I pretty much have one rule in my house: Be Kind.
I honestly don't even care if my children get awesome grades or are super athletes. I really don't have inflated ambitions for their futures or dreams that they will do extraordinary things with their lives. I had those dreams for my own life but learn every day that those dreams always leave you empty at the end of the day. What fills you? Relationships. Connection. Every. Single. Time. It comes down to family, friends, community, and who will sit with you through the rough patches.
So when I got a call from school last week that one of my kids was "bullying" another kid, I hit the freaking roof. Not my kid. My kid won the good citizenship award last year. My kid has never gotten anything but green lights on the dadgum behavior reports since kindergarten. What did that other kid do first? Why didn't his parents call me and not the school? I circled the wagons and built a wall faster than you can blink.
But something didn't feel right about my initial reaction. What lesson was I sending to my child by saying, "Just stay away from that kid?" I thought about it more. My child has lots of old friends in his class this year. They have a history together. They do a new preadolescent thing called "joking each other." It is a white kid attempt at "your mama" jokes that usually fails badly. This was a new boy. He is an outsider from the beginning. He has no context for these jokes. There is a group mentality.
Then some other things crept up in my brain from my own adolescence. The girl I stopped talking to when she was not cool enough. The silence I kept while a boy in my middle school was verbally tortured. The jokes I told at someone else's expense. And it hit me in the gut.
Bullies are not someone else or someone else's kid. Bullies are not some big tough kid on the bus. Bullies are every one of us in certain situations.
So I open a conversation with my child that would not have otherwise happened. I begin teaching him about bullying. I begin telling him about the regrets I have held onto for almost thirty years. I tell him I don't want him to have those. He defends himself and his friends and says, "It's not like that." I try and explain the power of groups. I try and convey to an immature, insecure mind why it doesn't matter if the other person is wrong when there is an imbalance of numbers or power. I try and show how throughout history we often blame the victims. I try and explain in stumbling thoughts why even though it is harder to be kind when someone is a jerk, it is better.
My child asks good and honest questions, "What if you are defending someone who is gay and then people think you are gay."
Am I asking too much?
We meet with the other child and his mom, face to face. This is not an enemy like I have created in my mind. This is a mamma who is worried about her kid like I am about mine. This kid is not a jerk. He is as immature and insecure as my own, and he is new in town.
Is there a solution to something that seems as inherent in humans as it is in flocks of chickens? Is it possible to deny our nature and choose something harder and often unrewarded? I suppose I believe it is. It is why I take my children to church every Sunday. It is why their father, who does not go to church, passes onto them a moral code that is stronger than those of many religious people.
It is the courage to choose kindness.
Our family watched a movie together this week. I think every family in America should watch it: Bully. And afterward, I ask my child what he learned.
"I think I can make a difference," he says.
And that is all I need.
Teaching kids about bullying is important.
There is a great group called, "I Stand for the Silent" started by one of the parents who lost his child to bullying in the movie.
The website for the movie "Bullying" has tons of great resources.
What are your experiences with bullying and teaching your kids a different way?