Not particularly insightful post on the topic of bullying

by Janelle Hanchett

So I hesitated writing this post because I don’t really have anything helpful to say on the topic of bullying.

But then I remembered this entire blog is devoted to unhelpfulness, so I figured “what the hell” and I’m writing it.

I have no particular insight into what makes a kid mean, no meaningful perspective on what it is that makes one kid a rampant teaser and another kid the victim of it.

And I don’t know what I’ve done to make my kids more the “victims” than the perpetrators. Perhaps I’ve done nothing. Perhaps they are the perpetrators and I just don’t know it.

Although to be honest I doubt the latter, mostly because they tend to come home telling me about how they have been made fun of, and how they don’t understand it, or they tell me about how mean some kids are to other kids, and how it’s sad. And they are visibly disturbed.

But I guess it’s critical for me to say that my kids aren’t angels. They aren’t perfect. They aren’t kind and patient and understanding all the time. I’ve read blogs by women who think their kids shit rainbows.

I am not that woman.

But I am pretty confident in asserting that my kids are not mean. I watch them with their friends. I have never had a complaint from any friend, teacher or acquaintance telling me my kid was involved in teasing or bullying, but I have seen both of them in tears, more than once, on account of other kids making fun of them in a repeated, disturbing way.

With Ava, the teasing has become sexual in nature and I’ve had to raise some serious hell in her school.

And when these moments occur (you can read about the saddest one HERE), when I’m watching the pain in my kids’ eyes, doing my best to trudge through it with them, comfort and hold them, I wonder, really truly wonder, what it is exactly that makes some kids bullies and some kids not.

Are they born that way? I doubt it.

Is it their parents? Are they neglectful? Are these kids vying for power and attention at school because they have none at home? I don’t know.

Are they abused? Does meanness run in their families? Are they teased by their parents? Are they criticized and harassed? Maybe.

Is it television? I don’t really see how that would work, but whatever, most bad shit can be blamed on television so I thought I’d throw that one in.


Or are they simply not taught right from wrong and respect for others? This one seems the most plausible to me. Maybe they aren’t “born bad” and they don’t have excessively horrid parents, but maybe those parents have not given their children a moral compass, a sense of “okay” and “not okay in any circumstance.” And so, they think something is funny and they just roll with it. And maybe they start and the other kids laugh and it’s exhilarating and fun and empowering, and nobody’s ever explained that that particular laugh is at the expense of another. Another’s heart. Another’s well-being. Another’s feeling of acceptance. Another’s RIGHT TO JUST BE.

And when I think about it, there is one thing my husband and I absolutely do not tolerate under any circumstances, and that’s the act of bullying in our home. My kids are not allowed to use their size or their power to dominate a sibling or anybody else. When I see it I make them set it right immediately, no matter where we are, and we talk about why it was wrong. Even grabbing a toy out of Georgia’s hand is unacceptable.

We don’t call names.

We don’t make sweeping insults that slash another’s character.

And we recognize when we have hurt each other. We watch them cry. We feel what we have done and we FUCKING APOLOGIZE.

In these routines I’m trying to teach my kids some morality. Some sense of “it ain’t right to make somebody cry because I feel like it or it’s fun or I want something.”

I am responsible for my words. And the consequences of my words.

And my actions. And the consequences of my actions.

And it isn’t right to GAIN ANYTHING by hurting somebody else, by violating their rights, by making them feel small and powerless and alone.

Or, maybe they’re just born that way.

I don’t know. I guess I just want my kids to obey what is probably the only solid, universal advice in the history of the world:

“Don’t be a dick.”

And if you can, maybe support each other occasionally, even people you don’t know, like you would your little sister just learning to walk, as you plod along this rugged path we all walk, stumbling, falling, grabbing for the hand of somebody who might actually give a shit.


