QUESTION: We’re the parents of an 8-year-old son who has been bullied recently at school. The school administrators are kindly handling the situation; however, our son doesn’t want to go to school and it’s an argument every morning even though he is a good student and enjoys his studies.
I want to put him in a private school and I’m willing to work part time to help with the expenses. My husband thinks our son should learn to deal with bullies and wants him to remain in public school. He is not the one who has to get him off to school every morning because he leaves earlier. Although we’re having conversations with our son to help him get over his fear, when it comes to changing schools we’re really at odds on this issue. Is there a way to make this a win-win situation for everyone?
– Protective Mom
Dear Protective Mom,
Before I got into the ministry, I taught in a private school in Colorado. I mention this fact to point out that a private school may not make your son bully-immune. Kids in private schools can bully each other, too, although maybe not to the extent that they can in public schools.
Anyway, what to do? While I believe violence is never the answer, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if your son learned some tai chi or jiu-jitsu. Such an experience might build a little confidence in him, even if he never has to defend himself. Also, as my parents told me long ago when I was having trouble with an older boy who enjoyed picking on me, “Slug that kid once and he’ll not bother you again.” I didn’t believe my parents, of course, but one day when
I had had enough, I punched him in the cheek with a sort of “round-house right,” and then I ran home as fast as I could with my nemesis hot on my tail! I made it safely home, and the next time I saw him I was expecting the worst – but all he did was to say that if he had caught me that other day … and I agreed with him! But what my parents told me was right: I did slug him once and he never bothered me again.
Well, that’s my story, there’s some violence involved (which I don’t approve of), and my story can’t necessarily be your son’s story. But a little confidence of any sort couldn’t hurt, whether it’s body-building or ballet-dancing. And if he confronted the bully in some way, such as asking, “Why are you doing this to me?” he might be surprised at the answer. In fact, he might even get the bully to ask the same question: “Yeah. Why am I doing this?”
There are no easy answers, and one size doesn’t fit all. But having your son face his fears and the bully might be a good place to start.
Dear Protective Mom,
I feel for your son – what must it be like to be afraid to go to school? And what must it be like for you to know that you cannot always protect him?
I see three goals for you as parents to seek as you address this problem: 1) Your son stays excited about learning. 2) Your son learns how to negotiate difficult problems. 3) You and your husband communicate to your son that his wellbeing is a number one priority.
All of your problem solving needs to focus on these three objectives.
Since the school authorities are involved, let them handle the consequences for the bully (or bullies), as well as policies and procedures that reduce bullying.
I will trust that the current father-son talks reflect the seriousness of this moment in shaping your son into a confident young man. Most children aren’t born knowing the choices of how to stand up for themselves or otherwise “deal.” We help our children build resilience to difficulties and setbacks.
In order to do this, we need to create the kind of trust that enables our kids to tell us honestly what is happening at school. Is the handling by school authorities resulting in unintended negative consequences with your son’s peers? Is there something going on that is simply not going to stop in the near future?
As you share honestly, it may become apparent that a “tough it out” solution won’t get you to your goals. It’s also true that there are bullies at private school, so that might not get you there either. Try to get your husband involved in forming and teaching solutions that build character and confidence, and then think together about the school decision.
Grace and peace,
QUESTION: Do I have a moral obligation to give money to homeless people who ask me for help? I know many people are in dire straits because of the economic situation; however, I’m barely making ends meet myself. I donate (when I can) to a local food pantry and give clothing to organizations that distribute clothing to those who need it. I just feel badly when I’m walking away after I’ve told someone who looks like they really could use some assistance that I don’t have anything to give them.
– Concerned for the Homeless
Dear Concerned for the Homeless,
I believe a human has an obligation to help out those less fortunate but not necessarily with cash. Your donations of food and clothes are excellent ways to help those in need. Some who beg at off ramps and similar locations may indeed be homeless but some are likely scam artists. A large percentage is mentally ill. Others are veterans who have not been able to reintegrate into society after returning from wars, Vietnam through the current ones. Some are victims of domestic violence. Others have poor literacy or lack job skills. Many are soliciting to feed habits or addictions that are illegal and/or likely to be fatal.
If you have a bit of cash to share, give it to organizations set up help the homeless. Let professionals find long-term solutions to whatever caused them to be on the streets rather than enable them to continue in dangerous behavior.
If you feel guilty, perhaps it might help to consider yours may be the donation that buys the deadly overdose.
There are many other ways to contribute positively: volunteering with a church providing meals or in a homeless or domestic violence shelter or with a literacy program advocating for more mental health services and low income housing, including permanent supportive housing, and working to end war as an instrument of foreign policy come to mind.
I applaud your concern for your fellow Americans; too many of us simply ignore the homeless.
atheist/agnostic/secular humanist/free thinker
Dear Concerned for the Homeless,
First off, not all moral obligations to help the homeless are created equal. Our obligation to give money at any given moment in time, place and circumstance is altogether situational. The variables at play are endless, ranging from your personal financial position to the particular conditions surrounding homeless relief in our community.
Perspective and organized action for the homeless is the key to transform your broken heart into the spiritual well being of a lifelong advocate for the plight of the poor.
First, recognize that you are blessed with love and empathy in your heart to care about the homeless as deeply as you do. Your level of concern towards the less fortunate is serving as an ethical and righteous role model for others. Second, please realize that money is not the only way to give. You can offer many other forms of assistance that range from a smile to a compassionate conversation to assistance in finding a shelter or just offering a sandwich from your lunch box. These are interpersonal, isolated and immediate facets of our community-wide homelessness problem.
The larger scale and longer term solutions reside in being an advocate and volunteer for the homeless. Los Angeles County has the dishonor of being home to a huge homeless population, but also the good fortune of having a number of professional organizations that provide relief for the homeless. Please get involved and volunteer for one of these organizations as a means of expressing your love for our underprivileged neighbors. One such organization is the Coalition to Preserve Human Dignity that has been providing services for the homeless for over 10 years in Southern California. An advantage of a professional charity organization is that they seek out, find and distribute to those with the greatest need. Plus you can contribute in a multitude of ways beyond money as your individual circumstances allow.
Thank you, Concerned – your letter has caused me, and I hope others, to self-reflect, pray and take action. The homeless are our living reminders to serve and love our neighbors, who are just a few blocks away, from the blessings of our own homes.
Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge