Thursday, 28 January 2016

Message to a school bully

When the rest of us were filling our Facebook posts with photographs of our little ones returning to school in their shiny new uniforms, Samantha* was feeling sick.

Her son is starting back today at a big Queensland state school he joined last year because of its special education unit.

Caleb* is on the autism spectrum, and that's made him easy prey for a small group of self-indulgent bullies that take turns in needling him to physically abusing him.

The name-calling is horrible: "retard", "you're gay", "hello Penis" or "f.... c...".

But it's the rock-throwing, being kicked in the testicles or shoved in the back as he walks by that breaks his spirit.

"Last year, it was every day," Samantha says. "I'd know immediately when I saw him each afternoon how bad it had been...he'd get into the car crying."'

One day a week, Samantha lets Caleb walk to McDonalds, as a step in the road to independence. She follows him, pays for his meal, but lets him sit with friends.

"I saw it. This girl arrives, doesn't buy anything, and makes trouble," she says. "On this occasion, she demanded he give her his food, before abusing him, and leaving."

Caleb's not the only victim; at this school the small group of attackers look to those who use the special education unit facility, knowing any contact is mis-matched.

But it's how the school - and our public schools in general - deals with bullying instances that has pushed Samantha to the limit.

Students have been suspended for mishandling Caleb, but that just leads to a cycle of new playground retribution.

Police have been called to instances outside the school gates, and an attempt to take an AVO out against a female attacker failed because she was under 18 years of age.

"There's got to be a better way," Samantha told me this week. She's tried writing to the parents of the school, through the principal, but that's met a dead end.

Her son, she keeps being told, has to "become more resilient".

So how would you deal with it? 

I'm not sure, and good luck to those parents whose afternoon chats are filed with toothless smiles and cheerful chatter of lunchtime adventures.

But in a community where so much money and education is being thrown at domestic violence and the dangers of a single punch - as it should be - we need to look inside the gates of the school ground.

Couldn't that be an early pointer to the violent behaviour that is filling our courts?

Samantha is at her wit's end; just hoping Caleb comes home later today wearing the smile he'll have dressing for school this morning.

"There is no duty of care in schools," she says. "The bullying links on school's websites are simply for show. My son has threatened to hurt himself. I have been racking my brain on what else we can do and realised maybe love will work. I do not want to bury my child. Please consider supporting us."

Samantha has prepared a note for her son's bullies, and contacted me because she didn't know how to pass it on. 

Here it is:

Dear bully,

Did you know that as a parent of a bullied child I am well aware that your life might be tough. Stuff at home might not be the best. I understand you are angry. There is no control or safety or maybe love in your life. 

Guess what. My bullied child can be a person who is an ally. Me as his parent will generously give you safe harbour. Our home is yours. 

Please also understand that the pain you are feeling you are passing on and sharing. You are 13. I bet you don't want to do that. But you don't know where to turn. Talk to me. I will not judge or condemn you. 

The choices we make at 13 will haunt us and I speak from experience. If you got to know my lovely quirky autistic son you would gain so much insight into his life. He is just like you. He wants love and to feel safe and to have friends. 

Dear bully. I will make a deal. I will not call you a bully if you will spend time with us and our loving family and know that we have enough love for you

I wish you peace and happiness 

From a loving Mum

My hope is that every single one of Caleb's bullies reads it.

Samantha and Caleb's names have been changed because of fears it will lead to an escalation of the bullying.

Information about the effects of bullying can be found on the Make Bullying History website.

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