Anita's Haven

books, thoughts, stories, poetry, interviews, writing

Something to think about…

on 22/04/2015

PARENTS’  ALERT

Not so long ago, a friend of mine found her son in front of his laptop, in bitter tears and literally afraid for his life. An older boy from his school was sending him threatening and hurtful messages over a social network, on behalf of himself and a bunch of his bullying buddies. Her son was not only afraid to leave the house, but even sat there in front of the screen, as if paralysed, his fists clenched so firmly that his knuckles were white. No amount of consoling, coaxing or even threatening helped my friend – her son would simply not reveal the real name of his abuser, who remained masked behind a clipart avatar and a fashionably misspelled username.

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But most mothers whose children are attacked don’t just back out, and very few obstacles manage to slow them down. Single mothers even more so, and my friend is one.

Like a proper lioness, she gave her son a chocolate bar, some cocoa and a pep talk, gently stroked his hair and put him in bed, playing his favourite music really low till he fell asleep. She acted calm before the storm. Then she sat at the desk and opened her son’s profile. A couple of hours later, having done some online detective work she had never deemed herself capable of, she had the bully’s full name and surname, his home address and his private cell phone number. And she hadn’t even broken any laws. The problem with bullies and all criminals is their ego; they are never really ashamed of their actions and always secretly want the whole world to know them for their deeds. So they leave a trail of breadcrumbs one only has to follow. She did exactly that. Looking at her son twitch and sweat in sleep, mumble defensive phrases in his nightmare, and unconsciously cry despite his early teenage years and strong body, she grabbed her cell phone and typed in the bully’s number. Before tapping the call button, she left her son’s room and closed the door behind her.

She phoned the bully. He answered. She introduced herself, and then, with all the raging storm she had in her, she spoke her mind, letting the bully know she knew who he was and where he lived, ordering him to stop contacting her son, and threatening what she would do if he didn’t stop.

I don’t know exactly what she said, and I guess neither does she any more. Protecting loved ones, especially children, brings out the best and worst in us, and controlling that is usually impossible. The point is – she succeeded. She never spoke to the boy’s parents about this. It turns out she knows from the neighbourhood; they are exactly the behavioural matrix their son so loyally copies. She never told her son what she did. But he is not bullied any more, sleeps well and goes out with his friends, like all happy children should. She is not happy. She is alert.

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What would you do? There are so many options for parents in this case, some depending on the laws of your country, some on the culture and tradition you come from, but what it all comes down to is your definitive parental decision. You are the one who chooses to act and faces the results.
Would you tell your son to ‘take it like a man’ and fight back? Battle a group of bullies, bigger and older than him, all alone and empty-handed? Would you resort to violence yourself, get a gang of thugs and beat the boys’ senseless, and their parents as well? Would you go to the press or the Internet and make the story go viral, dragging you and your son through the merciless scrutiny of the public eye, which only seems to feed on the negative and rarely offers any real help or solution? Would you tell your child to talk to friends or call a helpline, washing your hands of the responsibility?

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You could choose not to act. Just sit tight, wait for the whole thing to pass on its own. It seems easier to do anyway. But it isn’t easy, and it won’t pass. Dirt piled up under a rug doesn’t go away, it doesn’t dissolve, and nobody else comes to clean house. Sooner or later, you or your loved ones stumble over it and fall flat on your face. Unresolved bullying only gets worse, spreads to more people, leaves your child out there like an open target, a sitting duck, with an invisible ‘open season’ sign hanging over his head. And your child remains a victim. Or, for better or worse(which do you think?), becomes a bully himself, vindicating his own suffering by tormenting others.

You could do exactly what my friend did – go directly to the source and deal with the bully. You could get lucky, exactly like she did, the word ‘lucky’ used very loosely here, because there is no win-win situation where violence is concerned. She could have been in trouble though. The bully could have told his parents, they could have attacked her, they could have sued her for contacting their underage son without their knowledge and threatening him. They could even have won in court, depending on who had the money for a slicker lawyer. Her son could have been badly hurt by the bullies for having his mummy come to the rescue. But if you weigh all those options before your parental instinct kicks in, you are probably late already.

You could contact the school authorities. It is their duty, after all, to handle such issues on school premises. They have trained professionals for such situations. It would take time, you would drag your son and his friends through questioning, the bully’s parents would be contacted, and then it would be just like a trial all over again. Or maybe not. Maybe the whole team of adults involved in the problem really would work together in the best interest of all the children, and the bully would get help and stop being a bully, whereas the bullied would relax and heal, and future similar situations would be prevented or, at least, reduced. Well, you never know until you try, right?

What would you do? What do you do?

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This essay was written during my participation in a worldwide project called Inner Giant, in which educators and artists from around the world have contributed their time and effort speaking out against bullying in all its forms, through stories, essays, worksheets, poems, songs and illustrations. The project will soon publish its e-book, the proceeds of which will go to charity. More news to come!

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