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Can we, and should we, try to help this bullied kid?
June 10, 2009 3:25 PM   Subscribe

My 8-year-old neighbor is being bullied and his parents aren't helping -- is there anything I can do?

The kid next door is shy, has a speech impediment (can't say "r") and has some learning disabilities. Other kids are terribly cruel to him. Some examples:

1. He is being brutally bullied by other kids in the neighborhood, often within earshot of my wife and I. The things they say shock even my wife, who is a mid school teacher. They also encourage him to do stupid stuff like throw rocks at neighborhood pets or houses, and he is desperate to oblige.

2. A girl in the neighborhood who attends his school gleefully informed us last week that "he gets his ass kicked at school all the time because he doesn't fight back" -- this was right in front of him. I've seen him scuffed up and bruised a few times, and kind of figured this was what was going on.

3. Yesterday, three older kids wandering through the neighborhood pushed him off his bike and stole it.

His parents spend most of their time drinking in front of the teevee, and pay little attention other than to occasionally yell or swear at him. I don't think they're abusive, just sort of oblivious. Talking to them about this probably isn't going to make a difference.

Though I don't encourage it, this kid tags along when I walk the dogs, rollerskates in our driveway and comes over when we're in the front yard, so we've sort of gotten to know him over the years. Sometimes I help him air up his bike tires or footballs, that sort of thing. I think he trusts us, though he doesn't talk much -- something I attribute to shyness and his attempts to avoid words he can't pronounce.

Our concern here is twofold -- we feel pretty bad for the little guy, and we also are afraid he will grow up to be an angry, alienated monster living right next door.

Recently I've considered perhaps trying to help him stand up to this bullying, but I don't really know what I would say. For instance, what do you tell a kid to do when another kid at school challenges him to a fight? Fight back? Walk away? I'm not much of a "kid" person, so I don't really know how to address any of this.

Another thing both of us have considered is going out to have a talk with the bullies when they're being mean to him, but I seem to recall from my own childhood that having someone "go to bat" for you just makes things worse.

Alternatively, since this is technically none of my business, should I just leave it alone and watch this poor kid get angrier and weirder? What would you do?
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! to Human Relations (44 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
if i really cared i'd encourage the kid to hang around me more. i'd tell him stories of how school sucked for me and how i learned to deal with it. i'd remind him every chance i got that being seen as cool in school never translates to being a good person after school and that even though it seems like a lifetime now, this time in his life will be over soon enough.
posted by nadawi at 3:28 PM on June 10, 2009 [12 favorites]


Be friendly, but encourage him to stand up for himself. "So, you ever fight back?" ...stuff like that. I was bullied quite a bit in school, enough for it to be a part of my identity, and I am a strong proponent of kids learning how to fight, and fight back. It may not be your place to be overt about it, but you can nudge him in that direction.
posted by rhizome at 3:35 PM on June 10, 2009


Aw, this is really heartbreaking. That poor kid.

I tend to agree with your hunch that overtly going to bat for him (either against the bullies, or in an effort to get his parents to step up) may come to nothing, and may even make things worse.

I wonder if the best you can do is to befriend the guy even beyond what you've done already. This is a fine line, of course -- you don't want to wade into quasi-parent or social worker territory, and you still need to have boundaries -- but I wonder if just having a safe haven of some sort with you is the best you can do for him, both in the short-run (i.e., providing kindness and support) and in the long-run (i.e., mitigating, at least somewhat, against the possibility of him becoming angry and alienated as he gets older). For example, could he come over to your house for dinner once a week?
posted by scody at 3:36 PM on June 10, 2009


For instance, what do you tell a kid to do when another kid at school challenges him to a fight? Fight back?

Yes. He should fight back. Nobody, nobody, nobody, nobody! has even the slightest, tiniest responsibility to "take a beating". If somebody hits you, you are justified by a two billion years of evolution to hit them right the fuck back. You may then continue the fight until they submit or run away. (On the other hand, nobody has the right to continue a beating after their opponent has submitted.)

