By Erin Frankel, author of the Weird series
Boys and bullying were a part of my childhood. During middle school, I was bullied by a boy, and I became one of thousands of children who frequently miss school to avoid bullying. My mother, suspicious that something wasn’t right, asked me what was going on. Surely my stomach couldn’t be hurting every day. She was right. There was something else going on, and so we talked. We talked to each other. We talked to the school. I talked to a counselor. My teacher talked to me. I talked to my friends. All of that talking made me feel supported and more confident, and eventually things started to get better.
But the memory I have of my brother, who was bullied by other boys during his school years, is one of a more silent suffering. I can still remember what he said one day at the bus stop after a group of boys had been bullying him: “Don’t tell Mom.”
We have to tell someone, I remember thinking. Why doesn’t he want to talk about what is happening?
I know now that my brother probably felt ashamed and embarrassed—common feelings experienced by children who are involved in bullying—which likely led to his reluctance to talk. But there may also be cultural influences that make boys more reluctant than girls to talk when it comes to bullying. Consider how our culture encourages girls to express their feelings while encouraging boys to figure things out for themselves. Boys are told to man up, suck it up, toughen up, while girls are encouraged to open up. Then, consider the consequences of a culture in which boys can’t talk and express themselves. When feelings are suppressed, they come out in different ways. Doors get slammed, words get shouted, and in some cases, someone bullies or gets bullied. We may reach out to a boy who is involved in bullying only to find that he doesn’t want to talk at first. We are left to wonder what is going on inside his world. What can we do next?
We can keep reaching out and we can keep wondering. Because the truth is, we do right by boys when we take the time to wonder about their feelings. Isn’t that, after all, what we hope to teach children? Don’t we want them to wonder what someone else might be feeling? Isn’t that the heart of empathy? Even when attempts at conversation are met with Leave me alone or I don’t want to talk, the fact that you keep reaching out will mean the world to a boy who is reluctant to talk and feels alone.
As a children’s author who writes about bullying, I spend a lot of time wondering what boys feel when it comes to bullying. I listen to those who are able to open up, and I hear something very important. Their collective voices are the beginnings of conversations that we may not hear from the boys in our own lives. We can wonder, as we gently open that slammed door, if the boys we love might be coming from these places:
I’m sick of it. I wish people would just leave me alone. I try to mind my own business but this kid keeps messing with me. I don’t get why he picked me. Maybe I’m different. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Nothing is ever going to change. Nobody cares.
I can’t stand it when I see kids being mean to other kids. I wish people would just stop. There is this boy who always gets bullied. It’s messed up. I feel really bad. Like I should be doing something. But if I say something, the other guys will turn on me. I’m worried about that kid, though. He’s always on his own lately. Nobody cares.
I don’t know why I do what I do—I just do it. I guess it’s just for fun. Everybody knows I’m only messing with that kid. He gets on my nerves, I guess. I don’t feel like talking about it. I don’t have anyone to really talk to anyway. Nobody cares.
Let the boys in your life know that you care. Let them know that they are not alone. Let them know that change is possible. Let them know that when they talk to you about bullying, you will be able to help them solve the problem.
I wonder if the boy who bullied me ever had the chance to talk about his feelings like I did. I wonder if anyone took the time to understand what was going on in his world. I wonder if anyone ever reached out to him. I wonder.
Erin Frankel, the author of the Weird series, has a master’s degree in English education and is passionate about parenting, teaching, and writing. She taught ESL in Madrid, Spain, before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband Alvaro and their three daughters, Gabriela, Sofia, and Kelsey. Erin knows firsthand what it feels like to be bullied, and she hopes her stories will help children stay true to who they are and help put an end to bullying. She and her longtime friend and illustrator Paula Heaphy believe in the power of kindness and are grateful to be able to spread that message through their work. Next spring, Erin and Paula are releasing their fourth title with Free Spirit Publishing, Nobody!, a book about boys and bullying.
Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World, by Rosalind Wiseman
Brutal Boys: Why (and How) Do Boys Bully, and What Can Parents Do about It?–article by Steve Palmer on The Search Institute’s Parent Further website
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