57 comments for “Feministe Feedback: Dealing with Bullying

  1. qvd
    February 18, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Self-defence classes and instructions to fight back with his fists. He has to fight back. The physical pain he might experience is NOTHING compared to the emotional pain he’s already experiencing.

    Bullies are opportunistic. They attack people they won’t think will fight back.

    This is a tough issue for parents who want to raise their kids to be nonviolent. But the bottom line — and 99% of bullying victims who’ve tried this will agree — is that you have to fight back using physical force at some point.

    The only other thing the victim can do is find allies. This is really hard because being a victim isolates you… other kids won’t want to stand up for you because they might come in for the same treatment. For kids without natural allies fighting back is the only choice.

    As a parent you can:

    1) go after the families of the kids who bully your kid and try to shame them publicly (scorched earth policy, probably won’t work anyway)
    2) go after the administrators (probably won’t work)
    3) support your child after they inevitably get in trouble with the administrators for physically defending themselves
    4) withdraw your child from that school (this might be the best option if nothign else works).

  2. truthiness
    February 18, 2009 at 11:06 am

    That’s a really tough call. I see from the blog that “Movie Boy” has some autism issues. If he didn’t, the proper suggestion would be (some might disagre with me) to stand up to the bullies, even physically if necessary, even if such results in “Movie Boy” being disciplined himself.

    Bullies typically pick on those they think are weak. With bullies who are boys, this manifests itself in physical as well as (moreso than?) mental/verbal abuse. All it takes, for boys at least, and I know this from experience (my own and that of close friends), is to pop that sucker once, and he’ll back off. Preferably a cheap shot. Be mean back. I’m serious – once the bully sees that you’re not an easy target, he will in all likelihood move on.

    There is something damaging, in my opinion, about being told that you may not defend yourself. Being told that every attack requires someone else to come along and fix it for you. That Christian stuff about “turning the other cheek” doesn’t work on maladjusted, possibly abused/neglected little misanthropes. They don’t care. Fight back.

    All that said, the fact that “Movie Boy” has autism changes everything. The school is failing a special needs student who might not have the same capacity to fight back. Threaten a lawsuit. It’s the only way to make them really pay attention, unfortunately.

  3. Sarah TX
    February 18, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Oh, this is so horrible. I am immediately wrenched back to my own terrible middle school experience, where I at times was bullied and in turn a bully towards other kids. My brother was a shy, emotional, sensitive boy who was often bullied, and the only resolution seemed to be to pull him from the school and transfer him to one with a more responsive administration. I know our family was priviledged to have that option.

  4. Julie
    February 18, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Just reading that broke my heart. My daughter starts school in September and things like this make want to homeschool. As far as suggestions, I wish I knew. I was bullied as a child and after several unsuccesful attempts to have it stopped through the school, my dad told me I was to fight back and he would take care of it. I got fed up, punched the girl and when I got pulled into the office my dad came with threats of lawyers and lawsuits if they held me responsible in any way. My dad is very scary though and had lots of lawyers at his disposal at that point. I really don’t know if that would work today- that was probably 15 years ago and it’s not really the best solution. I am going to keep thinking about it and see if I can come up with any decent, workable suggestions.

  5. southpaw
    February 18, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Hit ’em back. Sadly, it’s the only way.

  6. February 18, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Though I know that pulling the student out of the school and arranging for a transfer is a viable option, it really feels wrong – part of the idea that the victim has to modify his/her behavior. I know sometimes it’s the only choice, but I just feel like there has to be another way.

  7. electrogirl
    February 18, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Man, I wish I knew. This takes me right back to the misery that was my school days. In retrospect, I wish I’d wiped the asphalt with my tormentors a few times and screw the inevitable suspension. I might not be dealing with as many psychological issues today.

    At least your son knows that you’re trying to do something, that you don’t condone the bullies’ activities and you don’t think it’s his fault. My parents never even tried to help me.

  8. Soma
    February 18, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Bullies are cowards. They don’t pick on kids who fight back. The immediate solution is to hit back, hard, in a place that hurts and will show–the face is a good one.

    The problem, of course, is that the bully will run to the teacher. Many teachers and administrators are also cowards when it comes to bullying, and the bullied child can expect to be taken to task for it. Parents must not tolerate this. And so the parents, too, have to hit back, in their case using the school district, the media, and the law if necessary. They have to willing to identify and expose bullying as CRIMINAL behavior, and violent responses to bullying as completely legal self-defense.

    This is not an easy course of action, but–and this cannot be stressed enough–THE REASON BULLYING HAPPENS IS BECAUSE NOBODY WANTS TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.

  9. Wehaf
    February 18, 2009 at 11:56 am

    I disagree with some of the other posters. Encouraging the bullied child to hit back is only likely to get him in more trouble; it most likely will not stop the bullying, and it may escalate it. This is especially true since the child in question is autistic.

    I will repeat here what I said on Kat’s blog: make the school and parents take complaints seriously by making it completely clear that these are serious complaints. Threaten lawsuits against the school for not providing a safe environment, and get the police involved any time there is violence. None of this should be necessary, of course, but sadly it seems to be.