  • Christina

    I have struggled with this as well. I have even seen parents lean over to their children and say things like, “Now, go grab the toy. He’s not looking!” So many blatant things. These parents were friends of mine and now they are not. At least 3 families I have watched with my own eyes TEACH their children how to be a “DICK”. In those cases I would say it has been a case of continuing the cycle.

    It fucking sucks. The parents are Dicks and so are their kids.

    • renegademama


      Will you marry me? This was so awesome. It never even occurred to me that parents would actually instruct their kids how to be pushy assholes. But now that you say it, it makes perfect sense in light of our get-ahead-at-any-cost mentality. That attitude of stepping on WHOEVER it takes to move 2 or 3 steps up the ladder – whether it’s on the playground or in the family [eventually] in the workplace. And you’re right. I see that too – those parents who are ridiculously obsessed with making sure their kid doesn’t get the short end of the stick – that their kid WINS or is the BEST. Now that you mention it, I realize I see that attitude all the time. But I’d never connected it with bullying/teasing.


  • Paige

    I was teased as a kid. Not sure why. I was the new kid? I had short hair and freckles? Whatever. I grew stronger because of it. Hopefully your kids will too. And considering how understanding and kind their parents are I’m sure they’ll grow up to be wonderful despite the horridness they’ve endured.
    And I think that it can stem from the parents. The kids learn that it’s okay to yell at another person in public (instead of talking to your kids about what’s wrong, just yelling, saying no, not helping the kid understand WHY it’s wrong) and in turn they do it to others. Who knows. Some kids have developmental problems, shitty parents, no parents. It all just sucks. But your kids aren’t those kids and they rock 🙂 hopefully their schoolmates will stop being dicks.

    I guess there’s no insight here either. But as an adult that was teased as a child (for YEARS), I know how tough it can be.

  • Marisa

    I was also teased as a kid. When I was a teenager, I came to realize most people are teased, there is something “wrong” with everyone. Really, now as an adult I’ve realized, there is something wrong with the person picking on everyone.

    So true Christina! Assholes raise assholes! It’s a vicious cycle.

  • Penny

    I bothers me that school has somehow become synonymous with childhood torment. That being teased is considered a right of passage. When did emotional strife become a standard in school? Personally, I think bullies and victims are made. The former feels powerful, and has never had it explained to him that power comes in good and evil forms. The latter, that sometimes the situations we allow our selves to be in, and the company we keep can place us in ugly situations, and we have the choice to remove ourselves or not be there at all. But the reality is, action is exciting and it has a strong attraction, especially for boys.

    I was a bullied kid. Not sure why, never figured it out. I grew up to have a bullied child. Not sure why and didn’t really know how to help him, as I did not figure it out myself. I have worked diligently to teach my children that differences are to be praised and celebrated not put down. Everyone, big and small has something to teach if you are smart enough to listen. That words have power, either good or bad and that once they escape your lips, your power over them is gone and that power morphs into it’s own. I think there is a subset of the population who has not been taught this, or never thought about it. How do you teach something you do not understand yourself?

  • Carrera

    As usual, I loved your post. I, too, don’t have great insight on bullying, except that I’ve lived through it, I don’t like it. Though I can be sarcastic and judgmental, I will never go out of my way to make someone feel badly about themselves. It’s my own golden rule.

    The only thing I’d agree with is that it can definitely come from the parents. I’ve seen many a parent tolerate blatant bad behaviour or demonstrate and encourage bully tactics to their children and justify it as “I’m teaching my children to stand up for themselves.” WTF? It’s one thing to teach your children to be confident and assertive, and another to teach your children to go looking for a fight.

    I hope things get better with Ava. All I can offer is, bullies get theirs. I know they do. Facebook is a great thing.

  • Lisa

    How did you choose the EXACT PERFECT PIC for this post? Please tell, I’d love some of that magic for myself : )

    It’s sad. Our society, these days, rewards the worst of the sociopaths at the top. Yeah yeah Lisa more politics on a blog response. . . .I know, I’m sorry. . .but it’s true. The worst of the worst get the most so long as they know how to TAKE IT from others. So long as they know how to disempower and hurt. And some kids (via the media, or their parents, or WHATEVER it is that clues them in) catch onto this. Shitty world and shitty parents who buy into it.

