At first glance, a school playground may look like a fun place to play. The tire swing beckons and the monkey bars shine in the sunlight. Yet, to some children, it is a battleground. A place where a villain may lurk behind every tree and a hero to save them seems far away.
Bullies have been around since the beginning of time, it seems, but statistics show that more and more children are victims than ever before. Some 77% of students are bullied mentally, verbally and physically. In a time when a child is bullied every seven minutes, it's crucial that parents talk to their children about the issue. If we can catch them when they are young, it may prevent grave results as they enter adolescence. A staggering 44% of suicides among 10- to 14-year-olds may be bullying-related.
I was shocked the day I caught my son taking part in the bullying of another child. It was a sunny afternoon and I had arrived early to pick him up from kindergarten. The children were on the playground. I sat close by to observe my son as he kicked a soccer ball around with two of his friends.
I watched closely because my son had been repeatedly bossed around by one the boys, Nick (all names have been changed to protect the guilty). My son had told me this child had been intimidating him, and we had talked about how this made him feel. I wanted to see how the two boys interacted.
They seemed to be happily playing, when my son passed the ball to Nick, who then passed it to their other pal Mike. It seemed that Mike was unhappy with the way the game had been going. He scooped up the ball and threw it over the fence in defiance. The other two were furious. Nick grabbed my son's arm tight and yelled "Go get him!" as he shoved my son toward their friend.
My boy stumbled and then caught his balance before he charged Mike, knocked him down, and hit his back over and over. I was mortified. I couldn't believe my sweet angel had been pressured into mistreating another child. Of course, I intervened, broke up the fight and practically guided my son off the playground by the ear.
I knew that it was crucial to talk about what had just happened. It struck me that he had used force on Mike because he himself had been bullied so much. It was a vicious cycle and one I wanted to stop. When I asked why he had obeyed Nick's demands, he said, "Because he would be mean to me if I didn't do it." My heart ached for my little boy because he had been both a victim and a bully.
I wanted to teach him to follow his own convictions and not give in to pressure from other children. So I asked him if he wanted to be a superhero or a sidekick. His ears perked up. I had touched a subject he related to. My little guy could often be found running through our house, wearing a superhero costume and stopping crimes. "I am a superhero!" he replied with gusto.
I told him that a real superhero would never let someone boss him around and that only a sidekick would follow orders, adding, "You have to fight for good and not let anyone tell you what to do." His eyes grew large as he nodded in agreement. "Do you think that a superhero would have hurt Mike just because Nick told him to?" I asked. "No way, he would have defended Mike." he said.
I could see I was getting through to him. We went home and wrote a superhero pledge to seal the deal. With his right hand raised and his cape wrapped around his neck, my son said his pledge: "I promise to always use my superpowers for good. I promise to help people who are in trouble. I promise to be the good guy and never ever start a fight unless the bad guy really deserves it." In the end, the incident on the playground became a valuable life lesson.
As he ran off to play, his little cape fluttered slightly in the air, and I knew that his potential for being a bully was behind him.
Has your child ever been a victim of bullying? Has your child ever been a bully? How do you talk to your children about it? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.