Mom says her bullied teen does not stand out
As an occupational therapist, I expect that some of the children and teens I help experience bullying. The reasons are many. Some have development coordination disorder and their clumsiness makes even the simplest game in gym class an Everest-like challenge. Others have autism and their struggle with social skills means they may not readily understand laughing at vs. laughing with. Or they wear clothes that are comfortable for their body but not fashionable because their sensory processing disorder makes them choose what to wear by what they can tolerate.
As we’ve so often heard and witnessed, anyone can be a target of bullying. I had the opportunity to interview a parent of a typical 12 year-old girl who has been bullied since elementary school. For parents of children who are or have been bullied the following is all too common an experience.
Q: How did you learn your daughter was being bullied?
A: There were no overt signs. My daughter’s grades didn’t suffer. She began to have issues with sleeping at night, in particular difficulty falling asleep. She became easily frustrated and emotional over little issues at home. Thankfully, she openly communicates with both my husband and I and told us what was occurring. Initially it was difficult to distinguish if she was over-reacting to situations, but once we peeled back the layers, it was evident that the situations she was experiencing were that of being bullied.
Q: What has surprised you most about the bullying your daughter experiences?
A: I can’t name any attributes in my daughter that would make her a target. She looks like her peers; the same height, the same weight and enjoys the typical activities of her age group. She relates well to her peers and has friends both at school and in the community. I was surprised at how girls bully each other – it can be easily hidden; eye rolling, turning your back, making a comment in passing between classes or in the lunch room where there is less supervision. Bullies can be very manipulative.
Q: What has been the most difficult part of the bullying for you as a parent?
A: The change in my daughter. She used to be willing to try new things. She used to persevere. Now she constantly seeks external feedback about how she is doing. She often worries and is anxious. She doesn’t believe in herself. She can be controlling about what she is doing at home, her room, her chores, I think in part because she feels she has no control over the bullying.
Q: What worries you most as a parent?
A: That she will harm herself. That she will commit suicide. I worry that we will lose her. And the world will also lose a kind, caring human being.
Q: What do you wish for your daughter?
A: I hope that the bullying will end. I hope that she will learn to be confident in herself, to stand up for herself and others.
Q: How has the bullying changed your family?
A: We never know what the end of the school day will bring. Sometimes our daughter is frustrated and will be very mad or very sad after school. Her mood often sets the tone in our home. We all live with trepidation that the bullying will occur every day.
Q: What has been the worst bullying your daughter has experienced?
A: That is hard to say. Girls bully in an emotional-social-relationship way. The saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” is wrong. Bones heal. A wounded self-image can take a long time to come back. There really hasn’t been one particular bullying event; it is the accumulation of these experiences that have most impacted her. I can think of an instance where there were several bystanders who witnessed her being bullied and did nothing. As a parent it is heart-wrenching to learn that children witnessed the event but chose not to help her.
Q: What do you think would help?
A: It will take a community to address bullying. It isn’t just a school issue. Or a home issue. But everyone. Working together. Parents and community members, the education system, the mental health system and the justice system. Bullying happens everywhere. Parents need to be involved; parents of the child who bullies, parents of the bullied child and parents of the child who is a bystander. Zero tolerance should mean zero tolerance. I don’t think suspensions are the answer; there needs to be ongoing teaching to stop bullying. There needs to be reconciliation of the bully, the bullied and the bystander. The bully needs to take ownership of his/her behavior. The bystander needs to understand that his/her actions are just as important or rather that inaction makes them part of the problem.
Q: What do you teach your daughter about bullying?
A: It is hard, because we have taught her to “turn the other cheek” and to be kind to all people. I wonder if that was to her detriment. Now we teach her to be respectful of all people, but to also stand up if someone puts her down and to seek help. We teach her that everyone is accountable for his/her behaviour, that telling didn’t get someone into trouble; it was what they did or said that got them into trouble.
What’s your experience with bullying? Leave your comments below.