Of course, you do have to accept responsibility for hitting them. You might get in trouble. But, I'd much rather be suspended from school for a few days and have my parents shout at me than have my nose broken by some fuckhead. And I'd also much rather his nose be broken than mine.

but I seem to recall from my own childhood that having someone "go to bat" for you just makes things worse.

It does. Don't do that.

Alternatively, since this is technically none of my business, should I just leave it alone and watch this poor kid get angrier and weirder? What would you do?

It is technically none of your business. But, I heard a great interview on NPR the other day about conflict resolution. The dude, who'd brokered peace treaties, made the argument that it's this "none of my business" attitude that causes so much strife in the world.

It's happening in your community. It's happening in front of your nose. That makes it your business. Own that. I'm sure you think that air pollution is your business, even if it's coming from somebody else's tailpipe. Well, this is violence pollution.

Unless you don't want to, take the kid under your wing. You don't have to be the father he always wanted. But, by being a decent human to him, and teaching him just a little bit about how to deal with this adversity, you could possibly single-handedly prevent him from becoming "an angry, alienated monster living right next door."
posted by Netzapper at 3:36 PM on June 10, 2009 [28 favorites]


When you witness the bullying personally, you should definitely make your presence known and your disapproval clear by saying something to the bullies. Even a quick "Hey!" will stop them in their tracks and make them aware that an adult is around and that their behavior is being noticed.

If you see something egregious, like the bike being stolen, you can call the police. Even though you're not the victim or the victim's parent, you are a concerned citizen who saw a crime being committed.

And keep being a good neighbor/friend to him. Safe friendships with neighborhood adults are very valuable for children.
posted by amyms at 3:39 PM on June 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


YES, please keep providing a safe and supportive adult mentor relationship for him, as you are. I know it may be sort of an uncomfortable situation right now, but he clearly trusts you and your wife, and is even seeking you out as supportive figures. He obviously values you and the support that you provide him (however small it might be), and I think that is a great honor to an adult--kids are pretty discriminating. :)

You are already doing something wonderful for him. I'm a therapist, and I work with kids at this age, and I wish every day that more kids had positive relationships with non-parent adults like this (especially in cases where parents are painfully absent, such as this). You are doing something powerful and excellent for this boy. If you are comfortable in this role just as it is--being there, acknowledging when he comes over and maybe sitting outside and talking with him, etc.--please continue. You may not be able to tell now how meaningful this will be to his emotional development, but it will be.
posted by so_gracefully at 3:47 PM on June 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm on the "teach him to throw a punch" bandwagon. The neighborhood kids are not going to leave him alone until he can stand up for himself. Not that he should necessarily punch everyone in the dick, but the confidence of knowing he doesn't have to take shit from them anymore will do wonders for him too.

If you can spare the time and energy at all, don't let him fester. I think this really is one of those situations where a little effort on your part can make a huge difference.

(Also, re: talking to him - from one 'not a kid person' to another - just talk to him like you would any other person. Kids get talked down to all the time, especially at that age, and you'll reach him a lot better if you talk to him as more or less a peer.)
posted by AV at 3:49 PM on June 10, 2009


Even a quick "Hey!" will stop them in their tracks and make them aware that an adult is around and that their behavior is being noticed to wait until the adults are gone to beat the living shit out of him.

don't stand up to the bullies. you will do the kid a disservice. he'll get beat up more and he won't learn to stand up for himself.
posted by nadawi at 3:54 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am the father of eight and ten year-old girls, and another girl in our neighborhood is a universally recognized bully, so we are forced to deal with this issue on a daily basis. A growing body of study into bullying recognizes three types of parties: the bullies, the victim, and the surrounding peer group. It has come to light that the peer group exercises enormous power over the bullying, by tacit approval, encouragement, or simple apathy. However, the peer group can also be enlisted by an appropriate authority figure to discourage the bullying.