  10. February 18, 2009 at 11:58 am

    I don’t have any specific suggestions, since I didn’t go to school as a kid and am not at this point parenting . . . but just wanted to say you’re absolutely right that this is intolerable behavior and that your son should not have to learn to live with it. It’s the responsibility of the adults in his life to buffer him from that sort of behavior. I think electrogirl is right that it’s SO important for your son to see you advocating for him. He needs to be hearing over and over again that this is not okay, and nothing he is doing justifies how other children are treating him. It is NOT his fault. I doubt you can tell him that enough.

    Have you read anything by Rosalind Wiseman? I haven’t read her Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads in a while — and when I read it, I wasn’t specifically thinking about helping children navigate bullying — but it might be worth at least checking out. I remember she talks a lot about how to advocate for your kids in contexts like school and with other families where parents/teachers are resistant to your “interference.”

  11. ataralas
    February 18, 2009 at 11:59 am

    I was an incredibly bullied kid in middle school. Painfully, awfully so. Here are some of the things that helped me and my parents.

    0) Including the student in parent-teacher conferences. Being there and telling my teachers what exactly was going on made a much bigger impact than my parents doing it.

    1) Maintaing peer group situations where I wasn’t bullied. My escape was church—I had a ton of friends there, and adults were responsive to bullying. Having that space gave me the courage to go back to that hellhole day after day.

    2) Having a flexible absence policy with my parents. I didn’t need to be at that school for any academic reason, and so if really didn’t want to go, my parents didn’t make me.

    3) Exploring alternative schooling options. We thought about transferring me to the other middle school in town, where I had more friends and was across the street from my mom’s workplace and our church. Ultimately, we didn’t because the math program was much worse there. We also looked at private schools, and I ended up leaving the system for high school. Obviously, this may not apply.

    As for hitting back…well, in my experience, that only leads to larger groups of kids tormenting you.

  12. February 18, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    In my capacity as a lawyer I dealt with my niece’s school district on a bullying issue and I discovered a lot. Many states have bullying statutes that have requirements for reporting and policies. In some of these states, each school has to report the number of bullying incidents and they all mysteriously report zero. The administration, in my experience, will do anything to keep that number at zero, so a parent that comes in with the statute in hand and requests that the incident be officially designated bullying and addressed under the policy may find that the school is willing to do whatever they have to do under the radar as long as they can avoid calling it what it is. Of course, they get more nervous when a lawyer calls — I immediately got referred to outside counsel, and they volunteered to do every damned thing we could reasonably ask for as long as we’d let them not call it a bullying incident. So a little research can go a long way, and a friend who is a lawyer and will write a letter goes an even longer way.

    As a child, I was bullied, and the administration was unresponsive. One kid who punched me in the mouth nearly pushed my raised canine through my lip, disfiguring me for weeks, and the vice principal imposed no punishment, telling my parents that I “threw punches with my mouth.” (Ah, middle school. The principal in the same school threatened to throw me through a plate glass window for complaining about another student’s unfair grade, so appealing up the chain was not a good option. That these people were allowed to work with children still amazes me.) The bullying stopped when I got one of my antagonists in a rear naked choke and he went limp. There’s a lot to be said for the old Andy Griffith school of “hit ’em back.” Even losing the fight often makes the victim a less tempting target than some other kid.

    In my experience, for various reasons the administration often sides with the bullies. But bullies are rational: they pick the targets that they can get away with bullying. Those who fight back or have some protection, they leave alone.

    Talking to the parents isn’t necessarily a lost cause. One bully actually changed sides and protected me for a while when my mother and I went to his house and talked to his mother. I’m still not entirely sure why that worked, but we were friends for several years.

  13. qvd
    February 18, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    It was my experience that bullies only left me alone after I hit back. And I had it pretty badly. I was often surrounded by groups of ten or more kids screaming racist slurs at me or throwing things at me.

    Once they get worked up, it’s very unlikely that the children doing the bullying will stop because of interventions from teachers or parents. They just take adults getting involved as a further sign that their victim is weak enough to safely attack.

  14. Sarah TX
    February 18, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    The problem with hitting back is that the school administration may see that action as a perfect opportunity to get rid of a “problem kid and his problem mother” by expelling the student. And don’t forget that the kid is autistic. Really, I know these are just blog comments but can we take a little responsibility here?

  15. February 18, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    This kid has AUTISM? What the FUCK is wrong with the administration at this kid’s school?!?! I am outraged by their refusal to deal with this.

  16. Banisteriopsis
    February 18, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    I saw two kids leave school because of bullying in middle school. It’s good to ask the adults for help, but realistically that’s not going to make a difference. If he’s the lowest kid on the totem pole, kids will find ways and places to hurt him.

    What’s Movie Boy’s personality like? The point is to survive with as little injury as possible, right? Can he can fight back with words? Whether he fights or stays stoic and runs, it’s important to talk to him about his day and be interested so he doesn’t internalize people’s being down on him.

