The Ugly Truth about School Bullying (Part 1 of 2)

WARNING: This post is edgy. On purpose. I’m making no friends saying what I say below. But right, wrong, or indifferent, it’s stuff that I feel needs to be said.

“You’re in a fight.”
Not my words.

I was chatting to a friend who I’ve known a long, long time.
I was gobsmacked. Because he is not aggressive.
In fact, he is an extraordinary influencer. Powerful, elegant and restrained.

I’d been talking with him about our family’s experience with school bullying, and how frustrating and worrying it had been.

He cut through what I was saying.
“You’re in a fight.”

“Yes, I know”, I told him. “Chris (names have been changed to protect identities) has been kicking, shoving, name-calling, punching, and now strangling my son!”

He said, “I’m not talking about the child, he’s not your problem. You’re in a fight. And you’re in a fight with the school.”

“No, I’m not! I like the Principal, really like her, and the Assistant Principal. I’ve met with them and had really great meetings about the bullying. They’re great people.”

He sat opposite me and got really relaxed, the way he does when he coaches people.

“What result do you want to get?”

That was easy, I explained to him. I wanted the bullying to stop.

“And how is that going?”

I paused. The bullying was daily, physical and emotional. My handsome sweet boy was being told he was ugly and looked like a frog and was beginning to believe it. He’d had a stick held up to his eye in class. This boy had brought a knife to school. It was frightening, and it was escalating.

“And the school knows?”

Yes, they did.

“So, help me out here. Are you sitting in the classroom during the day?”

No, I wasn’t. I opened the front door and waved the boys off to school and went about my day.

“Do you have a drone where you can see what is happening, and use a loudspeaker to draw attention?”

No, I didn’t have a drone, although it sounded a very attractive idea. Probably constrained by privacy laws …

“Are you supervising the corridors between classes, or the playgrounds at lunch-time?”

Nope. I was helping organisations like Army and Navy prepare corporate plans. I was developing performance indicators for programs working with vulnerable kids. I was conducting evaluations of innovative programs to see how they could scale. I was a parent, with a whole other life at work.
I wasn’t in the playground, corridor or the classroom during the day.

“So, who is?”

Well clearly, it was the teachers and the school leaders.

“So, they are in charge of the school?”

Yes, they certainly are in charge of the school.

“And they know about the bullying?”

I explained all the ways they knew about the bullying, from the talks at the front gate, to the meetings I had arranged, to the calls to the school office.

“So, the school leaders and staff are there in the school, all day, they are present in the classroom, they supervise the corridors and they supervise the playgrounds. They know about the bullying, and they are letting it continue.”

“You’re in a fight. With the school leaders.”

“The only question is, do you want to win?”

I didn’t want to be in a fight, but what he said made sense. I felt unenthusiastic though – I liked the Principal, although I knew she was heading off on leave. I also liked the Assistant Principal who had taught my son in Year 2.

“What kind of school experience does your son deserve?”

A great one, he is a beautiful boy and treats everybody well. He deserves that same experience back.

“And what kind of experience is he getting?”

Horrible, frightening, cr*p, day after day.

“And is that OK with you?”

No, it wasn’t ok. NOT AT ALL.

“So, the question becomes, what kind of parent do you want to be? Are you going to tolerate what is happening to your child, are you going to complain to me about it, or are you going to step forward and stop it?”

He knew me. I’ve always been the step forward person, from when I was at school myself.

“So, you’re in a fight. You want to win. Your son needs you to win.”

“I want you to listen very carefully. I’m going to tell you the secret to winning the fight, when you’re not there during the day, and you like and respect the leaders who are there. And this will work even if the leaders change and you get someone awful instead.”

To be continued …

P.S. Whenever you’re ready… here are 3 ways I can help you stop school bullies:

1. Grab a free copy of my guide

It’s the roadmap to understanding and side-stepping the traps set by schools that prevent you keeping your child safe at school. — Click Here

2. Join our free webinar

Fast paced, free online “crash course’ training. Now you can escape endless waste of time school meetings, stop the bullying of your child, and get your life back. — Click Here

3. Join our Implementation Program and connect with parents who are also stopping the bullying of their child

I’m putting together a new implementation program – working personally with parents to stop the bullying of their child. If you’d like to work with me to get this problem fixed … — Click Here

Empathy for the Other Family

I pulled out the drawer and one of the handles came out in my hand. I had just been reading about the tragic suicide of 12-year-old Mallory Grossman, and it had hit me hard.

Her parents, Dianne and Seth Grossman, said that their daughter died following months of bullying in-person and online from several classmates.

Prior to the bullying Mallory enjoyed gymnastics and cheerleading, made jewelry and sold it to raise money for summer camps for children with cancer and those who have lost someone to cancer. She had sisters and a brother and a loving family.

The family has said that several girls at the school were bullying Mallory, sending her unkind texts, saying she was ‘a loser’ and even suggesting ‘Why don’t you kill yourself?’

