This is going to sound harsh, but when a kid wants to stay after school, volunteering to take trash for every teacher in the building, cleaning erasers (for those that still have blackboards), arranging books, etc…Let him or her do it–but make sure that if that kid is acting as if scared to go home–don’t drill the kid with a million and one questions. Let your school counselor handle that or the principal because you do NOT want that monkey on your back. You can make an anonymous phone call if you like, especially if the student seems to be afraid to go home, but whatever you do, let that kid have the sanctuary even if just for a half hour while you go to another room to do something else after you’ve locked down your computer or whatever.
If the kid starts hanging out with the maintenance people instead of going home, have the counselor or principal talk to the child. Sometimes it is true that there is something going on at home that needs to be dealt with, and other times the kid has other stuff going on inside of his or her head that he or she may need help for, but is too afraid to tell Mom or Dad.
Why am I advising this? I was such a child. Back in the days I did that, my teachers were powerless except for two items: Detention hall and tutoring. If I couldn’t stay after of my volition; they KNEW I was acting up to get a one hour detention hall. I don’t know HOW they knew but they did. My school was my sanctuary. It was a refuge. I would stay as late as 5 p.m. and a teacher always either gave me a ride to my grandmother’s house or followed to make sure I got there alright if I wanted to walk slowly.
They always knew when I walked in with dark circles under my eyes that something wasn’t right at home. If I fell asleep, they knew I had a very bad night, but I wouldn’t show the marks or even talk about the prison cell I called my home. I never knew what to expect when I walked in. Sometimes my stepmother, Judy, would be normal and lucid. At other times, she would pick me up and throw me across the room. One time she threw me into a wall, and another time into the kitchen counter for being late. I never said a word about this–not even to my sister or my mother.
I would go into my room and stay there for the most part, being careful to try to avoid her. One night a teacher called and told her I had to stay after school for extra tutoring because I was having trouble in math class. Ten minutes later the science teacher called also. They never knew it but I got a belt taken to me by her and told if my grades weren’t up to her standards in two weeks, I’d get worse. My dad wasn’t home and she said if I told him or anyone else, she’d “take care of me real quick”. Having been around her long enough to deal with her crap, I knew what she meant. There were many times she pointed a gun at my head. I never talked about it–even after she committed suicide with that gun.
My response to her threat was to not bring my grades up. I deliberately made sure of it. That way I could be away from her for longer. After that, she tried to say I was “retarded” and all kinds of crap to the point that she and my dad were fighting each other. I’d go hide out on top of the garage roof until 1 or 2 in the morning to avoid the bull. They day she shot herself was the day my dad kicked her out of the house. I didn’t believe that she was dead when they pulled me out of class and broke the news to me either.
There were many nights after the funeral I would have nightmares about her coming after me in zombie form–.22 in hand. I woke up in cold sweats more than once. I often slept with a butcher knife under my pillow and NOT a soul knew about that either. It was one thing to tolerate the bullies and the idiots I had to deal with day after day, but when I had to go home to my own little piece of hell, that was another story. I often would snap and just disengage from life. My escape was through writing and through reading books. I also watched old movies. If I really wanted to block out the world, I put on a set of headphones and rocked out full blast to whatever struck my fancy when–which could be anything from ABBA to ZZ TOP and all things in between depending on how old I was.
One would think that after going through something like this that I would have ventured out and became more outgoing, but I didn’t. I preferred to live in my cocoon that I built for myself. I didn’t feel safe at school due to some bullying–but it got taken care of. However, I still didn’t trust my peers. I rarely went out. When I went to prom in my Junior year, some people were surprised. When I showed up for the Senior prom, it shocked the school, I think. I was even in my Senior play and did well in UIL journalism and such. I made myself do all that–and take the class trip…I also made myself stay in Band my last 3 years of school. It got me away from her. Ironically, I was still acting like this 18 months after she died. I don’t know why to this day. I did my occasional sneaking off to shop after I got paid or whatever–but I went alone. I preferred it.
The bottom line is I felt that maybe in her madness, she was correct when she said things like, “You can’t have friends” or “You aren’t pretty enough to be with anyone when you get older so you might as well join the Air Force”–and worse…I won’t repeat the horrible stuff she said. Being that the bullies at school tended to get to me, I’m surprised I didn’t go off. Then I got invited to a friend’s house for dinner one night about a year before her death. My dad pissed her off and let me go. This was different. These people didn’t yell at each other or anything. If someone dropped something, it was okay–they didn’t get hit.
About six years ago I totally freaked out because I accidentally broke an antique mixing bowl that belonged to my paternal grandmother when I dropped something on it–I didn’t drop the bowl itself. My sister said, “It’s okay, Tina. It’s just a bowl.” “But it was Grannie‘s.” was what I said. She just kept saying it was okay over and over. She even came over and held me as I was crying at one point. What she didn’t realize was that this triggered another memory I blocked out. I got thrown across the kitchen and into a wall when I accidentally broke Judy’s favorite bowl while washing dishes.
Anyway, years later I began to open up about it. That was when I realized I wasn’t the “bad” kid or the “crazy nerd kid”. Some of my favorite teachers told me point-blank that they knew something was wrong at home and they asked me how I was able to deal with it. I shocked them. I told them the first thing I had to do. I had to forgive Judy. I had come to the realization that she was mentally ill. I finally understood the issues that were going on after talking at length with my sister about it. The second thing I had to do was accept that I am not to blame for the actions she took. I was a child.
Now I want to give you some food for thought. I was that kid that had caring teachers who took time for me when they didn’t have to. I wanted to give back. I still don’t think I can ever give back enough, but I can attest to this much–kids who were bullied back then often fantasized about making bullies “disappear” or wishing them “into the cornfield” and there isn’t a person alive that doesn’t know what that means. Those of us who were bullied often wondered what it would have been like if we could be rid of the bullies for one day–or better yet–for life. We actually talked about it. Again I ask that same question from my bullying blogs, “What made it okay for a person to ever cross that line and actually act out on their fantasies?”
How many more Columbines will it take? Jonesboros? How many more suicides? Can anyone answer that? We’ve had more recent shootings also. Even when you have caring teachers who do take time as mine did, why would the kids put them in the line of fire? Has anyone ever asked these things? I think we should. Some of the ones who bullied me are totally different people today. One would never know how cruel they were in high school, and they often choose not to remember the hurt they inflicted. I have had classmates that I do not remember bullying me for the life of me contact me apologizing. Maybe they were bystanders or something, but I honestly do not remember them bullying me and I told them so. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve done nothing to me.
I will close with some questions: Where does this bullying type of behavior begin? Where do the kids learn it? At home? In the movies? WHAT?! Have we really degraded our own society too much to the point that as parents we can’t fix this issue ourselves? I would not mind getting the “right” answer for those questions, if they do exist. Is this going to be something we have to create penal codes for or should we just insert it into categories under the current penal code–such as assault, aggravated assault with a weapon, etc…?