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noraasnave's avatar

Kids are teasing my son at his school, what should I encourage him to do about it?

Asked by noraasnave (3094points) March 29th, 2012
28 responses
“Great Question” (15points)

I know this seems like a simple questions, and could possibly provoke simple one words answers, but please read on and really help me.

My son is 12, he is in 6th grade. He is a logically intelligent, but emotionally immature boy. Kids in his class pick on him, getting his goat, so to speak. He is responding by displaying short bursts of anger, generally directed at the individual who is doing the teasing at the moment. For instance, he got upset and pushed his chair back out from his desk yesterday.

I feel like my opinion, and advice is somewhat compromised because I dealt with the same issues growing up. I never mastered it then, even after I joined the Marine Corps, for many years people picked on me.

I recognized it as a boundary issue for myself, subsequently, I pushed my boundaries out a bit, as I recognized how special and important I am, as a contributing member of the human race.

I would say this revelation hit me at the age of 30. The real paradigm shift for me was looking at my life, and realizing that I had a lot going for me.

Mitigating factors: We keep him dressed in decent clothes and shoes, his hair is the normal, messed up look, he wears glasses, he is a walking encyclopedia of video games and movies.

We have identified some processing problems with mathematics, but he reads and writes at a high school level. I know this because we got him into counseling this year, where he went through an evaluation process, he has attended 5 or 6 sessions so far.

Thanks for your help and insight in advance, my jelly buddies.

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SuperMouse's avatar

This answer comes from my 13 year-old son who went through something similar last year when he was in sixth grade.

The first thing he says is to talk to your son and share your own experiences with having been bullied. My son thinks that if he hears that his father (who according to my son he most likely respects and thinks is really awesome and cool) got through something similar, it would help him get through it himself. He also thinks you should tell your son all the things you figured out about yourself and that he has has all those things going for him. To quote my boy “tell him that he has a valuable place in the human race.”

Finally my son said you could quietly talk to his teacher or the principal at his school. He says he isn’t necessarily telling you to go behind the boy’s back, but not to make a big deal out of and speak to someone at the school about what is going on. My son says he suggested that you speak to someone because your son might not want to admit that he isn’t ok with the situation so he is reluctant to go to anyone about it. At my boy’s school they have a system where someone who is being bullied or who has witnessed bullying can report it directly to a counselor anonymously.

As a parent I can say I feel for you. My heart ached for my son last year when we went through our situation. My son’s first reaction was anger as well which only made the bully more aggressive and made things worse. My son and I talked about different ways he could handle it and finally came up with a plan that worked. What I learned from this question is that even though he was adamant about me not doing so at the time, he would have appreciated my going to the school.

noraasnave's avatar

@supermouse Thanks for the circumspect response! To my son’s credit, after the angry outburst, he did speak to the teacher to have him moved away from that other child. I was proud of him for taking that step.

Otherwise, I appreciate that you discussed it with your own son, and shared his thoughts.

We have discussed this topic with my son’s teachers recently, and, indeed, they do have a bully policy that appoints one person that the child can go to at anytime to report a bully problem.

I am also delighted to hear that finding the answer to my question helped you as well.

Isn’t that what answering questions is all about?

LostInParadise's avatar

Bullying has been around forever, so you would think that someone would have come up with a way of confronting a bully. I did a Web check and could not find a consensus. I know that trying to ignore it or acting out in anger won’t work.

One thing that I have seen mentioned is to confront a bully alone, away from his friends. But what should you say? Does it help to say how much you are hurt by bullying? Bullies are not big on empathy. Do you ask the bully what he has against you? Suppose the bully answers by saying that you are a dork? What do you say at that point? There must be some comeback, some way of asserting your dignity. What if you say the following? Oh, I am a dork. I don’t even know what that means. But I know what you are. You are a bully. That is so pathetic. The only way that you can feel cool is to pick on people. You must be a real loser.

noraasnave's avatar

The Marine part of me whispers: A pre-emptive strike. A good punch to the face, a kick to the groin, or something just as shocking to send the message: You don’t mess with me!

The parent in me reconciles that the retaliation should match the offense, so if the offense is talking, maybe a snappy, witty comeback. If the offense involves touch, then the next level has been breached and it IS ON.