Perhaps you could subtly attempt to assume the role of this moderating figure. Talk to the other kids, and encourage them to ostracize or marginalize the bullies. Attempt to instill in them an altruistic, protective attitude. Teach them how to empathize with the little guy, and how to imagine themselves in his position. The more of the "bystanders" you can enlist, the more effective this will be.

Remember also that bullying harms both the bully and the victim. Bullies frequently grow up to be society's "head butters", and sooner or later they run into someone who butts back, frequently the police and the criminal justice system.

Best of luck, and kudos to you for being concerned. You are this kid's hope.
posted by dinger at 3:56 PM on June 10, 2009


The boy may not want to learn how to throw a punch. He may not mind getting pushed around and beaten up.

What the boy needs is positive attention. If his parents are as oblivious as you indicate, he's likely looking for attention in whatever form and circumstance wherever and whenever he can. I can't think of specific ways to buck up the little trooper's self-esteem, besides introducing yourself as a positive force in his life.

Even if the kids stop pushing him around - it seems the boy has larger problems that will continue to make him the victim throughout his life. In order for him to learn to throw a punch, he's first going to have to learn to want to throw a punch. In order to fight back, he's got to develop the desire and self-respect to understand that he deserves to be defended.

A lot of time, love and effort has to be put into that. Are you willing to take up the yoke?
posted by jabberjaw at 4:03 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Talking to them about this probably isn't going to make a difference.

But you should try anyway.

Though I don't encourage it, this kid tags along when I walk the dogs, rollerskates in our driveway and comes over when we're in the front yard, so we've sort of gotten to know him over the years. Sometimes I help him air up his bike tires or footballs, that sort of thing. I think he trusts us...

Then take advantage of that and engage him in conversation about how it's important to stand up for yourself as a person, and that he's a great kid and you think he's capable of great things. Give him some attention and some confidence, and give him anecdotes about times you defended yourself against a beating or whatnot. In short, be a friend/parent type.

But talk to his parents first and see if they're okay with it.
posted by davejay at 4:09 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and thanks for caring enough to think about doing something; obviously he's lonely and needs/wants guidance, or he wouldn't be hanging out with you (in other words, he's not a loner, at least not yet.)
posted by davejay at 4:10 PM on June 10, 2009


I wouldn't suggest getting directly involved in any bullying altercations beyond the generic, "Hey you kids, whadaya think you're doin'?" If it looks like you're helping, you risk getting bully-parents involved. Bullies are bad enough, but parents of bullies are almost universally complete and utter pieces of shit, and frankly you don't need the hassle.

That said, there are some simple self-defense techniques that can be mastered by anyone that can produce extraordinary levels of pain. Punches to the throat or groin. Scraping keys across their faces. Pepper spray (legal in all 50 states!) into their eyes. That kind of thing. If he can do it when they aren't expecting it, he can probably do some pretty good damage.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:25 PM on June 10, 2009


Obviously, you don't have to do anything. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't, and I really hope you will. If you want to help him, spend more time with him. Be the person who proves that the world isn't 100% against him.

Basically, become his big brother without going through the paperwork of the big brother/big sister program. You say you haven't encouraged it before, but you could ask him if he wants to tag along when you walk the dogs and ask him how things are going while you walk. When he's roller skating in your driveway take a minute to go out and tell him he's really good at roller skating. If he comes over when he sees you out in the front yard let him know you're happy to see him and maybe hang out in the front yard more often.

Remember, you don't have to solve his problems. Just be a bright spot in his life.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 4:28 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is going to be a controversial stance however, I couldn't stand by and watch his happen to someone I know. Especially someone so young and helpless.

If this were happening to my 8 year old neighbour I would make sure that these kids knew in no uncertain terms that there would be dire consequences for any harassment of the kid and that he comes under my protection. If you mess with him, you mess with me. If you touch him at school you're going to cop it. If you touch him around the neighbourhood, you're going to cop it. If you touch him anywhere, you're going to cop it. Picture Clint Eastwood in Gran Tourino. Bullies don't respond to a soft, conciliatory approach.

