When Does Teasing Become Bullying?

Blacksmith at Work - Colonial Williamsburg

Sometimes I think about taking my son to see a blacksmith so that we can have a hammer and mask made for him. I picture moments where I share something profound and insightful about how he can use the mask and hammer.

Sometimes it is information about how he can wear the mask to school and people will see how he has hidden his face and be overcome with shame for how they have treated him and others and sometimes it is because he’ll use the mask and hammer to fight for justice and fight for those who are too weak to fight for themselves.

But most of the time I wonder about what life is like in the 8th grade and ask myself if I am being the kind of father he needs me to be. Am I providing him with the tools and resources he needs to be successful now and in the future or am I falling down on the job.

When Does Teasing Become Bullying?

That is the question I spend the most time thinking about. There are children who are messing with him now.

Some of them are boys and some are girls.

Some of the things he tells me about the girls make it clear that one or more like him. I have explained to him that sometimes when you are 13 or 14 and you like a boy/girl you do stupid stuff.

You don’t know what do with yourself and aren’t sure how to behave so you do things. He is not so sure and is concerned about it.

I don’t tell him I am a little bit too but that is because I can’t see it so I have no way to measure other than from what he tells me. I have no way to determine if my read of the situation is accurate or if it is not.

When he tells me about the boys I find it much easier to make a call. One kid is being an unkind and I have no problem telling my son I agree with his read. I tell him the boy is being an insecure prick, a royal asshole.

He tells me some more and I ask about the boy’s name and discover he is the son of an asshole. His father has been an asshole to me as long as I have known him (42 years and counting) and a part of me just shakes my head.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

But none of this makes it clear to me whether we are dealing with simple teasing or if it has become bullying.

Bullying Is a Loaded Term

Bullying is a loaded term and one that I don’t take or use lightly.  One reason I don’t like it is because it feels like it creates a situation in which a person becomes a victim.

I am not raising victims. I am raising children who are learning how to take care of themselves. I am raising children who learn to deal with failure and adversity and who figure out how to advocate for themselves.

But that doesn’t negate their being children and that there are situations in which they need help.

My effort to teach them how to be responsible and accountable doesn’t mean they can’t find themselves in situations in which their parents aren’t needed or that we won’t step in and help them.

It is a slippery slope and confusing line to walk.

When I dealt with the father of the boy who is leading the attack there came a point in time at which I punched him in the throat. It was effective. It stopped some things from happening but it wasn’t a perfect solution.

The thing that really fixed things for me was my ability to walk up to someone, glare at them and tell them if they felt the need to prop themselves up by trying to make me feel badly I felt sorry for them.

When they recognized I meant it and didn’t care what they said they moved on and that ended things.

Words are a better solution here than fists and times are different.

Yet when my son asks me if anyone messes with me now I can tell him about moments where people have. I can talk about times where even as an adult I have felt like I am on the outside looking in.

But I also tell him that I don’t care and he recognizes it is true. There are a handful of people whose opinion about me matters and the rest I just don’t care about.

When he asks me how to get there I shrug my shoulders and tell him he will find his way. It is not the answer either of us want but it is honest.

Do I Wait and Watch Or Move In Now

His mother and I disagree about how good a handle he has on things. Neither of us are panicked about it but it hurts to see him hurt and the question remains, how do we figure out if the line has been crossed.

Do we insert ourselves and if so, do we reach out to the school or to parents?

I only know the name of the boy. My son thinks of him as being the ringleader. Maybe he is, maybe he is not.

If I email his parents and ask them to ask him to stop will they do so and will he listen? If they don’t or he doesn’t do I reach out to the school or I do I give a very large child $50 bucks and ask him to deliver a message.

I am kidding about the large child.

But I am not kidding about trying to figure out what lines exist here and what the most appropriate/effective response would be.

I hate bullies.

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  1. The JackB November 5, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    Sorry about the delay, this ended up in my spam folder. I’ll check out your post.

  2. MaryBeth Crissman November 3, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    I’ve seen what your speaking about from the other side. As a former middle school teacher, I’ve seen more than enough teasing and bullying. Your take is spot on: “I am not raising victims. I am raising children who are learning how to take care of themselves. I am raising children who learn to deal with failure and adversity and who figure out how to advocate for themselves.” Yes!! There is a difference between teasing and bullying, and I always explained it to my students this way: Teasing is playful and in no way malicious. When you say stop, the person teasing you stops. Teasing turns into bullying when it becomes malicious and hurtful and doesn’t stop when you ask. Giving your kids a safe space to share their experiences and reactions and sharing your own experiences is more empowering than you know. They need to learn to deal with these conflicts (as long as they don’t go too far!!) on their own, but they need to know that you’re there. And it seems that’s what you’re doing. 🙂

    • The JackB November 4, 2014 at 9:41 am

      @marybethcrissman:disqus That is a great distinction. I have had multiple conversations to try and ascertain what is happening because I want him to have the chance to work it out without me. It is that line of making sure my kids know I support them but also recognize I shouldn’t have to step in except for special situations.

  3. Underdaddy November 2, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    That is a tough one. My kids aren’t that old yet but I feel glimpses of that situation already in first grade. I think the blurry line is somewhere around friendship. If you arent friends and it is unprovoked negativity then I would lean towards bullying. The history with the parent complicates that a good bit too I would think. As a parent I would be thinking of hiring some “help” or buying some dark colored clothing too. Not the right move but our minds wander there pretty quickly.

    • The JackB November 3, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      @Underdaddy Yeah, I am wrestling with what I have or haven’t done and thinking hard about what else I could or should do. It is one of those areas where the ‘right’ answer doesn’t necessarily jump out at you.

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