At the end of his junior year, my son developed a crush on his best friend’s girlfriend, who was also his friend. When she confided in my son about her relationship unhappiness, he counseled her as he would any other friend by telling her she needed to do what was right for her. My son did not divulge how he felt out of loyalty to his best friend and I watched him struggle with feelings he wished he didn’t have. When she broke up with his best friend, my son finally shared everything with him. He told him he loved him and about how much he valued their friendship, and because of that, he wanted to be truthful about his feelings for this girl. At first, there was acceptance. Then, once the news settled in, angry accusations of betrayal.
I understood the feelings of anger and betrayal. He’d just had his heart broken by a girl for the first time in his life and there was his best friend, ready to take that spot. I even sort of understood why his mother, who was my friend, cut off everyone on social media who had ties to my son. But this was a strong friendship and something I thought they would work through together. What I didn’t understand, and still don’t, is why others felt the need to insert themselves into a situation that had nothing to do with them.
Shortly after everyone on their small school campus heard the news, one of my son’s former friends orchestrated a group phone call that included several boys. They provided their judgmental assessment of his decision to pursue the relationship and the announcement that they would no longer have anything to do with him. I watched my 17-year-old son sobbing in a way I hadn’t seen since he was very small. While unsuccessfully working at fighting back tears, he asked them why they were getting involved in a situation they were not a part of. They were unanimous in their opinion that my son should not be giving up a lifetime friendship for a GIRL. It was never my son’s intention to give up his best friend. He ended up with the girl, but not out of malicious intent. As his girlfriend’s father says, “the heart wants what it wants.”
Over the last few months, I have watched my son repeatedly reach out to his best friend in an effort to work through this without success. I have also watched him slip further and further into depression. He went from a boy who was always laughing and dancing (his favorite thing in the world to do) to a boy who looks broken and cries and doesn’t eat. He became a boy who sleeps all day and stays up all night when the problems of the day seem unsolvable. He became a boy who doesn’t laugh or smile very much anymore and, when he does, it is often in an effort to cover his pain. He became a boy who no longer goes to school because, halfway there, his body begins trembling with anxiety. The knowledge that he will be ostracized in class and during breaks in the schoolyard, with kids talking behind his back, became unbearable. So he became a boy who turned the car around to go back home. He became a boy who no longer dances.
It was when he began uttering phrases like “I don’t want to be here anymore” that I really started to worry.
My son and I have talked all summer and into the fall semester about what to do. I spoke numerous times with his school principal (whom I adore), school counselor and other staff members. I researched therapists for him and even started seeing a psychologist myself in an effort to process my own feelings and to collect more tools to help my son. He is considering therapy and we are looking for new social outlets. And we finally made a decision to cut ties with his school.
When I showed up on campus to complete and sign the paperwork that would transfer my son to another school, I saw one of the boys who participated in that initial group phone call and I crumbled. I wanted to say something. I wanted to ask him if he knew the damage he and his friends had caused. This is a kid who is involved in student government and sets the standards for other kids on campus and, in my mind, should know better. But I said nothing because I did not want to come across as a bully myself. I sat in front of the school staff member as she presented me with the paperwork that would remove my 12th grade son from school and she said, “We are really going to miss him around here. He’s a great kid.” I looked at her and started to cry.
I am not the best mother in the world. I screw up like every other parent. But I cannot imagine any of my three children participating in this type of damaging behavior towards another classmate. I am doing my damnedest to try to understand the perspective of these kids and have come to the unfortunate conclusion that, at some point in their young lives, they must have been bullied themselves. According to Stomp Out Bullying, kids usually bully because they learn this behavior at home, but it is a behavior that can be unlearned. Included in the behaviors that affected my son are:
One in three students say they have been bullied at school and some studies indicate that “bullying is just getting worse in American schools. Many studies have shown that increasing domestic violence at home are leading to an increase in bullying online and at school.”
My son never set out to hurt anyone. He was in constant turmoil over his unfortunate emotional position and I respected the way he handled himself. It would have been much easier had he not fallen for his best friend’s girlfriend, but human feelings are not always cooperative. Life is more complicated than that.
There is clearly a lack of education on this subject. I’m not sure it even hit me until I signed my son’s school exit paperwork how much of an impact one group phone call could have on a person’s life. But that one phone call created wreckage that snow-balled and effectively altered the course of my son’s life. The simple act of withdrawing him from his school was the slap in the face that awoke me to the trauma of the last several months. If we treat our children with respect, empathy, compassion and love, it will teach them to model those same behaviors towards others. We also need to encourage our children to speak up when bullying happens to them.
I am proud of the fact that my son was honest with his best friend. I am proud of the fact that he never bullied back, but told those boys how their behaviors made him feel. I am proud of who my son is and continues to be, and I am heartbroken that he is going through this.
Originally published at www.middlecinnamonroll.com on November 21, 2016.
Originally published at medium.com