Is bullying ever useful?

I wrote this almost six years ago.

I wrote this yesterday.

Time’s a funny old bird: her gnarly hands massage pain and anger and disappointment away. But I pinned emotions wont to fade to a page, captured memories prone to escape with words. I read them again. And they still sting.


Bullying is a horrible thing. Bullying that is so calculating, so persistent that it leaves its small victims sleepless at night so that their eyes seem wider for the creeping shadows beneath them.

But. But.

I will always be sorry my son endured such unhappiness.

But I cannot be sorry that it was a catalyst for change.

It re-routed my son’s school career; it’s been a much more rewarding one as a consequence.

I didn’t sit down then, back then, with a pen and a sheet of paper and list what possible good could come out of the emotional fallout that attends a case of bullying so bad children have to be relocated.

It evolved gently over time so that I was able to pick each unexpected bonus from the wreckage and hold it in my hands.

He is, as a result of what happened to him, without question, a happier kid. He might even be a better kid. He says, ‘we all learned a lesson’. He learned what constitutes strength and what makes a person weak. He learned bad things happen to good people. And he learned, and this is the best bit, that you can get over it. Come out the other side and feel the sun on your skin. Psychologist Dr Helene Guldberg acknowledges, to some outrage, that children can learn from bad experiences

And me? What did I learn?

Then, back then, I thought there was some formula to raising and educating children. I thought I needed to do it the way my parents had done it, or the way my peers were doing it.

Conforming is often easier. Somebody’s already made all the rules.

But the action of flouting the experts, the teachers, most of my friends and plucking my son out of a school that wasn’t working for him to send him to one that ultimately did – and brilliantly – liberated in me some latent bloody minded unconventional streak.

And left me with the self belief to do things differently. Sometimes.

It’s why, for example, Hat goes to school in the ether, whilst sitting at a desk in an Outpost despite criticism from friends. It’s why I supported my son’s decision not to take up a place at a sixth form college. And it’s why, on my way to a snow bound England to consider two schools for my elder daughter I will watch her face carefully and I will ask, what do you think?

But it could be such an opportunity for her, friends urge. Perhaps. But opportunities are quite wasted unless children are happy and have the attendant confidence to exploit them.



21 Responses to “Is bullying ever useful?”

  1. Wife in Hong Kong Says:

    I read your article and your post with feeling. My 10 year old was bullied at his first term at his new school in Hong Kong, most frighteningly by a teacher…. I wrote about it in The Blame Game
    I went to the school and made lots of noise and this term things are better, for the moment. It has taught me, however, that it is hard to support the ethos of a school that allows such things to go on. What message does a bullying teacher convey to impressionable boys? We are looking for a new school in Hong Kong although this is not easy and my husband has been back to the UK to visit his old prep-school. I am perhaps a little scared that my boy will say, Boarding school? Yes please? as I so want to keep my family together. But if he does, I will listen

  2. Mom de Plume Says:

    Hi RM, thank you for reaffirming my belief that I don’t have to conform. I have always tried to keep in my mind that I know my children better than anyone else and therefore I know what’s best. I hope I always remember. And I hope I also always listen.

  3. Mozi Esme's Mommy Says:

    I believe you can find beauty from even the worst events…

  4. nappy valley girl Says:

    Brilliant article from 2003 and really interesting update. I am so glad that your son came through it all right.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I had to put up with bullying at boarding school . And while it wasn’t nice, perhaps I did learn from it. I have a strong sense of injustice and fighting for the underdog, which has made me into the adult I am today (and probably informed my political beliefs as well!) . On the other hand, it has also made me very wary of a certain type of person – the bullying type. I tend to take vehemently against them and avoid them like the plague, which hasn’t always helped me in the world of work!

    What you say at the end about it only being worth it if children are happy is very, very true.

  5. French Fancy Says:

    Those articles you wrote really summed up the awfulness that the whole family must have gone through. How good you must feel now that you did indeed do the right thing when you switched your son’s school – how well he has done.

    How does your daughter feel about going to school in cold old England?

