When I was a child, I remember going out for a meal with my parents and a friend of theirs in guernsey.  She was talking about her children.  She was considering the prospect of their going to school and wondering what kind of time they might have.  If they were like her, she said, they would not be bullied, if they were like their father, they would.

Pete and I are a similar partnership, only our experiences fall in the reverse.  Pete was a jock.  He was gifted in sports and popular with the girls,  his grades weren’t good but he dated the clever girls anyway.  He wasn’t the best behaved of boys but his time at school was a good one.  I was not gifted in sports.  I was short and dumpy.  I liked science fiction.  I wasn’t just the weird kid in school, I was the “Leader of Weird”.  That was my actual title.  Pete admits that he would probably have thrown spiders at me.  I hope that my child(ren) will take after their father but I have to be prepared for the possibility that they won’t.

By the standards of modern bullying my experiences weren’t bad.  There were no mobile phones back then and there was no internet.  What people said behind my back, often stayed behind my back, if it didn’t, the sharing was always done in kindness.  Of course I was aware that I wasn’t welcome.  The common room would go silent when I walked in,  I was aware that there was a lot of whispering, but without the anonymity of the internet spurring them on, the girls who hated me kept their opinions largely to themselves.  They weren’t my friends but I didn’t covet their friendship either.  The advantage of being the “Leader of Weird’  is that I was friends with ‘weird kids’ both in my own year and the years above and below and I soon made friends with boys in the world outside.  I was never alone.  I emerged from school confident that the world inside of school was not a reflection of the world outside.

In the modern world bullying appears to have taken on a whole new life.  It’s so very much more aggressive.  We’ve all heard the horrendous tales of kids being hounded until suicide by the vehemence of internet campaigns against them.  The internet provides some people with an outlet to say that which they might otherwise have kept to themselves.  Something that they would never dare to say to someone’s face they can happily say, and then some,  through the medium of a computer screen.  Kids these days have to be far more resilient to survive the curse of unpopularity and I can only imagine the kinds of scars that they are likely to bare moving forward.

My experience of bullying was tame and I know I can nevertheless be over-sensitive and defensive,  prone to stating my points too vociferously at times.  Equally, I have a tendency to shut myself off when I’m feeling vulnerable,  putting up barriers to relationships that might otherwise do me good.  I am perfectly capable of simultaneously believing that all people are essentially good but that most don’t like me and that people who don’t like you will hurt you unjustly and therefore not trusting a man jack of them.  I have issues.

The question I find myself asking is how, as a parent,  you can prepare yourself for the possibility of having to council a child through that kind of treatment.  How do you make yourself aware of what’s happening if they don’t want to share?  How do you make sure that they know they can come to you?  And what on earth do you say if they do?  How do you prevent your children developing your neuroses?  My mother went to the school once when I was about eight because I was coming home with bruises, after that her advice was ‘they’re only jealous’ which wasn’t helpful, neither was her tendency to occasionally get mad at me for not having more of a backbone.  I never wanted to become hard faced.  A characteristic that I have maintained throughout my adult life, I’ve never wanted to sacrifice my kindness or my sense of empathy to my sense of empowerment. How do I handle a child like me?

Of course there is a chance that I will have a child like my husband.  In which case it would be wise for me to be prepared to have a firm but fair hand to get to them to actually do their homework and study for their exams, be prepared for visits to the head to be told all about how they locked their teacher in a cupboard and have a perpetually ready bag of emergency a&e snacks and entertainment.  Opposites attract as they say and the future is unpredictable.

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