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The Bully Project: Our Story

The Bully Project

Thanks to The Bully Project for sponsoring my writing. Visit their website to join the movement and learn more.

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My 10yo son started getting bullied in the 2nd grade. It began with boys pushing him around and cussing him out on the bus. My son is not shy, but does not like confrontation, and can get quiet when attacked. Despite his size (he’s always been bigger than anyone in his class), he can also be quite sensitive and has a huge heart, looks out for others, and does not cuss or make crude jokes. I think this made him an easy target.

We took him off the bus route and I started driving him to and from school. I would have done anything to help my son feel safer and more secure. But then the bullying started happening at school.

There was one boy in particular who seemed to single out my son. He would yell at, tease, taunt, and cuss my son out, using what seemed like a constant barrage of twisted verbal images and sexual slurs. I did not expect to have to explain such hateful speech to my son while he was still so young.

One day during recess in 2nd grade, this boy punched my son in the face, giving him a black eye. The boy had apparently taken away a little girl’s glasses, and my son stepped in to tell him that wasn’t cool. My son pointed his finger into the boy’s chest when telling him to back off, and both boys were called to the office and treated as equal offenders. My son was confused by that, and worried that maybe he shouldn’t stick up for other kids anymore. That broke my heart.

isaac

My son, Isaac. Busy and active, yes, but about the sweetest kid you'll ever meet.

The bullying continued through third and fourth grade, though it never turned physical again. But the constant degradation hurt my son’s spirit, and we continued to drive him to school and do what we could to buoy his spirits. He had a few friends at school, did very well with grades, and overall we were feeling optimistic. When the same boy who bullied my son lit a paper towel in the 4th grade bathroom and set the garbage on fire, and was consequently removed from school, we were hopeful that the bullying would stop.

But this year, in 5th grade, it has been worse than it ever was. Once again, one boy has singled my son out to taunt and cuss at, but things have become much more sinister. This boy has managed to frighten enough of his classmates so my son’s former friends won’t talk with him now, or sit with him or play with him. They are too afraid that if they are nice to my son, they will be bullied in return (which has, in fact, happened). My son feels alone and ostracized. His schoolwork has suffered, he asks to stay home from school, I know this boy is constantly on my son’s mind, even outside of school hours.

Before Christmas, my son went to a counselor at his school to tell her what was happening. She, the teacher, the principal – they all seemed completely oblivious that anything was happening at all. Which is difficult for me to understand, but I have to take their word for it. My son said it helped a little to talk to the counselor, but that things didn’t change at all. You could see in his posture at school that his shoulders and head were down most of the time, just trying to muddle through each miserable day.

My son does not want to leave school. I am feeling scared for him, hurt, guilty, angry, broken-hearted. I have suggested homeschooling several times, but it always comes back to my son not wanting to quit. I asked him what he thinks the adults at his school could do to stop the bullying there, and he said “Honestly, I don’t know.” But when I asked him what the kids could do to stop bullying in schools, he shared a flood of answers. “Say something, don’t just watch. Stand up. Don’t be friends with the bullies. Don’t be scared of them. Don’t let them win.”

This is one of the main ideas behind the new documentary Bully. A staggering 13 million kids will be bullied in schools across America this year, “making it the most common form of violence against young people in the U.S.” I listened to filmmaker Lee Hirsch in an interview recently saying that bullying is not just a childhood rite of passage or something we can brush under the rug anymore – it has grown into what can be considered a serious human rights issue. But the adults in the schools need to be more educated as to bullying’s true impact, and the kids – the kids MUST be moved to act. They must be moved from bystander to defender if the bullying in schools is to ever stop.

Bully film poster

Bully follows five kids and families over the course of a school year, including two families who’ve lost children to suicide and a mother who waits to learn the fate of her 14 –year-old daughter, incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus to warn away the kids who had been taunting her.

The documentary is currently playing in select theaters across the country, opening on more screens April 13. The MPAA gave Bully an R rating for language, but filmmakers ultimately decided to release it Unrated as a protest against what they felt was the unwarranted rating from the MPAA. Even Common Sense Media, a review site that breaks films down into a variety of factors as an advocate for families and children, said that the language in Bully is not gratuitous and would recommend the movie – accompanied by guided conversation with an adult – for children 13 and older.

This film and accompanying campaign are very near and dear to me. It speaks directly to what our life has been like for the past four years, and what my son has had to live with every day. I encourage you to learn more about Bully, watch the trailer, get involved however you can, speak out, support the message. As hard as I work to protect and save my son’s heart through this terrible time, there are others boys and girls out there I can’t protect – not alone. It will take all of us being involved to end the pervasive culture of bullying in our schools today.

 

*NOTE: I talked with my son at great length about sharing his story. He gave me full permission and hopes that telling others about what he has to go through every day will either move someone to act, or encourage other kids and parents to know they are not alone. This boy has more courage and heart in his little pinky that many people have in their whole body.

Disclosure: I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. Find showings in your area for The Bully Project and buy tickets here.

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  • http://twitter.com/crisgoode Cris Goode

    Beautifully shared. Kudos to your brave boy and his desire not to quit. It will be people like him that will eventually change things I do believe. And, kudos to you, as I am not sure I am yet strong enough as a parent to resist the urge to want to MAKE him quit.

    • http://treerootandtwig.com Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig

      Thank you so much, Cris! Sometimes the urge has not been about my son, but about confronting the other boy. He lives in our neighborhood and we see him around, and I just feel this boiling anger rise up in me. BUT, I know confronting him directly could make things much worse for my son, so I resist. Still, it’s tough!

  • http://www.clickthegoodnews.com/ Amanda @ Click. The Good News

    That’s awful :((((  I’m so sorry to hear that.  I love this movement and I really hope the movie starts to shift our cultural norms and makes us as a society more aware of how real and how serious the problem is- both in and out of schools.  Hopefully your son will make it till summer- is he going to a different school next year? Maybe that will provide him so relief in a new environment.  Keep staying involved and active, making sure all the administration knows your concerns.  Good luck } to your son.

    • http://treerootandtwig.com Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig

      Thank you, Amanda! Yes, my son will be moving to junior high next year. Which initially TERRIFIED me because I’m worried it will just be 10-times worse, but then we realized that my son will be in all advanced classes (he’s a smart cookie), and that will weed out his interaction with most of the kids who give him trouble. He’s also planning on joining the band, and I have learned from experience with my older girls that band kids really look out for each other and form their own little family. We’re feeling optimistic, but will still be very mindful of things and go one step at a time.

  • http://twitter.com/TiffanyRom Tiffany Romero

    This is just infuriating to me. For your son and the child bullying to be treated as equal offenders is mindboggling, but happens in our school everyday. It sends the message that you should not stand up for other kids.  I am so sorry your son is going through this.  I can’t imagine what it must feel like as a mother.  wish I could send my 5’4 5th grade boy to come hang with your son at school.  They sound like they would get along great.  I have adult friends who were bullied as children and they have all said that their loving, supportive parents are what got them through it.  Just keep doing everything you can to advocate for him!  I am going to share this post with my boy now. xoxo

    • http://treerootandtwig.com Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig

      Thanks so much for your sweet words, Tiffany! I had a conference with my son’s teacher this year in which she described him as “immature” in regards to the bullying. I was too dumbfounded to ask for clarification, but it has bothered me ever since. I don’t think she was calling him a whiner, but my impression was that maybe he’s an easy target because he’s not as macho and aggressive as these other boys. Um…maybe because he’s TEN?!? I’m pretty sure it used to be “normal” at 10 to be a goofy, awkward, mostly innocent kid who didn’t cuss like an inmate and have the sexual conversation of a sailor. But now that’s apparently “immature,” I don’t know. Talk about infuriating.  And thanks so much for mentioning your son. My boy is 5’4″, too! And about 140 pounds – TOTALLY built like a football player, totally solid. If all of this were just based on size, my son could totally “take” these kids, but it’s about the heart. And my son’s heart is too good to throw his size around. Again, I really appreciate your support and encouragement. Much xoxox to you!

  • http://mfiles.us Megan

    I hurt so much for your son – and for you.  It’s horrible to feel helpless in any situation, but especially one where there is a real threat of danger.  It’s a testimony to you and your husband that even though your son continues to face the same situation at school *he* has not changed and fallen to the level of his bully.

    I wonder what the reaction of the teacher, counselor, and principal would be if you offered to send them to the movie?  I think they’ve just announced dates in your area…

    • http://treerootandtwig.com Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig

      Thank you, Megan, for your sweet words and encouragement. I will be talking with his teachers/admins soon to see about their interest in this movie and/or some kind of in-school program to address this, not just for my son but for all the kids. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Twinchaser

    Stacey it’s hard for me to understand why the school has not done anything to help eliminate the problem Isaac has been having with the boy. It has been going on for so long.  On the other side…we have to know there is an underlying reason the boy has become a bully….obviously he is suffering as well in some way no one knows.  I think it’s the school’s responsibility to help BOTH children come to a healing solution.  What’s up with Texas?