  17. Suki T
    February 18, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I agree with Wehaf.

    No hitting back. Remember people her son has Autism. We are not dealing with “normal” bullying.

    I don’t know how “high” or “low” functioning your son is. My sister has had to deal with bullying alot, but never physical. I taught her how to shoot back with smart-ass remarks. I even wrote them down so she wouldn’t forget some of them. Eventually the people stopped because the were no longer getting to her. But this is a different situation and your son has and always will have a target on his back.

    However his autism gives you tools to use against the school. Do Not Shut Up. Keep fighting the administrators. I’m sure they feel like they can’t stop every instance, and give up on punishing any. But the fact that your son has a disability, gives your voice more weight. Threaten lawsuits if you have to. Go to the school board, write letters above the school board level. Someone will have to listen, especially if you have a lawyer on retainer.

    Remind the administrators and remind the parents of these students that these “normal” boys are cowards for picking on someone with a disability. Can’t they pick on someone who is a little more of a challenge? Also it shows a lack of imagination to call someone a “retard” or “faggot.” Remind the adults involved that bullying has led to hate crimes on the part of the perpetrators and extreme school violence on the part of the victims. Throwing in mentions of the tragedy at Colombine never hurts. The parents should be held accountable for their childrens actions.

  18. February 18, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Teach him to ambush them and hurt them so bad they won’t even think of coming after him.

  19. qvd
    February 18, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    I AM taking responsibility. I feel huge responsibility as a bullying victim to try and give real-world advice to prevent the hell I went through from happening to other victims. I’ve walked in those shoes and I know what it’s like.

    I’ll try and put it in simpler terms.

    Imagine that every morning your parents lower you into a pit full of angry wild dogs. You have no tools to cope with their attacks. No allies. No one is on your side. You’re just told you’re not allowed to hit them. If they attack you, you’re blamed because you should have “handled it” somehow.

    If you can’t change the nature of the pit, there are only two things that a parent can do. Teach their child to defend themselves, or stop lowering them into the pit every morning.

  20. February 18, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    I know the family well enough to address the specific situation in the post more directly. As I said above I have direct experience dealing with school administrations on bullying, and I’ve conveyed that in private emails.

    In terms of more general advice, there are no good options, but my experience was that fighting back was a valid, effective strategy, and I think we do a disservice to kids when we bullshit them about that. It can backfire, but it can also work, and kids who are bullied need to consider all their options in light of their particular circumstances.

    Not everyone has a lot of resources. Not everyone can hire a lawyer to pressure the school, and not everyone has a lawyer friend who will do it as a favor. Not every parent will find that the school administration listens. Not every parent can put a child in another school. Not every kid is physically or mentally capable of offering resistance. Each kid and each parent is in a particular situation, usually one without a lot of good options. Making blanket rules about the use of force may serve some folks’ ideology, but will also disserve some folks’ actual experience.

  21. 10G
    February 18, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Excuse me, all, for this aside, but I have to ask–Thomas, why DOES the administration side with the bullies? Is it sheer cowardice, financial anxieties, just plain stupidity? Do these people not have a clue that once these brats get out in the real world, that behavior is called harassment, and therefore subject to action on the part of the CJ system? Jeebus…..don’t get me started on the public school system…….thanks much for your help!

  22. MikeF
    February 18, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Fighting back definitely can work, but I think that successfully doing so requires a decent understanding of social cues to figure out when and how to get physical. I worry that an autistic kid might have trouble with that; there are ways that lashing out physically can also make the situation worse.

  23. Sherm
    February 18, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    21- There have actually been psychological studies done that found that teachers are more likely to identify positively with “attractive” kids than their less attractive peers. My guess is that it’s more of this; the administrators identify with the bullies because it’s part of our culture, or genetics, or whatever, to side with the strong agaisnt the weak. And that includes making excuses for bad behavior from the stronger bullies, and then throwing the book when the weaker kid fights back.

  24. February 18, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Bullies are opportunistic. They attack people they won’t think will fight back.

    Put me in that 1% of bullying victims who disagree. MMy bullies attacked me because they knew they *could* get me to fight back, but I wasn’t very good at it, being smaller and lighter than most of the folks who were goading me into fighting them. But since they’d gotten me to be the one to “escalate” things to physical violence, they never seemed to get into any kind of trouble for it – it was a schoolyard fight, boys will be boys, etc.

    Maybe fighting back helped me avoid another set of bullies, but for boys who were just looking to beat someone up, and there were quite a few in elementary and middle school, I was an easy target.

    The advice I got from administrators was mostly along the lines of “just ignore them.” This may have been well-meaning but badly-executed advice, or it may have been administrators attempting to avoid the issue. (Fights they have to deal with; kids getting taunted and insulted, not so much.)

  25. NicoleGW
    February 18, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Not that I have a better suggestion, but isn’t telling this kid to fight back just putting the responsibility to stop the bullying right back on his shoulders? He has a right to a safe and healthy environment and, by definition, he shouldn’t need to literally fight for that right. Just because the teachers and administrators at his school aren’t stepping up to the plate doesn’t mean that the next logical step is for Movie Boy to fix the problem by himself.

