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When in doubt, pull them out June 15, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, older son, societal commentary.
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I came across this article about Brandon Elizares this morning.  I feel horrible for his family and for him because of what he went through.  I’ve been meaning to write a post on bullying for a while, but I’ve been hesitant because it’s somewhat personal.  After reading about Brandon, I determined that I should just come out and say it: if your kid is being bullied, do what you have to get them out of that environment.  Whatever it takes.

When the older boy was supposed to start middle school, I took the stance that he needed to start learning how to function in a normal school environment.  Heck…this is something I’m worried about today as we’re looking at college.  But as far as making him go to school in sixth grade, I can honestly say that’s one of the worst things I ever did.

For those who say that kids need to go to school to learn socialization, I call utter and complete bullshit.  Do you know what socialization is in middle school?  Exactly the kinds of things that happened to Brandon.  They were the kinds of things that were happening to my son, as well.  In his case, it wasn’t because he was gay but just because he’s different.  He was being sexually harrassed so badly by one person that I went up to the school and demanded they do something.  They did, and the teasing died down from this kid, but it never stopped.  He just found more creative ways of doing it.  Older son started to refuse to ride the bus home because of the teasing.  He started walking and instead found another group of kids who thought it was cool to beat him up on the way home from school.  Kids would harass him in school while teachers’ backs were turned, and then stop just as he was about to retaliate, thereby leaving him to get in trouble.  He was suspended from school several times, and the one who provoked the attack never received any sort of punishment.

He started shutting down in his classes and didn’t care about the work.  The only class he was succeeding in was his advanced math class…and that’s saying something because he hated math.  However, it was the only class where his teachers were advocates for him.  The rest of his teachers started  treating him like he was an idiot, and when he was evaluated at the end of the year because of his ‘dysfunction’ in the school environment, his English teacher, who’d originally raved about how bright he was, said he wasn’t gifted and there was obviously something wrong with him.

I saw more and more anger bubbling up in him.  As a parent, it terrified me because I was worried that one day he was going to flip and either hurt himself or someone else.  (Yes, I had images of Columbine burning in my head.)  And I’d pretty much decided that the year of school had done more damage than good.  He would not be going back.

The following year was when he was accepted into the gifted school.  About a month after he started, a local television crew visited the program, and I remember a video clip of the director talking about how they got two kinds of kids: the ones that were obviously far above their peers or the ones who were troublemakers and likely to drop out or get kicked out of school.  It was particularly ironic because that statement was made on a day when the older boy was home from school, on a temporary suspension because he’d shoved his PE teacher.  My fears about how this bullying was affecting my kid were obviously not unfounded.  The school said their normal policy was to permanently kick out students who assaulted teachers…but they wanted to give him another chance.

His first year at the gifted school was very hard because he was paranoid and angry.  He thought everyone was out to get him because of the incessant bullying (both from other students as well as from teachers) he’d had to deal with the year before.  The teachers at the gifted school were very patient and understanding of him, and slowly he began to lay aside some of the anger and started making friends.  By the end of the year, things were going better, but then he did something to another kid and was told that if anything else happened, he would be out.  Fortunately, summer came, he had time off, he spent a lot of time thinking about it, and when he went back the following year, he was like a different kid.  That year went very smoothly because he finally felt like people understood him and even liked him.  There were only minor problems, and by the end of the year, the teachers were suggesting that some of the support he’d had during that school year would be unnecessary for the future.

So basically, one year of damaging bullying took about two years and some very special people to make it go away.  I honestly don’t think things would have changed as much had he not been in a place with other kids like himself, or with teachers who understood what he’d been going through.  However, I can say for certain that leaving him in the middle school would have guaranteed that something very wrong would have happened.

I can only plead with parents who are dealing with this sort of bullying to please get your kids out of that environment as quickly as possible.  It will not get better, only worse.  It doesn’t build character: it makes them terrified and angry, and they will find terrible ways to deal with those feelings.  And no matter how willing the school is to police the behavior, other kids find ways around it.  Their drive to harass others who are different is unbelievable.  (I still don’t understand it.)  Getting kids out of school and either into a school where they’re more comfortable or even homeschooling, where they’ll have the opportunity to get involved in things that interest them and gives them a reason to learn, is far better than leaving them in that vulnerable position.

There is no reason any kid should have to go through that, and parents really need to understand that doing nothing is worse than taking some risks to get them out of there.

The pink plate January 10, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, gifted, older son, younger son.
Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday, I reposted a link to the article about the teenage boy who stuck up for his younger brother.  The younger brother apparently wanted a video game with a girl character and a purple game controller.  When his dad saw what he had, he flipped out, and the teenager told his dad off.

