Friday, 25 April 2014

Bullying: Lessons in Resilience or Unallowable Torture?

So.  Bullying.  Allowing your child to risk being victimised at school so they learn "resilience" (current school buzzword).

When I was at school (early secondary) I wasn't so much bullied as ignored, laughed at and generally being the class outcast.  People (acquaintances - not friends) would moan abut me behind my back and agree on how awful I was - without ever talking to me about the things that bothered them or finding out what I was really like.  I was not spoken to by class consensus for a couple of years.  I had zero confidence, zero clue as to how to handle it.  How was I supposed to learn "resilience" all by myself, especially amidst the onslaught of opinion that said I was worthless?

I am not saying any of this for pity or even cyber-hugs, lovely though they are.  I am saying this because after two years of home ed, I am still asking myself HOW ON EARTH does leaving a child in a hostile environment make sense as a positive argument for sending a child to school?  It comes up again and again: "but if you don't send your child to school, how will they learn to deal with bullying?"  My eloquent response to this usually being "WHAAAAA?", accompanied by blank stare (especially when the question is asked by the same parents who demand an outstanding and effective anti-bullying policy from their child's school).

Thirty years after my own unpleasant experiences, I loathe labels - detest the act of assuming you know someone just because of a certain aspect of their character.  I can't abide judging people, and I have serious issues about so-called friends who complain about me to others but won't discuss things with me.  It is very rare for me to discuss others in their absence, even kindly.  Yes, my experiences have made me who I am - in some ways for the good (I hope), and in some ways I still bear the scars.  I still struggle with paranoia and trusting people.  But the scars from the battles that I have fought as an adult (eg the trauma of losing two babies) have been much easier to deal with.  Yes - excruciatingly painful - but as an adult, I am more resilient.  I don't think I learned that at school though - the mental/ emotional scars I bear from my school years seem so much harder to heal.   In a recent report we learned that bullied children are still affected at age 50... how come they didn't learn resilience then?  Could it be that the argument is flawed?

Why would I want to knowingly expose my cherished little ones to nastiness when I know they are not equipped to handle it?  But then, I'm not an advocate of teaching a child to swim by "throwing them in at the deep end" either.  I do not advocate wrapping your child in cotton wool, tempting though it is to a ferociously protective mama bear... they need to learn, they need to engage with the world - and yes, that can be uncomfortable or painful at times - but I refuse to send them off to that environment and leave them to it.

The other day Eldest and a couple of his friends were playing in a wooded area near the playpark where I was with his brothers.  I couldn't see him, but I trust him.  After we got home Eldest told me that some girls (about his age) had gone up to him and his friends, swearing at them, calling them names and taunting them. Eldest and his friends handled it fine, but I could tell he was puzzled by why anyone would do that.  He was most shocked by the fact that the girls used "the F-word" in front of the 7yo sister of one of Eldest's friends, which I think speaks volumes about his character.  I couldn't say much in answer to him really - I still don't understand why people act like that - so we decided that they must be fairly unhappy sort of people, and that his walking away from a senseless fight is a wise thing to do.

Is Eldest learning resilience from being exposed to that sort of hostility?  No - he's learning it from growing up in a house where he is accepted for who he is.  Am I glad he was exposed to it?  Of course not, but unfortunately he will meet others like that in life, and needs to learn how to handle it - just not by being surrounded by it day in, day out.  I am proud of how he did handle it, and so grateful that it was a minor blip in his life, rather than something that he has to face all the time.

And of course, the hostility experienced by Eldest on this one occasion, or by myself at school - all pales into insignificance when we look at the horrifying reports on childhood stress levels (the UK score particularly badly here), children who take weapons to school - even at primary level, and most of all, bullying-related child suicide.

Apologies if you were expecting a well-crafted argument.  I feel like I have waffled: I have resolved nothing. Next time I am asked the same question, I dare say my response will still be a blank-faced "WHAAAAAAA?".  I have no answer, because I still don't understand the question.


  1. That's such a stupid question, isn't it? If you suggested that all school children SHOULD be subjected to bullying, just so they "knew how to deal with it", you would be looked at in horror - quite rightly - but that is the natural conclusion from that comment. Personally, I would have had J out of school in a flash if he had been bullied - he does struggle to deal with confrontations but having him at home means that I can help to talk through these situations with him and be on hand to diffuse any incidents. Well done to Eldest and his friends for dealing with that incident so maturely.

    1. Thanks, Rachel! I think that's the crucial thing: being home educated doesn't make my boys immune to bullying, butI believe and hope they will be better equipped to deal with it when it comes up, rather than drowning in it all day every day. xx

  2. I don't understand it either,I also can't think of any other time of life when you experience bullying??so why should a child get adjusted to it.
    I had an awful time at school too,the whole way through and the faculty were as bad as my "friends" and fellow students.I'm still not really over it and I don't think you ever are.Its part of you and its just one of those things you learn to live with.part of the reason I planned to home ed,glad to hear your boys know how to deal with incidents like that.

    1. Sorry to hear of your experiences, RR!
      Sadly, I know there are instances of bullying in the adult world - in fact a friend of mine is currently having a very hard time at work due to bullying from an office manager. However, I cannot see that her being bullied at school could in any way have prepared her to deal with this any better than if she had grown up surrounded by people who told her she was valuable and to be on hand to help her learn ways to handle such hostility.
      Thanks for taking time to comment :)

  3. That was one of the first things my mother in law said to me when she learnt that we were taking our son out of school. 'But how will he learn how to cope with bullying unless you send him to secondary school ?' As if it was the expected outcome and a kind of rite of passage......He's 17 now and off to college soon and perfectly capable of handling himself-in spite of missing out on this 'life experience'. All credit to you and your boys x

    1. Thanks, Sandra! It doesn't matter how many times I hear that question, I don't think it will ever make sense to me. Maybe one day someone will share their experience of how bullying made them stronger and more resilient. Until then, all I have to go on are an awful lot of stories to the contrary.
      Hooray for you and your son being so successful - thanks for taking the time to comment and encourage!