How to Raise a Hi-Stander in These Days of Bullying

Anyone who has kids who are of school age knows that you’re not just sending their physical bodies to school each day, but they’re carrying your heart with you. In doing so, you hope your heart will watch over them. Protect them. Enable them to be the person you want them to be. Instead, the universe takes over and you’re left at home, as vulnerable as the day they were born. It happens on the playground, too, when someone sticks out their tongue at them, or throws sand at them, or grabs the other kids, leaving your child all alone. This is particularly painful, as you know that you should probably just watch and see how he reacts. It’s funny, as you hear all about that when they’re infants. They need to learn to self-soothe when going to sleep at night. The same concept applies on the playground and, therefore, I usually try to observe from the sidelines. I’m the bystander in my sons’ lives, hoping they can learn to fend for themselves.

I learned a new way to look at being a bystander, however, when I watched CNN’s recent show, “The Bully Effect,” based on the documentary¬†Bully. The scene in which the super scrawny, awkward looking Alex gets beat up on the bus literally took my breath away. He begged and pleaded the kids to stop, but they continued to punch him. Slap him. Pinch him. Berate him. All the while, others stood by and stared — the bystanders. It was easily the most awful thing I’d seen unfold before my eyes. When Alex tried to enlist the help of a boy he’d known his whole life, the guy told him in detail how he was going to kill him. I can’t imagine if that were my kids. I’d take a bullet for them, and I know that in my every fiber of my being. But how do I protect them from kids their own age? If you haven’t seen a clip from this movie, I highly recommend you do.

When I was younger, bullying was a problem, too, but not like today. You’d hear, “Kids will be kids” or, especially, “Boys will be boys.” To a certain extent, I believe this to be true, or at least I used to. But now kids are DYING. They’re killing themselves just to avoid the constant mental and physical torture they’re experiencing at school. And all the while your heart is there with them, as helpless as you are back at home. So let’s just stop with the “kids will be kids” nonsense, as times have changed.

When I was in 8th grade, my family moved from the east coast to the ‘burbs of Chicago. Of course, I was devastated and told them this was the worst thing that could have ever happened to me — the dramatic thoughts from an eighth grade girl. But when I showed up late to class on my first date, overwhelmed by the size of my new middle school (which used to be a high school), I truly believed this was the WORST. Everyone laughed at me, and one girl said out loud how funny she thought my outfit was. Who knew the style in Buffalo could be SO different? I tried to shrink in my seat, but to no avail. I ate lunch in the locker aisles that year, as I had no one to sit next to. I cried myself to sleep at night. And yet, somehow, in all that time, I knew everything would be okay. But what about the people who can’t see that far ahead? What about those who don’t have hope?

I can’t know for sure that my boys aren’t going to be bullied. They don’t have any awkward physical features, and they don’t stand out in any way that might make other kids stare and/or laugh. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll be okay. But that’s not enough in my book. I want them to know what they can do when they see bullying in action. We can teach our kids what to do, just like we teach them how to read. How to write. How to BE. We can teach them to stand up for the kids like Alex. If only someone had stepped forward to say “Stop!” Maybe someone else would have joined him…and someone else would join her…and so on and so and so on. If someone would have walked up to Alex, who was shown on the playground all by himself, ¬†and just said “Hi!” I’m sure that would have made his day. So I’m going to do what’s in my power. I’m going to teach my kids NOT to be BY-standers. I’m going to teach them to be HI-standers. And I’m going to hope that makes all the difference.

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