Tuesday 3 December 2013

The conversations you don't want to have with your children

You tell those bullies off my baby!

I picked JJ up from scouts last week and on the drive home we were talking about school and what he is currently studying. We talked about various things and then he announced that it was national anti-bullying week but that his school would not be doing anything as they do not have any bullies. I had to bite my tongue as my instant reaction was 'what, that's crazy!'. I then calmed myself silently and wondered if it was some sort of positive reinforcement type strategy, you know if you make all the kids feel valued and not accused, it might then help them to not undertake the bullying behaviour.

The next day I was speaking to some other parents from the school and they were as appalled as me that bullying would not be covered and their children have been in the school far longer and they assured me there was some bullying type behaviour, not what I wanted to hear but to be expected. Also one of them made a really good point, that even if it is a one-off school with perfect students what about the kids going to secondary school in a few short months, surely they need preparing for what has become really common?

However, I won't go all guns blazing to the school as I've been pleased with what I have seen of the teaching and the school life in general so far, so I need to trust that God is in this (it is a CofE school) and that the Head Teacher has reasons for the approach they have taken.

Realising that the school are not covering this topic did throw it back into my court and as a parent who wishes to be responsible I felt I needed to have a heart to heart with JJ. So there we were on our journey home and I mention to JJ that a young girl has taken her own life recently because of bullying and that I have a poem I'd like him to read. This of course opens up a really difficult conversation 'how old was she Mum?', 'why didn't she tell her teacher?', 'Why did they bully her?' I patiently tried to answer all his questions as best I could and of course I don't really have the answers, I did not have the privilege to know Izzy Dix.

I heard my 10 year old so adamant that Izzy should have told people how she felt and that nothing could be that bad, why didn't she change schools? 'I'd tell you Mum' and it felt reassuring to know he feels that confidence to talk to me, to fight back, to report people who are treating others unfairly. I reassured him he must always keep talking to me even if it is to tell me he has done something bad or naughty, I will always be in his corner. I just have to make sure I listen and take what he says seriously, a really hard call I'd imagine, as what parent wants to hear the worst?

We talked about why Izzy might have been bullied and I said I did not know the reason but from the pictures I had seen of her she was a beautiful girl and very smart too and that sometimes people do not like others who are prettier or smarter than them and they choose to be nasty and bully them. It was a real eye-opener when he asked me 'why didn't she change so they wouldn't bully her anymore?', 'she could have messed her hair up and got rubbish marks'. This of course prompted the conversation of why should anyone have to change just because one or a few people can not cope with who they are. We are all different and all God created and it is perfect that we show off our uniqueness and be who we want to be.

I think this conversation really started to show me just how mature my young man is getting, instead of my getting cross with answers that he gave I chose to question him and explore his answers with him, making sure that he could think through the consequences of his actions and thought processes. He told me that at school he had been told that bullying is when nasty behaviour is three times or more, it has to be ongoing and that just once is a mistake. We talked about how people do make mistakes and that sometimes people bully without even consciously realising that is what they are doing, however that does not make it acceptable.

I then made the choice to share part of my past with JJ and I found myself saying 'I was a bully when I was young' and yes I get a lump in my throat typing that. It eats me up to think that I could have been part of a long campaign of bullying that could easily have spoilt the life of a young boy. Thankfully I have been in touch with that boy in recent years and he has finally managed to move on. Click on the link if you want to read my account of being a bully, if my revelation can help any child to be aware of their actions then it is worth shaming me.

Never did I want to have to tell my kids I was guilty of bullying but I think it was a necessary admission and if it helps them to think about their actions and not to get involved with harassing any other child then it is worth the moments of discomfort I felt as we had the conversation. I can see the future now, there will be so many of these conversations with the kids that I don't really want to have. But they are necessary to help my children make good judgements and to be responsible as they grow and mature.

As a direct response to what happened to Izzy, a petition has been set up on change.org to ask the Govenment to close down Ask.fm, a Latvia based social networking site which gives anonymous bullies a platform and has been hotly linked to a number of teen suicides. Please head over and show your support and please make sure you are talking to your kids about bullying and particularly cyberbulling and how to be safe online.

I pray that the Izzy Dix anti-bullying memorial group's mantra of 'Don't bully. Love instead' becomes a national banner in all our schools, children's groups and online.

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