Yesterday I was about 10 minutes early picking my 7th grade son up after school. Because I was running ahead of schedule he wasn't quite expecting me yet so I parked in the parking lot and walked around the back of the junior high to where they have some ball fields and the kids hang out waiting for parents.
Background: My son is part of what is probably known as the 'popular' group. I'm not proud of it, I'm not ashamed of it, but every class one and he is part of a group of about 20 kids that are the first string players in sports, are seated in the student council, are on the dance committees, etc. He and his friends are just natural born leaders and are very comfortable with each other as most of them have been attending school together since kindergarten.
As I rounded the building I saw my son had his back to me and was hanging out with about 6 of his good friends. I knew them all, both boys and 2 girls because they spend a lot of time at our home on the weekends swimming or watching movies or hanging out at each others homes. They were all grouped with their backs or sides to me and didn't see me - which was obvious when I got close enough to hear them and see what they were doing.
They were yelling out slurs and name-calling a group of 4 or 5 kids standing about ten feet away. As I approached, I hate to admit what I heard, but after one of the other boys called out "you're such a douche" and they all laughed, my son yelled out "you pussy!"
My mouth dropped. We do not use that word in our house and I absolutely would never condone my son using it or calling someone else it! One of his friends then jogged over to the other group and shoved one of the guys (who was trying to ignore them) in the back. The kid stumbled, turned around and glared at my son's friend. I could see he had papers in his hand and he and his friends had been trying to discuss something important or hold a meeting of some sort.
At that point I said my sons name loudly and obviously in a tone that meant business. All the kids froze and my son turned to me, his lips pursed together and he quickly left his group and walked my way. We walked to the car in silence.
I told him in the car that we would talk about it when we got home.
While I was making dinner last night I asked my son to sit at the kitchen bar and 'talk to me'.
At first he was very defensive. Told me that the kid that was shoved was 'Michael' and 'no one likes him anyway.'
I pointed out he was surrounded by a group of kids and it looked like they were trying to get some work done.
That's when I found out that Michael was actually the 7th grade class president but my son and his group of popular kids didn't like him.
What it came down to was that there are two classes of 7th graders at my sons school. There are about 60 kids so they divided them up into two classrooms. In our school the kids vote on their class president in January when they return from winter break. My son and his friends wanted one of their ilk to win; Ellie. However, two other kids were also running. Michael and Tia. In the end, Michael won. Ellie came close and Tia only got a couple votes. My son and his friends were livid that Ellie didn't win and that the 'other classroom' voted their guy to win and my son and his friends thought Ellie should have.
So over the past month they had been as mean to Michael as they could get away with.
Apparently it started out with them passing out 'mean sheets' about Michael in the hallways. A few mean spirited hand written posters slapped up on the walls.
When the guys happened to be in the same bathroom break time slot as Michael or any of the kids from the 'other' 7th grade class they would call them names, taunt them, shove them into the stalls or once, pushed a boys face down into the toilet. (Yes I was livid... but I was trying to keep my cool so my son would finish telling me the details.)
In mixed gym class, when it was time to pick teams no one would pick Michael or any of his group of friends - not that they wouldn't be excellent on their team but my son and his friends refused to pick them. Then I found out because Michael was class president he got to pick the school lunch on "class president" day. That explained why my son requested I pack him a lunch two weeks previously. He and his friends boycotted the entire lunch period and brought their own lunches because they refused to eat Michaels class pick (which was pizza and they all love pizza!).
There was an assembly about two weeks earlier with some talent show acts mixed in. I found out the 'act' my son had been going to his friends house to practice for was actually a complete mockery and making fun of Michael and some of the other classroom kids. I guess it got a little mean spirited because finally, one of the teachers made them stop their act early and went on to the next speaker.
My son and his friends apparently "refused" to treat Michael as their class president. They were doing everything they could to undermine him and his chosen class leaders. From name calling to the mean-skits, to passing out the papers and putting up the mean posters and boycotting the lunches chosen by him.
Finally, my son admitted that he and his friends were planning on going to Ellie's house the following Friday instead of going on the school trip. The school trip is to Knott's Berry Farm. I couldn't believe this. It made no sense.
"You love Knott's Berry Farm and it's a class trip! Why wouldn't you go!?"
"Because Michael got to pick it."
"He's not our president."
"Apparently he is. He was voted by your entire class and he won."
"Well, he shouldn't have! We wanted Ellie to win. And we are the popular group! We should get to choose."
What in the world do I say to that? I don't know where or how my son got his brain wrapped around that elitist way of thinking but it made me angry.
"Elliot, do you remember back in 4th grade?"
"And how Miguel and Jesse didn't like you and made your life so hard that you came home crying at least once a week? You were bullied by them refusing to play with you, calling you a baby and starting a lie about you?"
"I had to go to the school and talk to your teacher about it and she gave the class a lesson about bullies. And how hurtful and awful it is to be bullied.... do you remember?"
"You are not only doing the same thing to Michael but honey, you are doing WORSE. You are not only being a bully but a jerk. And not only being a jerk about it because you all didn't get your way, but you are fighting against things that are good for you class and your good for you school because you are being so hard headed and refusing to admit that your friend lost the class election. You are even willing to give up a trip to Knott's Berry Farm with your class and sit at Ellies house and watch a stupid movie just because you can't admit your group lost and move on?"
My son was still a little defiant but I could see he was finally hearing what I had to say. He was finally starting to open his eyes to what a horrible group of kids he and his friends were being and acting like they knew what was best for the entire class just because they were popular group and thought everyone would follow and do whatever they told them to do. But they didn't. The class decided Ellie was not a good leader and wanted Michael.
Later that evening my son came and sat by me on the couch as I was watching the evening news. I could tell he wanted to say something but wasn't sure how to start. I waited and didn't push him. Finally it came out...
"I think I'm gonna go ahead and go on the class trip next week, k? I thought about it and even though Michael picked the place, I know it's a cool place and it's better than watching a movie. So um, yeah. I'm gonna go after all."
I told him I was very happy to hear that. And I asked if he had thought about the other things we talked about?
He said he had.
And that he didn't realize that he was being 'that' mean or that he was actually being a bully. He said he understood that maybe the other kids didn't want Ellie as class president. He did, and was still mad about it, but that Michael was the class president so... 'whatever.'
He shrugged his shoulders and went up to his room to get back to his homework.
I was glad he finally saw how horrible, rude, mean and embarrassingly awful he and his friends were acting just because they didn't get their way and Ellie wasn't class president.
I'm mortified... but also relieved he finally saw his ugliness for what it was.
Nobody likes a bully. Nobody, that is, except other bullies.
For the record, I don't have a son in 7th grade.
Do you see what I did here?