First of all let me tell you that I did not create this wonderful bracelet. It was my mother's and is now mine & I've incorporated it into this post because my mother was besotted with my son & if she was here, I know she would be beside me on the war path.
During the past two years, my son has had problems with being bullied at school. Tom has dyspraxia so he's an easy target. I don't want to discuss where he is on the scale, but if you google dyspraxia & PDD, you'll be able to see what I'm talking about. He has a slight handicap but no one can see it or hear it so it passes unremarked. Yet he is sufficiently different that older boys have marked him out as a target and today this culminated in a foul assault in which he was repeatedly kicked in the head having been pushed down a steep bank.
During the two years that Tom has been at this school, we have notified the staff of the problems & seen the head of year with whom we are now in regular contact.We have supported their bullying policy & have encouraged Tom to be brave - we have done everything possible to work with the school to make it a safer place to be in, not only for Tom's sake but for the other children as well. But it's not working - it's failing - and I believe the time has come for us to draw a line in the sand. Now what sort of a line should that be - that's the question.
This time, I can't see both sides of the coin - for the first time I don't care what problems the other child has. This hurts me because in my twenties I did some voluntary work with the National Children's Home so I'm aware of a wide range of problems for which I have deep compassion & I earnestly wish I could finally put an end to the mental & physical injuries that adults inflict upon children. But my feelings about the bullies are set in concrete now - I have no mercy; I'm not even sure if I can forgive.
Harsh words you might say, but I'm the one who has to physically restrain him when our cherished son tries to hurt himself. James & I are the ones who witness him tormenting himself because he feels he deserves this treatment - that he is doomed because of dyspraxia. We take him to see counsillors and doctors - all trace of his self esteem has vanished so we use all the resources that are available to us and to any other child with dyspraxia. We all work together, Tom the hardest of all & he manages to find perspective. He gets himself back on a relatively even keel but then it starts all over again.
The culprits are young men in their last year at school - they have one term left. Why not pick on a younger child? What effective punishment can the school take in the few weeks that are left? None whatsoever - it's not difficult to work out what the bullies are thinking.
If the school cannot come up with an effective solution, what can we do? If our scheduled meeting with the head mistress doesn't go to plan, where does that leave us? To ensure his safety, do I keep Tom at home & let him miss valuable hours of lessons as well as the social contact which he needs despite him finding it difficult even under normal circumstances - indeed the bullies are confirming the 'suspicions' of a child with dyspraxia! So what should I do? Should I go to the local papers? Yes. Should I go talk my MP, Mark Oaten? Frankly I think the fat lady has sung for him. Should I go to the police? If it ever happens again, you can count on it. Tom's school is gearing up to welcome a new set of students in September - they are promising parents that their bullying policy works. Surely I'm within my rights to publicise the fact that this is not the case?
And where does this leave Tom? Petrified, lonely, trust torn into shreds and another step closer to the pattern of self destructive questioning that makes him believe that he deserves this vicious treatment. We have pulled him back from the abyss before & I believe that I can do something similar this time ( years of therapy may not have helped me build any self esteem, but they're an excellent resource to draw upon in my dealings with my three children.) Once again he is missing lessons because I will keep him here with me until the school can guarantee his safety. They promised me this last time. Call me stupid but as it's a school, I actually believed them.
Please let me make one thing clear. I support teachers 100%. So much is demanded of them from so many directions including irate parents who are demanding to know what can be done about bullies. Teachers should be allowed to teach & they should also be treated with respect by their pupils - if I had spent my last term at grammar school behaving like a lout, I would have spent longer & longer periods in detention doing stultifyingly boring things such as writing lines in Latin or helping the cleaners or on litter patrol with one of the PE mistresses. The latter was a clever one because the natural inclination is to drag your feet whereas Miss So & So's pace quickly became exhausting.
One can find bullies in all areas of life - the problem is growing & not decreasing. But then we live in a culture that apparently celebrates rudeness. Only last night I caught a glimpse of a programme which documented the tantrums & lack of manners of some saddo has-been. The television schedules are peppered with examples of this rude & crude genre.
There is one final thing that I would like to know - whatever happened to treating other people as you would like to be treated yourself? When did that one get chucked out of the pram?
Photograph by Jennifer Dangerfield ©