Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When Bullies Endanger Your Free-Range Kid

We've been having a run of delightfully warm weather this past week. Highs in the 70's. I'm loving it, and so are the kids. Yesterday after school, Drake asked if he could go to the park one block from our house to meet some of his friends. In keeping with my desire to be a free-range mom, I said sure. He was gone for about a half hour. When he returned, he told me there was an older boy at the park who was bullying him.

"He kept saying bad words, and kept trying to get ME to say bad words. Like the F word, a LOT. And then he kept trying to get me to punch the girls he was with. He told me to beat the HELL out of them. He also wanted to know where I lived and where my parents were."

I asked him how he handled it. He said "I refused to say the bad words, and I told him I don't hit girls. I also told him I live down the alley, because there are lots of houses down the alleys. Then when he wouldn't leave me alone, I just came home."

There were a couple other kids at the park, all around Drake's age. Drake said the kid was bothering them some too but mostly was bothering him. As he told the story, the kid kept getting older... a generic 'teenager' to a 'high schooler' to 'at least 17' to 'a college kid!'. He also said the kid started following him when he began heading home, so Drake ran home.

I told him he did the right things, and asked him if he wanted us to walk back over and see if that kid was still there. He said yes so we did, me prepared to do some stern mama-talking (and possibly get my own ass beat, if these kids were REAL punks). Oksana (who is five going on I'LL KICK YOUR ASS) took off eagerly, ready to take down some bullies. When we got there, the park was clear of all children. In the distance, we could see three bigger kids walking down the block. "That's them!" said Drake. "I can tell because one of the girls had blue hair." They were too far away to do anything - not that this stopped Oksana, who took off at a full-on run after them until I called her back. "I'm mad at them for being bullies to my brother! I was going to kick that bully in the wiener!" (I have a feeling I'll be getting called to school quite a bit for this kid. I better start practicing my IT WAS SELF DEFENSE speeches now.)

I think Drake handled it pretty well, as a 7 year old dealing with three older kids. I'm not sure what other advice I could or should have given him. I know that kids can be assholes, and it's likely this kid was just being a little jerk trying to be 'cool' for his friends. He probably wasn't looking for a physical altercation. But what if he was? What do you tell your 7 year old about fighting with older kids? Or even fighting with a group of kids? We've told him it's OK to fight back in self-defense, and that the goal should be to drop the kid so he can get to safety, not for revenge or to beat the crap out of the other person. How do you answer questions when your child, rightfully so, asks what he should do if he fights back in self-defense and the bully's friends jump in? What do you say when they ask you "I will try to kick the boy in the privates, but what about the girls?" (I've already told him he CAN hit a girl if they hit him first.) Do I teach my kid to be a dirty fighter?

I tell you, there was a good part of me that wanted to go over there and punch those foul-mouthed little shitbags in the face. Not because I care about bad words (obviously), but because they were very clearly intimidating little kids and trying to get them to engage in bad behaviors. It made my blood boil.

Part of allowing my children to be free-range kids means knowing and accepting that they will run into situations that are difficult to deal with and hoping I've guided them and taught them the right ways to handle those situations. How do you teach your kids to deal with bullies and jerks? (That's not a hypothetical; I really want to know what other parents are teaching their kids about these types of situations.) A lot of the time I feel like the 'school sponsored' responses are kind of weak, but I'm not sure what else to do.

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