I must confess, I taught my son in 3rd grade two moves that would cripple and OWN anyone who ever challenged him physically, to use in the case that he finds physical confrontation emminent.

Pandora's avatar

When my son was in school, bullying wasn’t taken as seriously as today. But one time I did report it to the principal after my son reported it and the teacher did nothing about it. The child in question had several offenses already against her and so she was suspended. The principal took the class and asked the students each privately who was bullying who in their class. Funny enough some of the other bullies gave up the name of this person. It seems they sometimes see some bullying as unnecessary. (or maybe its a territorial thing)
When the suspension was over, the girl did try to pick on him again but one of the other girl in class stood between them and told her to back off of him or she was going to kick her ass because she had no problem beating up a girl. Needless to say, that no one ever bothered him after that. Not even the boy bullies. I remember him asking me, as to why did she do this. I explained that every once in a while people recognize an unfair situation and decide to step in. She knew that my son wouldn’t defend himself physically against a girl.
As for the topic of bullies. I explained to him that bullies will exist all his life. There are people who will take out their fustrations out on other people they feel has it all or people they feel are easy targets. Best way to prevent that is to always be honest with those around you about what is happening. Bullies rely on your silence for them to keep going.
But also, catching them off guard is sometimes useful. Most bullies don’t know what to say when confronted personally. I once told a bully that I didn’t care what they thought of me and I didn’t see why they would care what I said or did since I really could care less about what they said or did. We were not friend nor would we ever be, and the smart thing to do would be to move on and go on with our lives. I pointed out that years from now, they wouldn’t even remember my name or vise versa (which is true) so there was no point in being in each others lives. I pointed out that for the rest of his life he will find plenty of people he doesn’t like. So I asked him how is bullying anyone helping him out in the long run?
Now that worked but it won’t always. You have to be careful to never approach someone who is unbalanced mentally. Some are just fustrated teens who need someone to make them see sense.

Timbone's avatar

I sat down with my oldest son, Matt, and talked about his angry outbursts. Confirmed he was angry when he was acting out. We identified the source(s) of his anger. Then, with love, I took the Bible and pointed out how his display of anger was sin. (be angry and sin not) Like so many sins today, anger is often diagnosed and treated clinically. What worked best for me was to realize that 1) Matt is an adult. 2) Matt loves and seeks the pleasure of God and myself. 3) Matt is the only person that can control these outbursts. Therefore, by making him see the problem from the perspective of our Heavenly Father, I was able to give him the tools to desire a change in his life. In conclusion, Matt was able to fix his own problem, through self discipline. Caleb, is also now in this territory of emotional outbursts. However, due to the experience with Matt, we were able to work with him immediately on understanding his emotions and their place in his spiritual walk with the Lord. I hope this helps you decide on how to handle Zech, Aaron. Call me if you can I will be working but will have time to visit if you are in the mood.

CWOTUS's avatar

I would talk to your son and try to clear up the difference between “teasing” and “bullying”. It’s not one of those bright line issues. There should be different responses to each.

My own opinion is that a completely healthy relationship should have and should definitely make allowance for teasing – in both ways. That is, teasing and being teased. That’s normal. It’s healthy. We do it in our work and personal relationships and it should go both ways.

Your son has to learn that crucial difference, but it’s not something that can really be “taught”, is it?

He also has to learn a certain amount of forbearance. That is, the teasing is not always appropriate: it occurs at improper times (and sometimes deliberately so, obviously, as when he’s teased quietly in class past his own point of tolerance until he reacts in a way that the teacher finally notices).

Being somewhat stoic about minor teasing also makes him less fun for others to tease. When there’s no reaction but a blank stare, or not even that, then the teaser himself often crosses the line – and gets noticed by the teacher – in his attempt to provoke a reaction. That’s a win for your son when that happens. Either that, or the teaser moves to someone else who will give him the desired reaction – the softer target.

If it really crosses the line into bullying: unrelenting, vicious, always one-way, escalating meanness, etc., then it’s time to work on those asymmetrical responses that also work well against bullies: You pull my hair; I bloody your nose. What’s next on your agenda?

