Raising Richmond: Bullying

Bullying is making headlines lately. Whether it’s actually on the rise or just seems that way because of all of the recent media attention, it’s time to talk about it. For some families, it’s a matter of life and death. So here we go…

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (new-ish parents of a lively and opinionated toddler). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

If you pay any attention to the news, the following scenarios will probably sound familiar:

Tyler Clementi, 18, committed suicide after his roommate at Rutgers publicly outed him by allegedly posting video of him engaging in sexual activity with another male. That same month, Asher Brown, 13, Seth Walsh, also 13, and Billy Lucs, 15, also committed suicide, allegedly due to being taunted about their homosexuality.

Phoeboe Prince, 15, hung herself after being bullied for several months by classmates at her high school in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

James Willie Jones of Florida has been charged with disorderly conduct for storming onto a school bus and threatened students who had apparently been bullying his daughter, a 13-year-old with cerebral palsy.

Bullying is making headlines lately. Whether it’s actually on the rise or just seems that way because of all of the recent media attention, it’s time to talk about it. For some families, it’s a matter of life and death. So here we go…

Today’s question: What are your thoughts on bullying?

The Salgados

I gathered my boys onto the couch and tucked one under each arm tightly. “Boys, we need to make a pact right now!” I said. Their eyes were as wide as saucers as I told them the recent story of Seth Walsh, the California 13-year-old who committed suicide after being bullied for being gay.

So much of the problem is kids not being able to access or get the support they need, kids holding and enduring things they were never meant to hold during an already vulnerable growing time.

“Kids need each other and they need to know they can get help if they need it. You guys have to promise you will come to Papa and me if you ever feel scared, if someone treats you unkindly or their power feels so big in a hurtful way.” I said.

“We will mom,” they replied and then we were quiet because it felt like the only appropriate response in the moment.

It was only a year ago that we had our own mini-experience with bullying. Josiah had expressed some concern over his desk being moved close to a particular classmate. This kid is usually pretty socially savvy and gets along with almost anyone, so his anxious feeling should have been my first big red flag.

A couple weeks later, it seems Josiah had reached his breaking point for being picked on.

“I tried to tell her I don’t care….but…” he burst into tears.

“But you do care right?” I said. He nodded his head through his tears.
”Everyone cares Josiah, trust me.” I replied.
”Do you think there is something wrong with you?” I asked, he shook his head but cried a little harder.

There are times when you just can’t protect your child, and someone else’s pain will hurt them. I told him I thought maybe he was dealing with a bully and suggested we find out some more information so we could make a plan to help him. We spent some time researching and found out why this might be happening to him and what we could do.

Bullying is either about power or passing on some form of mistreatment. We wondered together if that might be the cause for this girl being unkind. We talked about how sometimes when you hear negative messages repeatedly you can start to believe them. 
It was time for truth to do her magic I told him, because truth is the only thing that can set you free. If he was starting to question himself, maybe his bully can’t remember the truth at all.

We came up with a strategy: how he should respond or not respond, contacted the teacher, made little cards reminding him of the truth of himself and the situation and made a plan to check back in together in a few days. Within a week, things were much better. It seemed more than anything, he needed to know his voice could create the change he needed, that he wasn’t in it alone but was capable of finding a way through.

While our situation was mild and I have no idea what lies ahead, I am aware this problem is growing in our society. Bullying isn’t anything new but are kids meaner in today’s world? What do you think?

The Catrows

I think I was only bullied one time. This chubby kid with a dumb haircut kept hassling me… so I eventually gave him the ol’ karate chop to the neck. That’s is how you deal with a bully, folks! Just kidding. I was in so much effing trouble after that — it never happened again. Henceforth, I relied on my charm and quick wit to escape the bully’s wrath.

Honestly though, my wife Valerie and I were never really bullied much as children (due either to our acute likeability or our shared tendency to just stay out of any and all drama) so I don’t really know if we have any sage advice to offer. I know that handling things with karate chops, nunchaku, or any other violence is not the way to go about things. But what is? What do we do if our son JR is bullied?

Well, adults have to be adults. Part of my responsibility as JR’s father is to be “there” for him if any of these bullying shenanigans go down. Not only do I need to listen to him and help him work through any issues he may be having, but I need be ever vigilant, spotting signs of bullying if he doesn’t feel able to talk about it. I’d hope other adults in his life — his friends’ parents, adults at church, his teachers, etc. — would have a similar mindset and let us know if anything is going on. We’ll naturally do the same for the other kids we’re around on a regular basis; it takes a village, you know.

But what if JR ends up on the dishing-out end of a bullying relationship? As parents, that is one of our biggest fears; we are so NOT bullies, so uninterested in confrontation, we’re not sure we’d know what to do with a child who seeks it out. Hopefully we won’t get to that point. On the practical, concrete level, one of the most important qualities we’re trying to instill in our Padawan is politeness: we expect to hear please, thank you, excuse me and (most importantly) I’m sorry if he’s done something wrong. And, if you’re a bully, you’re hardly an epitome of Miss Manners.

But when it comes down to the nitty gritty stuff…I dunno guys, I dunno.

One thing we can do is make sure our familial relationships are positive and healthy. At nearly two, our little guy is a MENTAL SPONGE, and is soaking up our bad behaviors left and right. If we show him how to be kind to other people, hopefully it will soak in. Right?

Other than that, I’m not sure, AND IT IS TERRIFYING.

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Patience Salgado

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