At any rate, my personal experience with bullying is the main reason why Child 1's enrollment in middle school has filled me with such intense anxiety. There's no question that he will stand out as different, I'm sending him off into this potential cesspool of evil and I'm terrified of what might happen to him there. Something like what happened to me. And I can't protect him, I just have to send him there and hope for the best.
"Hope for the best," meaning I'm hoping that other parents have made an attempt to teach their children not to fear difference, and even if they do feel fear, that they won't react to it by being mean to my kid. But how much control do we actually have, are parents, over what our kids do once we send them off to school? Kids behave differently in groups of their peers, they want to feel accepted, they don't want to be different. So will they just go along with what their friends are doing? Will they participate in the bullying so that it doesn't happen to them?
Last week I went to a PTA meeting where the topic was about the district's Welcoming Schools curriculum. It's an anti-bullying program that focuses on teaching kids about gender difference and family diversity. I think the program is fantastic, it's necessary and awesome and I'm proud of my district for adopting this curriculum; approximately 1 in 38, or more, school age kids have gay parents.* However, if recent CDC numbers are to be believed, 1 in 50 school age kids are autistic and yet... my kid doesn't get a curriculum. They address ability awareness in the Welcoming Schools curriculum, but it is not its main focus. Until there's something specific happening in the schools, we have no choice but to rely on parents like you and me to do the work.
At the meeting last week, the leader (who was awesome) explained the work that they do with kids, about how having these conversations is what leads to acceptance, and I was struck by something she said about bullies: "Everybody thinks it won't be their kid." We all do our best to teach our kids tolerance, and we think that we did a good enough job so that when push comes to shove, it won't be my kid doing the bullying. My kid knows better. My kid wouldn't do that.
But would it be your kid? Will it? Do we really know? As much as I know I've done my best to make sure Child 2 won't be "that kid," I don't really know what he does on the playground with his friends. I have to make sure to have pointed conversations with him about what it means to be a good person and a good friend. So, this post is for the parents of typically developing kids, who are doing their best to make sure it won't be their kid: Please have a conversation with your child about mine. Tell your kid that my kid likes to flap his hands, run back and forth, and talk to himself. Tell your kid that they might see this happening and feel uncomfortable because they don't know what's going on, and tell them that it's okay to feel uncomfortable, and they can ask questions, but it's not okay to make fun of him. It's not okay to call him names, or point and laugh, even if their friends are doing it. Tell your kid that my kid does these things because it makes him feel good, and while that might seem weird, it's totally okay.
And how about your behavior at home, because you know that kids learn by modeling what we do. Do you laugh at people who are different? Do you call people retarded? Do you gossip about other people who aren't able to defend themselves? Your kids are watching you, and while you think it might be perfectly benign: is it? Do you want your kid to do the things that you do? Because they will, and when they do, you don't get to say "but my kid would never do that."
Please talk to your kids; make sure they know. Because I'm about to send my child off to the wolves, and all I can do is hope that you guys have put in even a fraction of the time thinking about this as I have. You can't just assume it won't be "your kid," you have to make sure. Please. Make sure.
If you need any help or any useful resources that might help you have this conversation with your child, please let me know. I'm happy to help. jillsmo at gmail.com
* "Researchers commonly cite the estimation that one to three million American children are being raised by lesbian, gay male, bisexual, and transexual (LGBT) parents" from Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is. (Thanks to Erin from The Gay Dad Project for your help). There are approximately 76 million children living in the US, according to ChildStats.gov therefore 2 million in 76 million = 1 in 38.
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