They’ve been piling up in my inbox for a while now. Quite honestly, with four children, in all three branches of our feeder pattern, I knew it was only a matter of time. Another day, another covid confirmation email from the school district. This one, however, was echoed with a new, close-contact email and a following phone call from school administration. In case you were wondering, there are no “fun weekend vibes” that pair with “Hey, your kid might have Covid…” phone calls. Goodness, I yearn for a non-pandemic living! Several phone calls with our pediatrician and a negative swab later, my middle, ‘little sister’ was given the all clear to return to school.
Queue the waterworks.
This kiddo, my undeniable enneagram two, I assumed to be caught up in a rush of big feelings and/or worry for her sick classmate. Big emotional reactions to unexpected news? Why, she has alllll the gold stars in that!
Turns out though, I had absolutely no clue.
“Mom, I am so worried about my friend” was actually “Mom, I can’t go back to school. What happens if I cough or sneeze by accident? THEY are going to tell everyone that I have Covid and nobody will want to be near me.”
RELATED READING :: Suicide Prevention Month
I think my husband summed up our dismay perfectly with a “Hold on. You don’t want to go back to school NOT because you are worried that you might have Covid but rather because some kids at school might TELL everyone you have Covid to leave you out?”
Well, actually, yes.
In follow up, it would seem, that is what THEY have been doing quite literally since the first day of school. For experienced parents that pride themselves in family dinners around the table, daily check-ins with our kids and focused modeling on all things social-emotional learning… yeah… this was news. Third kid and we are still learning on the fly. When does that end?
What we would quickly come to find out is that for weeks, there had been murmurs on the playground, the subtle shifting of friend groups, serious side-eyeing in the classroom, one bolder, “Just so you know, WE hate you now” and several I’m going to whisper mean secrets about you to your closest friends and if they tell you, we can’t be friends anymore sorts of moments. It was the manipulative, fly-under-the-radar, your parents aren’t clued in, despite having an incredible teacher and attentive/awesome administration sorts of 5th grade bullying with a side of pandemic, school-awkwardness to boot. Cool. Cool.
Bullying is one unmasking I can seriously get behind.
So how did this get missed? I have spent a lot of time over the past week living in this
awesome, revolving cycle of Mom-guilting, worrying, sadness, shaming and protective inner-raging that ebbs and flows by the hour (where my peeps at?!) and here is the conclusion that I have arrived at…
While bullying has come so far in the intensity and duration over the years, it is long from gone. It just looks different now and has changed shape with the times. Bullying is quieter…whispered with stinging words and in disappearing snaps. It peeks through the Instagram stories showcasing the birthday party you weren’t invited to and in the actions of a Mom rushing aboard the camp bus to save seats for her daughter and other “OGs”. It’s in the pictures that you were cropped out of, the slumber parties you weren’t invited to, the TikTok dance you learn by yourself incase they might ask you to join. Bullying today is about designing a “trending space” for the ideal, and then casually othering your differences of too fat, too tall, too gay, too athletic… until THEY aren’t even saying it anymore… you just say it to yourself.
Unlike the childhood of my generation, bullying doesn’t give breaks and instead follows you into the safety of home, to your bedroom, to your living room, to the bathroom and is always with you on that tiny computer you hold so dear. Smaller, nagging and constant- bullying isn’t bolder but the hurt is just as painful.
So how to change it? Sorry, Mamas. Clearly, I don’t know and it would seem, I have some learning to do.
But you know who does know how to change it? The people that study bullying. Those individuals day in and out advocating for YOUR child and putting the cogs in place to change bullying at its earliest arrival. Your school counselors. Your school administrators. Your church leaders. Your Coaches. Your Teachers. There are incredible anti-bullying programs popping up all over the place– right here in our own greater, Austin communities. No Place for Hate, STOMP Out Bullying, The National Association of People Against Bullying (NAPAB), GLSEN, NIOS, Project UNIFY, GLAAD, Stop Bullying: Speak Up and so, so many more. So many projects in our school systems that tirelessly work on inclusivity initiatives, install buddy benches on our playgrounds or form social groups at school, are so well researched and intentionally timed. Earlier prevention yields the greatest changes.
TEACH KINDNESS in small and gentle ways from the very beginning and grow it with your children. Show them kindness through your actions/behaviors. Quite literally, be the change you want to see in the world.
You haven’t failed as a Mom because you didn’t know your child was being bullied… or even… because your kid was bullying someone else. Sometimes, we don’t know until we know. All the more reasons we need to cultivate learning about bullying in our homes. Clearly the expectation to get the phones out of all the kids’ hands will not be met with success. So change the dialogue. Ask the harder questions…perform parent checks on phones…research new trends… talk to the experts…do your homework, Mamas.
October starts National Bullying Prevention Month. Currently it is reported that 1 in every 5 children experience bullying nationwide each year. Of those children that are bullied, 14% of them are estimated to consider suicide and 7% of them will actually attempt it.
It is happening to our kids, Mamas. Right here in our own sweet communities with attentive teachers and good families. If we don’t work to change it now, who will?