bullying at school, at soccer + on film

In ALL, MOVIES by Stephanie Klein19 Comments

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Lucas was playing goalie in soccer. The other team scored. Lucas might have kicked the ball into his own net. I can’t be sure. Lucas is the kind of kid who’d rather comment on the birds flying overhead than pay attention to what’s happening on the field. His teammate, a boy in his class, got up in Lucas’s face, pushed him and screamed, “No one wants you on this team.” I wasn’t there to see it just then, as I was walking over from Abigail’s field. Lucas held it together, a whistle blew. Water break. Lucas held it in, much the way you might when you have to pee and you’re nowhere near a toilet. Yet the closer you come to a bathroom, the more pressing the urge to go. As he met my gaze and saw my approach, he began to unravel, tears marking his face, until he was within arms’ reach, when a sob escaped before he grabbed my legs and heaved into my sweater. After breathing together, he shared that his athletic classmate screamed in his face and pushed him. “Very bad manners,” he cried.

Another day, at a playdate with a group of boys from school, one of the mothers came to me and confided that she’d witnessed a bullying behavior from one of the boys toward Lucas. The boy turned to the others and said, “Let’s play ‘Spy on Lucas.'” Lucas is a happy, resilient kid. If kids are making fun of him, he doesn’t get defensive, because I don’t think he understands that he’s their target. When the other boys continued with whatever they were doing, the child persisted with his attempts to rally his troops. “Let’s play keep away from Lucas.” The mom didn’t have to tell me this information; it would’ve been easier for her to say nothing and go on with her day, but she genuinely felt it was wrong and didn’t like to see it happening. I had great respect for her and liked her immediately. Since it wasn’t her child, and the child’s mother wasn’t there, she asked that I speak to the kids. I did. These kids are five and six years old. I told them that they’re in a small school, that they’re all friends, that no one should be made to feel left out. I made eye contact with each of them and spoke frankly. The rest of the afternoon the boys played well together, everyone included. Not cool, I thought.

After some distance over the summer, Lucas was elated to see his friends from school, to the point where he just wanted to talk a mile-a-minute, without any ending, or point, in sight. He simply wanted to talk, to tell a story, to connect with his friends. Only his mouth doesn’t work as fast as his brain, so he fills the gap with several um’s and uh’s. He actually doesn’t do this as often anymore, but at the time, at another playdate, there it was, an excited puppy, eager to reunite with friends. “So, guys? Um, um, guys? Okay, so, this summer… um.” Then a boy responded, “Um, um, um, what already?” His mother scolded him. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what was said when parents weren’t within earshot. It made me feel very unsettled.

If I ever witnessed any of these behaviors in my own children, they’d be subjected to major family meetings and very serious talks. I’d also talk to their teachers, asking that they keep an eye out but also asking for advice as to how I, as a parent, should handle it if I ever witness my own child doing any of the bullying or teasing.

Now, I’m in the practice of asking the beans each day to tell me about what they did during recess at school. The other day Lucas told us that he played with some of the boys mentioned in the vignettes above. When I asked him what he played, he described a “game” of capture, where he ran from the other boys until they caught him, then he had to lie on the ground, and they’d pull him. He was the only one, he explained, to be dragged. He described the events with enthusiasm, saying it was great. Again, I couldn’t help but worry that he was once again oblivious to the fact that he was the target of their game. My sweet puppy! I told him I was so happy to hear that they had such a fun recess, and cautioned only that if they play the game again, to make sure that next time it’s someone else’s turn to be pulled, that he shouldn’t always be the one everyone runs after or away from. He agreed, but I’m not sure if it registered.

I spoke with both beans about bullying and all its forms, how sometimes the words even come out as really nice, but they’re just being ironic. I demonstrated with a demeaning tone and fake smile. Bullying, I explained, is when we purposefully choose to leave people out, when we ignore people, when we laugh or point. When we play “keep away” without taking turns. But in truth, I wasn’t sure how to offer positive responses for each instance. We tried some role playing, and when in doubt I told them to say, “NO!” Loudly, so an adult can hear, and then to tell an adult. We also discussed how it’s their job to stand up for others when they see it. Then I asked them to tell me one kindness they extended to someone that day. Each morning I remind them to make someone else feel really good, that that’s what we do in our family.

Along with speaking to his teachers, I plan to make use of some of the suggested movies and TV show titles streaming on Netflix that encourage the bullying conversation. With October being National Bullying Prevention Month, and with news headlines being as alarming as they are in recent days, it’s my mission to sit these kids in front of a TV (and a stack of books)!

