Over the Columbus Day weekend, when I took the boys up to see some family and foliage and whatnot, we went to a Renaissance Faire fundraiser for a local elementary school. There was fencing, and archery, and ordinary food trussed up with medieval names (chili with meat = the Devil's potage!), and an extensive treasure hunt that took us into the surrounding woods.
While we were walking along the trail, looking for a "fearsome, fire-breathing beast" that would end up being a foot-long dragon plush hanging from a tree, Robert got to talking about a problem he's having with this one kid at school. He's the sort of emotional bully who manipulates other kids into trouble by pushing their tease buttons and then skates away clean. And while you talk to your son about peaceful conflict resolution, you fantasize about finding this kid and hanging him on the top of the jungle gym by his Underoos.
Robert had tried talking to him, appealing to him, ignoring him, and yelling at him, but the kid still found a way under his skin. He was at a loss as to what to try next and feeling like this weird energy between them was somehow his fault. "What is this kid's problem?" he said. "And why is he always picking on people? What exactly am I supposed to do now?"
Bullying among kids has been a hot and horrible topic lately, and it hit closer to home two weeks ago when Tyler Clementi's body washed ashore a few hundred yards from my doorstep. And talking with your kids about bullying, no matter how seemingly benign, can fill a parent with dread, because you want your advice to be knowledgeable and relevant, somewhere between "well, if he's teasing you he's not really your friend" and "point out that little snot-nosed SOB so I can give him an atomic wedgie."
Just as I was piecing together something to say, we saw this: