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

Advertisements

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:

example

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?  

moliere

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”

allowcontinue

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.”

How many other children?

Yesterday, I posted Nick’s story to the Channel 13 Facebook page. For those who aren’t local, 13 WHAM is our local ABC affiliate.

You know, I realized we had a HUGE problem being swept under the rug here, but I did not realize how far-reaching it is in the WI school district.

Parents have been coming out today sharing their stories. This school district MUST act.

Some comments from other West Irondequoit parents:

“I had to remove my son from West Irondequoit Schools in 6th grade after realizing the bullying situation was not going to change…”

“The WIBOE talks a great deal about bullying and maintaining a respectful environment, but I have yet to see them take action that send a clear message that innocents such as your son will be protected while perpetrators will be punished. I have heard other stories equally as disturbing and know families who have switched districts.”

“I love West Irondequoit and our school but I’m so very very saddened and let down by seeing this happen. It’s not only with Nick. I keep hearing more and more and more. It’s so devastating.”

There are many other comments, many other emails.

WICSD, please listen to us.  So many of us have CHOSEN to reside in Irondequoit and pay the high taxes we pay because we wanted our children to have a West Irondequoit education. Our children deserve a safe environment.

I have asked before and I will ask again. What about the bullied children who are NOT talking about what is happening?  What will it take for you to realize that there are children who are suffering?  You undoubtedly have heard all of the stories in the news. There are children so scarred by being the victims of bullying that they are seeing no other way out and are taking their own lives.

I implore you to do something.

Disgusted.

After hanging out with our neighbors this evening, we came home and I picked up my phone.  A friend had texted me to let me know that she was informed by another parent with a 6th grade child that the boy who assaulted Nick was in the cafeteria eating lunch today.

power

 

#1– What happened to the out of school suspension?

#2– This happened TUESDAY. Today is Friday. The boy ASSAULTED my child in front of the principal, teachers, and students.

#3– The principal, with whom I spoke on the phone this afternoon DID NOT MENTION he lifted the suspension! I had to find out from someone else.

#4– I am disgusted.  Other parents are disgusted. This is WRONG. There is no justice for the victims of bullying in the West Irondequoit schools. What will it take?

Schools get an F at protecting our kids.

The subject of bullying is back center-stage in the Rochester area lately, as it should be.

Nearby in Wayne County, the Marion Central School District is being sued by the mother of a high school student because they say that the district didn’t do enough to stop the repeated bullying of their son.  Here’s a story by WHAM’s Rachel Barnhart about this: click here.  According to the story, the child has been tormented for more than two years and over 30 complaints to the school’s administration were made.


In Spencerport, a girl took her own life last week.  Cameron DeVeronica was just 14.  Friends set up a Facebook page now with over 10,000 followers in an effort to raise awareness for what they believe was a suicide caused by bullying. According to reports in both mainstream and social media, this young girl was being bullied by female classmates.  The Ogden Police Department and Spencerport schools held a news conference last week trying to debunk the bullying rumors despite the fact that students have said otherwise. This hasn’t been sitting well with their community.


Another child has died. Once again, it looks like another local school district wants to look the other way and say “not here” and pretend bullying isn’t a cause for concern.


I have to applaud the Spencerport community, though, as a protest involving approximately 300 students and parents was held outside the Spencerport School District to demand an end to bullying. Due to this increased pressure from students who are sick of bullying, it looks like the district and police department might be pulling their heads out of the sand to do something….one can hope, at least.


In our own situation, it has now been 2 months since the incident at our school. I’ve given two full months and have gone through the cycle of anger, disappointment, sadness, etc. 


My son is OK now. His concussion has healed. He smiles and laughs and plays like a normal 8 year old. He has friends and is a good boy.  The big egg on his head may be gone, but I can assure you that the scars of bullying remain. This has affected all of us–I think the grown ups have taken the situation even harder than our resilient son.


If you know me at all, you know I am a pretty calm and collected person.  Deep down, though, I am furious. I am pissed off at our school for allowing this to happen and DOING NOTHING ABOUT IT. I am pissed off that their solution would be to have my son and the BULLY (it is what it is, folks, he’s a bully) go to the school counselor together to try to become friends. You know, if an adult was attacked, would the judge say that the victim of the assault should make nice with the criminal? No. So why should that be the solution here? I pulled Nick out of that joint counseling because he wasn’t comfortable and to be frank, I do not want my child to be friends with a bully. Would you?


The bottom line is that bullying occurs in nice suburbs and at top-ranked schools. Not just “other schools.” Our districts are failing our children.

We need to do more.

With all that has been going on in the news these past couple days surrounding the Penn State situation, I have been thinking more and more about how not enough in being done to send a message to children that we as adults are here to protect them from the evil that lurks in this world.

There are multiple people at Penn State who knew of horrific abuse upon young boys by a coach–and turned the other cheek or did as little as possible, including one who allegedly witnessed a 10 year old boy being raped and did nothing at that moment to say “STOP! This is wrong! I will rescue you from this monster so you do not have to endure one millisecond more of trauma and pain.

Read the Grand Jury report here to see how many people were aware and didn’t do enough.

One person who actually witnessed one horrific act, walked away and DID NOTHING.

He allegedly told his boss. Not the police. He walked away and allowed this to continue. Can you imagine what went through this boy’s head–someone knew he was being harmed and didn’t rescue him–didn’t come to his aid, didn’t stand up for him. This attitude of “it’s not my place” to intervene is pathetic.

I am quite sure that it happens more than we know. It also applies to bullying.

I remember one night over the summer when I was sitting out on our deck enjoying an iced coffee.  It was getting dark and there was a boy who used to be in my son’s grade riding his bike.  I always had a soft spot for this boy, who is no longer in our district, because he was so kind and respectful.  He looked out for Nick–stood up for Nick. He lived with extended family and really was on his own most of the time without that strong sense of “normal” in his life.  There was regularly change and chaos surrounding his environment.

Anyway, I remember him riding his bike around the school and a group of older kids (15 or 16, I’d guess) followed him and then took his bike away and made him run after it.  They called him names.  They clearly were raised without respect for other people or property. I could hear him saying, “That’s my bike. Give it back. Leave me alone.” I couldn’t believe that this 8 or 9 year old child was being picked on by a bunch of teenagers. I jumped out of my chair, ran across the street and remember being so ticked that this boy was the hoodlum’s “entertainment”. The older kids ran off in different directions as I held the phone with 911 ready to be called and I  told them to never even think to bother this child again or they would have to answer to the police. Of course, they used the horrible language that seems to be commonplace in this society these days and took off.

I remember the look of relief in the boy’s eyes and he came over and hugged me and said, “Mrs. M., thank you for helping me. You didn’t have to do that.” Oh, but I did. When someone is being physically or verbally or emotionally harmed, isn’t is our duty as human beings to stand up and say enough is enough?

If one turns the other cheek and ignores what it happening, that person is enabling bullying and abuse.

When schools see the signs and ignore acts of bullying, they enable bullying.  When schools do not give consequences for acts of bullying, they enable bullying. Failure to act–truly act–to protect our children from harm is just as bad as the bullying, in my book.  We send our children to school and expect and assume that they will be safe–that they will be protected by the adults–all of the adults–in the building.

But that might take extra time.  It might ruffle feathers.  It might create an uncomfortable situation….or it is just quite possible that the reality is “We have a reputation to maintain as being a top school district in this area. Confronting the issue of bullying and acknowledging we have a true problem might tarnish that.” So what. School safety….the comfort level of CHILDREN ought to be the #1 concern. Nothing else.

Something we, as parents, can do is teach our children very early on that if they see something happening to another child, they have a responsibility to do the right thing. Sometimes even good kids turn the other cheek….or join in to be in the “cool group”.  The community as a whole needs to make sure that we are protecting our children from the evil in this world. Every time that we look the other way, we are sending the message that it is OK to harm another living human being.

Thursday Thoughts

I apologize for the absence these past several days. I’ve been extra busy at home, meeting writing deadlines,  and with volunteering at school and I do apologize. Frequent posts will return in the next couple of days.

Our son is doing OK….as well as can be expected for someone who has endured what he has faced in the past month. We still seek a satisfying outcome to this matter.

It’s been one month now. In this month, I have received 146 emails from people all over the world sharing their experiences. More than half of these people are from the Rochester area and more than 30 are from parents within this school district.

There is a bullying crisis. It happens in affluent private schools and inner city public schools.  It happens here, in our charming community with tree lined streets and friendly neighbors. Our school district has dropped the ball on this one.  As I mentioned before, this bully who has picked on my son and several of his peers since preschool continues to verbally and physically harm others (as in the case of punching Nick’s friend 2 weeks ago at recess bringing the boy to tears) without any true consequences.

I’ve received emails from parents of children as young as kindergarten sharing bullying experiences.

I don’t know personally if it is people turning a blind eye or districts not wanting to tarnish their good reputations, but until there is a true community effort to combat this epidemic, it will continue. We’ve been looking at area private schools at this point. I have an appointment to look at another next week. Unless there is true change, we will not be keeping Nick in this district. When a child who once loved every single aspect of school comes home and says he only feels comfortable in his main classroom, it is a problem.

I will keep you posted on this and next week, we will take a look at anti-bullying legislation in certain states.

Keep sharing your stories. We’ll work together to see what we can do to bring about change.

I also want to share something my friend MB had on her Facebook page:

A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take out a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stomp on it and really mess it up, not to rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty it was. She then told them to tell it they’re sorry. Now, even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind. And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it. That is what happens when a child bullies another child, they may say they’re sorry, but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.