Of course you could never use anything physical against any of these bullies but you could still scare the living Christ out of them.
posted by Man_in_staysis at 4:30 PM on June 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I know my answer is not political-correct - and other mefites will probably freak -

but, i would teach the kid to fight. you only have to hurt the bully once, and he won't come back for more. sometimes, the best thing is to learn to stand up for yourself.

seriously, all he has to do is accept: i will get beat up a few times, but i am going to hurt him each time - and that will stop the bullies.
posted by Flood at 4:32 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Many distressed kids have turned into monsters because people stood there and watched it happen. I know it sounds cheesy, but sometimes somebody steps in and makes a difference.

Start with the parents. If they're really the ignorant, oblivious fools you think they might be (Drinking in front of the TV? Lovely), then head to the school administration. And tell those bullies to get the hell away from your property!

And just be there to listen. Let him know you like him and think highly of him. Tell him that when he grows up, he's going to be really cool and all of these people will be losers. I'd always heard that was the way it worked and I was pleased to discover "they" were correct!

When I was a little kid, I had a speech impediment. My Rs came out like Aws. Luckily my parents gave enough of a shit to get me some speech therapy.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:33 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Though I don't encourage it, this kid tags along when I walk the dogs, rollerskates in our driveway and comes over when we're in the front yard, so we've sort of gotten to know him over the years. Sometimes I help him air up his bike tires or footballs, that sort of thing.

You are helping him. I'm really not sure what else you can do and I'm sure you'll get good advise here but: you are helping him.
posted by Neofelis at 4:38 PM on June 10, 2009


I know my answer is not political-correct - and other mefites will probably freak -

I read this after I posted and I have to agree with Flood here. Yes, for the love of god, he needs to learn to defend himself. My brother got bullied and beat up in junior high. Mom told him to "talk to the boy" or "tell a teacher." Dad said "Kick his ass!" The latter prevailed.

For what it's worth, a close friend of mine is a self-admitted former bully. There's a lot of guilt and remorse there and a wish to make amends. Kids that age are part of a herd.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:43 PM on June 10, 2009


"The boy may not want to learn how to throw a punch. He may not mind getting pushed around and beaten up."


...Maybe in the back pages of your local weekly newsmagazine but I can't imagine that this could ever be the case for any young boy. There were only a few days left of school for the year but it stopped after that.

I was bullied in grade school (all the kids started a forming a long queue to each take a turn to slap the back of my head) and either no teacher ever noticed or ever did a thing to stop it. I finally told my Dad and was kind of shocked to find out that it would be ok to hit them back. I found the smallest kid in the group of ringleaders by himself and punched his face repeatedly.

Maybe you could hang a heavy punching bag outside and let him go at it from time to time?
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:53 PM on June 10, 2009


Please, please continue to help this child avoid these creeps. I read news reports weekly about victims of bullies who kill themselves rather than deal with the harassment any longer. He may grow up just fine, he may grow up to be a monster, or he may never get the chance to grow up at all.

I am a parent of children who are bullied on an ongoing basis (no, it hasn't gotten better) and, if nothing else, I can tell you that the boy will appreciate knowing that another adult is watching out for him.
posted by _Mona_ at 4:55 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree with everyone who's saying that the kid should learn to fight back. What I would add, however, is that the kid can't just learn technique. The kid has to learn mindset.

Teach him that these bullies are only picking on him because they see him as weak, and because picking on him is fun and easy. As soon as he makes it unenjoyable and hard, they're more likely to stop.

This means that, whether he smacks them down like Bruce Lee or fails miserably, he has to show them that he has a lot of fight in him. He has to commit totally to resisting. When I was younger, and I retaliated against bullies, I did it half assed because I was afraid of getting in trouble. It didn't make things worse, but it didn't make things better either.