  26. Sherm
    February 18, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    26- Unfortunately, it does put some of the responsibility back on his shoulders. And that’s not fair. Which is why his parents absolutely need to keep on fighting to make the teachers and administration take this seriously. But that’s likely to be a long process, and in the mean time, the poor kid is still getting pushed around. Encouraging him to stand up to the bullies is the least unacceptable near-term fix for the problems.

    Though I must say my opinions have changed since I found out that the kid has autism. If that’s the case, fighting back is both unlikely to work and probably at least somewhat damaging to the child.

  27. Alara Rogers
    February 18, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Don’t teach him to fight back. The child who escalates to violence first is always the one who gets in trouble. Also, in the real world, punching people for insulting you is always a stupid idea.

    Threaten a lawsuit or get the cops involved. Threaten to press charges against the other children. Actually press charges against the other children. Threaten a lawsuit against the other children, the parents of the other children, and the school for the sexual harassment. When parents act all appalled that you would call “kids being kids” sexual harassment, reply that if they were in a work environment and a co-worker told them to lick his balls, it would absolutely be sexual harassment and they could absolutely sue over it, so why is it different just because they are kids?

    Go to the media. Contact your local newspaper and ask if any reporters are willing to cover the story of the failure of the school to practice what it preaches when it comes to Zero Tolerance for bullying. Then whether the reporters agree to cover the story or not, tell the school you have contacted the newspaper.

    Use greatschools.net to find your school. Post a review stating that the school tolerates bullying. Contact the school and tell them what you have done. Point out that anyone who wants to research their school online will Google it and get that review.

    Contact the superintendent of the school. Tell them that despite the zero tolerance policy your son is being bullied and nothing is done. Contact the school board if there is a school board.

    Most of all, talk to a lawyer. I’m not one, so I can’t actually be sure if any of this will help, but a lawyer can tell you.

  28. Henry
    February 18, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Well, I guess I’m in agreement with several of the posters here. Assuming this boy is functional enough to understand what he’s doing (and it sounds like he is) then there is only one solution, and unfortunately that situation is violence. Preferably immediate, overwhelming, public violence. Or to put it another way, the first shithead that touches that kid needs to be greeted with a punch in the fucking mouth, immediately.

    Yes, the child may get in trouble. Yes, he might even have to change schools. But this is an issue that will stay with him for the rest of his life. Will he become the type of man who hides from his problems or who needs someone else to help him out, or the type who handles his own business? This isn’t meant to be some macho thing, but bullies smell weakness and fear. Just fighting back once will likely give him the kind of confidence that will prevent bullying in the future.

    Even if getting parents or school officials or whoever involved could solve the physical problem, it will never fix the mental anguish he’ll experience due to the scorn he’ll get for having others fight his battles. School officials will never be able to keep kids from saying mean shit to him. It’s just not possible. The only things that will prevent that are fear and respect.

  29. qvd
    February 18, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    “Also, in the real world, punching people for insulting you is always a stupid idea.”

    This isn’t any kind of analogue to the real world (meaning adult world). There will never be a crueler age than that one. It all starts to get better from there. Junior high is not a proving ground for adulthood, and suffering through it won’t “make you a better person”. It’s a dysfunctional, artificially structured environment that concentrates and encourages the absolute worst tendencies of the age.

    Also, violence and abuse is not just physical. Bullying victims are subjected to massive emotional and psychological violence that can be much more traumatic, in the long-term, than physical pain.

    If you can’t change the environment, and you can’t fight back, the best recourse is to leave the environment.

  30. qvd
    February 18, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    And looking at it a different way, the outcomes of fighting back aren’t so bad.

    So odds are high he gets in trouble for it and has to leave the school. If his parents stick up for him, he learns that you don’t have to submit to bullies or submit to an unjust authority like the school. He gets to go to another school or environment where there’s a chance he won’t be bullied anymore.

    Whereas if he stays in the school, doesn’t fight back and the tactics to change the school don’t work, he just gets tortured even more.

  31. Ens
    February 18, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    I don’t have Autism, just Asperger’s. Now I “pass” pretty well in everyday life and even most coworkers don’t really know (except that I never show up at company parties and whatnot), but at that time I couldn’t “pass” so well yet.

    The conflicting advice I got when in that situation was:

    1. My school telling me that ignoring it will make it go away (this is absolutely not true).
    2. My personal sense of ethics saying that it’s never right to escalate to physical violence when the current scale of assault is just words.
    3. My parents telling me to punch these assholes in the face.

    I don’t know what works in this kid’s case, and I don’t know that my case isn’t incredibly rare. But my own experience was that on two occasions, I just got very angry and couldn’t take it any more, and I punched the fuckers. The first time they hurt me back but then kind of humourously slipped on ice while I went back into the school and into sight of the teachers. The second time was right in the classroom with the teacher looking right at us, and the teacher, apparently tacitly approving, pretending he didn’t see my actions.

