Bully for You

I have a confession: I was not bullied in high school.

I don’t *think* I was a bully, either, but memory is a tricky thing. I remember girls in my high school who were… pretty universally picked on. I don’t recall going out of my way to pick on them, but it’s safe (and unfortunate) to say I also didn’t go out of my way to defend them either.

I didn’t harass them (to my recollection), and I didn’t assault them (by, for example, knocking books out of their hands or tripping them in class). But I didn’t invite them to sit with me at lunch either.

I dare say this puts me firmly in the majority of teenagers, at least at that time.

If you read enough parenting sites on the World Wide Interwebz these days, it seems there are two groups in high schools (and younger, even): the bullies and the bullied. And if you aren’t the latter, then by default you’re the former.

But I wonder about that. I think most teens are like I was: not an aggressor, not a defender, not a victim. I just wanted to survive being a teen.


That said, I very nearly did get beat up one day. I yelled an insult about a girl in gym class. She heard me (I don’t know why I thought she wouldn’t), and teamed up with the toughest chick in my class (this girl smoked cigarettes!), and threatened to kick my ass.

I don’t know why she changed her mind.


I worry a little bit about my own girls. They are still young, but the drama is already pretty rampant. When Niece visits, it is just a matter of time until one of the girls is stomping off in a huff, wanting to be alone, or complaining about not getting played with. It makes me roll my eyes a little — we’re talking about a 6-, 5-, and 4-year-old here. Flora has come home from daycare (not DCL’s) complaining about one of her “friends” calling her stupid or not wanting to play with her.

The other day, Nephew even had to come to me to tell me that Flora hit him in the privates. When I talked to Flora about it, she was devastated that he told on her.

“I don’t like being told on!” she wailed.

I more or less pointed out that she shouldn’t do things to other people that are going to get her told on, then.

I’ve told my daughters to walk away if someone is doing something to them that they don’t like (i.e. calling them names, physically bothering them). If the person doesn’t stop, they should tell an adult. I have misgivings when I give this advice. Am I turning them into tattletales? At the same time, I don’t want them to take playground justice into their own hands and start hitting people.

We all know the kid that gets caught hitting gets in the most trouble.


When my brother was in eighth grade, he suddenly developed a real phobia about going to school. He had stomach aches, headaches, complained nearly daily about having to go.

When my father — who, incidentally, grew up on the streets of ‘SLiberty — finally got to the bottom of things, it turns out my brother was getting picked on. Bullied, more or less. A bigger boy (my brother was about a year younger than his classmates) was constantly threatening to beat him up.

My dad told him to fight the kid. And then had to teach my brother how to make a fist.

We grew up in the suburbs of Erie. We didn’t fight — as a practice anyway. My dad had a different childhood. He was pretty amazed that his son hadn’t already been scrapping on the playground.


Dan, too, was bullied in grade school. He said he finally turned around one day and socked the kid in the nose. Bloodied it for him, knocked him to the ground. The kid never bothered him again.


So, what will I be telling Michael in a few years?


Again, I don’t believe in helicopter parenting my children. When they are sniping with each other or with their cousins (on either side), I try to stay out of it. They have to learn to negotiate these relationships by themselves. As long as no one is putting her hands on someone else, then I try to keep my lip zipped.

Are there signs that your kid is going to be a bully, or be a victim? If it’s clear they are not being bullied, should I assume they are bullying? How do you (plan to) negotiate these waters?

7 thoughts on “Bully for You

  1. I had a couple of incidents as a middle schooler/high schooler. I did what I could to ignore it or walk away as much as possible until it became clear that physical abuse wasn’t going to end.

    I took matters into my own hands at that point. I tripped one kid in front of the whole class and he cocked a fist to retaliate – that’s when the teacher caught on. He got in trouble then, I got in trouble a day later. Keep in mind, this kid had been hitting me and pulling my hair for months with no consequences so I didn’t feel bad. When my parents heard the circumstances of the whole issue, they said “Good for you that you defended yourself,” signed my discipline slip, and told me they’d pick me up after detention. The kid never bothered me again.

    The other kid got my handprint across his face. Again after months of bothering me. When it came to a head, I slapped him open palm across the face and left a rather livid red mark.

