John turned 14 a few months ago. I have to admit that the last two years haven’t exactly been a smooth ride. Getting frequent calls from the teachers in his school, hearing them complaining about how he is physically tormenting his fellow schoolmates were not easy. Once, I heard reports of him attempting to bully a specially-abled boy in his school. I can’t even begin to explain how heartbroken I was.
My husband and I were at our wit’s end, dazed, ashamed and miserable. Every time we confronted him, he would first blatantly deny the allegation. Then it would be followed by him locking himself in the room for a full day, blaring upbeat music on the speaker so that our voices drown out and then getting out of the room the next morning looking like nothing happened.
Had he been not my child, I swear I would have thrown him out of my house right then and there. I’m sure my husband would have cooperated. But he was our kid and we couldn’t just abandon him. We didn’t have the heart to be so harsh.
When I was summoned by his principal for the first time two years back, I couldn’t believe what I just heard. John was the reason one girl had to leave school. Apparently, John’s practical joke pushed her over the edge. She would be scared, on her nerves, anxious and depressed for days on end. She moved to a new school in Manhattan. The principal explained whatever he knew to me.
Denial was my first response. I began to defend my child, saying all these must be a major misunderstanding. I made my due apology, silently came back home from school and grounded John for a few days.
But as time went by, more such horrible complaints like this came pouring in. Not just from his school but directly from parents as well. Once he was suspended from his school for two weeks for attempting to “discipline” a boy in his class with a baseball bat.
The boy was badly injured and his parents were about to sue him. John’s father and I had to beg them not to. They were seemingly nice and humble people. So our son escaped legal action for the time being.
But I kept wondering why was he doing this. We are a small, simple and happy family, living in a small, simple and happy neighborhood where more or less everyone cares about everyone else.
See, I am not a human psychology expert but what I know for sure is that almost nobody is fundamentally flawed. One of the main reasons why kids and teens become bully is a sense of deprivation.
They torment people physically weaker than them to get a sense of entitlement. Another possible reason could be that he was a control freak and bullying others was his way of keeping everything and everyone under his control. At times, people do horrible things to look cool among their peers. But he did not have any friends. Do I even need to explain why?
Before resorting to harsher forms of punishment, I realized that I first need to get to the root of the problem. I couldn’t find any obvious reason. Making him talk it out seemed nearly impossible because after all this, I could barely hold a one-on-one conversation with him. My husband would be out of the city for months end for business purpose. So I had to do this alone.
I eventually mustered the courage and tried to strike a conversation with him one day after he came back from school. I told him that I wanted to hear his side of the story. I told him I was sorry that I never cared to listen to what he had to say before. We had a long chat and gist of the conversation was: he was dealing with terribly low self-esteem. Manifesting his strength like this was his way of gaining attention, that being a “badass” felt cool, that chicks dig the guys who can kick ass.
Truth be told, I absolutely hated what I heard but I did not let my disappointment get in the way of it. I swallowed my anger and gave him the impression that it is quite normal to feel like that for a person of his age.
I tried to teach him the subtle art of looking at things from other people’s perspectives. I also convinced him to go to a therapist with me which he blatantly disagreed to, at first. But I somehow convinced him after a lot of toiling. I could sense that his problem has deeper roots and he needed more than his mother’s love and patience to get through this.
Cut to the present, John has been taking therapy once a week for the past three weeks. He actually seems to like his therapist and he enjoys talking to him. It’s too early to tell if his behavior has really improved when he is in school. But I haven’t had any complaints from the school authority so far.
The bottom line is that it’s not easy being a parent of a child who is notorious for being mean to other kids. Resorting to punishment isn’t really a long-term fix for this. What really does the trick is talking and listening without being critical.
Try to build a friendship with your kid over a tall glass of chocolate milkshake. He might not give a rat’s ass to his parents at this moment but he would probably care to listen to a friend. If you feel this is beyond your control, you can consult a therapist for identifying the underlying issues.
Sujana Wilson is a dynamic mother, always on the lookout for fun activities with her precious daughter and fun-loving techie husband. She is keen to share everything that she has learned on her site smilyparents.com You can also follow her on https://twitter.com/ParentsSmily