While I don’t think his dad reacted at all appropriately, I also know that this is a very difficult thing to deal with as a parent.  I know that gifted kids tend to be more androgynous, and as luck would have it, I have two emotionally sensitive boys.  The older boy never really seemed to be into ‘girl things’ as a kid, but it was easy to tell that he operated a lot more on feeling than logic.  Society expects males to be stoic, even at a young age.  There’s been research on how this negatively impacts boys in school because of interactions with teachers who expect otherwise.

My younger son has always seemed somewhat interested in ‘girly’ things, starting at about 3 or 4 when he was in love with anything having to do with Dora the Explorer.  He wanted to paint his room pink and decorate it with Dora and Boots.  I never did it…but that was more because I didn’t have time.  But when he asked me to get a Dora the Explorer backpack, I declined.  However, I have painted his toenails.

I have had concerns in the past because at his previous school, there were some boys there that were obviously being bullies.  While this stuff doesn’t bother me, the younger son has always been extremely emotive, and I didn’t want to bring on any additional bullying when he wasn’t able to emotionally handle it.  Putting him in a bad situation is asking for a meltdown, which would make the bullying worse.  Painting toenails was okay because I didn’t think too many people at his gymnastics class would freak out.  Painting fingernails would have been visible at school, and I’m sure a lot of emotional trauma would have ensued, and, probably worse, I don’t know that the teachers would have done anything to prevent it given the problems we were already seeing.

At his new school, he has requested to wear a bracelet to school.  He happens to love animals, and this one had cats.  I was okay with it, but I was fairly sure the dress code at the school doesn’t allow jewelry, so I said to ask the teacher.  The teacher said he shouldn’t wear it, but I don’t honestly know if it’s because it’s a ‘girl’ thing or the dress code.  However, given I’d already said the dress code was likely to forbid it, at least he’ll feel like it’s a rule for everyone and not that he’s being singled out as a boy who wants to wear jewelry.  I don’t get the feeling that they would let other kids pick on him if he chose to wear nail polish or something at this school, as well, so I would probably let him do it there if he asked.  (Although this would require another good look at the dress code, first.)

He also, very shortly after the Dora obsession, started making the connection between girls and pink.  For a while, this turned into, “I don’t want to have anything to do with pink because I’m a boy and pink is a girl’s color.”  After all the stuff before, I somewhat feel like this was my fault.  He used to love pink, but now it’s a girl’s color, and I go back and forth wondering if I caused it because of all the Dora stuff.

He took the ‘pink is a girl’s color’ to mean that all girls must like pink.  Just a couple weeks ago, he was asking me what color to make a character on a Lego website, apologizing that pink was not an option.  I told him that I didn’t like pink all that much.  He seemed surprised when I told him my favorite colors are actually purple and blue.  (Growing up, my favorite color was always blue, and I never really got any shrek for it.  It makes me very mad that society puts this double standard on boys and girls.)

We have a set of multicolored plastic plates that we sometimes use for lunch, and at some point, the younger boy started to refuse any food that was on the pink one.  The older boy tried to set a good example in these situations.

I’ll take the pink plate because it doesn’t threaten my masculinity.

I doubt the younger boy understood exactly what he meant, but he got the gist of it: it’s okay for boys to eat off pink plates.  Still, it’s taken a while for him to come to terms with this.  I have been intentionally giving him the pink plate, but it was only last week when he finally took it.  At first, I thought he didn’t notice, but as he finished up his lunch, he said that he’s okay with using the pink plate now.

This has actually been a very difficult thing to deal with.  My younger boy seems far more aware of what people think than the older one was, but at the same time, he’s obviously interested in things intended for a female audience.  He likes pretty things, and he really loves animals.  Trying to find stuff on cats and dogs for boys is tough: most of the age appropriate animal-related stuff that isn’t covered in garish pink is about sharks and dinosaurs.  This is the same kid who has talked about wanting to be a vet and will get very upset at me if I go to the pet store without him because he HAS to see the kitties up for adoption.  But liking cats and dogs doesn’t seem to be gender neutral in our society.  This is completely ridiculous.

As a parent, I find this hard to navigate.  I don’t think it should matter if he likes pink things, and I don’t want anyone making him feel bad for his interests.  I’ve had to deal with enough of that myself (A girl who likes physics and math and engineering?!) that I don’t want him to have to deal with it.  On the other hand, I don’t want him to walk into a situation where someone might make fun of him and not be prepared to deal with it.  I guess, because of that, I have been erring on the side of caution when making these decisions…but also fear that even those decisions may be giving him the message that there are girl things and boy things, and that it’s not okay for him to like girl things.  I’m not sure how to avoid both problems simultaneously, so for now, I try to look at which is the bigger problem for each individual situation.


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