Think of the bully encounter in "Ender's Game". Just leave out the part where Ender stomps the kid after he's down, you know, for legal reasons.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 4:58 PM on June 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


At the very minimum, I just wanted to point this out again and second it:

Remember, you don't have to solve his problems. Just be a bright spot in his life.

This kid sounds desperate for attention, even negative attention as you've witnessed. The fact that someone that he respected in his life treated him differently--positively, respectfully--than anyone else did at the time? That can be a huge life ring in a sea of childhood trauma.
posted by jeanmari at 5:17 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I know my answer is not political-correct...but, i would teach the kid to fight. you only have to hurt the bully once, and he won't come back for more. sometimes, the best thing is to learn to stand up for yourself.

Standing up for yourself is not politically incorrect. (And I say this as a hippy-dippy bleeding heart liberal :) I think one of the most important lessons my parents ever taught me was "if someone hits you, you hit back harder." (And this went completely against the "turn the other cheek" teachings that were part of the religion I grew up with.) I've never actually been in a physical fight (beyond some half-assed shoving and smack talk), but it's really quite powerful to know that it's OK to stand up for yourself, and that you don't need to take anyone else's shit.

I'm not saying you need to teach the kid how to put the other guy in a sleeper hold, but he definitely needs to realize that it's not ok what these other kids are doing, and that he shouldn't stand for it.

All that said, I don't know how else you can help him realize this, other than being there for him.
posted by AlisonM at 5:29 PM on June 10, 2009


Get in the game. You aren't his parent and you aren't his teacher. You may be the best chance this kid has.

Your wife is a teacher. She should call the kid's school and speak to the principal. That principal might not listen to you, but she's got a chance to be heard. She should also leverage that with the bullies in your neighborhood. She may be able to help the kid get into a school based speech therapy program. (I was in one myself and I can't recommend this highly enough. It was the speech therapist who figured out I had a hearing loss - I wasn't just a dummy who didn't pay attention.)

You have been selected for a special role. He trusts you. If you don't live up to that trust you're doing something as damaging as bullying. Be there for that kid. Listen to him. Teach him to throw a punch if he'll let you. Since you're one of the few positive role models, how you treat him will determine how he sees himself. Show him you think he's valuable by investing some time in the kid.

I understand that you're not a kid person and you didn't ask for this job. Still, you're the one who's got a chance to make this kid's childhood better.
posted by 26.2 at 5:29 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Someone here had a similar problem 6 months ago that resolved itself quite nicely.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:36 PM on June 10, 2009


Apparently, it didn't resolve itself as she mentions upthread a few comments.
posted by bz at 5:59 PM on June 10, 2009


"The boy may not want to learn how to throw a punch. He may not mind getting pushed around and beaten up."

...Maybe in the back pages of your local weekly newsmagazine but I can't imagine that this could ever be the case for any young boy.
It certainly can be the case. I'm not saying that he's masochistic, or that he's not frustrated, angry or that he's happy with his situation. He's 8-years old, though, appears to have no friends, has deadbeat parents, and is simply ill-equipped to deal with getting beaten up.

Teaching a boy, with low self-worth and no respect for himself, how to fight will not teach him to have self-worth and self-respect. It teaches a broken kid that you have to respond to violence with violence.

I am all for teaching him how to fight back. Teach him to throw a good punch. Teach him a sucker punch. Teach him the kick to the groin, the kick in the shin. But don't leave him with just that. Please also teach him he's a good kid, that he deserves respect, and fighting back is about dignity, not revenge.

When I was a kid, I was bullied. I was shoved, kicked, punched, bruised and left crying. It wasn't until I began to develop my own sense of personhood, began to have an independent sense of dignity, that I learned to fight back. It wasn't about learning how to throw a punch; or learning that it was okay to fight back. It was about learning how not to let myself get pushed around anymore.

