When The Tough Kid Gets Bullied - A Personal Case Study
A personal case study from John LaMorte in the Online Safety Group community...
My wife and I were blessed 17 years ago with our first child. A healthy, smiling, bouncing baby boy. The doctor told us through the years that Travis would be in the 100th percentile for height and weight, and he definitely has been. He always towered over his friends, growing up in our small town. He was always an extrovert, making friends easily at church, school and youth activities. He made the varsity team for the high school football team at left guard. His biggest want from the game, were to protect his friends, his running backs, and quarterbacks.
When he was in elementary school, I remember him telling me about kids at recess. Some were picking fights with smaller kids. Students from upper grades were bullying the younger guys. It wasn’t so rampant that it was very obvious to the teachers, but it was going on. So my wife and I knew we should talk about it together. First, we needed to know if Travis was being bullied, definitely not he told us. Then, we had to be realistic, “have you done any bullying?” “No way!” He was pretty adamant that he wasn’t part of the shenanigans. I felt my minimal education in psychology was enough to look into his response with authority. But it was important that he knew that we as parents would go to no end to get to the bottom of the situation, even if we had to confront our own child. We let him know that bullying to some people might seem attractive, in the sense of conforming to the mores of a group.
Because of his size, Travis could be targeted for bullying. He explained to us how he was friends with everybody, and he didn’t think it would bother him. Then we put a load on him. We explained that if he was that friendly, popular and big in size, then he has an obligation to help set the boundaries. “If you see bullying”, we told him, “you should take action”. “Put yourself between the two, speak your peace. At least until a teacher notices the situation”. We did not want him to start any fights, just be a defender, and that we would have his back if it ever got him sent to the principal’s office. We used those moments to teach the kids that if you’re capable you should step up for those who can’t defend themselves. These moments we felt, help to maneuver through these situations now and in the future. He survived those years, and those times perfectly.
Fast forward a few years, Travis is playing football. He along with another friend are a couple of the youngest guys on the varsity team. Trying to fit into a world that they physically were built for, but emotionally they were struggling to keep up with. Their world plugged into the electronic mask of social media, that gives freedom to its users to speak out and say things that they might not otherwise say if face to face with another. Travis and his friend began getting hazed by the upperclassmen. Travis was impervious to their words, again his size somewhat protected him. His friend absorbed their tirade to the point of tears. The more he reacted to them, the more they gave it to him, all via the chat room they all participated in.
We, the parents, would have been none the wiser, if we hadn’t walked by Travis’s phone when a message came across.
He was 16, so we still felt we had a right to involve ourselves. Travis told us that they were just getting ‘the business’ from the older kids, and his friend was just having trouble adapting to it. Time to teach again. This was a form of cyberbullying, and just because Travis was reacting one way, it was obvious that his friend was taking it in a very different way, and no one could predict just how this could end up. We informed Travis that someone needed to step up, just like when he was in elementary school. If he didn’t feel up to speaking to the bully’s we were comfortable approaching the coaches or school administration. That’s how we would want our kids treated.
We reminded him that his desire to protect his friends didn’t end on the playing field. It has to translate back into the real world. Travis stepped up, he told us that it reminded him of when he was younger. His friend needed to be reminded that he was a worthy individual, and the older kids were brave only because they were hiding behind the cloak of social media. They were quick to back down, when they realized they took it too far, and how it was impacting a team mate.
Travis wasn’t at fault, he forgot. He forgot what bullying was, because it didn’t affect him the same way. We as parents have to remind our kids of how to interpret what is going on in the world. It’s great to still see the innocence in our children’s faces even in high school. But our job of teaching them is never really over. We have an obligation to this generation to inform them, and learn from them.