My Son the Bully...
Dear Rabbi Ross. I’m sure you’ve received many emails about children that are being bullied. I have the opposite problem. My 6th grader is the class bully. He picks on boys, intimidates the other boys into hanging out with him, and creates an atmosphere of fear in the classroom. I defended him for years, until a mother called me up crying, and I finally recognized that my perfect son was not perfect after all. However, he’s still a Yid, and my son, and I love him so much. I tried speaking to him, but he tells me it’s not true and these kids are making it up. I know he’s lying to me. Please help. Bruchie – Flatbush
Bruchie, you are correct. I received many emails about kids being bullied, but this one is a first for me. You seem to have hit the nail on the head in the way you described bullying. Many people still think it’s a physical issue. However, bullying is very often psychological, and can have seriously negative effects on children.
There are many different types of bullies in Jewish schools. Although physical contact is usually no longer tolerated in our society, bullies still exist, and will continue to, until we address the problem. Over the years, I’ve bullying down into 3 main categories.
First of all, you need to contact the school. Speak to his Rebbeim and teachers, both current and from previous years. Explain that you need to make sure your son is not picking on other kids, and you need their help. Find out who his targets are, and which kids he likes to hang out with the most. This will give you a better idea of what you’re dealing with.
I would not ask the school to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, Yeshivos have a very bad track record when it comes to dealing with bullying. I’ve heard cases of schools calling both the bully and the target in together for a meeting (horrible idea), or rewarding the bully if he stops (yes, I’m serious). Even the school psychologist might not be prepared for confronting bullying unless he/she is properly trained.
Second of all, you need to speak to a psychologist. In most cases, bullying is a learned behavior and can therefore be unlearned. You wouldn’t send a sick child to a poorly rated doctor, so be just as vigilant when finding a psychologist or social worker.
Your goal should be to instill in your child a sense of right and wrong so he can better understand that he’s hurting others. Personalities don’t change overnight, and you can’t expect immediate improvements either. You can make it clear that there will be serious consequences if he intimidates others in any way.
A great way to develop Middos that can really help your son, is to is to impress upon him the concern for others. You can make comments like, “That security guard must be hot, maybe we should offer him a cold drink.” Or, “The secretary in your school works really hard, let’s get her a coffee.” You might also try, “Maybe bring an extra snack today in case someone forgot theirs.” In this way, he can begin to understand the feelings of others.
I made a small list of do’s and don’ts regarding bullying. Please feel free to add your thoughts by commenting on our blog (link below).
If your child is being bullied.
6/2/2016 11:44:41 am
This made me so confused. I am very anti bullying, and I never thought of it from the perspective of a parent of a bully. Very thought provoking.
6/2/2016 11:57:49 am
It's funny that it took another parent to help this person recognize that her son was a Bully. I guess a parent only sees good in their children.
6/2/2016 03:44:31 pm
It's actually pretty difficult to tell if your child is bullying others. Your child won't come home with a banner announcing he's a bully, and the other kids might not want to tell on him. I was impressed that this mother recognized the truth.
6/2/2016 12:21:20 pm
Rabbi Ross. Sometimes a bully is a bully because his father is a bully also. How does that fit into your categories of bulling?
6/2/2016 03:46:15 pm
That sounds like Bully Number Two - a revenge bully. It says in the article, "These are the kids that are being bullied themselves and are taking it out on others."
6/2/2016 12:26:37 pm
You make an excellent point about the schools. There are so many issues that the Yeshivos make so much worse in their misguided attempts to help. Sometimes it's OK for a Yeshiva to ask for help also. There are program specifically designed to deal with bullying.
6/2/2016 03:47:51 pm
Shira, you are correct. However, I would add that without proper reinforcements, it won't do much good. Many Yeshivos have a one-time class. That's a waste of time and money. This should be a twice a year event.
6/2/2016 12:32:24 pm
You should make it clear to everyone, the girls can be bullies as well...sometimes far worse than boys! I was bullies mercilessly by a girl who is now a "Rebbezin." She never even apologized!