    Bullying is not a NEW problem.  It has been around for a long time.  I was a sensitive child and would cry easily…that left me open to teasing and bullying during my 3rd and 4th grade years.  A 6th grade girl who was assigned as our “helper” during recess would torture me constantly in front of all my other classmates just to make me cry….and I did, every time.  I was terrified every day.  She made me sit inside the classroom with a baby bonnet, shake a rattle and then had each child peer in at me through the window in the door.  It took me YEARS to get over the experience.  Once, when I was a teenager, I spotted her at the beach and hid from her…still afraid of her reaction if she saw me.  Later I found out she had been abused as a child.  Then it made sense to me.  That’s why I say…there’s some reason this child is attacking Isaac. 

    Isaac is an “old soul” and a gentle loving child. It must be so difficult for him to understand why this boy acts as he does….but, I know my daughter, and I know you are doing everything in your power to give him the tools he needs to deal with the problems he is facing.. Isaac has the Grace of God and will make a positive mark on the bully’s life…maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but down the road…and you may well not see it…but Isaac will change this child’s life in a positive way…mark my words!

    Why can’t both families meet on neutral ground and see if they can come up with a solution?  If you find the family of the boy involved is lacking any sense of responsibility or caring…then you’ll know, for sure, what you’re up against.  In that case, steel yourself and Isaac to what lies ahead until the end of the year…and move on to a new school and a new experience.

    Loving you and yours with all our hearts……  xoxoxoxoxoxox

  • http://www.reluctantrenovator.com/ KimMoldofsky

    I’m sorry you family is going through this, but thank you for sharing your story. This looks like a 10-tissue movie, but one that I want to see with my teen. I think jr. high will be good for him. I’ve talked recently with parents whose boys had issues in late elementary school and then flourished once they made it to the bigger school. And though I might get some tomatoes thrown my way, I thinking the leveled classes may help, too. {hugs}

    • http://treerootandtwig.com Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig

      Thank you for the encouragement, Kim, and for the hugs! :) And you won’t see any tomatoes coming from my direction. I have seen with my jr high and high school daughters that once pre-AP and AP classes are offered, it creates a *sharp* divide among the students in those classes and basic grade-level classes. I can’t tell you how many times my girls have struggled through the advanced content, but refuse to drop to the grade-level classes because of the peer group there. That’s probably a whole other post unto itself – and I’m not saying it’s fair or right or politically correct to say it – but it’s something we’ve seen quite clearly in our kids’ schools.

  • http://www.musingsfromme.com/ MusingsfromMe

    I agree with Kim. Middle school is much better. First, kids are take different classes, instead of staying in the same classroom for most of the day. Second, it’s a fresh start. My middle daughter wasn’t bullied in elem. school but she was hanging with a crowd who were all about popular and who was popular and who was not popular. She made a completely new set of friends in 6th grade. Third, there’s no recess…at least in our  middle school there is no recess. Kids can stay at lunch for the whole period or go outside to play or go to the library. They are not forced to play outside as in elem. school.

    Regarding what your son’s teacher said about him, this smacks of a teacher who has her head in the sand and does not want to get involved. She seems to be blaming your son when she should be sticking up for him. I’m sorry you and your son are going through this.

    • http://treerootandtwig.com Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig

      You make great points about middle school, Jill, and those were all things my older daughters (who are in jr and high school now) reminded me of recently. Also the fact that my son will be in band, and we’ve learned from experience that band kids tend to stick together and form their own kind of family. After a lot of reassurance and a lot of thought, I’m definitely feeling more optimistic about his chances for normalcy next year.

      And as for his teacher, in her defense, I don’t believe she was necessarily being ignorant or mean-spirited in calling my son immature. I honestly think it just reflects a growing expectation and acceptance that kids are growing up SO FAST these days, and that at younger and younger ages they are expected to sort of “man up” and get with the program. I think her choice of words was poor, and at the time seemed to imply some complicity on his part into why he was so ostracized by his peers, but on some level, I do understand what she was saying. I just don’t like it. 

  • Valenzuela Tami

    I am a Christian & I will be praying for you & your son & for all who are being bullied. I am Truely Sorry, God Bless You, Your Son & Your Family In Jesus Christ Name, Amen !

    • http://treerootandtwig.com Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig

      Thank you, Valenzuela!