    Very few ever gave me shit again, and those that did were the bullies who themselves ended up marginalized over time. I was definitely smaller than them at the time. But they didn’t want to get hurt at all — it just wasn’t worth it even if they were guaranteed to “win” in the end.

    Again, I’m not advising anybody to try to replicate this. The most effective and the most ethical responses — which, btw, are not necessarily the same, and I certainly don’t think I was being ethical to get into the only two real fights in my life — are never the same between two different situations. I’m just sharing my data point.

  32. Ashe
    February 18, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    My younger brother and I were both bullied in middle school, him for being the overweight kid with goofy clothes and me for always having my nose in a book and ruining the curve. The administration while he was there (about five years ago) had a policy that the victim should curl up in a ball and shout for help. Anyone who took place in a physical altercation was suspended, regardless of who started it. When my brother decided to defend himself–he shoved back in order to escape while being hit and then ran to the office–he was suspended right along with his tormentors.

    Fair? No, and at 19 he’s a pent-up ball of rage and violence. But that’s how schools are today. I can’t say my sticking to non-violence worked any better, since it took me until starting at a thoroughly geeky, wonderful college to fully realize that a) people could actually, genuinely like me and b) maybe suicide wasn’t the best option after all.

    Why does the administration side with bullies? The apple rarely seems to fall far from the tree. The kids who abused me–and it WAS abuse–had parents who were bullies in their own right. When my parents finally believed me went to the school to try to get it stopped, the school was too afraid of the other students’ parents to do anything. When the police almost became involved, two parents, one a lawyer, threatened to sue us for all we were worth. I was told I could obviously “dish it out but couldn’t take it” and needed to stop being a crybaby.

    So neither hitting back (and having a permanent record to show that you’re “bad” too) nor going to the administration necessarily works. Finding a place where I felt safe and eventually accepted, even if it were an after school group, helped me heal. Both of us were eventually pulled out of that hell, something my mom worked three jobs to manage and that certainly isn’t feasible for everyone. Bullying reduced me from an outgoing, articulate kid to someone who’s still afraid after all these years to walk up the street in her parents’ neighborhood. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for a child with autism.

    Sorry for being so long-winded, but Kat, I really feel for you, and you and your son will be in my thoughts. You’re a great mom for going so far for him.

  33. February 18, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I’m cross-posting this on both sites so there is some procedural advice along with the personal. Some of this is from my experience in the schools and from a contact who was a special education teacher and child advocate for three solid decades.

    I have no idea what to do in the short term, but long term, calling a conference is on the right track. Unfortunately the school ultimately has no vested interest in a sexual harassment lawsuit, so some of the talking points on sexism and homophobia, while they may be good rhetoric, will likely fall flat in this specific case. What is more important is two things: the state law detailing the rights of special education students and the administrative style of the school Movie Boy attends.

    One other detail: What kind of case manager is this? Is this a private company who places CMs in the schools or is this a case manager employed by the state? Their roles will vary depending on their type of employer and their stated rules. If this is a case manager who bills Medicaid for their services – i.e. employed by a private company – I wouldn’t lean on this CM at all for anything other than mild to moderate behavioral and tutorial interventions I’ve done the private case management thing before and it’s basically worthless from a structural POV because you’re there to monitor the case’s behavior, not the people around the case’s behavior.

    I strongly suggest making sure you are having a case conference and not merely a parent/teacher conference. It will benefit you in the future, as detailed below.

    Make sure you have your detailed lists in hand when you go in, and I would print off any email exchanges you have had with the case manager, teachers, the guidance counselor, etc., that show the bullying has been witnessed by a third party.

    Also make sure this is an official case conference that will be attended by a principal or assistant principal, the teacher of record (if he is in special education with an IEP, MB will have one), and a guidance counselor. It’s no big deal if the guidance counselor cannot attend, though preferable, but generally a case conference will not be official and on record unless the TOR and an administrator is present. Reschedule if these key people cannot be there.

    As mentioned above, make sure that you are able to modify the IEP to reflect MB’s status as a bullied child AND as a special education student (which will be obvious with the IEP, but still), and request that you have a written, comprehensive plan for any bullying events in the future and how the administration will handle it and what will happen if the admin cannot.

    Then, you wait. These things will take time, and I guess in the meantime you and MB will have to figure out a way for him to put up with bad behavior while you give the administration time to enact these rules. If there is no resolution, you speak with the superintendent about bringing a lawsuit and call the state Special Education department, who will rain down the hellfire on this administration’s disinterest in protecting MB. It’s in the school’s interest to make sure you do not bring a lawsuit because they will pay for it out of their own funds — it does not come out of the state kitty — and if you have all these ducks in a row you will probably win any legal action.

    Some of this is going to depend on your state’s laws, but it’s generally pretty uniform thanks to I.D.E.A.

    Finally, I suggest you take a look at this website, a special education law and advocacy site that has a huge section dedicated to bullying and harassment:


  34. February 18, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Also, if a parent requests a case conference attended by the teacher of record, principal or asst. principal, and a guidance counselor, it has to happen by law. You’ll know they’re fucking with you if they try to eke out of that.