ElsiePea's avatar

I agree with the person above.
You said “Kids are teasing….” not “A kid is bullying….” In my mind, there is a difference. If the situation is harmless teasing among friends, that deserves a totally different response from a single kid regularly bullying your son. Which is it?
If it is the former, then you need to help your son develop a little thicker skin and either practice some quick comeback lines or learn to drawn no reaction. If it is the latter, and a pattern is well documented and easily proven, then a totally (supposedly) unplanned, surprising, and overwhelming response is warranted.
I will leave that up to you and Sun Tzu.

gailcalled's avatar

What about some more private counseling in order to learn proper tactics for confronting a bully and additionally, a class in martial arts to make him more confident physically?

He’ll be in junior high soon. He needs to have as many appropriate tools in his tool box as he can collect before then.

noraasnave's avatar

@ElsiePea @CWOTUS good differentiation! Teasing was the question, teasing was what happened. A singular acquaintance in the class was picking on, making fun of my son.

The conversation took a right turn on bullying BLVD, but the original question is still our guide.

This disagreement wasn’t with a friend.

6rant6's avatar

One strategy recommended to deal with teasing (not bullying) is to tease back. Smart-mouthing earns membership in the group and contributes to the entertainment without costing the child the emotional toll associated with going ballistic.

JLeslie's avatar

I think only men tend to think teasing is not bullying. For an insecure child teasing can be extremely damaging. It can change their sense of self, or further reinforce their insecure feelings, because many times the teasing is somewhat “accurate.” I have observed gay adults who talk about having had been students who were teased about being gay feeling awful, afraid to come out, dread about being found out, it is truly traumatic for them, while straight students when teased about being gay are able to brush it off. A less athletic boy teased for being weak, a sissy, or a girl, might feel hated, dismissed, loath himself, his stature. Girls who are teased they are ugly or dress funny might seek approval in the wrong places.

I don’t see why it would be ok for any adult to tease another adult; would you go to a coworker and tease them? Why is it ok for a child. I understand children do it, but the motive is to raise their own insecure feelings so they feel better than. Happy, healthy, secure children shouldn’t feel the need to make other children feel badly.

I do think there is a difference between bullying and teasing, but both are very damaging in some cases.

@SuperMouse Fantastic answer.

SpatzieLover's avatar

This is the book our psychologist uses to teach strategies to halt bullying & teasing: Speak Up and Get Along

We have the book and use the techniques in our home to reinforce the material.

6rant6's avatar

@JLeslie I assume you’re reacting to my comment.

Actually, that advice came from a child psychologist – a woman. My son was having difficulty at school getting along with kids. She told us that he was doing the best thing – teasing back.

Teasing is one thing that bullies do. But not all teasing is bullying. Christ, the littlest, least dominant child on the playground can tease. I think your characterization of “men think” is unhelpful.

Yes, different people draw the line in different places. Gender may play a part. So may age, personal experience, and size. We do not and probably will never all agree on what constitutes bullying. But we can still talk about what children can do to counteract teasing or pushing, or gossip.

JLeslie's avatar

@6rant6 I was aiming it at everyone on the Q addressing the teasing issue. I think by making light of teasing, it sends a message it is ok. How often to we hear that mental abuse, words, can have more lasting damage than physical abuse. I am not trying to bring occassional teasing to the level of consistent mental and verbal abuse by a caregiver or peers, but I do think teasong can be horrific for some children.

When I was very little, maybe 6 or 7 my mother caught me going along with some girls who were teasing another girl who lived in our building. She put a stop to it the second she realized what was going on. She walked me home and explained how unnactable my behavior had been. I think she was dead on. I never did it again. I don’t think I ever would have thought to do it on my own. Not that that is an excuse, just that I never really ever felt inspired to be mean to someone else.

When I was in 5th grade I had moved to a new state, and a girl who lived a few doors down from me was teased and called a mean nickname rhyme since 2nd grade when she had thrown up in class. It was awful for her. Simply a horrible three years of her life. She moved before sixth grade, and I saw her once when we were jr. High age, she was a different person. She said moving away from the mean teasing where no one knew about it changed her life, her confidence, and her self image. She was a happy person now.

