Question: We have always tried to get our 11-year-old son involved in sports, activities, clubs and camps, but he has been picked on about his weight and his intelligence his whole life, and middle school made last year the worst year of all.
I had been so proud of the way my son would shake off the bullying and try to make friends, have fun and fit in. The longer he was in this school, however, the more he was bullied and the more depressed he got until he finally hit a tipping point and couldn’t cope with it anymore. After that he would come home, cry for a while and then lock himself in his room, play video games and eat junk food nonstop! When I would ask him what was wrong, however, he either wouldn’t tell me or he would be ashamed of the names these kids had called him.
I don’t know how to help my son, which breaks my heart and makes me feel powerless. Even the people at his school said that they couldn’t do much, and I’m afraid that a psychiatrist would simply give my son some pills for his depression.
What can I do? What should I do?
Answer: First of all, your son should know that a bully picks on children who are weaker than he is (or fatter or taller or shorter or whose skin is a different color or who go to a mosque instead of a church or a temple); he picks on anyone who cries or gets mad when he is attacked, and he feels better about himself when he makes someone else feel bad.
The more you stress a bully’s problems, the more self-confident your son should feel, but he doesn’t need more advice. Instead, he needs you to ask him what he’s going to do about this bullying problem. He’ll tell you that there is nothing he can do about the bullies in his life, but if you keep quiet and give him time, he’ll come up with a few ideas. Consider them carefully, and then propose some well-researched ideas of your own.
Your son needs to know that he is not alone. Some children do fine in middle school, but it’s an awful experience for many others, which makes you wonder why it was ever started in the first place. Perhaps someone said, “Oh, these children are going through puberty, and their behavior, their brains, their bodies and their voices are changing, which must be quite embarrassing. Or they’re not going through puberty yet, which is even more embarrassing. So let’s put these vulnerable kids together for three years and call it Middle School.”
Since it clearly isn’t working for your son, it’s time to find another school he could attend or to home-school him yourself if you can, because your boy really needs a fresh start.
If you can’t find a public school, check out the private schools and ask for a work scholarship if you need financial assistance. If they let your son shelve books in the library or clean up in the lunchroom, he could cut your tuition bill significantly and boost his fragile self-esteem, too.
Your son also needs to get away from junk food, because it contributes to obesity, and obesity invites more bullying than anything else. Find a nutritionist who can tell him which foods he should eat and why he shouldn’t eat junk food. And if he can’t eat junk food, the rest of the family shouldn’t eat it, either. If they did, it would isolate your son even more and make it harder for him to resist.
Your boy will be tempted less if you teach him how to cook. An 11-year-old can roast a chicken; cook vegetables in a wok with a little olive oil; and wrap a fish filet in a piece of parchment paper and bake it for supper. And for an after-school snack? Teach him to make his own smoothie by putting orange juice, a banana and a couple of pitted peaches in the blender and then adding some egg-white powder, a little stevia and some almond extract.
To help you get through this rough passage, read “Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral” by Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja (Free Spirit; $13.67); “Don’t Pick on Me: Help for Kids to Stand Up and Deal With Bullies” by Susan Green (Instant Help; $11.69); and “The Essential Guide to Bullying: Prevention and Intervention” by Cindy Miller and Cynthia Lowen (Alpha; $11.15).
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