The parents say the bullying went on for months, and their concerns fell on deaf ears at the school. Mallory’s grades at school began to slip, and she complained of stomach aches and other illnesses to stay home from school.

The Grossmans reportedly went to school administrators multiple times to report the bullying but they claim nothing was ever done. The alleged bullies were never disciplined by the school.

Mallory became isolated, removed from classes, and forced to eat alone in the guidance counselor’s office to avoid possible harassment. In June 2017 she committed suicide in her home.

The day Mallory suicided, her parents had a three hour meeting with the school about the bullying by her classmates.

Her parents have now initiated legal action against the New Jersey school district to prevent other families going through similar heartbreak.

There is so much in this story that I could relate to and I felt such empathy for the experience of the family that I felt distressed. There are many echoes in Mallory’s experience that other bullied children and families of bullied children can understand.

Has your child ever been bullied? Have you ever felt frustrated by the response, or the lack of response from your school? Have you ever become concerned or worried about the impact of the bullying on your child?

Have you ever heard a school leader suggest that your child use a particular part of the playground or go to a particular place at lunchtime so that they can be safe at school? Have you ever had meetings with the school about bullying, and been frustrated at how ineffective they are?

We have, and many other families have. When I felt the drawer handle come off in my hand I looked down at my hand and thought to myself, “This has to stop, and all of us have a part to play in creating a world where young boys and girls don’t suicide in the face of school bullying.” Our blog, our website, and our programs are part of that action.

P.S. Whenever you’re ready… here are 3 ways I can help you stop school bullies:

1. Grab a free copy of my guide

It’s the roadmap to understanding and side-stepping the traps set by schools that prevent you keeping your child safe at school. — Click Here

2. Join our free webinar

Fast paced, free online “crash course’ training. Now you can escape endless waste of time school meetings, stop the bullying of your child, and get your life back. — Click Here

3. Join our Implementation Program and connect with parents who are also stopping the bullying of their child

I’m putting together a new implementation program – working personally with parents to stop the bullying of their child. If you’d like to work with me to get this problem fixed … — Click Here

Building Hope

“Can I show you my stone?” he said as he pulled a large stone out of his pocket. I had just taken my 10-year-old son to meet a child psychologist. As he said hello, my sweet boy held the stone in his hand. It had HOPE written in large letters.

The psychologist got down to his level, and said “Tell me about this.” My son explained that he had done well in a maths test and had been offered the opportunity to choose a prize. When he saw the stone, he knew that was right for him, because he said, “I need hope.” He explained that he now carried it round in his pocket, whenever he was at school, or doing other scary things.

My heart broke when I heard him link going to school with other scary things. But that was the truth, and why we were in the room.

Once upon a time, we had a very happy little family. It took us a long time for us to have our children – we needed IVF. But we were lucky enough to have two healthy boys, born 22 months apart. They were easy-going babies who slept through the night and they loved each other dearly – putting their beds next to each other and holding hands as they fell asleep.

Our happy experience changed when the boys started at a new school. Within a short time, my younger son started wilting, looking anxious and much less happy when heading off to school. We sat down and talked and discovered that he had been targeted by another boy who was also new to the school. Day by day the situation got worse, and this is what was happening to our child:

    • He would get shoved in the corridor, several times a day;
    • He would get kicked and punched in his legs and arms, getting bruises all over his body;
    • He was called names like “frog” or accused of being “gay’, also several times a day;
    • Now he isn’t gay, and he is a very good looking boy, but he really began to doubt himself, saying he must be ugly;
    • The attacks escalated …
    • He had a stick held up against his eye in the classroom;
    • This boy put his hands around our son’s neck and attempted to strangle him, telling our boy he was going to “get wasted”;
    • My son had his teeth thrust through the area above his mouth and he had to have plastic surgery on his face, costing thousands of dollars;
    • He started wetting the bed, sometimes several times a night, developed “night terrors” and anxiety attacks so bad he ended up in paediatric emergency;
    • The specialists told us we had to stop the bullying.

The school suggested that my son change the way he walked, and only walk in the playground when he had another friend with him.

Now there is nothing wrong with the way my son walks, but there were a lot of problems in the way the school responded to our son’s experience. Our son was not safe at school. The school leaders were not keeping him safe.

Here we were getting him psychological help – because he had told me that he was so sad going to school that he was thinking about throwing himself in the traffic as he walked down the road to the school.

Something happened for me that day as I introduced him to the psychologist.

I had felt like a failure as a mother because I hadn’t been able to get the school to listen. I had felt disconnected from other mothers as they talked about cake stalls and we supported our son through plastic surgery.

But as I sat outside that consulting room where my son was getting professional help, something changed inside.

I became determined that we were going to get this behaviour to stop.

And I became determined that we were going to do everything in our power to help our gorgeous boy recover.

We changed our approach, and we succeeded.

We learned how to change the way we dealt with the school

We learned how to nurture our son when he got home so he told us what had happened that day. He felt loved and acknowledged before moving on to stuff that wasn’t about bullying.

We learned what questions to ask so we had all the facts we needed to be the strong parents he deserved.