  • Suzanne Young

    It really seems as if the school is out of touch with the problems of bullying at Isaac’s school.  If it is happening to him, surely it is happening to other children.

    Like other commenters have said, something rally “funky” is happening at the home of the bully.  This kind of abuse has got to be a learned behavior.

    I recently read Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence” (danielgoleman.info) and he talks at great length about compassion as one of the EQ skills in people.  Some children are just born with this invaluable skill.  For those who aren’t, it can be learned or at least introduced into one’s life.  This book was published in 1995 and has spawned hundreds of “character education” programs in schools.  

    Learning how to be a more compassionate person, not over-reacting to “perceived” threats, etc. has dramatically improved school climates.  I cannot believe your child’s school doesn’t have a program like this.  If they do, somebody is not doing their job very well!

    Perhaps when you move to Dallas (this summer?) and are in a new school your son will have the fresh start he deserves.  

    This is a truly heartbreaking story.  Not just about your son, but because the school seems clearly incapable of seeing the problem or making adjustments to correct it.  Life lessons are not just for children.  This school needs to make a serious course correction and help your son, the bully, and all of the other children who are afraid to tell the bully to stop his actions out of fear.

    Your son is a strong and compassionate person.  Kudos to you and your family for teaching him to be the better person.

    • http://treerootandtwig.com Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig

      Thank you so much for the comment, Suzanne. I think you’re right in guessing that this bully has been exposed to some questionable behavior in his own environment. There are some cases in which I think kids can be naturally unkind, but in this case, the boy seems to be familiar with some pretty severe language/sexual topics that are just NOT age-appropriate.

      As far as I can tell in our district, there is “some” anti-bullying material (pamphlets/DVDs) available to our schools, but there doesn’t seem to be an actual program in place or a campaign dedicated to addressing it. I do plan on approaching our principal to see what they plan to do school-wide to bring awareness, not just like an in-service for teachers, but something the kids would participate in, too.

      Again, thanks for your comment and encouragement!

      • Suzanne Young

        I will check into the character education program they used at our school district in CA.  It was a REALLY BIG DEAL.  So big in fact, the City of Pleasanton incorporated this program into city programs as well, and the character trait they were promoting that month was broadcasted over the entire city.  (through signage, etc.)

  • Melanie

    Makes my blood boil! Perhaps ask for a transfer to another school. I would, even in April, and I know families who have successfully transferred their children for various reasons. Katy ISD makes allowances.  This should not be the existence of a 5th grader, and it would be even better if his new campus is zoned to a different junior high so he can have a fresh start.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/IJ475IU7NCZOUE7FQHUE6NAXGE carrie

    Thanks for sharing your story.  My husband and I both had issues in school so we both have those fears for our children.  My son as a 1st grader has experienced some bullying and we are working hard with the school to nip it now.  At the beginning of the year, he would act back on the bus and then he’d be the one to get in trouble.  By the time it was getting worse, he was then afraid to speak up.  Luckily the driver that had tagged him as “bad” was gone.  The director of transportation was the one driving at the time and had gotten to know him and believed he wasn’t the one causing the problems.  He hasn’t had many problems since then thankfully. 

    We’ve tried giving him the information he needs to take care of himself, without getting in trouble as well.  We have anti-bullying laws here which has sparked a lot of no-tolerance policies at schools.   It’s a hard line to negotiate in letting kids take care of themselves.  I’ve told him he has to use words first, letting adults know – screaming if need be.  if that doesn’t work then he has to take care of himself.

    • http://treerootandtwig.com Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig

      Hi Carrie – thanks so much for the comment! You are so right in saying that it’s a hard line. I mentioned in the post that my son is quite big for his age. Sometime I wish he knew how to use his size, at least for just a bit of intimidation or to show that he can physically take care of himself when provoked. But that doesn’t even occur to him – I think is heart is bigger than his body, and the other kids sense that. We are constantly trying to figure out how he can project confidence without it becoming arrogance and how he can give others the sense that he can defend himself without it seeming aggressive. A hard line, indeed! 

  • Lizzy

    This is so sad to me but I am so happy that your son feels strong enough to share with you what he is going through and that it hasn’t changed his heart.  Sending big hugs your way.  I know it can’t be easy on any member of your family, good luck to you all.

    • http://treerootandtwig.com Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig

      Thank you so much, Lizzy! I have to give a lot of credit to my three teenage daughters, too, who help me keep an eye on my son. When he doesn’t feel like coming to me, he *always* goes to one of them, and they know when to share with me. It definitely takes a whole family to get through something like this. Thanks so much for the encouragement!