Susie a bitch (please excuse my language if that offends you), Susie’s whole world crumbles around her, she contemplates suicide, and this society encourages her to feel like her world truly has ended, and she should feel entitled to a world-wide pity party.  And Sally – phew!  She should be jailed!  She should be thrown in juvenile detention for acting like – gasp – a teenage girl acts.”

How flippant. I hope and I pray that Metz doesn’t one day find herself sitting in the pediatric ER with her 8 year old as he is tested for any neurologic impairments due to a concussion. That was our first experience with bullying at school. And I hope and pray that her sons never come home with bruises on his legs from being kicked by another child, pushed on the stairs, shoved in a locker and getting a bloody mouth, or punched in the eye, breaking his glasses. If those things happen, surely Metz’s boys just need to grow a pair and “toughen up.”  That IS her message in the viral blog post afterall, right? 

A large part of society’s problems stem from people who think like Stephanie Metz. It is because parents are failing to teach their children empathy. Bullying isn’t just a fact of life.  Bullying is REAL with lifelong (and sometimes life-ending) consequences. There ARE children who are taking their own lives.

According to Metz’s rationale, bullied children are ending their lives  because of “girls being girls” and “boys being boys”.

No. Some people are just sociopaths and thugs and it is NOT our children’s fault when they cross paths with people like that. I really am quite tired of people who have not been through this falling into the desctructive culture of victim blaming.  It is NOT the fault of the bullied child. It is the fault of people without empathy who are ultimately failing to teach their children empathy.

My son’s visible bruises and cuts have healed. His glasses have been repaired. Yet, the wounds that linger emotionally aren’t going to go away. And I will be damned if I will look at him and tell him to suck it up and toughen up. I am not a parenting expert. But I do know that any good mother would fight for her child and not make him feel like her did something wrong. A good mother would not just say, “Hey, being bloodied and bruised at school is normal. Suck it up and toughen up.”

I ask Ms. Metz to spend some time doing some actual research.  Not only can she study statistics, perhaps she could speak to mental health professionals and the parents of bullied children who have committed suicide. I ask her to reserve judgment until she actually can speak based on actual experience. I would suggest she read some great books on teaching empathy to children. Perhaps she will learn something. I recommend Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Sornson, Ph.D. and Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child by Mary Gordon.

Let’s look at some good resources on bullying, folks:

Click here for a guide put out by New York state on the link between bullying and suicide-

http://www.nysenate.gov/files/SuicideBullyingBrochure.pdf

More on teaching our children empathy:

http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/key-to-preventing-bullying-lies-in-teaching-empathy-expert-1.1234953

http://voices.yahoo.com/when-parents-bullies-dont-teach-their-children-12150489.html?cat=25

And, read these recent stories of bullying in the news:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/16/us/felony-charges-for-2-girls-in-suicide-of-bullied-12-year-old-rebecca-sedwick.html?_r=0

http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/22/living/boy-bully-wiseman/index.html?iid=article_sidebar

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/08/bullying-public-health-issue_n_4241468.html

http://metro.co.uk/2013/11/14/simon-walters-boy-14-bullied-into-suicide-for-being-ginger-4187571/?ITO=Facebook

Where do we go from here?

It has now been 13 days since my son was assaulted at his middle school.

As we know, the bully, who “understood the severity of his actions”, was allowed to return to school just two and a half days later.

Just two and a half days of “punishment” for that boy, while my child will continue to have the lingering emotional scars.  When things like this happen, others are affected.  Of course, Nick is the one who has endured the most.  My husband and I have been impacted by what has happened to our child.  Our younger son has also been greatly affected. He is a happy go lucky 8 year old with a heart of gold who has been very worried about his big brother.  What this bully did affected our entire family.

Please excuse this post, as it may not be very organized today. I am speaking from my heart.

Some thoughts:

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1. Dear Bully’s Parents,

You had to come pick up your son from school on Tuesday, October 22 because he was suspended out of school for punching a younger, smaller child in the eye unprovoked. You have not once attempted to reach out to our family to say that you are sorry for the horrendous actions of your son.  You have not once asked how our son is doing, what you can do, if there are damages (and there are, not just the glasses and the doctor’s appointments, etc.), but you have not had the moral decency to say, “We are sorry our son assaulted your child.” This speaks volumes.  Not only does this give US the message that you just do not care, but what is this teaching your son? That you condone bullying?  Do you condone bullying?  

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2.  Dear School Board,

I am tremendously disappointed at your generic response to my letter. It is especially bothersome to me to know that we received an almost identical response to the letter another mother with a bullied child received from you just a couple weeks before. While I understand and respect that your main duty is to handle the master plan and budget, I believe that as elected members of the BOE, that you have a duty to the children in your schools. One of the board members knows Nick from when he used to attend Vacation Bible School. It is disheartening to know that individual members did not reach out or take the time to respond. Sadly, I realize that this is a game of politics.

