This is a follow-up to “My Son’s Best Friends Are Bullying Him” that describes the problem the interventions below addressed and has recommendations about how to take action and practice solutions.
To summarize the situation, Roger’s mother wrote to us asking for help for her son because a boy we’ll call “Tom” had started getting Roger’s two best friends, “Phil” and another boy, to tease him and leave him out at school. We recommended being strategic, respectful, and persistent in asking adults for help and to prepare Roger by practicing what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it.
The description below is based on what Roger’s mother wrote about what happened after she followed these recommendations, with names and a few details changed. This is a powerful example of how adult leadership can stop hurtful behavior and can prepare young people to take charge of their friendships and negotiate difficult relationships.
These are the steps that Roger’s mother told us she took to make the intervention possible.
1. “I worked through the mom of one of Roger’s two best friends, “Phil”, to address this from a positive rather than a negative stance. Phil had been chosen to attend a leadership seminar (the timing was perfect). Instead of saying “you are doing something wrong”, we let Phil know how the “group” that he was a part of was hurting Roger. We pointed out that those in the group could be steered in the other direction with the help of a leader. Phil’s mom asked her son for his thoughts about what was going on, how that must feel to Roger, and how he could help.”
2. “It seemed to us that Tom, the boy who was leading the bullying, was trying to take Roger’s place in the trio of friends instead of just making it a foursome. Tom used his friendship with their other friend in the group to work his way in and leave Roger out of the group. Phil had been scared that he too would get pushed out and would lose his friend (the other boy in the group), so he went along with the teasing and bullying out of fear and self-interest, not understanding how he was hurting Roger. Once he was aware of the impact of his actions, Phil did not want to be a part of it any longer and wanted to support Roger.”
3. “Our strategy was to empower Phil to interject (in his words, “do the right thing”) when he saw Tom start the bullying. We knew that the other boy would follow Phil’s leadership in this.”
4. “I contacted Tom’s mother to let her know what was going on and to ask her to address this problem with her son at home. I initially left a message to ask her to speak with me. At first, she did not call me back, but apparently investigated with her son about why I might be calling and must have had some firm words with him. I also alerted her out of courtesy that the school psychologist was going to speak with both of our boys behind closed doors, and they would each have a chance to speak their mind to one another in a safe space.”
5. “The day after I called his mom, Tom started harassing Roger in school in front of everyone, saying that Roger had told on him and he had gotten into trouble because of it. (I think his mom still did not really know what was going on.) The “bickering”, as Roger called it, continued at lunch.”
6. “Here’s where Phil’s leadership came into action. He stood up, looked straight at Tom, and yelled “Stop! Just stop this right now. Enough! Leave him alone!” When Phil decided to stop going along with the bullying, to do the right thing, and to support his friend, he realized he had the power to change the course of things. He overcame his fear of losing a friend to support another friend and felt good about being a leader.” [Note: This was very brave of Phil!]
7. “Sadly, I did not have the faith in the principal to take charge of the situation properly, which is why I did not submit a formal complaint. If I had, I think she would have held court with all four boys in her office. Roger’s two friends could have then also felt alienated from Roger for telling on them, leaving him yet again out in the cold.”
8. “Instead, I reached out to the one person in the school who I felt would address it from another angle “partnering” with me to resolve this with Roger’s best interest in mind, not just reprimanding kids without taking all parts of the issue into account.” [Note: Roger’s mother was right to be thoughtful about who to talk to. Finding the right person to ask for help can make a huge difference in the outcome of an intervention.]
9. “The school psychologist first met with Roger one-on-one to hear his story and let him know he had support.”
10. “After that, the school psychologist reached out to the lunch room and recess staff to see what they knew. She discovered they had witnessed four kids getting up and leaving Roger sitting at the lunch table alone several times as well as trying to play tricks on him at lunch. I am frustrated that they had ignored the behavior, rather than trying to find out why these boys had moved and to investigate the situation. This lack of action only proves to students the “no bullying tolerated” is just a line with no backbone to back it up in our school.” [Note: Often lunchroom and recess staff often have hundreds of children to keep track of. They need training and support in how to take action.]
11. “Next, the school psychologist pulled both boys in to talk with one another. She was able to position it to Tom that the school had observed some of his inappropriate behavior, taking Roger out of the “hot seat” as a tattle tale. ”
12. “Roger had worked with me at home to write all the things down he wanted to say, which he decided to condense onto a small card to bring with him, so that he would feel completely heard and not walk away forgetting to say something important. We used many of your strategies like being sure to sit up tall, look Tom directly in the eye, and say in a firm voice, “This will stop NOW!” We role-played it so that Roger could put it into his words comfortably. ”
13. “When the kids got together, the 45-meeting went well. Tom tried to deny what happened, but was confronted by the school psychologist about what had been observed just the day before. At the end of the meeting, he apologized for what happened that day.”
14. “Between what Phil did and the meeting, Tom stopped his bullying behavior. He knows he is being watched by the school and there will be consequences if one more thing happens. He can no longer depend on the “group” to support him, since members won’t stand for it either. The third friend followed Phil’s leadership as we had expected.”
15. “Tom walked over to Roger at the end of the day and asked him to be his friend. Even though I believe that this might not have been sincere or for the right reasons, this action brought peace.”
16. “All the boys involved learned valuable lessons, including Roger who was in the end prepared to continue on without his two friends if that is where it headed and was at peace with that. He felt self-respect for himself and secure within himself, focusing on his other friendships outside of school. He realized that to put up with being bullied to avoid losing friends is not the right thing to do and if that is the case, they may not really be your friends…that sometimes friendships change, as you coached me on as well.”
17. “Several weeks later, we checked in to see what is going on. All four boys are “hanging out” together. Roger’s friendship with his two friends remains intact and is a bit stronger to boot. Tom and Roger are cordial to one another and have learned to share in the same space in a healthy way. ”
For extensive information about how to address bullying, including stories, examples, and step-by-step descriptions of how to practice, see our book, Bullying: What Adults need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe!