A 9-year-old boy in North Carolina is in the middle of another bullying controversy. Grayson Bruce was being bullied at school because he carried a “My Little Pony” backpack and his principal proposed a solution that caused a massive outcry: Stop bringing the backpack to school.
Grayson’s mother, Noreen, was so outraged by this that she made a public stand, including a Facebook campaign in support of her son’s choice of backpack and a Change.org petition that collected more than 6,000 signatures. The message? According to mom, “Saying a lunchbox is a trigger for bullying is like saying a short skirt is a trigger for rape. It’s flawed logic.”
Since the story went viral, with more than 50,000 “Likes” on Facebook, the school has changed it’s position, issued an apology, and invited Grayson to return to school – with his backpack.
Stories just like this one are popping up on our social media screens all the time. Bullying is a big issue, as it should be and there is no lack of bullying behavior to report, but with so much attention and education, how do we keep getting it wrong?
This principal’s first reaction was to remove the controversial item – the backpack. I can understand his thought process. He just wanted to put an end to the problem, but his knee-jerk reaction clearly put him in the dog house. How many other school officials and parents across the country are also having knee-jerk reactions and can we really hope to make a significant change while that continues to happen? My feeling is – no.
There have always been bullies and my guess is that there always will be. As adults, we need to find a way to address bullying that is both practical and effective. We also need to prepare our kids for the next stage of life – when they can and will still be bullied. The difference is that when you’re bullied as an adult, unless it breaks a law, you have to find a way to help yourself. You won’t have parents or school principals to protect you anymore.
In the last decade or so, bullying has come to the forefront of our minds, with celebrities like Ellen Degeneres standing up against bullies. The goal has been to protect our kids from those that hurt them, but are we really protecting them? What happens when they go out into the real world, having always been sheltered from those who tease them? This is my concern.
I’ve known parents who have taken their kids out of school to “protect” them and the only things they gained were poor social skills, the inability to deal with conflict, and a lot of exaggerated fear. At some point, every one of us will have to deal with someone who is nasty and mean for sport. It would be wonderful if we could educate meanness and cruelty away, but it’s not about not knowing any better – being malicious is a choice based on a lot of conditions and circumstances that can’t be changed by a good “talking to” or school suspension. We would all like to protect our kids from pain and shield them from anything unpleasant, but that is not how the real world works.
Bullies should be used as a tool. A tool to help our kids learn how to deal with conflict and how to hold onto their own identity, not basing it on what others might say. We need to give our kids the opportunity to learn and grow through these trials, rather than scurrying away with them to some fictitious happy land of nothing but sunshine and rainbows. Grayson should most definitely be allowed to carry his “My Little Pony” backpack to school, both because he should have the right to express himself and because it will be an opportunity for him to learn to deal with conflict. Parents and school authorities should be poised to intervene, but only if absolutely necessary.
Bullying is a terrible thing to experience, but as a society we also need to recognize the value of it as well. Our first reaction should not be to swoop in and fend off attacks, though. We need to let our kids learn to protect themselves in an environment that is safe for learning – rather than fighting all their battles until they enter the real world, where they will undoubtedly fail.
Kudos to Grayson for having the guts to be authentic, regardless of the reaction of his peers – courage like that ensures that he’ll be more a man than those who tease him. Stay strong, dude and just do you!
Finally, to moms, dads, principals, teachers, etc. all over the country…before you act the “hero” for your kids, give them the opportunity to be their own hero. In the end, that will serve them better and you will have succeeded in preparing them for the real, painful, nasty, big, bad world. That is our job, after all.