  35. February 18, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Ha! Lauren has chapter and verse! Excellent.

    Often, the official channels work for those with the time and resources to work them. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t practice law.

  36. dan
    February 18, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Calling a conference, lawyers, all that are the way to go. Speaking as a former bully, advising the kid to hit back really isnt the way to go, a lot of bullies may be cowards but a lot are also kids who know how to work the system and will escalate the trauma the bullied kid is experiencing. As mentioned above it isnt hard to get it written off with the boys will be boys stuff or similar bs. Documenting and intervening nonviolently are the only ways to go.

  37. Sepra
    February 18, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Will he become the type of man who hides from his problems or who needs someone else to help him out, or the type who handles his own business?

    Well, that is a bt extreme. To be honest, I was bullied heavily in elementry school and told to just ignore it. And then, suddenly, it all clicked and I became the person no one wanted to mess with. I would fuck a bully up without throwing a punch and they would regret ever being mean to me. Unfortunately, that happened too late. Not that this is the case with every child, but what happens early is not a determinant of who they’ll be.

    I really liked Lauren’s advice. As a former teacher, I don’t get people who condone bullying, but I firmly believe in making it excruciatingly difficult for people like that to not be on your side.

  38. February 18, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    I see a lot of people advocating the use of violence in response to bullies. Well, that might work for some children in some situations, but certainly not all. If a child isn’t as big, as strong, as physically coordinated, and as aggressive as their peers, it might not help at all.

    I too was bullied for years and when I finally worked up the courage and anger to fight back, I was badly beaten: I wound up with two black eyes and a sprained nose. Afterwards, I had to put up with vicious taunts from other children because I lost the fight. I can assure you that having one’s butt severely kicked doesn’t help much with low feelings of self worth. It also doesn’t help much with being on the low end of the social pecking order. It only deepens your status as someone who is easy to push around. Low and behold, a few days after the fight, a much larger, more aggressive friend of the guy I fought started to threaten me.

    I knew that things were going to escalate, so I took the matter to the administrators. (My parents, who were pretty dysfunctional, had no interest in assisting me.) If I hadn’t taken the matter to the school administration I suspect that things would have taken a turn for the worse.

    Fighting did not work for me. I had tried fighting as a solution on and off for years prior to this fight. I’m not an aggressive person, I anger slowly, and I’ve never been all that strong, fast, or coordinated. All of the fights I engaged in resulted in me being beaten. And guess what? The taunting didn’t stop.

    The solution that worked for me was learning to simply let the taunts and insults of my peers roll off my shoulders. When children taunt other children, they will often repeat the behavior if they are successful at getting a negative response from their victim. After I figured out this technique, I had the most peaceful year at school I had ever experienced. The taunting and the violence dried up virtually overnight.

    Unfortunately, its not easy to teach a child how to simply let insults and taunting roll off their shoulders. I was a senior in high school when the fight transpired and consequently, had reached a much higher level of maturity than a middle school student.

    If the administration remains unresponsive, I think that enrolling the child in a different school or home schooling him would be the most effective solution—at least through the duration of middle school. However, that can take a lot of resources.

    Last, but not least, I would like to remind people that this is a day and age when kids assault other kids with guns and knives on a regular basis. Encouraging behavior that might cause violence to rapidly escalate is extremely risky.

  39. Ellen
    February 18, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    “Will he become the type of man who hides from his problems or who needs someone else to help him out, or the type who handles his own business? This isn’t meant to be some macho thing…”

    WOW! This is not something you expect to see on a feminist blog. And the assumption is, if he doesn’t fight, that he is not the right “type of man.” He isn’t someone who worked out a different, possibly saner, smarter, and more mature solution, he is the the type of man who hides from his problems or who needs someone else to help him out. Just because you say it isn’t meant to be some macho thing does not mean that it is not some macho thing. None of this is easy, but if we don’t stop teaching our children violence, and letting them think it is normal, then it isn’t going to stop, is it?

  40. AcerRubrum
    February 18, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    I was bullied in elementary and middle school, and fighting back was the only thing that helped. In elementary school, since the bully was a boy and I was a tiny little angelic-looking girl, I got away with punching him in the gut. I don’t even think he told anybody, and he left me alone from then on. Middle school it was a girl bully and the fighting back was verbal. But neither left me alone when I “just ignored them”. Fighting back also helped me get back some self-respect, and to feel like I was in control of my own life.

    Since the boy in question is autistic, you may be able to get more help from the school (bullying a special ed student is extra-low) but I would also teach him a couple of punches– teach him how, don’t just say ‘punch the assholes’. Then tell him that if a kid hits him again, you say “Stop that, and don’t do it again” and if he does it again, you hit him as hard as you can. Obviously, this wouldn’t help with verbal abuse, but hitting *back* is at least looked at better than starting a fight. If he gets suspended, take him out for ice cream and movies. :)

  41. February 18, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    To everyone who says: “Hit `em back.” I say: Not all bullying involves physical violence. In fact, particularly among female students, the majority of it is all mental and social pressure.

