Teasing . . . another form of bullying

Posted: February 1, 2011 in Children's Rights
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One of the things I firmly believe in is that children are the treasures of our society.  When they are young, and uncorrupted by society, they are pure in heart and a blessing to us all.  They are a true representation of goodness and purity.  Even more important, they are our future.  Unfortunately sometimes our society does not treat them as “treasures,” and sometimes they have less rights than adults.  

I like you, you like me . . . not necessarily

Schools try to give this impression to the students that everybody likes everybody, and everyone should get along.  I am sure all of you heard this when your child was in kindergarten, “He plays so well with the other children.”  It really sends confusing messages to the child. It is not realistic to like all people.  If a child is taught that you should like everyone, what happens when a real life situation happens when he doesn’t like someone?  He begins to question himself and possibly thinking he is a bad person and in the wrong. 

In my home it is okay to not like someone.  The key is how you behave around this person.  I tell my son to take the high road.  Don’t initiate interaction with the individual if you don’t like him. If the individual tries to interact with you, respond curtly,  but pleasant, and with a dismissive tone.  Above all he should treat them as he would want them to treat himself.  I realize that this is easier said than done.  But it has to be much better than thinking you should be liking everyone, and if you don’t there must be something wrong with you.

Last year my son had a teacher that punished him for not saying hi to one of his classmates as he entered the classroom.   He didn’t omit the kid from his salutation.  He didn’t say a salutation to anyone.   My son did not care for the individual because of the boy’s behavior in the classroom.  In addition the classroom was not a pleasant experience for my son.  So my son did not feel like saying hi. I really don’t see anything wrong with that.  He wasn’t being disrespectful.  He didn’t break any school rules.  He did not have to fake a feeling when it wasn’t genuine.

You are on your own

When a child is having a social problem with a peer, the school teaches them to first try to take care of it themselves.  At school the child is supposed to be in a “safe” environment and the adults who are supposed to be making sure he is safe basically abandons him.  The second thing the school teach the students is, if they can’t resolve the issue themselves, they are supposed to tell an adult.  Are children really able to evaluate when to escalate a situation to an adult?  I doubt it.  

I know children struggle with this responsiblity.  My son did.  Children are also aware that there may be repercussions for telling an adult.  It could easily turn into a “he said, she said” situation, and then he is treated just as guilty as the perpetrator.  Children avoid this situation because there is a possibility of it being turned against themselves. Or even worse they could be accused of tattle-tailing. This accusation can come from his peers or sometimes even the “adult,”  and the child usually ends up being ostracized.  

So what if this is a bullying situation?   How do you think children that are being bullied are handling this? View it from the perspective of the child based on what he has been taught in school:

  • Everyone should like everyone
  • Everyone gets along with everyone
  • Don’t hit other children
  • Be cordial all the time, even if it is fake
  • Handle the situation yourself
  • Telling an adult may turn into a “he said, she said” situation
  • Telling an adult may turn into an accusation of being a tattle-taler from his peers or the adult
  • There may not be consequences for the offender, and the bullying will continue or get worse.

Is teasing really just ‘kidding’ around?  Do we really expect a child to handle being teased?  Some view this as less of an offensive than bullying activities.  Seems to me it is a form of bullying and can have dire consequences.  What do you think happens to a child’s self-esteem when he is being teased repeatedly?  What happens when the situation is dismissed by an adult?  Who does the child turn to for help?

Several years ago, my son was attending a preschool.  It was our intention to continue in this private school for kindergarten.  It had a good reputation, and seemed to be a better first step for starting school.  We were one of the few that had been awarded acceptance. 

The summer before kindergarten my son was switched to a new room and teacher.  Shortly after being transferred in the room, my son began showing hints that he was not happy at school, and each day was dreading to be dropped off.   I talked to the teacher and she pointed out that my son was new in the classroom and my son needed a little time to adjust.  She told me that there was a group of  five boys that had already been in the room for some time and they were a tight clique.  She even referenced to these five boys as the “gang” of boys. 

I decided to give it a little bit more time, but within a couple of weeks I could tell my son’s anxiety was increasing.  It was obvious the situation was not getting better.  I talked with him about it and he said the boys wouldn’t let him play with them and kept teasing him.  I told him to give it time.  He was new, and I’m sure it will change.

Well, it didn’t change.  Within a short time one of the teachers pulled my aside to talk to me and she said that she thought I should know that my son may be a little upset because the boys were teasing him about the color of his skin.  She said the boys were saying that my son’s skin turned brown because he drank chocolate milk.  I was a little shocked to hear this.  She also said she thought it was important for me to know this.  She obviously was concerned about the circumstances.

Now you may say I am an over-protective mother.  Maybe.  But I know what it is like to be teased, and I sure as hell was not going to let some six-year olds pick on my son because of his skin color.  My son had been going through a number of health issues and he was quite traumatized by some of it.  I really didn’t want another aspect of his life to be  difficult.  The kid needed a break.

The next day I did not take my son to the school until I had this situation corrected.  Instead, I scheduled to meet with the director of the school.  In our meeting I explained what the teacher told me about the teasing and asked the director if she had any suggestions for how to handle this.  Her suggestion was she was going to talk to each of the parents.  She also had the same reaction to the chocolate milk reference as I did.  I told her that I would like to help get this turned around.  I offered to buy and donate some books for the class regarding diversity.  I even offered to bring in a speaker that could talk about the subject with the kids.  She was very cooperative and very much in agreement with this. 

The next day I got a phone call from the director requesting that we meet again.  She said that she discussed this issue with the teacher of my son’s classroom and they came to the conclusion that this was not serious.  It was just plain old teasing.  She pointed out that there is another girl in the classroom that was African-American, and she was not being teased.  I was a little caught off guard when she concluded that we didn’t have an issue. 

I told her that I was not sure why they would pick on my son and not the little girl.  Perhaps it was because boys play with boys, and girls play with girls.  Or perhaps it was because my son had brown skin, and he has a mother who picks him up every day that is caucasian which drew attention to the situation.  In the end, I said it is irrelevant.  Teasing is teasing.  My son is being teased and I want it stopped. 

I asked the director if she was going to talk to the boys’ parents, and she said no.  I asked her if she realized that this behavior is a learned behavior.  She responded by saying that these children come from respectful and nurturing homes and she found that highly unlikely. 

I looked at her and realized I was not going to get anywhere with her.  She was just plain ignorant.  I turned to her and said, “I am pulling my son from the school.  I don’t want him to be in an environment that he does not feel wanted or safe.”  She said that it was my choice but I had to give her two week’s notice, as it is stated in our contract.  I looked at her and said, “You have got to be kidding.  I am taking my son home.  He will not be back.  He will also not be attending kindergarten at your school.  And since you have refused to resolve this issue, I am not paying for the two weeks.  It appears to me you are also a part of the problem.”  She responded, “You have to pay for the two weeks.  It is in your contract.”  My response was, “I’m not paying.  Sue me.”  And I headed out the door. 

Now I know this may sound like an insignificant event, but I wanted my child to know that his mother is there to protect him.  He could come to me anytime and we would get the issue resolved.  I also wanted him to know that he did not have to put up with situations such as this, and you had a right confront individuals involved.

I also wondered to myself, what lesson this “gang” of boys had learned.  It is okay to pick on someone.  It is okay to treat someone differently because of their skin color.  Since the adults around them did not take an action, it is okay to continue with this type of behavior.  In the end I was thankful that we left the school. 

To be continued . . .

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