When your kid gets bullied, how should you respond? I will tell you our recent experience, and hopefully it will be a useful encouragement.
There I was yesterday evening, home from work, sorting the laundry of nine persons while watching a wildlife documentary on Netflix. My wife had ordered groceries from King Soopers and was taking our youngest son John with her to pick them up. Then two of my sons – Eli and Dan – came home from the park.
First Dan, then Eli started telling me there was a bully at the park, and he had been picking on them.
Alternating between trying not to cry and being angry at the injustice, they described being whipped with a Gucci belt and grabbed by the arm and shook. Eli’s bottle of Gatorade had been dumped out. And they had been called a string of profane things which I will not repeat here.
Can You Make Me?
This was not the first time this week I had heard about troubles at the park.
A few days prior, scouts reported there were a lot of kids – by some accounts as many as 20, with some teenagers – who had swamped the playground and were cussing up a storm. They were being a menace, kicking the bathroom door and generally acting like little jerks.
At first, my boys had asked them to amend their language. This seemed only to elicit still more objectionable verbiage, now more focused on my sons.
Then a younger girl was being picked on. My boys intervened.
My son Eli told the offending parties to leave her be. He was met with defiance. “Can you make me?” To this Eli conceded somewhat sheepishly that he could not. They were more and bigger kids, and he was only there with one younger brother. So my two boys came home to ask their mother what to do.
Over dinner that night, after hearing all about it, I told my sons they were not the language police. They would be surrounded by people for the rest of their life who use course and foul language, and that is just life.
However, if an innocent person is being bullied, their intervention has my full support. If they have to come home to get more of their brothers, so be it. And if they end up getting into a scuffle to protect an innocent person from abuse, they will not get in trouble with me, but I will support them. And if the kids are too big and numerous, they should come get me and I will straighten it out.
Cool Some Jets
After dinner that night, I asked my two oldest sons to ride down to the park with me on bikes. And there on the sidewalk, the three of us parked. We lingered perhaps a minute or two – long enough for everyone to see us. I had Josiah and Eli tell me whether these were the same ones who had been misbehaving, and to point some out to me. Then we rode home without a word, though the kids saw that we had come – I with my sons. And I hoped that would cool some jets.
But then came last night. And as I heard of my sons being whipped with a belt, and called vile and nasty things, I asked how big the kid was who had been doing these things to them.
“He’s like as tall as me plus Enoch,” Daniel said motioning with his hands, and in reference to his second-to-youngest four-year-old brother.
“Alright then,” I said. “Let’s go.”
With that, I changed my clothes and put on socks and shoes and directed Eli and Daniel to hop on bikes and come with me quietly as I walked to the park. The rest of the kids who were home, I directed to stay home and continue on with what they had been doing until we returned.
Have A Word
We had walked and rode about a block when we saw several kids on bikes riding down the street toward us. As we approached, Eli and Daniel pointed out the offending party. And as the young man saw us approaching, he turned his bike casually around and began riding the opposite direction.
On arriving at the park, he disappeared around the corner after turning right down an intersecting street. I then directed Daniel to give me my bike, and for he and Eli to stay there at the park while I followed after.
When I reached the intersection and looked down the street to my right, there was no one. I rode on until I found a bicycle laying in the driveway of one of the houses and waited a minute. The chain of the bike I was riding had come undone when I had shifted gears clumsily, so I fixed that.
Having fixed the chain, I rode in a circuit up and down the street to pass the time. Then appeared the young man from the house and got back on his bike. So I called to him and told him I wanted to have a word with him.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Why do you want to know my name?” he shot back.
“Why do I need a reason to ask you for your name?” I asked.
“I don’t know who you are.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let me give you some context. I am a father of seven kids who lives in this neighborhood. Two of my sons just came home from the park saying they were whipped with a belt and pushed around and cussed at by another kid. Do you know anything about that?”
He looked away as if about to ride off again, mumbling something about there being a lot of kids at the park.
“Do you know who did it?” I asked.
