The only time I ever dreamed of being on the radio was when I was going through my “Northern Exposure” phase, and I thought that of all the jobs I’d like to do in a small town, radio host seemed the most logical.
But that was until I decided to be a newspaper reporter, because radio and television reporters get all their news from newspapers, right?
So it’s still strange to me to be on the air at WBEZ, strange enough that during an hour-long conversation on WBEZ’s the Afternoon Shift with Niala Boodhoo today, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket, and when the conversation shifted to a caller, I stole a peek at my phone to see that my wife had called.
I quickly texted her telling her to quit calling me while I was on-air. It was the second occurrence in two weeks, but it’s really my fault for taking my phone in the studio at all.
She typed back: “Sorry, but I just got a call from Carson’s school. Some kid hit him several times. He is ok, and the kid is suspended.”
Now I’m professional enough to maintain my composure, especially in a situation where I might have to answer another question from the host, which is exactly what happened a minute later. But it was really hard to last the rest of that segment.
Bullying is a big deal to me.
I think it’s partly because I’ve written and read some horribly sad stories on the subject over the course of my career.
And maybe a little bit my own experiences.
My middle son is the most like me of all my kids. Except perhaps for the fact that he’s truly tiny, while I at least had enough pudge to keep me from breaking bones when I fell down.
I hate the thought of bullying, because the circumstances can be difficult to figure out, and solutions can be even harder to find.
When Cheryl asked him what happened, he said it was no big deal. He told her it’s a kid who has problems and doesn’t realize he’s hurting people when he’s just trying to be funny.
But the principal was concerned enough to call us when the teacher noticed marks on Carson’s face after the boy slapped him and then hit him in the head with a box.
I grilled Carson after dinner, trying to solve the problem, which is what dads do.
But sometimes solving the problem can be difficult, especially when the problem is hard to define.
What do you do about someone’s kid who has already had in-school suspension for the same behavior several times this year, and who probably faces the real possibility of expulsion if the suspensions continue? And this would be school number two this year.
There are several proven methods of dealing with a bully, time-tested methods dads have turned to for years and years.
- The strength-recognizes-strength approach – parents often spend a lot of money on martial arts lessons for kids – to no avail
- How big is his dad? – This is used to determine if the kid can be threatened into treating your kids better
- The I-can-run-faster-than-whatever-is-chasing-me approach – Keep your milk money and flee, use books as counter measures
- You make up in intelligence what you lack in strength, use your strengths against his weaknesses.
These little rules can work in a multitude of situations, but they won’t solve everything.
Case in point, our oldest boy was once bullied by mean girls who would smack him on the back with their lunch boxes. He’d come home with welts and stories about how teachers just couldn’t believe girls would do such things.
Bullying is getting harder to deal with, because it’s getting more complex. Add texting and social media to the mix, and you might not even notice the bullying that can occur.
Carson told me this kid has problems, and that it’s no big deal. But this is what Carson does. He brings puppies home, and he feels badly for people who don’t fit in. Sometimes he lets those people run roughshod over him.
I worked hard not to get bullied when I was a kid. Still, I couldn’t always avoid it.
I was a master of avoidance and placation. Skills born of necessity.
But one time a boy in my 6th-grade class handed out Lemonheads to several of us. I’m pretty trusting, so I took one and went and sat down.
Nothing seemed out of place, but some students started to complain of stomach aches, and soon there was a lot of commotion going on outside the classroom, and I ended up talking to the principal and several police officers.
They asked me if I felt sick at all. And they asked me if this boy had ever given me other candy.
The answer was no, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a bully who constantly tried to push you down in the hallway or trip you during school concerts.
When I found out he had coated those Lemonheads in some white powder, likely a combination of foot powder and something else, I actually felt sorry for the kid.
Yes, he had tried to poison me and several other students. Yes, he was a bully. But now his life was pretty much over. He was expelled from school and would end up in juvenile detention for most of the rest of his school career.
I could handle the tripping and the shoving. I certainly didn’t need my dad’s help with that. But I was helpless when handed poisoned candy from another kid.
And that’s why bullying is complex. It can be as simple as a random test of strength, or it could result in a mass shooting.
The way your kid responds to these things could have ramifications in the future. And it sucks to have to think about that.
All of these things flashed through my mind when I got that text from my wife while I was on the air today.
And there really is no easy resolution. Yes, we’ll follow up with the principal. We’ll talk to our son and go through scenarios that he’ll likely ignore when the next thing comes around.
And even though it makes me angry that some kid would hurt my kid, even if he thinks it’s in jest, a small part of me feels sorry for him. In the same way I still feel sorry for that kid who tried to poison me all those years ago.
His life was impacted by that bad decision, as lives are, but it cost him an awful lot, and I came through it alright. The possibility that I wouldn’t have turned out alright exists too.
I wonder where he is today.
Facebook allows me to look in on some who bullied in my school days. They are dads now, having to deal with their own sons, who are either bullied or bullies. And I wonder what it’s like from their perspective. Do they have the same rules or a different set?
I still would rather my son be bullied than to be a bully. I think being bullied can build resilience and problem solving skills. Though not always.
I’m not entirely sure what skills, if any, that bullying builds.
As always, in parenting, there are more questions than answers here.