We learned how to use technology, so the school couldn’t deny what had happened or how bad it had felt for him.

We learned that our role was critical – nobody but us would keep and communicate a record of what really happened to our sweet boy with the bullying – both what happened and how he felt. The school certainly wouldn’t, because it wasn’t in the school’s interests to have a record of what they were ignoring.

We learned how to deal with the school, so they couldn’t pick and choose what to respond to, and what to ignore.

When we changed everything changed.

We got the attention of school authorities.

The bully was asked to leave the school.

The bullying stopped.

Our son started smiling again, and enjoying school, and learning again. We had hope again. We got our family back.

The wheel had turned.

And we now know completely how to stop bullying in it’s tracks.

P.S. Whenever you’re ready… here are 3 ways I can help you stop school bullies:

1. Grab a free copy of our guide

It’s the roadmap to understanding and side-stepping the traps set by schools that prevent you keeping your child safe at school. — Click Here

2. Join our free webinar

Fast paced, free online “crash course’ training. Now you can escape endless waste of time school meetings, stop the bullying of your child, and get your life back. — Click Here

3. Join our Implementation Program and connect with parents who are also stopping the bullying of their child

We’re putting together a new implementation program – working with parents to stop the bullying of their child, fast. If you’d like to work with us to get this problem fixed … — Click Here

The Power of Community

“He cried again today.” A matter-of-fact statement from one boy to another in the back of a car. We were giving a friend of one of my sons a lift home from school.

My ears pricked up. “Who cried again today”, I asked. “Andrew!” came back clearly from the back seat. “How come? Why was he crying?”

“Marcia was being mean to him again.” I shook my head a bit. I was confused. “Marcia? Is she mean to him?”

“All the time”, came firmly from the back seat. “She sits next to him in Maths, and all through class, says mean things in his ear.”

“What sort of mean things?” “Well, his best friend Max just left the school, so she sits next to him in Maths and says, ‘your best friend is gone, and you don’t have any other friends, you must feel really bad now’”

“That is really mean”, I said. “And it’s upsetting Andrew?”. They said yes it was, since it was the fourth time this week he’d been crying, and he’s not normally a boy who cries.

I asked if he could get away from her, and was told that they sit on the same table in Maths, which was two periods a day, and he felt trapped. His normal teacher was away, and the casual replacement didn’t seem to know what to do.

I asked if they had spoken to him, and they both told me that he was very, very upset, and not really open to talking.

It stayed in my mind when we got home. I didn’t know his parents. I couldn’t find their names on the parent contact list, and my son told me he had never seen them at school.

My son said he was the only Asian student in the group, and he seemed under constant pressure from this girl.

I decided that when one child is bullied, and is affected, then it is an issue for all those around them. These two boys in the back of our car were talking about what was happening, the pain of their friend, and their uncertainty about how they could do something about it.

I decided that because it was a pattern of behaviour, and because it was upsetting a child, it was important to act. And I know exactly how to deal with school bullying so that it stops.

I wrote to the Head of Primary Well-being letting him know about the conversation in the back of our car, and about what I had learned about Marcia’s behaviour, and the impact on Andrew. I said that I was sure he would know how best to tackle the situation.

I didn’t hear back, which didn’t surprise me since I was not a parent of either child, but I was confident that action had been taken because the Head of Well-Being is impressive – both active and empathic.

A few days later I asked my son how Andrew was going. “Fantastic!”, he said. When I explored, my son explained that he was sitting next to Andrew in class that very day. Andrew had been talking about how he had been moved to another table in Maths, how Marcia had stopped bothering him, and how much better everything was now.

He didn’t know anything about my letter, and my son didn’t tell him. That was quite right, I thought. Andrew had no need to know that any other parent or family had taken an interest in his experience.

But I had a smile on my face. Our children have experienced bullying in the past, and I know as a mum how much it can affect them even when they don’t openly show their feelings. But when a child has cried so many times in the same week, I knew that it was a big problem for him.

I felt like a fairy godmother, who had quietly reached into his life to make things better. My son came over and gave me a big hug and said thank you. That was more than enough for me. Just knowing that Andrew was in a better place was beautiful to hear.

Schools are communities. We all have a role in stepping in and helping kids who are under pressure.

What about you? Do you know children in your school who are under pressure from bullies? Is your child aware of friends who are going through a hard time? Is your child experiencing bullying?

* Names have been changed in this piece.

P.S. Whenever you’re ready… here are 3 ways I can help you stop school bullies:

1. Grab a free copy of my guide

It’s the roadmap to understanding and side-stepping the traps set by schools that prevent you keeping your child safe at school. — Click Here

2. Join our free webinar

Fast paced, free online “crash course’ training. Now you can escape endless waste of time school meetings, stop the bullying of your child, and get your life back. — Click Here

3. Join our Implementation Program and connect with parents who are also stopping the bullying of their child

I’m putting together a new implementation program – working personally with parents to stop the bullying of their child. If you’d like to work with me to get this problem fixed … — Click Here