11 Movies to Stream on Netflix for Bullying Prevention Month
Real stories about how kids fight back:
Movies about Bullying
1. Bully
2.The War
3.Billy Elliott
4.The Fat Boy Chronicles
5.Cyber Bully

Show your little ones that there’s a hero in all of us:
Movies about Bullying
2.Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
3.Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
4.Spy Kids: All the Time in the World
5.Justice League Unlimited
6.Ben 10: Alien Force

As a Netflix Stream Team member, I received an Apple TV and a year’s subscription to Netflix in exchange for sharing 1 post each month about Netflix movies and TV Shows. As always, though, all opinions are my own. Also, I’ve been a Netflix subscriber since the Wasband, that’s how far back we go. Just sayin’.


  1. Oh dear, the precious little bean. It’s worrying. Kids can be so mean. And already at this age! Shame, man, it’s heartbreaking :(

  2. Parenting today is harder than ever, and these episodes of bullying seem to be escalating and are frightening. These kids are so young–WHERE are they learning this awful behavior? I remember that age being far more innocent.

    All the responsible parents I know are doing exactly what you are–talking to their kids whenever possible about bullying and what’s going on in their schools.

    I’m going to share your post with them; the film recommendations are good ones. Thanks for this.

  3. My heart breaks for him;so innocent, so good. that the other boys take advantage of that. too bad in this world the kids have to harden up to face this kind of thing, so young. bah

  4. Confused as to why he is playing soccer when he would rather be watching birds. Get him some binoculars and let him blaze his own trail.

    1. Author

      He no longer does soccer. I’m still trying to figure out what his interests are, or where the after school program is that feeds his interests. Basically, the kid is happiest using his imagination. He could play for hours in the playroom, creating stories and scenarios for his dinosaurs. That’s truly what he enjoys doing most. That, and reading. Not into art, though he does like when we read about artists together, more than Abigail does… which is interesting because she could do art for hours.

      1. When my son was about Luca’s age ( he is now 12) he used to do what teachers call “parallel playing”, that is he would follow the others playing from some distance but did not participate directly. He was not much welcome when playing soccer because honestly he was not much good. He then started being a supporter of the “Roma” team and learned names of players, coaches, market etc.( so he approached the subject from a theoretical pojnt of view). He is now playing regular in his soccer team during recess and yes he is one of the most liked boys in his class, last year elected “class representative” in the Student Council. He always played much with imagination and occasionally with very little toys ( a stick, a ball). Each child has his own time to acknowledge his inner strength. So just keep watching for bullying behaviour but do not worry too much. A serene and supportive family environment will allow him/her to blossom when his season comes.

  5. Lucas has the sweetest happiest little face. He so much reminds me of my 5 yr old Sweet Boy from what you describe. The earnestness, mile a minute brain but rambling when he gets really into it haha. He is in a public school now and it’s top notch in terms of anti bullying. It’s in Cedar Park (you know where that is :). And I laughed at the ‘he’d rather comment on birds’ bit because my son is way more into that sort of thing than playing sports at least at this stage. Nothing like walking around with your heart outside of your body – being a parent is tough. I appreciate this line up of movies. Not sure whcih ones a 5 yr old will get but will try and fire some up this weekend. I make sure to explain that it is just as important to stick up for kids being bullied (get an adult if he is scared or outnumbered, or the kids are bigger, etc) and never sit by and do nothing. That is such a good lesson. Good for you for starting this dialogue early. Sadly it is necessary nowadays.

  6. Sorry to hear that Lucas is being bullied. For a kid I’ve never met, he sounds like a sweet boy, and let’s face it, those are usually the ones who are targets of mean kids.

    Having said that, I have to disagree with Carol, in regards to bullying escalating. There have always been bullies, and I’d argue that bullying was possibly even worse if you grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, when bullying was certainly less subtle/sneaky and society wasn’t so hypersensitive about everything.

    When I was a kid, bullies would just beat the crap out of you, or even worse, threaten to do so, and make you live in fear of when it would actually happen (so and so is “AFTER YOU!”). Fortunately, I wasn’t a primary target of the neighborhood/school bus bully, but we all felt his wrath at some point, to some degree. Perhaps he didn’t focus on me because my older (female) cousin cracked his head open with a wooden soled Dr. Scholls sandal after he teased her about being fat… We still “high five” her for that, 30 years later. Oh, and the bully, not surprisingly, turned into a stereotypical wife-beating, bar-fighting middle aged scumbag… But I digress.

    I guess my overall point, if there is one, is that while bullying has taken on new and sneakier forms (i.e. social media, etc.), the severity is no worse than it’s ever been, but society, as a whole, has grown to be hypersensitive about it.

