Although we homeschool (thanks, food allergies!), I’m conditioned by my own public school years to see the month of May as something akin to closure.
It’s a good time for reflection and taking stock.
Looking back, one of the standout moments of “my” 2015-2016 year was a school talk I gave about bullying. As a former bully target and as a journalist who wrote a parenting book on the topic, my anti-bullying talk is packaged as an “author chat” that engages students in different ways, I think, than if I came in hard and fast and “preachy” on the topic.
Below are some jottings about the experience, which I’ve edited to share with you.
Today, after my speech and as they were preparing to file out of the auditorium, two girls (one likely prone to mean-girl aggression and her sidekick) animatedly asked me about what to do when someone pushes, touches, hits or shoves. In other words, what to do about physical bullying.
When I told them what practicing martial artists will say–“Walk away”–they got agitated. “NO! You’re a wimp! A sissy!”
I responded that as much as they didn’t want to hear it, it’s true. Yes, one can defend one’s self but that’s not the same as active, routine retaliation.
I could see the second girl was starting to get it, so I proceeded.
“Neurologists–brain scientists–tell us that what fires together, wires together. Imagine if we respond to every slight, real or imagined, in [a hostile, retaliatory] mindset. Then we start to default to the “fight” part of our brains. It becomes how we interact–from a place of anger.”
I could see the secondary girl realize what I was saying. The most aggressive girl? She was visibly uncomfortable that I’d undermined her authority–an understandable reaction.
Watching all of this was a young man who had been seated with the girls earlier, chatting happily. Based on conversations with educators and observation, he appeared to me to be twice-exceptional and consequently struggling with physical and emotional regulation. (In other words, a part of the demographic I specifically talk about in my book.) He pulled me aside and whispered “It’s like in the Bible. ‘Turn the other cheek.'”
“Yes,” I replied. “There’s wisdom in the Bible* about this kind of thing. About being loving and kind. You can use it as a model, if you want, if that’s what you believe.”
While the girls talked to others around them, I placed my hand on the boy’s shoulder and said “I’m counting on you to take leadership in the movement toward kindness. I think it’s in you.” And he smiled at me and nodded. Then he hugged me.
As they filed out, I could see that the dynamic in the trio’s relationship had shifted, changed, morphed. The lead girl was quiet, the sidekick gave a little side-eye to the lead, and the boy?
He was, for the moment, peaceful, calm.
All three of them are clearly intelligent and capable. They can indeed be forces for change in their schools, in their lives.
All three of them, I think, needed that conversation today.
I know I did.
Weeks later I continue to feel deeply moved at the power of conversation and connection. It’s bigger and more important stuff than words on a page or slides on a screen–and a nice reminder of how author talks can pave the way for deeper personal inquiry.
*There is, of course, much wisdom about interpersonal relationships in MANY religions and secular philosophies, but in this instance it as important to validate his revelation in his terms. I met him where he was, to encourage him.
Pamela Price is the San Antonio-based author of two books, including Gifted, Bullied, Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families (GHF Press, 2015). To inquire about having her speak to your school or group about bullying, click here.