Bullies, #StopBullying

Wil Wheaton has this great blog post over on Wil Wheaton dot Net – check it out… read it then come back here…

It was a well timed post from Wil as today I witnessed some bullying in the playground as my daughter and a friends child were playing. Although not physical bullying and it was stopped thankfully by the mother of the bully it did raise the question of when I, as a parent, need to step in and how do I make my children strong and safe (there is a difference between them and I don’t believe that it is ALL up to my child to defend themselves from bullies or me.

I’ll set the scene – not as an excuse but to allow you, dear reader, the opportunity to understand this particular situation better.

We (my wife A, K 3 yr old and T 10 wk old, both girls) met with a friend (Pt) and his 3 kids (R 5 yr old girl, B 3 yr old boy, and P 1+ yr old girl) at the museum for a fun day out (and it was).

B is a vibrant and funny lad who K loves to play with and they get along like a house on fire. R is great with them and when together the 3 of them just do there own thing looking after each other and having a great time. As parents we all love this – we can watch them and of course monitor them while not needing to be hovering or controlling. Fantastic.

B (and indeed his siblings) have grown up without the typical gender roles – he has long hair and more often than not wears a dress or like today a smock style over shirt and trousers. It’s his thing, he likes it and who the hell cares!

Unfortunately this makes him a target and in the cause of my daughter, upsets the general gender ideas. After the first play-date (since they were under 1) K kept referring to B as a girl (correcting us by saying “no, he’s a girl!”). She has since worked out that wearing dresses and having long hair does not make you a girl and accepts B for what he is… besides he rocks a skirt like nobodies business.

So after lunch as the kids were playing on a playground Pt took P and R to the toilets and left B and K (and us watching) to play. Two boys slightly older than our two started talking to them and A and I over heard the familiar, “you’re not a boy” in reference to B. At first we thought it was K getting confused again but as we watched more closely and listened we realised it was one of the two boys. B said something back to them and they commented about his hair and clothes and B was noticeably getting upset (angry). K said something as well and I was getting ready to head over and say a word or two when the boys mother (guardian?) walked up and told them it was time to leave.

They walked past us on the way out and she was telling them off saying something like it doesn’t matter what other kids wear it was rude to say nasty things (one of the boys piped up as well agreeing with the mother figure).

That made me happy, I didn’t have to be this defending father over-stepping the line, the mother took responsibility, but what made me (and A) happy was the reaction from B and K.

They walked off as the mother took the boys away, as they came around the play equipment they were mirror-images of defiance. Arms crossed in solidarity they marched up to the ladder daring any other kids to say anything – stern looks on their faces, united! They stood up to the boys and afterwards made an almost victory march around the play ground to show off their combined strength.

That made me proud of K for standing tall when another is being bullied and of B for fighting back and not letting them tell him how to be.

A and I (and indeed Pt and his wife) intend to bring our kids up with the sense of  self worth to be able to weather these storms but also with the decency to stand up for others and their beliefs.

Wil Wheaton is right – parents, schools, teachers, neighbours, friends and society need to #StopBullying but it is also nice to see kids sorting out some of the minor infractions and being strong enough to defend and maybe by doing that change the course of history.

I remember being bullied and thankfully it didn’t last, I had good friends and more important things to do, but not so for many others. I often think about one boy who, in high school, ran away from  home and ended up on the street selling his body. I never knew what happened to him and as I write this I think about what I could have done to help him more. True there was more than bullying in his life (broken family and not fitting in with either parent) but it must have impacted on him. Could I have done something – did I bully him in anyway myself? All lost to history and the past. I only know I can make a difference and while I may not have stood up then I sure intend to now and I will make sure my daughters have every opportunity to do so as well.

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