There have been Q’s here about hazing with similar conversation about how it isn’t a big deal, or that dumping some smaller boy in a laundry bin in the gym locker room is no big deal. I say it is a huge deal. Maybe it isn’t a big deal to some, but why risk it? Why not err on the side of being civil and kind to each other?

Children may have a hard time judging the grey line between teasing and bullying, we should not leave it up to a 12 year old to decide if what he is doing is just teasing, even if I went along with teasin is ok, which I don’t.

6rant6's avatar

@JLeslie I respect your position that erring on the side of stopping what appears to be bullying too quickly. I agree that’s preferable.

At the same time, I realize that we do not live in a world where one can find a refuge from assertive and aggressive behavior. We are by nature a species where dominants are appreciated and rewarded. People like winners. Unfortunately there must be losers in their wake.

I was a small, smart kid who was picked on unmercifully. Some of the things done to me in plain view of teachers would get people arrested today. I’m happy that things are different.

It was heartbreaking to see my son singled out and bullied. But he has become a well-adjusted, productive adult and seemingly one of the happiest people I have ever met. Of course that’s not a recommendation or excuse for bullying . But it does mean that kids can “play back,” and gain some control over the inevitable.

My daughter was the victim of a clique of girls (led by one in particular) who were vicious to her in social ways – as girls often are. Then one year she was suddenly the leader of the group. I asked her what had happened and she said that she worked out that being shy and victimizable [my word not hers] wasn’t working, and so she became more outgoing. I know that strategy isn’t something all kids can avail themselves of [I was amazed to hear her say it] and I know that it won’t always work. But as I said, there’s hope.

JLeslie's avatar

@6rant6 I guess there are two things going on. Our expectations of behavior from children, and helping our children deal with being the target of bad behavior.

Sometimes children who are the victim when they find power, become power hungry. Some of those kids remain sweet and good, and would never do what was done to them. I think most bullies, not all, are bullied most likely in their homes. It is a learned behavior as well as a way for the kid who had been mentally hurt to rise up and feel in control against someone else, when they have no control in other parts of their life.

So, if I had children, what would I tell my child if she were teased and it hurt her feelings, I would say I understand why it is so hurtful, but what they say means nothing. But, itisn’t really true, it would feel like something to her. “They are just teasing,” I might say, I can see that slipping out of my mouth, but followed by they are wrong to do it, and it is never ok. They are mean girls/boys. I think I would advise her to say back if it happened again, “does it make you feel better to try to hurt other people?” if no respinse or they keep on coninute with, “Do you feel that bad about yourself you have to put other people down? I guess someone must treat you like crap too, and that is all you know, you are not a good person.”

noraasnave's avatar

One just never knows where a question will lead!

JLeslie's avatar

@noraasnave Sorry to go off on a tangent, we can go back to the main question of course.

noraasnave's avatar

I wasn’t complaining. Actually delving in the deeper issues…hits at the heart of my question. Don’t let me stop you!

SuperMouse's avatar

@6rant6 I think you have a good point. If we are too quick to jump in and solve everything for our kids we are selling them a bad bill of goods and cheating them out of developing important problem solving skills. When my son was being hassled last year I was all ready with about half a dozen solutions that would rescue him from the situation. In the end though he came up with the plan for dealing with it and I think that empowered and prepared him should the problem arise again. It is also important for a kid to discern between bullying and teasing. Most people are going to be teased at some point and many will be teased a lot. If a kid goes around wanting to take someone out every time someone teases them, that kid is in for a long road filled with a lot of altercations!

