(note: this post has exploded in readership in the last few years. It is being referenced and forwarded all across the nation. Please make sure you read the 4 other related posts to this on my blog site for a more comprehensive overview of the topic and do not hesitate to contact if I can be of service. firstname.lastname@example.org). It is also a part of an e-book Learning Unleashed Discipleship Curriculum for Technology that is being beta-tested in Birmingham, AL Fall 2015)
You can read the expanded e-book edition here: Sharp Barbs Fragile Hearts E-Book Edition
When my oldest daughter entered 6th grade- we had our first experience with how cruel the middle school world could be. It is also the first experience of the hurt you feel as a parent when someone has been cruel to your child.
I try to counsel parents in these situations- but every time I say anything- my voice quivers, because I remember the pain of having a sweet and innocent 12 year old crying because she has been picked on, or excluded. She knows that 'friends' are having a weekend spend the night- and not only was she not invited, she hears 2nd hand that she was the target of all the pillow talk.
Emotions rage from broken heartedness to extreme anger......
But I had to find some process to help her. And there was an education I needed as well.
My first lesson: As a parent, we are the safe place for our children to 'vent' their pain. And when the hurting heart begins to articulate this pain in words, there is a varying amount of drama and intensity in the reporting.
Over the years, I have learned that the truth is in those tears, but often it is an exaggerated truth. She feels like the entire school has formed an attack and she doesn't see any way out.
Some of the time, the venting is all that is needed... this is not a time to run to the instant fix- this is a time just to hear and hug.
My First Exercise: I struggled for a while to figure out how to get good data... find the true narrative in the crying heart.
So I got out our school directory, and I went through the list of all the students. I asked my daughter to tell me about these classmates- I promised her that this was confidential and I wasn't looking to get anyone in trouble.. I just needed to know how to pray and who to pray for.
I asked her to tell me in a short sentence about these students. She would say... "don't know him"- or "She's so mean"- to "she is quiet"- to "he is nice".
The bottom line? My child's middle school life was being destroyed by the actions, words, and neglect of 4 or 5 girls.
At that point I had tough news for her..."Sweetie, the truth is that it is unlikely that you will EVER be accepted by these girls. And I know they are popular and powerful. But my best guess is that they will never accept you... and it has NOTHING to do with you... it is their problem... they may one day grow out of their meanness and selfishness"... but it was time to find the group where she could get to know and befriend.
I give my wife a ton of credit here.She became proactive in asking people over, having activities to find these like-minded friends and invest in a chance to cultivate the friendship.
I wish I could tell you that this was a magic fix---it wasn't- it was a long process. But we HAD to see it as a part of God's plan to shape and grow our daughter- to build her perseverance and character.
The Beautiful Lesson: By the time my daughter was a senior, she was more comfortable with her place. Even though she was the captain of the cheerleading squad, a national honor society member.etc...she wasn't on top of the cool group. She was still ridiculed at times for being a 'rules keeper' and 'coach's daughter'. And I know that she made mistakes that contributed to her status at times- all humans do. But the amazing thing is that one of her main 'bullies' in middle school actually became one of her closer friends during their Senior year. The beautiful picture was that my daughter was willing to forgive, even if mom never was going to!
I have done this same exercise over the years with students... boys and girls- taking a list of their classmates and evaluating who are the bad actors according to their perspective. In the dozens of times I have done this- the average number of 'meanies' is 3-5. I did have a boy list 9 one time out of 90 boys, which was somewhat alarming!
In my job as Dean- I never use this information to get anyone in trouble- and I have to be careful to never link these victims to the bullies they are afraid of.
But it is great information to begin a two front work- (1) helping the picked on get stronger and (2) look for ways to correct the wrongdoers as good evidence comes my way.
This is just the beginning of a difficult journey that is more art that science and totally a God thing.......