Today I stood up to bullies. While waiting for the school door to open this morning, four Year 7 boys were rough-housing; dragging each other around, pulling on each others’ backpacks, pushing each other and what not. I watched as a younger girl was almost knocked over incidentally, as they blocked the path, and my five year old daughter said (twice): "They shouldn’t be doing that, should they Mummy." Then one boy took another’s hat and threw it over a small fence into a bush. The second boy walked around the fence to rescue his hat, but in the meantime, the first boy jumped the fence, grabbed the hat (out of sight of second boy) and jumped back over to his mates. Second boy gets to bush, can’t find his hat, and now I’d had enough. I walked up to the boys, took the hat (which first boy had put over the top of his own, on his head), and said, "Do you know that what you’re doing is bullying?" I handed the hat back to its owner and turned back to the other boys. First boy said, "We were all just mucking around," and I replied, "What you are doing is bullying. And you are setting a bad example for the little ones." And then I walked away.
My five year old daughter’s face was wreathed in smiles as she said, "That was great Mummy!" She was proud of me for doing the right thing and not letting rough play from bigger boys hurt others or intimidate me. But did I wait too long? Should I have stepped in before the hat throwing incident, which singled out one boy? Was it only the perception of one boy being singled out that made me take a stand, or should I have spoken to them sooner, when their roughness was a danger to those around them?
I don’t know, but I do know I’ve just shown my five year old (and my eight year old, who was too cool to say anything but I know was watching what I did) that it’s not okay to stand by and let bad things happen to other people. When we stand by and do nothing while others are bullied, we are tacitly participating in the bullying. And that’s as bad as doing the bullying ourselves. Sometimes worse, because we have the power to help, simply by standing up.
I’m not a child. I’m not in Year 7. I’m an adult, a parent, and a teacher (which means I’m used to stepping in and encouraging other people’s children to follow rules and do the right thing). Does this make it easier for me to stand up to bullies? Maybe in this instance. There were certainly other adults in the crowd today who simply ignored the behaviour of the Year 7 boys, and many other children. Maybe they wrote it off as "boys being boys". And maybe it was, until that point where one boy took the other boy’s hat. Then it became something else, if it wasn’t already.
I think that more of us, no matter what our age, need to stand up and call people out on their behaviour when it has a negative impact on others, and set the example to our kids, as I did today, that when you stand up, you are doing the right thing.