This boy needs a mentor, not a fight coach.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:08 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think it is teaching violence for violence. it is self-defense, and only a fool would deny a young boy the right of self-defense.

obviously it won't solve all the problems. but standing up for yourself can be a start to building self-esteem.

and he doesn't need to learn to fight. he needs to learn to land one blow. practice one punch, and when you get pushed next, land the punch and give him a black eye. the bully will beat him up after that one punch, but the bully won't risk another black eye tomorrow.
posted by Flood at 6:19 PM on June 10, 2009


I came in to say pretty much what everyone else has, and I also want to call attention to what 26.2 said; I'm surprised your wife hasn't already contacted the guidance counselor at the kid's school, in light of what the neighbor girl said about how he is treated there. I certainly think it's appropriate in this case.

I'd also encourage neighborhood kids who are kind to this kid to come my house, to make room for him and for his friends there, and to make it clear that any bullying of anyone at your house is completely unacceptable and will result in immediate banishment from your house, yard, etc.

You really can be both a safe haven for this boy and a catalyst for change just by using every teachable moment you can to show how wrong it is to go after anyone who's different.

And finally, as a parent, I just want to say thanks. I'm so glad to know there are concerned people like you and your wife out there, looking out for the kids who need it most.
posted by misha at 6:35 PM on June 10, 2009


Yep, I'm all for the "not in my neighborhood' approach. I remember once my husband and I walked in to a bully scene of one boy in another's face with the phrase: "if you MESS with my MONEY, you MESS with my FEELINGS". They were like, ten. So we walked up to them and told them that this was not acceptable behavior in this neighborhood. The little boy looked like he was about to mouth off, but some care giver of his saw us and bounded down the steps calling his name and apologizing - to us, ironcally, not the little boy being bullied, sharing that the boy bullying came from a difficult family situation. I'm just saying that there is also a social pressure factor on the part of care givers/parents, etc. that creates a safe space.

So if you hear it, yes, step up and make it clear that bullying may happen, but it sure as shit isn't going to happen within earshot of you. If some little girl jokes about it, verbally stop her in her tracks, whether or not that little boy is there to hear it. I think there is a way to depersonalize it - after all, we were making it clear that no type of bullying of anyone was happening in our presence without it being challenged. Ten year old boys may mouth off at you, but I believe there are ways to speak calmly, and with authority, and ask what is going on here, that in the end almost always leaves to them talking smack, but leaving while they do it. (My mom used to say to the little boys: "roar all you want, lion king, but take that somewhere else. If someone was doing this to you, I'd be saying the same thing to them." Cracked me up almost every time). Anyway, modeling positive behavior is a good thing. Making it clear that unacceptable behavior is in fact, unacceptable, is important too. That means something - someone modeling that this is not acceptable behavior - it's the only way kids learn the difference.
posted by anitanita at 6:39 PM on June 10, 2009


Even if you're pretty sure the parents won't do anything, you should talk to them.

They should know that they and their son are not invisible, and maybe the embarrassment will provoke some response, especially if you tell them they have the right to talk to school administrators about these bullies.

TRY talking to his parents first.

Then talk to the school.

And be the kid's friend.
posted by General Tonic at 7:00 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Chiming in to support a couple of the basic ideas advanced above. He needs friendship, because it conveys the sense that he is valued by somebody, and thus worth defending. And, he needs to sense that he has the physical ability to defend himself. I was bullied for years and had no idea what to do about it until I (1) gained an especially good friend, who (2) got me to join an aikido class. A couple of months later I stood up to 2 different bullies in the course of about 15 minutes (the second didn't know about the first). I didn't even touch either of them, just refused to back down when they got in my face. Nobody ever bullied me again.
posted by jon1270 at 7:09 PM on June 10, 2009


Very timely NYTimes piece on this topic http://bit.ly/12EZxk
posted by mudge1705 at 7:32 PM on June 10, 2009


Along the lines of previously mentioned, I would talk to his parents about enrolling him in a martial arts program. It will teach him confidence, how to fight back if he must and will get him in physical shape. He might also meet some friends there. I might even go so far as to either pay for it or offer to drive him to the classes.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:15 PM on June 10, 2009


ABSOLUTELY TEACH HIM TO FIGHT BACK.