Here is what the President of the BOE said, in case you missed my last post:

“Regarding your concerns, please be advised that the Board of Education has great confidence in Mr. Desrosiers and the teaching and professional staff at Rogers School.  I understand that you are working with him.  As a board, our role is to set policy, protocol and with community support adopt the budget.  All of those actions and resources are focused on learning and achievement and the creating safe environment our schools need to reach that goal.

 
Please understand that student discipline is a process that is progressive by design.  In some circumstances the Board could be asked to review suspensions, thus I cannot comment on any specific situation or student.
 
I hope this communication helps clarify the position of the Board.
 
Thank you, on behalf of the entire Board of Education.
 
Charles Perreaud”

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3. Dear Mr. Crane,

Each year, parents sit and listen attentively at parents’ night at school about how you are always there to listen. And you always seem so genuine. You stil have not personally responded to me, and that really does bother me, not just as a parent, but as a taxpayer in the West Irondequoit School District. I believe you are a good person and I have to believe that you do care about the children in your community. I really wish you would one day sit down with the parents of bullying victims, and with these children themselves so you can REALLY see and hear of the lasting impact these events have had, are having, and will continue to have.

Truth be told, I have felt greatly disillusioned lately about our school district. It is especially disheartening to keep hearing from other members of our community and other parents about bullying in the WICSD.

Here is just one letter from an uncle of a bullied 6 year old girl in this district. He has written this letter as an appeal to the media to investigate. 

Dear Ma’am or Sir,

I am writing to notify you that my niece, a student at Brookview Elementary School in the West Irondequoit School, Irondequoit, New York, was been hit (assaulted/battered) three times in a two week period by a fellow student. The third time my niece was struck, on Monday, 07 October 2013, the school left a message on my sister’s home phone about the incident, in spite of them having both parent’s cellphone number. Since then, my niece has been kept home from school, as both my niece and her parents feel she is no longer safe at Brookview School.

In spite of meetings with the teacher, the principal and the superintendent, no action has been, nor will be taken to ensure the safety of my niece. In light of the West Irondequoit School District’s inability or unwillingness to ensure the student safety of my niece, I am appealing to you to investigate and take action.
From a legal standpoint, both the Irondequoit Police Department and the Monroe County Sheriff have informed my sister that there is nothing they can do. My sister is conferring with an attorney and is looking into home schooling because of the danger to her daughter within the West Irondequoit School District.
If it will assist you, I have copies of correspondence between my sister and the school district displaying both the school district’s unwillingness to do anything and my sister’s desire to work out a scenario that would allow for a safe environment for her daughter to receive and education.

Respectfully,
James W. White
Irondequoit, NY

More of my thoughts today & an update

Through the power of Facebook and Twitter, each day I have continued to hear from other concerned parents. One mother at Dake has told me of her son being bullied while at Rogers and Dake. The bullying last week invlved being slammed into a locker once again, this time leaving marks.  If you are reading this and you are a member of our community, I implore you to speak up and express your concern and discontent.

I spoke with a well-respected Democrat and Chronicle reporter last week. I know that I am not the only parent in the WICSD who has been in contact with her and I do hope that after she investigates that there will be some sort of progress.

It is not all bad here– I am not naming names, but there are some really amazing 5th graders at Rogers Middle School who have reached out to Nick and he knows he is loved. Thank you, parents, for raising such wonderful kids.

I submitted our letter of intent to homeschool today. We will not send Nick back to the WICSD. They have failed him. I will homeschool him for the remainder of the year. He needs to know he is safe. He will be visiting local private schools as well and we plan to send him to private school in the fall. I have to say, though, what would other parents do? Both my husband and I work from home.  While my husband must adhere to his schedule, I am a beauty editor for a magazine and telecommute. I do social media for a skin care company as well. I am able to shift my writing so it is at night and weekends. I am not tied to an office or a boss and thankfully have a great deal of flexibility. I CAN homeschool Nick and take him on field trips and get him into homeschooling social groups.

What if I could not?  I would have to:

A. Quit my job, causing a financial burden to our household.

B. Send my child back to an unsafe environment.

This is a decision that most are faced with. And it is unfair and should not have to be this way. There needs to be something different done in response to bullying in this school district.

When bus monitor Karen Klein was bullied on a school bus by children, those students were not allowed to attend their regular classes at school. Greece handled that properly. Why can’t this district?  Making the kids who are bullied seek a new environment punishes the victims and sends a message to other students that if you bully, you will be allowed to resume your normal life within days.  What lesson does that teach? West Irondequoit has failed to provide any type of meaningful action in this situation and I continue to be disgusted, disheartened, and greatly disillusioned.

 

*UPDATE 11/4/13 About an hour and a half after this post was published, I received a phone call from the Superintendent. He offered no words of apology or concern over what transpired at one of his schools. Nothing should surprise me, but I really felt like, “Hey, how is your son doing?” may have been a good place to start. Nope. I was told if I would like to discuss things more, he would listen. When I said I wanted to sit down and talk about how bullying is handled in the WICSD, I was told that we could discuss Nick and not other students who, and I believe the words were, “may have made some mistakes.”