Exhausting Your Options

MK is short and painfully thin for a 13-year old boy. He is a carbon copy of his father, who was the littlest one in his class until he was a junior in high school.

Knowing my husband’s history, I was mentally prepared to accept the fact that MK would be a late bloomer. (Whereas GD bloomed a little ahead of his classmates and has a voice so deep he sounds like a 40-year old man).

MK is also one of the youngest in his class. His birthday is in March so when he turns 14 in 2009, most of his peers will be well past that point and staring 15 in the face.

I never really thought too much about MK being picked on at school because of his size or age. Though he’s a very lovable, kind, gentle and smart boy, he’s also a little spitfire. He has a personality where he pretty much blurts out what’s on his mind and he’s always been pretty vocal about his feelings (painfully so, at times).

But he’s always enjoyed school. He’s always had a lot of friends and generally seemed pretty happy with the whole learning concept.

Until, that is, he hit middle school. Now, being on the threshold of puberty (the subject of another post) he’s unsure of himself. He is aware that he’s not as physically big or developed as his peers and it has broken my heart to see his passion for life … ebb a bit. He’s gotten quiet. He’s gotten sarcastic and just a bit obstinate about life in general.

I realize some of this has to do with growing pains. I expect his personality to evolve somewhat, but some of this attitude change has to do with the way other kids treat him at school.

Though he’s never really been bullied per se, he has been picked on. It was especially tough when he started 6th grade. But he still had enough of his little boy confidence to stand up for himself and the few times other kids tried to pick on him, he held his own.

I don’t really remember a lot of “issues” last year – there were a few, but not nearly the number he had in 6th grade,.

This year, it’s been a lot different. I can SEE him struggling with his personality. He wants to be nice, but he doesn’t want to be too nice. He wants to be tough, but he doesn’t want to be a jerk. He wants to be confident, but it’s hard to be confident around kids who get a thrill out of shooting that confidence down.

We’re in the fourth week of school and so far, it’s been pretty tough on MK. First, there’s his music. He plays the alto sax (for those that don’t know), and he’s already in band, jazz band, pep band (his band teacher told him not to bother trying out – just show up – that’s how good he is), and he plans on auditioning for honors band next month. In a nutshell, his music is keeping him REALLY BUSY. So, he has the stress of juggling his music with his school work responsibilities.

Next, he has a friend problem. He’s outgrowing a good friend of his. His friend is still acting like a fifth/sixth grader and MK … well, is not. He’s past that stage. So this friend is embarrassing him in front of his other friends and though he would love to tell this boy to grow up, he doesn’t want to to hurt his feelings.

Next, social studies. MK is getting straight A’s in all of his classes, except for SS, which is a D. I emailed his teacher last night to ask what the deal was, and he responded this morning by telling me that MK wasn’t answering the questions in the correct format. *sigh* Now personally, speaking as a writer, I think what he’s asking is silly, but I’m not the teacher and though we may disagree with him, that’s beside the point. There will be times in life where you have to do something you might disagree with – that’s just the way it is. So, I had a talk with MK this morning about what his teacher said and that he needs to be more thorough in his answers – overkill. Teachers love when you overkill.

And lastly … MK is being picked on. I hesitate to call it bullying because he told me this was the first time these boys (yes plural) did these things. But if we don’t nip this in the bud now, it could blossom into something ugly later on.

So to say MK was depressed last night would be putting it mildly. We had a pretty long talk about these boys and I hope he’s able to apply my advice today.

Actually, I’m hoping it’s not even an issue today, that what happened yesterday was a one-time thing – we’ll see.

Here are the situations:

1. Band. He sits next to another alto sax player in band. This boy made first chair, MK made second chair. So I suspect some of this has to do with the boy feeling threatened – a little competition, if you will. This boy, who MK told me he’s actually disliked as far back as 3rd grade, pinched his arm several times in class yesterday. When I asked what he (MK) did, he said he just ignored him. That’s my boy. 🙂

However, sometimes ignoring doesn’t work. So, I asked MK what he was going to do if the pinching continued. MK wasn’t sure. I offered a few suggestions:

A. Ask him firmly, but nicely to stop.

B. If that didn’t work, speak up loudly, enough for the whole class to hear and say something embarrassing to the kid, like “Why do you feel like you have to keep touching me?” When the hubby found out what was going on, his suggestion was to yell in the boy’s face, “Stop touching me. What are you, gay?” However, I sort of vetoed that suggestion (when the hubs wasn’t around) and told him if he said that, he might get into trouble for using the “g” (gay) word. Schools are funny about stuff like that.

C. If that didn’t work, ask his band teacher if he could move.

2. English. He sits at a table with three other students (that whole dreaded “group” thing – I used to HATE that when I was in school). One boy is kicking him under the table. Again, he ignored the kid. Again, my suggestions were:

A. Ask him firmly, but nicely to stop.

B. Scoot his chair back far enough that he couldn’t reach him.

C. Stand up, cross his arms and say nothing. When the teacher noticed him and asked him to sit down, to respond with, “I would love to, if so-and-so would stop kicking me.”

D. Talk to his teacher.

Who knows if my suggestions will work. Who knows if MK will have the presence of mind to even use these suggestions if it happens again. All I know is, enough is enough. There are times you just can’t be nice anymore. You bend over backwards for people, you give them several chances to change their behavior and nothing works. I certainly don’t expect MK (or either of my boys) to simply stand there and take abuse. If all other options have been exhausted, then it’s time for the kid gloves to come off and get serious.

The question is, where do you draw that line? It’s especially tough for the boys at school because even though I don’t expect them to stand there and take any physical abuse, they can’t really fight back or they get into trouble, too.

It’s sort of a catch-22 situation.

All I know for sure is that if this continues, and MK has exhausted all of his options, I WILL step in and it WILL NOT be pleasant – for anyone.

Has your child ever been picked on, or bullied? How would you handle it if they were?