Being the new kid is never easy. It is a huge adjustment when moving to a new town.
You have to go on a new bus… where you probably have no one to sit with. You have to go to a new school… where you probably don’t know anyone. You have to go to lunch… where you probably have to hope someone will talk to you. You have to go into unfamiliar classes… where you may not know the material they did last year that they keep talking about. You have to adjust to new teams, new organizations, new people, new ways of doing things. And, you hope, the new people you meet will welcome you and make it a little easier.
But, sometimes, the opposite happens.
Sometimes the new kid runs into someone who is not so nice, the kind of person who sees the new kid as the new target.
The new kid is weird. He comes from a state that is unfamiliar and therefore “backwards” or some other term that is not complimentary. She looks “different’ because she wears the clothes the kids wore back in the place she came from not the place she now lives. He talks funny and not like the people “around here.”
The new kid is nice. Maybe too nice. She may steal your friends, your spot on the team, your place at the lunch table. She smiles and talks too much. She’s really pretty. He is really smart. He’s stronger than me. He talks too loud.
Why is this situation any worse than that of any other bully situation?
Because the new kid is particularly vulnerable.
The new kid doesn’t have many friends yet so may cling to even one that is not nice to her.
The new kid isn’t sure to turn to and worries saying anything will make the situation worse.
The new kid doesn’t have as many allies who know he’s a good kid and isn’t making stuff up.
While bullying is always bad, bullying the new kid is particularly egregious.
The new kid, as in the case of many military kids, doesn’t have time to waste. He moves, readjusts, and moves again many times within a few years or even just months. The old adage that a move means a new chance may mean a chance of another bully for some kids and, next time may be better, is not always seen as an opportunity.
A bully may mean missing out on life events for a child and that is truly unfair, especially if that child must miss so many other normal life events due to military life.
Being the parent of a child who is being bullied, especially as a newcomer to a community, is also difficult. Unfamiliar with the families and the cultural norms within the community, a parent may also not know where to turn or the temperament of those she is dealing with to solve the situation. She may also worry about making the situation worse. If it is a another military child who is bullying hers, there may be concerns over “being the squeaky wheel” on the base or may even worry about the impact on their service member’s job.
While we like to think, as a parent, we’d charge in to remedy the situation immediately, the reality of what will happen, may be very different. So sometimes the new kid suffers in silence. Or the family decides to tough it out without saying something because… they are moving in a new months. Or they take action and… things do get worse.
The new kid may find himself in this situation over and over again, particularly one who attracts bullies: the shy kid, the kid who is “different,” the introvert.
What can we do?
- We can continue to educate communities about military kids especially if they are not as familiar with the circumstances our military kids face.
- We can set an example. Don’t let others bully you as an adult. Unfortunately, adults bully each other too. Your child is watching how you handle it. The current situation with online bullying of military family members is a good example of how bullying is taking root in our community.
- Be the person the new kid can come to and talk. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a friend, or even just an acquaintance or someone who notices, reach out and be the person who will listen, notice, and take action.
- Don’t be part of the problem. Watch the words that you use around your children. Work on your acceptance of others. Be inclusive not exclusive. And be the person you would like for your child to be.
Toughen up is not an answer. That’s part of being a kid is not the answer. My child is not a bully is not the answer. The answer is owning the fact that someone is being hurt. Bullying the new kid is not acceptable.
What should we be doing better to help our military kids when it comes to bullying?