God, I wish somebody had shown me at that age how to physically defend myself. And try and get it into his head that he isn't useless/a nobody/etc., which is probably the mindset he has after all the bullying and his parents' obliviousness.

If you can approach his teachers or the school without them going "OMGPEDOPHILE", then do so. Mostly likely they already know about it but won't do anything until an adult tries to intervene. The worst part, for me, was not the bullying itself but the reaction of the adults. At best, they ignored it, even after repeated calls from my mother; at worst, I was berated in front of the class for 'causing a scene'. So be prepared for something of a brush-off or an "it's not that bad" response if you do go talk to the school.

Ok, now I gotta go look at lolcats to counteract all the bad memories this has dredged up. I just want to say that even if for some reason you decide not to do any of this, I still want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there for this kid. I really wish I had had a neighbor like you.
posted by lolichka at 8:30 PM on June 10, 2009


Even a quick "Hey!" will stop them in their tracks and make them aware that an adult is around and that their behavior is being noticed to wait until the adults are gone to beat the living shit out of him.

Maybe. But what you conspicuously ignore, you condone. Don't encourage the bully kids by NOT saying something, when it's right in front of you. It only makes them more bold and disgusting.

You don't have to march down to the school and make a big scene, but you do have to stand for what they know damn well is acceptable behavior in your presence, or else you're on their side.
posted by ctmf at 8:39 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


"A man is a father to every child." -- ???

If something is going down in my community/country, then it's my responsibility as a man/neighbor/citizen to do something about it. What the OP is doing is very admirable.

My advice to the kid:
Say "no" and fight back. Target the leader or the weakest of the bullies. Cause pain until you get your ass kicked, or they give up or run away. The worst that can happen is they beat you up, which would be the case anyway if you didn't fight back.
posted by jayne at 8:52 PM on June 10, 2009


Yes, be a friend. Teach him to defend himself. The easiest punch to learn, practice, and deliver is the "returning punch"/"chain punch"or often called the straight punch from Wing Chun
posted by P.o.B. at 10:52 PM on June 10, 2009


Absolutely confirming everyone who says you're already doing a wonderful thing for this boy by being there for him; letting him know he can trust you. I grew up with similar parents, though mine were conscious of a lot of their abuse (as in they'd outright say they wanted me to understand they'd never be there for me -- great thing to hear [that's sarcasm] when you're six years old). There was a woman in our neighborhood with two boys my age who saved my life by simply being there, smiling and nodding when I'd ask if I could play with them. She'd also give me errands to do, like feeding and "training" her dogs (two big white Akitas, she knew I adored them), pulling up weeds, tending her chickens, that sort of thing, and thank me with her delicious homemade iced teas and lemonades. It made me feel useful, good and worthy, which were things I never felt in my family (quite the opposite, unfortunately). I ended up going over even when her boys weren't there, thinking she'd surely need help with something -- now that I'm older it's obvious she did it because she knew I needed that. A real double-whammy of goodness since at the time, as a child, I felt important, and now, as an adult, I realize it was even more awesome, sweet, and generous of her. "There is someone in my life I admire and respect, who truly respects and cares about me," really saves kids. Perhaps you could do something like that for the boy? Give him errands, related to things he enjoys, ask him for advice about bikes too, for instance, and let him know, as naturally as possible, how much it means to you.

