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What do you know about bullying. Really?
I worried, like many parents, about my kids being bullied. Many of them even showed the signs and I grew more and more worried about it as time went on. It started me talking about it with them.
Then, several months ago, I was asked to join another producer at my day job and help create an hour-long special on bullying for the station where I work in Sacramento, California. I learned so much about what happens to our kids and in our schools I feel it needs to live beyond that hour. My son, Noah, tends to be creative and fantastical and sees the world even farther askew than I do. The poor boy got the worst of both his parents. He makes stop-frame movies at home. He loves to read books other kids don’t. When he gets called out during kickball they taunt him, and follow him back to home base yelling at him all the while. Once, when this happened, he lost his temper and threw a tantrum. It’s happened more than once and now he’s got a label. His being taunted flipped his switch and he did the worst thing; he fought. Now he’s labeled the bully, the fighter, the mean kid who can’t control himself. I’m lucky this year, his teacher’s aid and teacher know the signs and they adore his mind. It’s made things easier on him and all of us. His behavior and that of others is vastly improved.
But I share the concern for his being a bully as much as being bullied. He was suspended a day from school for throwing a piece of bark that hit another kid. I couldn’t find out what the other kid did to spark the anger, and Noah’s never angry without provocation. Yet so many parents aren’t responsive. I made sure Noah knew the consequences of his suspension. I spent a day home from work. I used a personal day so our vacation was cut short by a day. I reminded him, constantly, that his actions affected all of us.
So why don’t all parents do this? I know he was provoked but I know he acted wrong. Why do we, as a society, take the position – constantly – that our children couldn’t possibly be wrong. My kid couldn’t possibly hurt another! “It’s a rite of passage anyway,” so many people told us in writing and editing this special.
I met the parents of a boy who killed himself because he couldn’t take it any more. I met the director of the film, Bully, Lee Hirsch and was horrified by the violence he captured on tape. We brought over 50 random kids into our studio and we met two who were so affected by what is happening I wanted to reach over to them and hold them.
I communicate with you today via internet and social media. The world knows my business much of the time through my blog and sometimes that’s not a good thing. Sometimes I’ve unintentionally hurt others and I feel horrible when that happens. What we found is that in today’s world, we give our kids phones, laptops, iPads, and other devices with no instructions or oversight. They have Facebook and Instagram accounts before 13 – did you know legally they aren’t supposed to have them before then?
The worst thing is, with this vast open field that is social media, there’s no sense of direction. A study by the internet security company MacAfee says that 90% of kids on facebook are bullied, and more than half engage in talks with the bully online. That leads to more taunts, more social outcasts, and more problems. When I was little the bullying stopped, and if your parents were decent, home was a respite. Today it’s a dogpile and kids tape fights, put them on the net, and provoke others. It’s online 24/7 and so are our kids.
Things could easily go so wrong having 4 kids and one parent. Instead, I learned so much more.
Bullying is a problem. It’s not a simple fight in the school playground any more, it’s grown beyond its issue. Like domestic violence or drunk driving it will take all of us to change that attitude. Are you willing to do it? What about you, are you always on the defensive – even if your kid is wrong? What will you do to make sure all kids are safe? The solution, like so many others starts at home.
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Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins, is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.