    1. Author

      Are there just more suicides today associated with bullying? As in, suicides happened just as often for teens in the 70s and 80s, but now it’s in the media more often?

    2. I think this is a really compelling point.

      It is also worth noting that the definition of bullying changes. In some cases (not necessarily what you described here) the conflict between children is normal conflict. Kids need to experience conflict so they can learn conflict resolution skills. Kids need to learn that not everybody will like them – and they will not like everybody – but you must treat each other with respect anyway.

      Sometimes “No Tolerance” bullying campaigns have moved entirely too far in the opposite direction. It is okay to argue, disagree, and dislike people. It is not okay to torment them for it. There is a distinction, and it is quite often lost in this conversation.

    3. I wonder too, how to even measure bullying from 30 years ago to today. True, I recall a whole lot of physical beatings with zero intervention on the part of parents or school staff. Parents didn’t really seem to care. But I do think that today, with the internet and social media, that the potential for broad and prolonged humiliation is so much greater than it was before. Imagine your own bullying you experienced, but that it was seen and discussed by hundreds or thousands of schoolmates/strangers online, possibly with photo evidence that exists forever online? It could feel all consuming and never ending to a kid today.

      I don’t know if there are more or fewer teen suicides today. I do know that suicide has historically been cloaked in shame and hidden, so we wouldn’t even have known if or when a classmate committed suicide. The parents would have hidden it back then, not started a campaign for justice.

  7. First, you’re a wonderful mother.
    The added layer of cyber bullying has made this situation more serious. As a kid in the 50s and 60s, it seemed there was always someone amongst us girls who was selected as the target. For the next week, it would be someone else. It hurt and there were tears, but it was mild compared to the calculating tactics of kids today.
    We also did not have so many team sports. We played outside and let our imaginations soar. Organized play feeds into this clique mentality. Don’t be so anxious for Lucas to find his way; he will in his own time.

  8. This is so, so hard, even when these little tender hearted, innocent ones don’t even know they are being picked on. I hope Lucas can keep his heart sensitive and safe for a long, long time.

    I have a “special” two year-old daughter who will only wear superhero costumes, every day of the year. Most people get a kick out of it, but at the playground in the summer, some “older” 5-6 year-old boys started making fun of her for wearing a costume when it wasn’t Halloween. I thought, really? She just learned to talk one month ago, she can’t even defend herself! Give the kid a chance at life for a minute, sheesh. It’s really hard as a parent to watch that.

  9. I’m so sorry you’re son is going through this. As a parent I have been on both ends. My best advice is to speak directly to the parents of the offending child and hope that they are willing to work with you and their own child to change the behavior. They may not be aware of their child’s mean behavior. I’m serious. I have had my child bullied and done the bullying. I was appalled and shocked when my child was the aggressor.

  10. I was always the defender of my brother who was born with some developmental challenges. To this day, I remain stunned at how mean children can be and wonder if it is human nature to be cruel to those who are different or if our society encourages it.

    I did my best to stand up for my brother in all circumstances, but I was three years younger and a girl. There were times when we were in different schools and there was nothing I could do. My parents gave him every coping skill, therapist, special education, lessons, tutors that they could think of. He was raised gently and safely.

    Finally – one time in the halls of his junior high in 7th grade – Bruce H. (the neighborhood bully), cornered him in the hall and threw him into the lockers. Instead of backing down, crying, cowering – my sweet brother shocked the pants off of everyone, threw a punch and decked that mean kid, breaking his nose.

    He was never bothered again in our neighborhood, that school or in the high school where we all went.

    I don’t ever think violence is the answer, but by not allowing kids to stand up for themselves, I think we make them bigger targets. Talking, hoping, smoothing every wrinkle out of the way in front of them is our nature as mothers – but maybe a little self-defense training will give him the self-confidence he needs to stand up to the mean kids. Unfortunately, there will always be mean kids.

  11. Has Lucas tried any theater programs? That might be a good fit. I live in Chicago, and we have some kids theater groups where the kids write stories and then perform him. I bet you could find a similar program near you. From what you have said, I could see him really enjoying something like that.

  12. Lucas might be bullied for a long time. Talking to every parent will label you as a helicopter parent to avoid. You can only control what your kids do. Eventually he will find a group of friends who are not super athletic and competitive, but it might be a while.

    Recently the NY times published an article about how all these anti-bullying programs at schools actually lead to more bullying.

  13. Bullying seems to be out of control these days. I don’t understand how it got to be this way, I am 43 and I was a heavy kid in school, I would sometimes get made fun of, but when reading about children being tormented, having to change schools, suicide attempts, it is truely horrifying to think how bad it has gotten. I am not a parent, but I commend you for writing this post.

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