6/2/2016 03:52:16 pm
Sara, it's obvious from your comment that you were deeply hurt by this person. The scary part is, you're probably the only one hurting (assuming you were the only victim) and she doesn't think twice about it.
6/2/2016 12:53:13 pm
Rabbi Ross, please don't use my name. My son was also a bully, but no one told me. Everyone figured I knew, but my son tortured other children for years. Parents, if your son is being bullied, call the bully's mother up. It can be very helpful.
6/2/2016 03:54:55 pm
The key word in your comment was "can", as in "It can be very helpful." you really need to know who you're dealing with, A defensive mother will not take kindly to your call. If you go on the attack instead of having a discussion, it'll be very hard to find a receptive ear from any mom. When in doubt, ask your Rav.
6/2/2016 02:38:29 pm
Fantastic and informative. The end of it is so true. Before making a federal issue out of it, try and reason with the parents. You might really be surprised.
6/2/2016 03:41:08 pm
What I really appreciated about this article, is that there was no humor in it. Many of your articles are serious and cute as well, but those subject matters can be funny. This includes homework, discipline issues, and even sitting through the Seder.
6/2/2016 04:02:56 pm
Thank you for your comment. I do find humor in many of the situations write about. As a parent, I frequently find myself laughing at the crazy situations that I find my myself in. As you pointed out, I could not find any humor in bullying.
6/2/2016 04:16:27 pm
Wow. There are no words to describe how amazing this article was. I do have one question. How are there so many comments if I just received the email?
6/2/2016 04:19:46 pm
There are times that I post the blog a few hours before I send the email. Apparently people have figured that out. Thank you for you kind words.
6/2/2016 04:42:21 pm
I wish I had more friends to forward these emails to. This is a huge issue, and it's so well presented. Fantastic!
6/2/2016 04:43:56 pm
I love the fact that you keep harping on the concept of getting professional help. Bullying is a huge deal, and frequently the victim and the bully need therapy.
6/2/2016 04:52:07 pm
Rabbi. You are hitting on an issue that is usually ignored. Thank you for speaking out. I was bullied as a child, and still suffer with a stutter as a result.
6/2/2016 05:02:43 pm
More important than anything else, the Rebbe and Teacher need to learn warning signs of bullying. Are 3 kids whispering with one in the background? Are there groups in the class? We need to be proactive about this. Nice article!
6/2/2016 05:12:15 pm
Great point! This is part of the school training...recognizing bullying. There are so many things to look out for, and Rebbeim and teachers need to be vigilant.
6/2/2016 06:13:05 pm
I'm sorry, I have no sympathy for the bully. Let him stop bullying and we'll talk. You have no clue how hard it is for a child being bullied - it wrecks their life.
6/2/2016 06:24:33 pm
Shmuel, you are wrong on two points. First of all, is your solution to throw the bully in the garbage? I'm pretty sure we need to love EVERY jew. That includes kids that bully others. They need help.
6/2/2016 07:36:16 pm
I actually tried one of the things you mentioned not to do. I invited a bully over to my house figuring I could help develop their friendship. It was a miserable idea. My son was unhappy, and the bully made fun of him about ourhouse the rest of the week.
6/2/2016 11:35:49 pm
I have found that a great way to deal with a bully, is to develop a good group of friends that will stay with you and protect you from him. Bullies are usually cowards, and will leave if you have friends.
6/3/2016 09:29:37 am
One of the point you made was very important. Parents put a lot of thought into which Yeshiva their child will attend, but are not as careful about choosing his or her friends. That is a huge decision. The right friend can be a Bracha, the wrong one could destroy him.
6/4/2016 10:23:37 pm
I printed this as I usually do, and read over Shabbos. Truly a wonderful article. Bullying is such an issue, it's so rare that a mother will recognize her son is a bully.
6/5/2016 08:00:29 am
Bullies are easiest to identify via a teacher or Rebbe. That's why it's so sad that schools aren't more pro active about the issue. You can tell which kid is a bully from a really young age, and put a stop to it before it gets out of control.
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Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.