Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Calling Out the Bully Label

My son recently got in trouble for sticking up for a friend at school who was being made fun of by another kid in the library.
Not like trouble trouble, just in that he had to apologize for his behavior. 
Basically for his words.
This kid was mocking his friend and he called this kid a jerk.

"You know, you're being a jerk." 

I have been instilling in both of my kids that they can't stand by when someone is being bullied - say something, tell someone, don't just stand there and watch.

Now in real life, calling someone a jerk pales in comparison to the stabbiness that is sometimes reality to everyone at one time or another over something as simple as driving to work. Apparently in 5th grade, name calling is a very big deal because this kid turned around and told the library teacher that my kid used the word.

"David called me a jerk."

To which the teacher responded by telling my son to apologize to this kid with no investigation as to what was going on. I realize that 5th grade is about which situations to diffuse and which to investigate so I get that this did not constitute questions, it was about what an acceptable solution was for the teacher. I have also reinforced respect for adults and authority so he didn't argue or try to tell the story, he just followed the command given to him. End of story. He did what he was told - but it was apparent he wasn't happy about it at the end of the day. He was doing the right thing. He just went about it like a 5th grader would. He fought fire with fire.

As the teacher, and being that these kids are 11, something in me would want to ask this kid if they were in fact being a jerk. Maybe if he had used the word bully it would have been a different situation.  The big conclusion my son came to was basically standing on the sidelines instead of saying anything is better because at least then you won't be getting yourself in trouble.

In re-evaluating this situation, we determined it was his words that backfired. We talked about whether or not the person you are sticking up for is worth getting in trouble for, if this person would have done the same for him and if the problem would get better or worse if anything was said. We talked about the uncomfort factor and the power of words. We are big on practicing situations and so we substituted his calling this kid a name with something I'm personally becoming an expert at.  Here are some example responses we came up with instead of name calling:

"That was so nice of you."
"Saying that must have made you feel better."
"Was that really necessary?"
"I'd like to make chocolate out of you, you're so sweet."

Now I while know sarcasm and name calling may come from the same family, sarcasm is harder to tell on someone for so why not go there? Labeling didn't work so well. What if that bully label is thrown completely to the wayside and has no meaning? Why not instead toss out something to distract them and maybe make them think about how they are projecting themselves as a person?  He won't be doing nothing about it, he will be throwing them off instead of sitting there and watching. Instead of fighting fire with fire, smother them with kindness. Better to be pro-active than reactive. Kindness is better than name calling even if it's dripping in sarcasm, right? 


Vinny C said...

Sarcasm always wins, in my book. I commend you for how you actually teach your children to handle situations like these. Wish more parents ddid that.

Abi Zimmerman said...

I love this idea. Will be passing it on to my girls. Thanks for sharing. Oh, and thanks for writing! :)

Amy said...

It is harder to get in trouble for sarcasm, it's gotta be. "David told me I was chocolate I'm so sweet." Goes over better than having to apologize for calling someone a jerk

Amy said...

Mine too, I'm almost expert level. Thanks - I also taught him to use the PeeWee approach when someone calls him a name. "I know you are but what am I?" is just enough to throw them off

Deborah Gilboa, MD said...

Way to go Amy. And way to go David. He called it like he saw it. Keep the faith.

Sarcasm Goddess said...

I'm really proud of your son! It takes a lot of courage to stand up for someone. I personally love the sarcastic comments. I used a few of them my own when I was growing up and people were mean to me. Saying something like, "Wow, that was so sweet of you. Thanks." really shuts them up. I even do it now when sometimes when people are being rude.

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Coffee Lovin' Mom said...

This is a great message, and I think it's fantastic that you have a son who will go out of his way to stand up for someone. He could have easily stood idly by, or even joined the bullying crowd. Good parenting!