He looked back again defiantly, “Well, obviously if you’re asking me you think I did it!”
“My sons pointed you out as the one who was doing it, yes.” I told him still on my bike, hands on hips, a stern look on my face.
With that he began riding off down the block away from me.
I called after him, “Hey, I’m not done talking with you.”
When he did not immediately respond, I called after him. “That’s fine! If you don’t want to be responsive, I’ll just go talk with your parents.” And I turned around to head back to the house he had just come out of.
“Those aren’t my parents,” he objected.
“That’s fine!” I replied, “I’ll figure it out.”
Just about that time, more kids from the park began riding around the corner. So I called out to them.
“Hey, guys. Do you know his name?” I asked while pointing.
They did, and a couple of them told me his first name.
“Great! Do you know his last name?” I asked.
They did not.
Knocking On The Door
Resigned to the lack of success talking directly with the young man in question, I returned to the house he had just come out of. And ringing its doorbell, a teenage boy answered. He asked if he could help me, and I gave him a brief explanation that I was looking to speak with the parents or grandparents of the young man whose first name I had been told, and who had just come out of this house.
Opening the door wider, the teenager motioned to a man about my age mopping the floors. This man was very agreeable. Yet when I talked with him, it soon became clear this was not the father of the kid in question.
So I explained the issue we were having and learned that he and his family had just moved to Greeley from Chicago a month ago. And his son also had issues with getting picked on at the same park as well, though those issues seemed to have resolved themselves. And would I like to cut through his house to get back to the park quicker to find that kid again, since he had just been there to ask if his kids could come back out and play?
Thanking him, I declined. And I apologized for having interrupted his mopping. And I welcomed him to the neighborhood. He told me if my kids had any problems with his son, whose name he told me, now I knew where to come to find him and talk with him. I shook his hand and told him I appreciated that and was on my way.
When I had made it down the block, however, I heard a woman’s voice behind me. And turning back, the wife of the man I had just been speaking with was coming toward me.
“That kid you were looking for is coming around to talk with you,” she said.
He had just come to their backdoor, and they had apparently told him he needed to come and find me to apologize. So now he was going to. As I had thanked her husband, I also thanked her.
“Kids can be bullies,” she said. “And it’s not okay.”
“No, it’s not.” I answered. “But we’ll get it straightened out.”
And with that, I headed back to the park. I gave my son Daniel the bike back and told him to watch the corner in case the young man came back around the block the other way so we would not miss him.
But just as I turned the corner on foot, I saw the offending party headed toward me on his bike. And he riding to me, and I walking to him, we met in the middle.
“I apologize for being disrespectful and riding away from you,” he immediately said to me when we got close enough.
Taken aback, and not having expected such a rapid change in tone, I paused a second to recover before accepting his apology.
“Would you like to go back to the park and discuss this?” he asked.
“Yes, I would like that,” I told him.
So that is what we did. He riding his bike, and I walking, we returned to the park and sat down at a picnic table under an awning for shade.
Rather than just the young man in question and I sitting, however, soon all the kids in the park – perhaps a dozen by then – coalesced under the awning and took seats.
At first, I think they just wanted to see and hear what was going to happen. But then several of them began chiming in. And those who did not chime in with answers and explanations sat still and listened intently and seemed genuinely curious and interested in the back and forth.
To be fair to the young man, I told him I wanted him to tell me what happened in his own words. My sons, Eli and Dan, had told me their side of the story. Now I wanted to hear his. Had my sons provoked him somehow? Or what had happened before the altercation?
When he began, most of his explanation faulted my sons for annoying him and some of the others. Yet when I gave him room to continue, he became increasingly honest and evenhanded.
Over the course of the week, my sons had asked and told them all to stop cussing. They had responded by cussing even more than ever, and had in particular focused their cussing at my sons.
At this, several others chimed in like popcorn popping.
Their parents cuss. They were away from adults and wanted to cuss too. My kids were getting on their case about it, and they did not like that.
But then they conceded – to their credit, without any overt prompting from me – that they should not have cussed at my kids.
I told them that I am not their parent. They have parents, and I am not one of their parents. But in my house, my kids are not allowed to cuss. And that was why my kids were shocked to come to the park and hear them cussing not just a little, but a lot.
“Yeah,” some of them said. “Your sons told us they would have to go home if we were going to cuss.”
Let it be known that I did not tell my kids they would have to come home if the kids at the park were cussing. That was their own conclusion.
But the kids at the park continued.
“We should stop cussing around your kids. They’re good kids. And we don’t want them to have to go home because we’re cussing. And we don’t want them to think it’s okay to cuss because they hear us cussing, if they’re not suppose to cuss.”
I told them I appreciated and respected that, and I’m sure my sons would too.
As for the belt, I was told they had all been playing football. And then the young man in question and another had been wrestling for fun. My son Eli had allegedly kicked him in the shin. It was hot out. He was all amped up from football and wrestling, and he got carried away.
But he had only hit my son on the shoe with his belt. And he had not hit him very hard. At this, one of the other boys chimed in, “It was just like this.” And he tapped very lightly on the table.
At this I grinned and rolled my eyes, and nodded.
“Yes, I’ve heard that before,” I told them skeptically. “Listen, I have been a father for thirteen years. I have six sons and a daughter.”
Several eyes got wide.
“I know that my children are children and do not always behave as they should. And I know that you all are children too, and you don’t always behave like you should.”
“Yeah… I shouldn’t have whipped them with my belt. I apologize for that.”
And then they told me that my sons had thrown empty water bottles at them and taunted them. To that I replied that I would talk with my sons about that. And if in the future, my children were acting the fool or misbehaving, our family lives just up the street. Come knock on the door and tell either my wife or me, and we will straighten it out.
“They’re good kids,” came a couple replies.
“Usually,” I nodded and said matter-of-fact. “But sometimes they misbehave. And you can let us know when they do, if you ask them to stop and they won’t listen.”
Then another of the boys seated chimed in candidly, “We were picking on them, and we shouldn’t have.”
“Yeah,” came a few mild admissions from others as they looked down at their shoes, and off into the trees and bushes.
“But we were just messing with them to see how they’d react.”
“You were testing them,” I summarized.
“Yeah, exactly!” came a couple of innocent-sounding voices.
“Well, I’d say you got a reaction then,” I replied.
And what else was said was that I understood about the language, and about things getting out of hand. It was a hot day. They were playing football and wrestling. They got on each other’s nerves. It was easy to understand.
I told them I’ve worked in the oilfield for several years, and I’ve heard all the language, and I understand how hard it can be to not use that kind of language once you’ve heard it a lot.
At this, several of them perked up and told me that their dads also either currently work in the oilfield or used to.
Then the principally offending young man added that he was wearing a Coast Guard shirt because his dad is away in the Coast Guard now, but he used to work in the oilfield.
Then everything clicked into place.
Time will tell whether my chats yesterday – with my own kids and with those at the park – stick. All the same, the old proverb comes to mind. ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’
Today, my four older boys decided to have a lemonade stand in our driveway. They made $60, and I counted 20 kids in our front yard at one point.
And there sitting at the table with my sons, getting along just fine with everyone from what I could tell, and what my boys told me, was the young man I had a word with yesterday.
Maybe, just maybe, the kids at the park yesterday needed an adult – particularly a father – to sit them down and talk with them seriously.
Maybe, just maybe, all parties concerned needed a father to provide some accountability, and to explain that how we speak to and treat one other is critically important.
When we watch and read the news these days, we see a lot of folks who either now or in their childhood needed to have a father set them down and tell them how to talk to and treat one another.
You and I cannot possibly talk to all of them. But we can start with the kids in our house and in our neighborhood. And so we should.
So how should you respond when your kid gets bullied? In a word: proactively. Deal with it directly. Sit everyone down and talk about it. Lay out the expectations. Provide accountability.
“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”― Abraham Lincoln