  42. Maureen
    February 18, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Sue the bastards. Both the school and the bullies. (Minors as young as eleven can be held civilly liable for intentional battery.)

  43. 10G
    February 18, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Ya know…I’m with Maureen–perhaps if schools faced enough litigation and complaints from enough parents….squeaky wheel and all. And MUCH thanks to Sherm and Ashe for your help and kind input–Sherm, I remember hearing about those studies, but silly me, I was hoping that American culture had evolved a bit since then. And Ashe, God love ya, I feel your pain. Thanks again, guys, much obliged! :)

  44. Anon
    February 19, 2009 at 12:04 am

    I wish my parents or school intervened in any way whatsoever throughout my lifelong verbal/emotional bullying, at school, at home, etc., etc… And actually I also am curious, how do people continue to deal with bullying in their adult lives, especially their workplaces? With this terrible economy, I find myself in temp work, an occupation I have found to be riddled with stereotypes about low skills and intelligence. My workplace takes these stereotypes as valid truth, and bullies me in subtle ways frequently. As a temp worker without much ground to stand on in terms of job security, and as someone who has seen many people systematically fired from permanent jobs for making complaints of sexual and racial harassment, how does one best deal with this type of harassment on an individual basis?

  45. Asenath Waite
    February 19, 2009 at 12:47 am

    If it’s at all possible, get Movie Boy out of that school. Then sue.

  46. Morganna
    February 19, 2009 at 1:47 am

    I was bullied in elementary school and the first year of middle school because I was a tiny little geek girl.
    I was told to ignore it. That made it worse-when I didn’t respond to verbal abuse they hit me.
    I was still told to ignore it or just “tell the teacher”. Yeah. Telling the teacher didn’t work.
    So I told my dad. He raised hell and nothing changed.
    Finally I lost it and beat the ever-loving shit out of one of the bullies. That worked.
    It was the only thing that worked. Sadly.

    This isn’t true across the board-I’m sure there are schools that do take bulling seriously, and if you have the time and money for it you can go through the system up to and including a lawsuit, but those options still might not work. Pulling the kid out of school will only solve the problem for a while-it’s quite likely he would be bullied in a new school as well. Homeschooling is the best option if you want to remove bullies from the equation altogether.

    And I have no clue how to solve the problem of bulling-as far as I can tell children are just evil at that age.

  47. Kat
    February 19, 2009 at 8:52 am

    I wanted to thank every who responded. I have read all of your comments with great interest. To answer some of the questions — Movie Boy is “high functioning” meaning that he has good cognitive skills. He is in an inclusion setting — so basically following a mainstream curriculum with embedded special education teacher in the classroom. Many of his fellow students have IEPs for a variety of reasons.

    My worry with him hitting back is this: 1) the school policy specifically states that retribution for bullying will be punished.; 2) this is more than one kid or one group, so I think he’s horribly outnumbered, and 3) if he were to attempt to take a kid on, and then lose, it would be worse than before.

    As far as I’m concerned, he is doing what he should — he is speaking up (very difficult for him) and he is not hitting back. As a parent, I have continued to let the school know what is going on and urged Movie Boy to continue to tell us and his teachers.

    So, I feel like at this point, the ball is in the court of the administrators, because this smacks of a systemic problem and many children (not just a random one or two) are engaging in disruptive, unacceptable, and abusive behavior at the expense of the more vulnerable students. There are a lot of kids that think its okay to use sexual and demeaning terms to hurt people.

    I am going to get his IEP updated to include that he has been subjected to continual bullying, and we are going to make his social goals more robust — which I will get a fight over from the school, but I will fight right back.

    I am going to submit a list of infractions so far, and I’m going to do what Lauren suggests and request that you insist on a written, comprehensive plan for any bullying events in the future and how the administration will handle it and what will happen if the admin cannot.

    I have also contacted the Director of Equity Affairs at the school district. This is a new position, and Movie Boy’s case is relevant to her because he has a disability.

    I am also tape recording the meeting and requesting an IEP meeting be scheduled immediately to implement the things we discuss in this meeting.

    This meeting is not exactly informal — the special ed teacher, the asst principal, the special education coordinator, his PE teacher, his science teacher, both parents and my brother will all be in attendance.

    Again, thanks everyone and I will post the outcome later today over at my blog.

  48. Laurie in Mpls.
    February 19, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Kat said:
    1) the school policy specifically states that retribution for bullying will be punished.

    Now THAT, in my opinion, is screwed up. :( I don’t condone physical violence, but do reluctantly agree than on occasion, it may be the only way to get the point across to people of a certain age group. Being deprived of that “tool” is essentially victim blaming. Especially since ignoring teasing/bullying/threatening behavior DOES. NOT. WORK. Unless you are bright enough to never, ever react poorly to the teasing, and that includes the very first time it happens, it just escalates until the bully figures out how to MAKE you react.

    I’m sorry — I really think the teachers need to step up to the plate on this one and make it known to their students just what kind of behavior will simply not be tolerated and then *do something about it*. That PhysEd teacher who claims to be “keeping an eye on the situation” is quite possibly in the position to make the most difference, and is shirking his responsibilities. (Ass.)

