When adults double down on bullying

So I’m sure you’ve all at least heard about the story that’s been developing out of North Carolina: 9-year-old Grayson Bruce was bullied for carrying a My Little Pony backpack.

No child asks to be bullied and bullying is NEVER acceptable. I don’t care if that child is wearing all black or pink sparkles. I don’t care if that child has heteronormative interests or is a little “weird”, and I certainly don’t care if that child has “invisible” conditions like ASD or Tourette’s that may cause social tics. Bullying is not okay.

What makes this so much worse to me is the school’s response: when his parents addressed the issue with his school, their response was to ban him from carrying said backpack to school – effectively doubling down on the bullying. Talk about a textbook case of blaming the victim. By the school’s reckoning, Grayson was pretty much “looking for trouble” by carrying his backpack, because that’s exactly what runs through every child’s mind before putting on their favorite outfit or picking up their favorite accessory. This is no different – no different – from blaming a victim of any other crime for “asking for it” by their appearance or behavior.

As adults we counsel children to always seek out an adult in a bullying situation, but the administrators in this case have revealed themselves to be merely more powerful bullies. If a child internalizes the message that the adults around him are no safer than his classmates, then in the future he may think twice about telling anyone about a problem – even loving and present parents.

Oh, and speaking of parents…obviously every household is different, but who the hell are these parents that are teaching their children by speech or example that bullying is acceptable behavior?! What makes them think that their narrow worldviews and intolerance of anything “other” gives them the right to turn their children into little hate machines that go around spreading fear and distress and shame to other children whose only real misfortune is to be subject to these bullies’ toxicity? I will pour every ounce of my being into teaching my child(ren) to be strong and kind and compassionate, to stand up to bullying when they see it and to never participate in it themselves, but those lessons can take years to fully accept and understand. If you teach your children that bullying is okay, whether actively or by not addressing it when they are caught in the act, then you are an asshole.

I’m almost 28 years old and I STILL have issues sometimes, so how can I justify sending my child into a space where he will face challenges to those lessons without continuing support from the adults who are supposed to provide it? Don’t get me wrong. I know (fervently hope) that for every district as close-minded and uncaring about the psychological well-being of all of its students as the Buncombe County School system, there is at least one district that actively exercises a zero-tolerance stance toward bullying. But for this to happen at even one school district is at one too many.That’s why I hope that parents of children old enough to see and understand this story will talk to them about it – talk to your children. Remind them constantly that you will always be there to support them against anybody, even if that means standing up to bullying by the very people who are supposed to nurture them.

I doubt that bullying will ever be fully eradicated, but I will keep sharing these stories and I hope you will too. Use them to teach your children and as a mirror to your own behavior and influences. Then maybe, just maybe, we can make our children’s world just a little bit kinder.