    He didn’t bother me again, either. At least not in the open. He turned a bit devious but he could only get so far with it because he played the school Super Christian and had all the teachers fooled as to his actual interactions with other students. So, he couldn’t really hurt me after that and I ignored him.

    After these two things happened (the first one in eighth grade, the second one in ninth) I didn’t have too many problems of a physical bullying nature. I was still a giant ostracized outcast but people didn’t hit me.

    • I believe physical assault or abuse should not be tolerated, not in any form, not at all. Hands should be kept to self. I’m constantly telling my girls that. They are young yet, but by the time you are a preteen and teen, you should know: no one touches you without your permission, and vice versa.

      It’s the more subtle things that I worry about, too, though. Hitting is easy to see and, sometimes, easy to stop. It’s the “relational” aggression, the way friends can change so quickly, the way peer pressure can mount, the way children want to “fit in” and will go to lengths to do so — that all seems more insidious than hitting and pinching.

      I’m sorry you had these experiences. They totally suck. But, if I may be so bold, you’ve come out of them as a strong, lovely person!

      I like ya, anyway. 🙂

      • Looking back on it, it’s clear that it was a situation in which the kid liked me but decided the best way to express it was to hit me or pull my hair. I’m sure part of that was born of the fact that I was considered the class lame-o and it wasn’t cool to like me in the first place.

        The girls were far more devious than the boys. I remember going through hell with them in 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. After that I got a little tougher. But girls are brutal to each other and it was no different for me. I remember telling my parents about it and their only advice was “ignore it and it will go away.” They were wrong but now that I’m a parent I’m not sure what else they could have said or done. I went to a very small school so it wasn’t as if I could just get away from my tormentors. They were always there observing everything I did just waiting to make fun of me for SOMETHING. My parents weren’t willing to send me to public school until high school and by then I had been through the worst of it already.

        So, yeah, I guess I have no clue either. Wow, I’m sure helpful, aren’t I?!

  2. We are starting to see the signs of this stuff right now with Maggie. Nothing dramatic or violent or even very specific. Just general ‘they wouldn’t let me play with them’ stuff. It’s all normal for the age and learning how to deal with friends & relationships, so I hate to make it a big deal with the daycare. But I wonder how long to let it go?

    So far I’ve tried to explain to Maggie that if someone is doing something she doesn’t like, or is being mean, even if they’re supposed to be her friend, maybe that means they don’t make a very good friend?

    And if you saw my Tweet this morning, you’ll know we’ve also been noticing she’s picking up behavior from a certain girl at school. GAH. I hate that I can’t control who she hangs out with anymore! I guess this is just the beginning!! *cry*

    • Yes, a lot of the, “so-and-so doesn’t want to be my friend” and “so-and-so called me names” is totally age appropriate. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. I’ve noticed the same thing with Flora and Kate as far as peer influence. With them, it’s usually language I don’t approve of (not outright swearing) (yet) but definitely words and tones I don’t like to have in my house. I try not to make a big deal about it, simply saying, “We don’t talk like that.”

      I guess in some ways I’m worried BECAUSE I wasn’t a bully and didn’t get bullied. I feel like I would at least know what to look for. Maybe not, and I suppose I have a few more years until it’s a serious issue. I’ve just been thinking about it.

  3. I really, really struggle with this. Because my soon-to-be eight year older goes to Catholic school (and because this is how I feel regardless), I tell her to be nice to everyone, and if she can’t, then just don’t be mean. I also tell her to turn the other cheek. My husband, on the other hand, tells her to say mean things back, which I can understand, but just can’t get on board with (at least not yet!).

    When my kid has told me that someone has picked on her, I tell her to tell the person to stop, but if that person continues to pick on her, then she should tell the teacher, which she has trouble doing. Two kids this year seemed to be extra mean to my kid (and I saw some of if first-hand since I also sub there), and I eventually talked to the teacher. IMO, you have to stop it before it goes too far, but I am against going to the teacher for every little thing. Kids need to work out their problems as much as they can.

    All that said, I think you can be “in between”; for the most part, I don’t think my kid gets bullied (and I keep meaning to read more about this so I know what is truly considered bullying) and she definitely is not a bullier.

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