Bullying Stories: A Mom's Perspective
years ago, Trudy Ludwig’s daughter was the target of emotional
aggression at the hands of school bullies. Trudy didn’t
just accept it as a rite of passage. This wasn’t
“girls being girls.” It was bullying, and it was damaging. So Trudy worked with
her young daughter to find workable solutions and to successfully overcome the
bullies at school.
the experience Trudy noticed was that there just weren’t
enough resources designed to teach kids about bullying and how to deal with
it. She decided to fill the void and
write several children’s books on the subject, including “My Secret Bully,” “Just
Kidding,” “Trouble Talk,” and the upcoming “Confessions of a Former Bully.”
Trudy is now an anti-bullying advocate. She works with schools and communities
across the country to educate adults and children on how to work together to
fight bullying. Visit Trudy’s website to learn more and to get valuable resources in educating
the public on the dangers of bullying. Trudy spoke with us about her experience
with bullying and shared what she’s learned through the years.
What was your personal experience with bullying?
Trudy Ludwig: My daughter Allie is now 16. When
she was 7 and in her first week of second grade, I got a call from a parent
whose husband was walking by the schoolyard and saw something going down on the
playground that didn’t look right. When I picked my
daughter up from school that afternoon, the teacher pulled me aside and told me
that some girls were being very mean to Allie.
this the first time something like this had happened?
TL: There had been issues in her
friendship group since kindergarten — gossiping
and spreading rumors — that
were hurtful for her. It just peaked during the first week of second grade.
a mother, how did you respond?
TL: I was really upset about this, and
part of it was that her experience triggered my own childhood and young adult
memories of friends who turned on me and were very hurtful. And when that
happened, I knew I needed to figure out what I can do to help my child. So I
went into research mode, trying to find out more information about what experts
call "relational aggression."
What did you learn in your initial research?
TL: I found out that, for many years, most
of the research on bullying was limited, focusing primarily on boys and
physical aggression. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that
researchers began studying aggression in girls. What they found was that girls
are just as aggressive as boys, but they tend to use more relational aggression
or emotional bullying within their friendship groups. This is not to say that
this is a mean girls issue. Boys relationally aggress as well.
What do you mean by relational aggression?
TL: Relational aggression is the use of
relationships to intentionally hurt and manipulate others. Some concrete
- intentionally excluding
- giving the silent treatment
- spreading rumors
- texting or emailing hurtful messages
do you think that, up until recently, these types of behaviors were considered
TL: I think our society has, for many
years, looked upon these antisocial behaviors as normal rites of passage. Girls
are just catty and boys will be boys. There’s
this mentality of “I went through it as a kid, and you’re
going to go through it too, so toughen up.”
But researchers have reported that
kids actually find this type of bullying more harmful than physical aggression.
Children would rather be punched in the stomach than have their reputation
destroyed on Facebook or MySpace or be the social pariahs on the playground.
how did your daughter respond to being bullied?
TL: At first it was devastating for Allie,
because these were the kids she had hung out with since kindergarten, and they
turned on her. For months, she cried herself to sleep. She got very anxious.
She had stomach aches and headaches. She felt isolated and alone.
Were you surprised this was a problem at such a young age?
TL: I was. When I started reading the
research, I was blown away. Some studies showed that girls as young as 3 and 4
years old already understand the connection between social status and power.
When a preschooler says, “If you don’t
let me play with that toy, I won’t invite you to my birthday party,” that child is being relationally aggressive by putting
conditions on a friendship, and that’s simply not OK. This type of behavior
needs to be nipped in the bud.
did you deal with your daughter's situation?
TL: Allie and her school friends did
everything together. They were on the same soccer team and went over to each
other’s homes for birthday parties and
sleepovers. When the relational aggression came to a head, I tried to extend
her friendship base through after-school and weekend activities. By making
friends outside of her original social group, my daughter felt like she had
others to talk to when she had a bad day at school. She had friends who weren’t
judging her and could accept all the goodness she had to offer and give it back
in like kind.
she stuck with her school?
TL: Yes she did. I actually asked her if
she wanted to go somewhere else, but she really liked her teacher and some
other kids. But when the time came to go to middle school, Allie opted to go to
an arts-and-performance public school, which was not her feeder middle school.
She met an entirely new set of kids her age there and has never regretted that
decision. She has never looked back.
had another parent see your daughter being bullied. If there are no adult
witnesses, is there a way to recognize if a child is being bullied?
TL: Look for any change in a child’s
normal behavior. Is she more withdrawn or introverted than usual? Is he
sleeping more or having drastic mood swings? Does the child suddenly stop
receiving invitations for play dates? With physical bullying, parents may
notice torn clothes or bruises. The child may be hungry from skipping lunch because
someone may have taken his lunch money. If a child suddenly turns off the
computer monitor when a parent enters the room or avoids the computer
altogether, it may indicate signs of cyberbullying.
parents notice odd behaviors and suspect their child — or any child — is being bullied, what’s the
TL: First and foremost, initiate dialogue
with your child. Let him/her know that you care and that you’re
there to help. Be a good listener and supporter. That’s
the number one thing parents can do. Listen to your child and take their
problems seriously. Gather as much information you can in a calm, objective
manner. Find out when the bullying occurred, who was involved, and if there
were any bystanders who witnessed the event. Then give your child options as to
which grown-up at school (e.g., the teacher, the school counselor, the
principal) he or she wants to report this information so that steps can be
taken to get the issue addressed.
use these incidents as teachable moments to help your child understand what to
look for in a friend. A lot of kids don’t know what makes a good friend. One
of my biggest concerns is that kids — particularly
girls — who
gravitate towards abusive friendships will gravitate towards abusive romantic
partners later in life.
did this experience shape your daughter’s life?
TL: My daughter has learned so much from
this experience. She now knows what to look for in a good friend and how to be
a better friend herself. She has also become an advocate for other kids by
publicly speaking about her experience and helping others who have been
bullied. For example, when my daughter was 15, we were on a TV show together,
and Allie shared her bullying experience. She summed up how far she had come in
a simple statement: “What happened to me was a defining
moment in my life, but it doesn’t define who I am.”