    I’d love to see more love, more empathy, more genuine caring in this world. More of everyone, having something instead of a few having everything. More of picking up the kid who fell (no matter what their looks or background) and less of people (big or small) pretending they feel better if they can just make someone else feel smaller. Rock on J and your little ones too. I hope when mine gets old enough to encounter bullying, there will be a little love left and good parents who know how it should be done.

  • Sara

    I was bullied really badly as a kid, especially in elementary school. It was horrible. Looking back, i realize i was the singled-out kid because i was different. only child, no concept of “defending myself,” only kid with separated/divorced parents, etc. the list goes on. the reasons kids get picked on are a million, the bullies do it for one reason alone: to make themselves feel better. if you push someone down, you’re now taller then them. and they learn this at home. Mom berates Dad, calls him a loser for not being able to find a job. Dad calls mom a slut for her clothes, or spending all his money. they berate other parents, coworkers, friends. It is in the milk, that the way to feel good about yourself is to make others feel worse then you. Some people go their whole lives riding that high, not realizing the negativity of their soul. The only “friends” they have are the ones that join their cliques and push others around too. Assholes beget Assholes.
    Is this to say that non-asshole parents have kids who act stupid, act like bullies. sure. but those kids get talked to, punished, grounded, and made to apologize to the person they hurt. and, maybe it takes a few times, or a few years, but they eventually learn, and they turn out ok.
    were kids always bullied by others, yea. but i think since society is moving towards a different social structure at such a fast pace, it feels worse now because we haven’t figured out our new strategy for dealing with bullies. when all the village kids played together and ran through all the houses, and everyone disciplined and provided support for the kids, we worked it out. now, with different types of support, or less overall support, kids are more vulnerable. so the whole thing is magnified.

  • Dawn

    First, thanks for your writing a reality that matches my own. I had an embarrassing breakdown the other day in the coffee shop at some ladies who were so full of crap about parenting. Liars. I mean, how hard is it to admit that parenting is hard sometimes and you just want a break!? And don’t treat me like I’m a bad parent because I can admit that I am struggling some days. Anyway, concerning the bullying post. It’s a national problem that is bigger than we can wrap around. Something has changed in our society that makes it acceptible to 1. Bully and 2. To ignore it. Even as a responsible parent who tries to protect her child from it, if there is no support at the school level and even an attitude that condones it, then we have really tough choices to make just to raise our kids in a healthy environment.

  • Laura

    I was teased, bullied, picked on my entire. I have one kid who is nice to everyone and the other whose had repeated problems not being a dick to others. Why? I have no fucking idea. Her shit for brains bio dad models it. He’s also not around much for better or worse. I’m trying everything, people. Therapy, long talks about right and wrong, modeling, direct consequences. Etc. Not perfect of course. She’s seen me lose my patience with my husband and be mean to him. Not proud of it. It’s hars not to feel like its not all my fault. I’m at the end of my rope here. I feel like a complete failure raising a kid whose mean sometimes. Its hard not to feel likd I’m to blame when reading posts like this just sayin.

  • CJ

    Kids at my school ostracized and bullied me for a couple of years (grade 4 and 5). I can see some things that made me vulnerable to it – being a new kid, being a know-it-all, holding a strong turn-the-other-cheek philosophy, running away crying at my 9th birthday party when the kids gave me birthday bumps. But I think the reason kids bully is: shit rolls downhill. We feel powerless, we take it out on others who are less scary. Bullying stopped after I tripped and insulted the newest girl in our class. I’m not proud of that. But I think it made me seem less predictable and harder to bully. I think we need to teach our kids that it is okay to fight back, but that they need to not victimize other people.