    Best of luck to you and Movie Boy. Let him know he has a whole lot of adults on his side, even if they are internet people. (If that would make a difference to him. Not sure it would have to me. ;)

  49. ACG
    February 19, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Fighting back can be a messy, messy thing, especially when it’s complicated with something like Asperger’s that already makes him stand out to the administration. That said, I think my advice would still have to be to fight back.

    The fact that you’ve documented it and repeatedly taken it to the administration might actually work in your favor. I went through something in middle school where I was constantly tormented by one guy until I hauled off and whacked him, starting a scuffle. Since I’d been going to the principal about it ever since the bullying started (although she did nothing about it), they knew what had precipitated the fight and I only got one day of suspension (he got three). And yeah, I knew I was going to get in trouble, but it was worth it to me just that one time.

    Best of luck to you and Movie Boy. These things are hard enough to handle for kids who are good at social interaction; for kids with ASD, it has to be a nightmare.

  50. Henry
    February 19, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    “3) if he were to attempt to take a kid on, and then lose, it would be worse than before.”

    Losing is okay. Hell, losing is to be expected, but won’t likely make things worse. The key thing is for him to be willing to go back at his antagonist even when he knows he will lose. That’s what raises the cost/benefit ratio in his favor. It’s a respect thing.

  51. CTD
    February 19, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Absolutely fight back. Deck the snots bothering you a couple of times and 90% of the time the problem will go away. So what if you’re punished by the school? Who cares? The brief suspension I served in middle school was well worth not having to put up with that crap anymore.

  52. Titanis walleri
    February 19, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    “I was still told to ignore it or just “tell the teacher”. Yeah. Telling the teacher didn’t work.”
    This. The teachers never give a damn, and it just gets you a reputation as a “tattle-tale” (why this is a bad thing, I never understood, but it’s a mindset that continues into adult life)…

  53. February 19, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Hi Kat,

    Thanks for the great post.

    Don’t ignore bullying. Minimizing, ignoring, begging and bribery don’t stop or convert bullies.

    The bullies already told you that they aren’t going to stop on their own and the administration and teachers aren’t stopping it.

    Fighting is a choice, but not in this case. In this case, parents (you) have to do the work.

    Focus on the school administrator – he/she controls the culture. This one sounds like a coward – more interested in protecting kids who initiate verbal and physical bullying and, perhaps, more worried about not getting sued by the parents of bullies who will attack him/her if their kids are thwarted from bullying.

    Keeping an eye on things is nonsense. Good administrators and teachers know what going on; who the bullies are and who they victimize. Good administrators and teachers have zero-tolerance and act swiftly.

    The keys to getting cowardly or uncaring administrators to act are the law, publicity (especially of a pervasive pattern) and documentation. Show up with a knowledgeable lawyer. Be firm. Let the administrator know that if effective action isn’t taken, you’re a greater threat than the parents of the bullies. Use any allies you can (teachers, other parents).

    Disclosure: In addition to having six children, I’m a practical, pragmatic coach and consultant. I’ve written, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks.” Please see my book, “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” for a few choice words about cowardly administrators. Also, check out my website and blog at BulliesBeGone (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com).

    You’ll need to persevere and be resilient.

    Good luck and best wishes,

  54. erica
    February 20, 2009 at 10:26 am
  55. Sailorman
    February 20, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    This just gets my hackles up–against the school, not against you.

    My advice is to document, document, document. Send letters certified or with proof of mailing.

    If you communicate with them, you may find it tempting to go into emotions. Don’t, if you can avoid it. You need to come across as “rational” or more accurately you need to avoid getting tagged as “emotional.”

    As an example,

    GOOD: “On September 19, 2009, while Movie Boy was waiting for the bus at 9:15 AM, Big Bully approached him and punched him repeatedly in the face, causing damage to his cheek.”

    BAD: “Big Bully keeps beating up my son.”

    You appear to be doing an excellent job so far. Keep sending them facts, documented in writing. DO NOT make any reports orally, unless you also follow up with them in writing. Followups are great: “This letter is to confirm my oral report as made to Principal Screwup on 1/1/2009, in which I reported that ____. Please inform me in writing of the plan for action in response to this incident” and so on.

  56. Cecily
    February 22, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    From the list of events in Kat’s blog post, it looks like most of the incidents are verbal abuse, not violence. (3 of the 9 incidents mention pushing or hitting.) I feel like the comments here urging Movie Boy to “hit back” are overlooking this.

    Social cruelty is a complex issue, and unlikely to be resolved by escalating to violence. That response can feed into the tormentors’ view of the child as ‘extreme’, socially awkward, ‘weird’ and lesser.

  57. Samuel
    February 23, 2009 at 5:17 am

    That’s a horrible situation. I would take the log above the principles head, and higher if need be.

    My personal situation growing up included being bullied and socially isolated for a number of years. I learned that the only response bullies will respond to is escalation. Most of which is not physical but involves identifying the insecurities of the bully and verbally cutting at them.

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