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Q & A: A Cook County mom sheds light on the darkness of bullying

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25: Jennifer Bare and her daughter Vanessa Bare, age one, open a gift during a Christmas dinner hosted by Engine 277, Ladder 112 of the Fire Department of New York.
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25: Jennifer Bare and her daughter Vanessa Bare, age one, open a gift during a Christmas dinner hosted by Engine 277, Ladder 112 of the Fire Department of New York.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Becoming a mother not only awakens the depth and dimension of a woman's character - her patience, her courage, her benevolence, her untapped strength; it also awakens newly-discovered fear. Is jaundice serious? Am I a bad mother, if I cannot breastfeed? Will my child be traumatized, if I 'ferberize' him? Is it selfish to want to be more than a mother? When should my baby go to school, and how do I select the best one? And all the rest....
'What do I do if another child bullies mine' is adding itself to more and more mothers' list of concerns (and at younger and younger ages), unfortunately.
This is serious business. And it is complicated. If a four-year-old tells a five-year-old to play pretend that the five-year-old is a dog and wants to walk her, using a pink, glittery jump rope as a chain, is this a bullying incident? And who is responsible, if it is? Who ought to be involved? What ought to be the procedure? When should incidents become a part of a permanent record? Even parents (of the same child) are bound to disagree whether behavior is harmful, whether physical abuse is the same or worse than whatever emotional challenges are faced by a child during peer interactions at school.
"Lady Gaga", a pop star who has made the issue of bullying a pet project, visited the White House recently. While instances like this give the issue added attention and a higher profile, certainly; a story like the one to unfold in the coming interview - of a mother of three, an educator and entrepreneur - flesh it out and give it dimension and gravitas, unquestionably.
Bullying has been defined as:

--Having property taken.
--Being threatened or blackmailed.
--Being hit or beaten up.
--Being tricked.
--Being called nasty names.
Bullies also use social relationships to inflict pain. They may:
--Refuse to play with their victims.
--Try to force them to do something they don't want to do, like be mean to other kids.--Tell lies or spread rumors about them.
--Socially exclude them or spoil games to upset them.

Some of the descriptions on this list may seem like 'neo-bullying' definitions to individuals (among those old enough to be parents) from [older] generations. You will begin to see that bullying can be subtle and not only the blatant, unimaginably violent acts of which the media elite are so fond, however.
In the spirit of a previous exploration of modern motherhood, the interview of the Illinois mom below is meant to highlight and humanize parental challenges as they relate to bullying. Hopefully, her experience will shed light on this issue.

A South Suburban Cook County Mom, Sue Gonzales: Educator and Self-Employed Entrepreneur
Sue Gonzales is a pseudonym for a mother speaking on condition of anonymity. We spoke about her family’s personal experience with bullying.

Jacelya Jones ("JJ", hereinafter): What would you like us to know about you as a person and as a mother? What would you like us to know about your children?

SG: We have a multicultural family, and I am trying to raise them with a sense of their culture while exposing them to every opportunity possible for new experiences [and] enrichment. I want them to be well-rounded and aware of the world.

JJ: Would you say that any of your children have experienced bullying? What can you tell us about that?

SG: Yes, unfortunately we have had that experience. In retrospect I think the situation was much harder on me than on my daughter. She handled the situation beautifully, but as a mom I wanted to protect her and talk to that young man that was calling her "ugly", "stupid" and "four eyes". It was difficult to hear her express the pain she was feeling at the time.

JJ: How has this experience affected you and your family?

SG: I think that it has made us more sensitive to how we communicate within the family. We've made a family rule that [we will] only [use] positive terms to refer to one another. No "playing” or “joking" and calling each other “dork”, or “fatty”, [and all the rest].
It has also helped us see how our words can be perceived by others [so we can] be careful how we communicate - verbally and non-verbally.

JJ: What else have you learned?

SG: That no matter how much I want to protect my children and be the "mama bear" it is much more important that I let them learn that we do, in fact, live in a world that is not always good. I think that if I let them see the reality they can adapt [and] handle difficult situations when they have to – especially, if I am not present.

JJ: How would you advise mothers out there going through this, too?

SG: Communicate. Communicate...with your kids. Ask good questions, open-ended [questions]…. Spend time with each child individually. Teach them that while you are not their friend, you are one person in the world that loves them more than anyone.
It's difficult sometimes. You want to jump in and save the day. But the truth of the matter is that you won't always be there. You want them to be able to handle situations and know when to tell you to get involved.

JJ: What would you suggest they say to or, do for their bullied children?

SG: First, don't overreact. Get a good sense of what is happening and make sound decisions on the next steps. If this is something that is happening on school property, it is very important that it is taken care of with the appropriate school personnel.
In my child's case, she was being called names and teased about her glasses repeatedly. It hurt her feelings deeply, even though we talked about why she wasn't, for example, "ugly" "dumb" [or, any of these things]. My reassurance of her qualities and beauty didn't take away the actual act of the bullying.... It still hurt her feelings. In my case, I explained to her that not everyone was a suitable "friend". There are people that you need to be kind and courteous to but that [some people] aren't suitable "friends". She learned to stay [away] from the Bully and find friends who appreciated her.
The school did get involved, and the situation was handled. In my opinion, it took a little too long. And the Bully did, in fact, admit that he picked on her “just because". There was no rhyme or reason for his insults.

JJ: In your case, do you foresee a more satisfying resolution?

SG: We live in an imperfect world with imperfection people who act imperfectly. I do not foresee a [further] resolution, unfortunately.

JJ: How (bad) is this situation - how hard?

SG: It's very hard to see your child hurting. It's very hard to see your child being purposely hurt. [I’ve been] talking to my children about negative situations that can occur and doing some role-playing to discuss what they would do or, could do [to make] it more tolerable. At least, [I am able] to know that they have some tools to help, in case they are being bullied or pressured to do something that goes against their morals and principles.

JJ: Did your family ever consider making drastic, concrete changes? If so, what/which?

SG: No.

JJ: In your opinion, why do we continue to see bullying occur? What do you think we can do to put an end to it?

SG: I believe that some of the bullying occurs when children are bullied at home by older siblings or parents. Being ridiculed [and] called names can become "normal". [And then] those children think it's okay to bully others. They may not even recognize it as inappropriate behavior. In my situation, my child and the bully were only first graders! First graders! I didn't expect to be in this situation when my children are so young.

JJ: I feel silly asking you, but it a real question: What impact does celebrity involvement have on the overall issue? Is it measurable?

SG: I do believe that what are children are expose to influences them greatly. I [believe] that if we allow them to be in an atmosphere of [TV land] where violence, sex, bad language is "okay", they are influenced by that spirit of celebrity. Is it measureable? I think that it could be.

No one wants anyone to be hurt. This interview and the advice herein may be a good place to start: Parent-child quality time; active listening; patience; and introspection are important tools for parents of a bullied child. Is your child being bullied? It is difficult for everyone, including parents to approach, to handle and to solve the problem. Accordingly, this story and an expanding comprehension of this iniquitous thread that has woven itself into the culture is essential.


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