Rabbi Ross. Our son is getting bullied. He’s in 3rd grade and is being mercilessly picked on during the bus ride to and from Yeshiva and possibly in Yeshiva also. We verified this information with other boys in the class. We spoke with him and asked him to change his seat and sit with the younger boys to stay away from the other boy, but it hasn’t helped. The Yeshiva called them both in and tried to work out the issues, but it made things worse. He is fighting us every day about going to Yeshiva, and although we keep telling him it’ll be fine, we’re really at wits end. What should we do? Names Redacted
I’m completely baffled. It seems that all the wrong decisions are being made.
1) You asked your son to change his seat to sit with younger kids? That’s such an embarrassing thing for a child to do. The reason that kids say “I’m 7 ¾ - almost 8, is because age is a serious status symbol in their eyes. Asking a child to sit with younger kids will likely get him bullied more. Besides, why should he change his seat if he’s not doing anything wrong?
2) The Yeshiva called them both in? Has that ever worked? I have been to many courses that discuss bullying and proper tactics. I’m pretty sure that calling both parties in makes things much worse.
3) How are you telling him that everything is fine? It’s not true! He’s terrified to go to Yeshiva, and you’re forcing him into a situation that will make him miserable. To top it off, you’re telling him it’s going to be fine?
I’m sorry if this response seems forceful, but I’m quite agitated. These poor decisions can have horrible ramifications and can affect your son for many years. I’m going to share a story with you that I rarely tell over. Before you read this story, please understand that I was a very young Rebbe, and I’m not condoning my judgment.
I had just turned 20 years old, and I was the Rebbe of twenty-five very rambunctious 7th grade boys. One of the smaller boys in the class (We’ll call him Eli) came to me and told me that one of the bigger boys (We’ll call him Yoni) was not only starting up, but actually pushed him around and was taking his snack. Apparently, this issue had been going on for a few years.
My suggestion to him was as follows. The next time he comes over to you and pushes you or is physical in any way, punch him as hard as possible. I also taught him how to make a fist. The next day (it was during Chanukah) during English, Yoni came over to Eli in front of a few other boys and shoved him very hard. He promptly stood up and punched the other boy in the face and fractured his nose. (I want to reiterate that violence should never be the first response!) Needless to say, Yoni’s parents were less than pleased with me, and I didn’t receive a “Thank you” Chanukah gift from them.
I was told off by the administration, and even Eli’s parents were unhappy. His mother told me “I can’t believe a Rebbe would tell a boy to punch someone. Is that the message we want to send?” I wasn’t feeling very proud of myself. Until Eli came over to me a few weeks later with a private letter. He wrote “Thank you for your great advice. Yoni doesn’t ever bother me anymore, and the other boys seem to respect me a lot more. I’m sorry if my mom yelled at you.”
“Eli” is now an outstanding member of the community, and we keep in touch. Was my advice wrong? I’m still not sure. Granted, he probably shouldn’t have punched him in the nose, but he was defending himself. He also ended up a lot happier and his grades picked up.
I’m not telling you that your son should start punching other boys. I’m merely saying that you’re not giving your son the help and confidence he needs, and it will come back to bite you.
The bullying must stop immediately. You need to drive your son to Yeshiva tomorrow and insist that the principal and school psychologist meet with you immediately. Here are your goals for the meeting.
First of all, this bully should not be allowed on the bus. It’s simple. Most schools have some sort of system in place to ensure that boys that misbehave aren’t allowed on the bus. If the boy’s parents complain that there was no warning, they’re right. They should have been contacted by the school the first time there was an incident. It doesn’t matter. Bullying a child must have an immediate consequence.
Second of all, you owe your son an apology. You should have taken this much more seriously the first time. You forced him into an uncomfortable and frankly terrifying situation. Let him know that you’re making his safety your priority, and you won’t rest until the situation is resolved.
Lastly, let your son take karate lessons. This isn’t only so he should learn how to defend himself, rather it’ll help him develop the confidence required to stick up for himself. Below are some other tips you and the Yeshiva can utilize to help prevent bullying.
Have a good Shabbos!
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.