20 December, 2007

Altercation with a couple of junior hyenas

One of the things I like about living here is the fact that it's so easy to walk everywhere. I think it's important that the kids don't automatically think of the car when they want to go somewhere. So I insist that they make the 1.5 km trek to school on foot, regardless of the weather.

Other parents all do the same, but there is one striking cultural gap: they send their kids unattended from the middle of first grade on. I feel that this is too early to turn kids loose without supervision. On the surface it seems OK-- there are plenty of sidewalks and crosswalks. But in my experience it's rarely the passing cars that pose a problem.

Most of these children left to their own devices are fine. They walk together, they chat, they giggle. But there are a handful who use this unsupervised time to run wild. They dig garbage out of dumpsters on construction sites and they trample through gardens, taking any flowers, fruit or other random articles to throw at passing cars and each other.

In order to watch out for my own kids I make the trek to school twice a day, rain or shine. Normally walking with your mother would be seen as "uncool" by the kids in S and B's classes, but I use the dog as a secret weapon. She's been called "the most popular girl at school", and their classmates so look forward to seeing her that they seem to forget that I'm attached at the other end of the leash.

And so on any given afternoon you can find me walking home surrounded by an ever changing cast of characters, all jostling for a chance to walk next to D. One of our regulars is a tiny girl with an unwieldy French name. She claims she's seven but she's so petite that I wonder if this is an exaggeration. She's spunky and is one of the few kids that age who really thinks for herself.

Yesterday we were walking home when suddenly two third graders raced past us and started shouting: "Let's go bully that stupid little girl!" My stomach sank as I saw them closing in on M up ahead; she'd left earlier than we had.

They ran up and started tormenting her-- hanging over her, shouting at her and laughing. She ignored them for a couple of seconds but fear took over and she ran behind a parked car to try and escape.

I ran up and told the boys to knock it off-- surely they can see that she's frightened! They just laughed and continued mobbing her. I grabbed one of them by the arm and he just laughed at me defiantly. When I told them both to get lost they only crossed over to the other side of the street where they continued their jeering.

I hugged M and told her not to listen, that we would all walk together. Every 50 meters or so one of the boys would cross the street and start walking behind us again and I would stop and put myself between them and M and tell them to get lost. They really seemed to be enjoying this! I was floored by their cruelty and relentlessness!

I know these kids. They're in S's class and they're a dangerous combination. They egg each other on and apparently yesterday the combination of christmas cookie overload and the heady excitement about vacation had pushed them over the top. I told them I would be calling both their mothers and they just laughed and started shouting their telephone numbers at the top of their lungs.

I escorted M right up to her door and made sure she got inside safely. Then we all endured these kids' obnoxious behavior for the rest of the way back to their houses, which are on the way to ours.

I was so angry I was shaking. Called both the mothers-- it's funny what sets people off. One mother, as expected, was angry as soon as she heard about the bullying-- her voice was shaking as she thanked me for calling and asked me to call again if I ever saw her son doing anything like this again. But the other mother only got really angry when I told her that her son laughed when I told him that I was going to call her. ???

Luckily school is out for the next two and a half weeks. I've been feeling pretty overwhelmed anyway, and this incident had me redlining on anger and discouragement. That, and fear. It scares me to see 8 year olds getting obvious enjoyment out of terrorizing helpless first graders. But it frightens me even more that the presence of an adult did little to temper their predatory behavior. Whatever punishment they receive will probably result in retaliation against S in January. I'm just grateful for the holidays-- and hope that the break provides not only rest but a little perspective. or wisdom. or something that will help me know what to do next time...


Anonymous said...

Bullies suck and I think it's a universal problem, not just with the hyenas you encountered, but with the parents' reaction. I applaud your protective side. I would have done the same.
I wouldn't be surprised if that little girl isn't as old as she is, because I know my DH was 3.5 when his parents lied about his age to enroll him in kindergarten.
The answer to how to handle bullies is something I'd love to hear from you or others. Lurking Lisa
Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

Edit: The answer on how, not to how. sorry...

Anonymous said...

It's a good thing you contacted the parents, regardless of their reaction. They should know what their kids are up to, and perhaps something will sink into the kids.

I think it's a good idea to walk with kids to school for at least the first two years. We did that on a rotating basis with a couple of other families who were sending their kids to the same class, and it worked out well. We all felt safer for it.

Greg said...

Childhood is often a battlefield, and you were brave for stepping onto the field. Bullies indeed suck; protectors are divine.

DBunny said...

Wow, I thought this was only a Ruhr Area phenomenon... that no fear of adults thing. When we were kids and were doing something wrong, if an adult came around the corner and glared at us with that "I know what you're up to and I'm going to call your mother!" look, we'd STOP, right? It seems the kids around here just don't care. Boys, in particular. I've seen it over and over. They'll break a window, beat up a kid, throw things at someone or something right in front of you. Or at you. Something must be seriously wrong with disciplinary actions (or lack thereof) for so many kids to behave like this. Or is it that other adults (parents, neighbors, strangers) DON'T usually say anything in Germany, so kids think they can get away with anything?

anno said...

This is unsettling and disturbing, and it unfortunately echoes similar stories I've heard from other bloggers in The Netherlands (Fourier Analyst and Jenn-in-Holland).

I'm curious: did the other mother try to dismiss her son's behavior as harmless? or worse, condone it? or did she somehow feel like his behavior wasn't her concern?

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

It's interesting... I was just at Soccer Mom In Denial's website reading about her concern about behavior, and yet the incident she discussed doesn't even touch on what you experienced, and what I've heard from Jenn in Holland and Fourier Analyst about "hooliganism" in Holland. I always think that European kids are better behaved, but I'm rethinking that. What a horrible experience, and thank goodness you were there for m!

Brit Sung Kyung Kim said...

1. amazing how only YOU can see the world like this "..that they seem to forget that I'm attached at the other end of the leash." :)

2. I do wish that we could 'undress' kids bullying as easily as taking off their jackets.. but in my mind, you did the only thing resonable, and trust me (from the past years of teaching) calling their parents helps! and..to let them see the coolness of the kids that they may pick on..if a teacher gives them a chance to 'show off' a talent.. and - also, praising the kids that bully for sth their good at (of course not the bullying!) well, over and out of ideas from "Miss rosy-glasses Teacher with flowers in my hair"

Goofball said...

I feel very upset reading this :(. You are right, if the presence of an adult didn't temper those bullies...we should fear for their future behaviour. Damn.

Glad you were there though...and to know that you will continue to be there!

Africakid said...

Betsy, I'm glad you care so much about the children in your neighborhood. Show those "hyenas" they can't get away with terrorizing...

ps. Hope you had a merry Christmas and enjoy New Years (it's always exciting in Germany, eh?)!

Jenn in Holland said...

I can only echo your other comments here and say again, good for you for getting involved and doing something. It is deeply disturbing and admittedly I think as a single individual it is a daunting task to try to take on the behavior. Especially when you see the lack of support by others. BUT if a lot of us individuals keep plugging away at it and making some inroad small as it may be perhaps collectively we can have an impact.
You go girl. You did it just right.