Living with Children: 2 different responses to 6th-grade bullying

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A sixth-grade teacher recently shared the following story with me: Two girls in her class were making fun of a classmate whose family was struggling financially. The girl was socially awkward and had no friends. The mocking was taking place both at school and on social media.

As I read the teacher’s email, I reminisced about what being in the sixth grade was like in the late 1950s, before smart phones, video games, and social media began corrupting childhood. Actually, I have no idea what it was like for girls because girls were the stuff of fantasy only, and believe it or not, lots of boys still had no interest in girls and vice versa.

I have, however, talked to lots of women my age who tell me that girlhood back then was not marked by the sorts of personal and social dramas that mark it today. Some girls, I am told (and was aware), formed cliques, but open bullying of other girls was a rarity.

In this case, one of the girls’ parents were intolerant of misbehavior while the other set of parents took great umbrage at anyone who reported it. Teachers walked on eggshells with them for fear of the proverbial hotseat. The teacher in question, however, was nearing the end of her career and was not easily intimidated.

A “final straw” incident occurred one day and said teacher informed both girls that their parents would be informed. One begged her not to, saying that she would get into a surfeit of trouble. The other girl basically dared the teacher to tell her parents.

“You’ll get in trouble,” she said, “not me.” Children are very perceptive.

The teacher told both parents what had happened, pointing out that the bullying and teasing had gone on for some time. Sure enough, the latter set of parents became their daughter’s apologists. They denied that she was even capable of such cruelty, blamed her partner in crime for being a bad influence, and implied that the victim was her own worst enemy. They then complained to the principal, who insisted that the teacher to apologize to them. She refused and told the principal that he ought to be ashamed of himself.

The other girl’s parents also became furious, but at the right person. The next day, their daughter apologized to the teacher and to the victim – tearfully and in front of the entire class, no less. She broke off relations with her cohort and began making sincere efforts to make friends with her less advantaged classmate. She also mentioned to the teacher that her smart phone had been confiscated indefinitely.

The heroes in the story are the parents who held their daughter to high standards and forced her repentance. Along with a teacher who stood up for what is right in an environment where right and wrong have become confused, they are to be applauded for making the world a better place.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com. Copyright 2021, John Kirk Rosemond]