When I decided to homeschool, it was not to protect my kids from bullying, or from anything really. I just like sharing life with my kids, and I thought I could handle the job. However, I did consider it a nice side-effect that they would not have to deal with bullying and other types of school-related unpleasantness. I have to think I wrote it off somewhere along the line as something we would never have to deal with.
However, here we are now, and very unexpectedly we DO have to deal with it. So, it is with great surprise that I am now learning and thinking about bullying. While it is true that much of what is written about bullying describes bullying in the school setting, of course bullying is not limited to schools. Bullying can happen to people of all ages and in a variety of settings. It is possible to find quite a bit of information about bullying in the workplace, which indicates it happens to adults as well as children. However, all of what I found about bullying as it relates to homeschoolers is that it doesn’t happen in the world of homeschooling.
So, when my daughter and my son each had these difficult experiences, I wasn’t sure what to call them, whether “bullying” was even the right word for it. I’ll have to admit, even I was not completely clear on the definition of bullying. When I think of bullying, I picture the big, tough boy who stands on the corner physically threatening smaller kids, calling names, stealing lunch money, etc. Yes, this does describe bullying accurately, but the list of bullying behaviors is longer and broader than I imagined. My mental picture of a bully is more typical of boy bullies. Girls bully too, and they do it very differently than boys. They are more likely to hurt each other through relationships, using backstabbing and gossip to exclude the target from the group. This kind of bullying even has its own name: relational aggression. Girl bullying is more sneaky and less likely to be noticed by grown-ups.
Bullying is a tough thing to talk about, for kids and grown-ups alike. Given all the time I spend with my kids and all the opportunity we have for connecting conversation, I really thought my kids would feel like they could talk to me about anything. And I think they do, but it isn’t as simple as that. They didn’t want to get their friends in trouble. They didn’t want me to have a negative opinion of their friends. They wanted to manage on their own as much as possible. In some cases, even though they felt terrible in the relationship, they weren’t entirely sure they’d been mistreated. Only when they reached their emotional limit was I fully brought into their confidence.
Now we are having open and specific conversations. We are talking about bullying: what it looks like, how to resist pressure to participate in it, and the importance of speaking up for someone who is being mistreated. I found that we couldn’t talk about bullying without also talking about healthy relationships, how to recognize unhealthy people/relationships, and when and how to walk away from someone. We are talking more about kindness, because while my kids seemed very clear about kindness to others, they were less clear about setting good boundaries in relationships and not tolerating unkindness toward themselves.