@JLeslie my two younger sons have each tried the tactic of calling bullies out (though they weren’t they weren’t the victims and were intervening on behalf of others) and when I heard the stories I cringed! My nine year-old saw a bigger kid picking on a kindergartener and he asked the kid if it made him feel big to bully little kids. The kid, who had the littler kid pinned on the ground, let him up and stalked away. As proud as I was of the boy, I was worried that this kind of behavior might stoke the flames rather than deescalate the situation. So far they haven’t experienced that but it is a worry, and we have discussed the fact that name calling in return might not be the best solution. Although he still insists – jokingly I hope – that challenging an aggressor to a verbal “your mama” fight is the best way to handle these things.

laineybug's avatar

Although teasing and bullying are two different things, they’re both hurtful to someone that age. Teasing can be playful, but it could also be intended to hurt someone. I’ve been on the bad end of hurtful teasing before, for a long time actually. It hurt my self esteem a lot. For a while I didn’t even realise it was intended to hurt me. You should talk to your kid about how he’s feeling. He might be able to just deal with it if he has someone to talk to. When it was happening to me I didn’t talk to anyone about it, and I should have. It would have helped so much. If he’s okay with it that’s good, but if he’s not he could just need someone to talk to about it.

Rock2's avatar

Give him martial arts lessons.

noraasnave's avatar

I had a talk with my son tonight when I was tucking him in. I discussed that I had problems with others teasing and bullying me even into adulthood. I shared that it was because I subconsciously set the stage for this to happen.

I told him that I realized that I was smarter than most of those around me, and that I had a lot to offer this world. Once I realized my value, then I started learning how to set boundaries, what I would share, what I would not…who I would befriend and who I would not.

I told him that I was proud of him, because he took action already: He requested to have his seat in relocated to the other side of class so as not to be around them anymore.

He defined their teasing; two boys were telling ‘funny’ stories about him to the rest of the class, most in the class were laughing, but to him they were humiliating, so he took action.

Hopefully he continues to make decisive choices to circumvent these types of people, and to protect himself.

Thanks for all the input!

JLeslie's avatar

@SuperMouse I actually worried about that as I was writing. Worried when challenged the teaser/bullier might get very very angry and physically lash out. I do think it is probably a risk, but it is interesting that has not happened to your son.

As I think about it, probably the least confrontational sentence that might work is to just with confidence tell the bully to back the fuck off. Stand strong from the start. But, that is tough to do at the get go when a child is unprepared.

@noraasnave I can remember my dad telling stories about me that in retrospect I understand he found endearing or impressive, and the other adults probably did too, but I found them embarrassing. Being embarrassed is very tough for me to deal with, especially when I was a child. I think the teasing touches those type of feelings. My dad was not teasing, not purposefully makeing fun, and even still I wanted him to stop. He couldn’t understand why. This only happened on a few occassions, it wasn’t my dad’s “thing,” nothing like that, but you can imagine if I remember it now how much it bothered me. Attention to my behaviors that were seen as unlike others bothered me a lot. When a kid teases another, it usually is separating out a behavior that makes that kid different I think.

noraasnave's avatar

@JLeslie Dad’s have a remarkable way of embarrassing our children without attempting to. I bet it was a gender misunderstanding.

For instance, men hold toughness and strength in high regard, whereas things had to go horribly wrong for women to be tough or strong. So if a man shares a way that a girl was strong, then the situation would automatically be embarrassing for the girl, because to her it is a story of how things went horribly wrong.

I am finding that women hold loyalty in high regard in the same manner, so an adult daughter can share that she has been faithful to her husband even though he is alcoholic, laid off at his work, and such, and a Dad would shake his head and tell her that she should leave the bum.

JLeslie's avatar

@noraasnave Interestingly I don’t identify with those gender examples you gave for women, but I do think what you said has some validity. Well, I should not say I don’t completely identify. When I was staying with a cheating, lying boyfriend my dad actually said to me I am too “loyal.” So odd you bring this up. But, I did not feel proud or strong for staying. I think it is a bad trait women have to stay with men who are awful to them. Not that it is black and white, but in a situation where it is blatant disrespect, ongoing, not going to change, possibly endangers a woman, I don’t think the woman feels good about staying in most cases.

One story my dad told was how I would not eat the last two black olives one day left on my plate. I was full. He had pushed me to just eat the last two, the last two items on my plate, and the plate would be clean. I was full. I didn’t want to. I was afraid to. Afraid I would feel nauseas. He told that story impressed I was so aware of when I was full, and how different my eating habits were to his, he is overweight, but for me it was how I couldn’t eat the last two little olives when everyone else in the world could.

mattbrowne's avatar

Encourage him to bring friends to your home and help him deepen these friendships. Having allies can help at school.

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