As for the bullying, I dealt with that too, but starting in middle school. I'm a woman -- there was a boy facing me (we shared desks) who would often punch me when our teacher turned his back. I complained about it repeatedly, finally screaming (very much unlike my usual quiet self) at the teacher to please do something when the kid progressed to kicking me in both shins. I'll never forget what our teacher said to me: "Dear, I can't punish him, because I can't see him when my back is turned. Do you know what that means?" I shook my head "no". He continued, "that means you can do the same thing." He smiled and turned his back. BAM, the boy kicked me in the shins again, grinning. "HE DID IT AGAIN!!" I sobbed. The teacher smiled and sighed, then said, "punch him." "But..." I protested. "Go on, punch him, for this one time, I won't say anything." I did what amounted to a tap on the shoulder. Our teacher laughed and said, "that's not a punch! Come on, put your muscles into it! But only if I can't see you, otherwise I'll have to punish you." Then he turned his back once more. The boy tried kicking again, I stood up, he slid down his chair from the missed kicks, and I pounded on his forearm -- the one he used for writing.

I'll never forget his look of shock and his wail of pain, nor our teacher responding to the boy's "she hurt me!! that's not fair!!" with a pleased smile and "I'm sorry, I didn't see it, for all I know you could be pretending." The boy never touched me again, nor did anyone else. (I did still get teased verbally... but those bullies kept their distance.) I'm thirty now and still thankful for that teacher's life lesson -- it does help immensely to know you can fight back, and the way he taught it let me know that I had just the same rights as others.
posted by fraula at 12:57 AM on June 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


I didn't come here to disagree about teaching the kid to fight back. I only want to bring up this point: From my experience, principals love to punish victims as well as bullies, spouting "It takes two to fight" crap. I just wonder what ramifications fighting back might have, especially on school property. I.e., kid throws punches in self-defense, kid gets worse punishment than if he'd just taken a beating, kid gives the original poster up, OP hears it from kid's parents/school/whoever. Just saying that different strategies might be called for depending on where the bullying takes place.
posted by troywestfield at 7:56 AM on June 11, 2009


His parents spend most of their time drinking in front of the teevee, and pay little attention other than to occasionally yell or swear at him. I don't think they're abusive, just sort of oblivious.

Neglect is abuse. While it is certainly not up to you to teach a neighbor kid to fight, you can get others involved. Maybe drop a line to his school counselor, or his teacher. You are not his parent, so you have no "rights" and any type of confidentiality rules will mean they can't talk to you about it. But it can't stop you from introducing the idea that you think the kid is being bullied, and his parents aren't stepping up. Maybe the school will.
posted by purpletangerine at 8:11 AM on June 11, 2009


Thank you all so much for these great answers and insights. A few things to add:

1. I should have mentioned that I was bullied as a kid, and though I never learned to fight, I did learn to talk my way out of bad situations and not to respond to teasing, and eventually they moved on to the weaker members of the herd. One of the challenges here is that I don't know how to teach him to fight back, since I've never been a fighter, and sadly I don't think he's going to use wit or sarcasm to overcome this any time soon, as he appears deeply afraid to talk, lest he be teased for his pronunciation.

2. I'm hesitant to confront the bullying kids because I'm a confrontation avoider who is prone to say things I regret when angry, and would likely just make an ass of myself.

3. The parents are a difficult issue -- they're not his bio parents -- he's the son of their teenage daughter, and was pretty much abandoned to their care. They are older, and in poor health (obesity, alcoholism, smoking) and I rarely see them outdoors. To be honest, we avoid them to the best of our ability.

Per your advice, I will keep working on being a positive role model in his life, though, and will be mindful of how I can encourage him to see himself as a person with dignity deserving of respect. I've been toying with the idea of taking him mountain biking or something like that in hopes that it will help him build confidence. I'll move forward on that.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:39 AM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


with him being the grandkid, i bet they'd be glad to have another, younger and more interested, party take a shine to their kid. i don't think you need to teach him to fight as much as, you said, encouraging "him to see himself as a person with dignity deserving of respect." the fact that you were bullied too makes you a perfect person to do this. just keep emphasizing that the bullies are idiots and he is worth more and he'll turn out ok.
posted by nadawi at 1:19 PM on June 11, 2009


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