  6. Grannymar Says:

    Another great post.

    Each child is unique and while one type of education is suitable for one child it is not so for another. Sometimes we have to travel through a dark tunnel in life to appreciate the sunshine beyond. Listening is one of the most important skills that a parent can learn.

    Well done for listening!

  7. Paradiselostintranslation Says:

    I wept my way through your powerful article from 2003 about yr son. I just couldn’t bear to hear what he suffered. I am a teacher & have always drummed it into students to TELL SOMEONE, that it does make a difference & the bullies want them to believe nothing can be done, to maintain their power. I also have always strongly vocalised my stance on bullying in the classroom & homed in on the ousiders & underdogs and bent over backwards to help & show them that I valued them , would listen & take them seriously. My son was bullied in all 3 grades he was in in Sri Lanka, (nothing compared to yr son’s mistreatment) and then again here in ALbania in a small friendly familyish school. he, like your son is funny, articulate, clever, v sporty, no obvious ticks or physical differences (in fact I’d say he was devatstatingly handsome;-)) I can’t work it out, except that he shows his emotions. Kids can see they’ve hurt or upset him. Also twice it has been girls bullying with verbal, humiliating , and sometimes physical bullying. I’m glad the scars are healing and there was a happy ending, and well done for taking a stance and for fighting so hard for your son. He will never ever forget that. It’s such a powerful & strengthening thing to know someone is all for you and will do anything & everythign for you. That’s what a mother is after all.

  8. janelle Says:

    quite right too…! so lovely bumping into you today…hope trip goes well…and enjoy the snow! you looked GREAT! lots love xx j

  9. kitschen pink Says:

    I think it’s very important for parents to go their own way and ignore advice and opinion which they feel is wrong. After all, when our children are all grown up and tell us the things we did, at least we can put our hands up and say it was genuinely all our fault!

  10. Expat Mum Says:

    I can’t believe anyone would question you. Well, actually I can, but you know what I mean. Your instinct as a mother was to take him out of harm’s way. What would possess parents to make their children put up with such behaviour? You know your children better than anyone else, which usually also means you know what’s best for them.

  11. Iota Says:

    Oh your last paragraph says it so well. I LOVE the confidence that being at school here in the US has given my two boys (even though the change in handwriting styles has probably ruined the younger one’s writing for ever). Knowing that they can start again, make friends again, belong to a new environment, all that will surely stand them in good stead.

    So much for the teacher friend who hit the very softest spot of my soft underbelly when we were preparing to move, and urged me not to be away from Britian too long. “Nothing can replace a good education” she said. I now know that (a) she was wrong, and (b) what arrogance it is that assumes only Britain can provide a good education.

    I think living outside the box (even if enforced) helps one to think outside the box.

  12. Potty Mummy Says:

    Brilliant post, brilliant articles. I think I will bookmark them just in case we ever come up a similar problem (and for some reason, I think we might).

  13. Kit Says:

    Middle class good manners are such a handicap – well done for getting past those and doing what was right for your son – it’s so hard with all the experts telling you what to do, that sometimes you lose the way. It’s so great that he has come out with a positive take on it and found his own strengths.

    I now feel more reassured on our choice so far for our children. Our son is bright and a lot of people think we should be sending him to an academic school to give him the best chance etc etc. All three kids are at a little Waldorf school with hardly any facilities, multicultural and rural, but his class teacher is great for him.

    We now have to think of high schools. Now I’ve read this I am going to make sure he gets a chance to look at the options himself and just hope he doesn’t opt for an ultra conservative all boys Cape Town school!

  14. Bush Mummy Says:

    I haven’t read this yet but plan to once my children are in bed, but just to say that I have tagged you on my blog. Sorry if you’ve had it already but I love your photos so do it again!

    BM x

  15. grit Says:

    bravo you for listening, responding, thinking and acting. schools that develop a policy to deal with bullies only start on the process. but i think withdrawal from a situation where problems are not being addressed is a positive act.

  16. KatduGers Says:

    I know it’s a cliché, but every cloud really does have a silver lining – there is always some good that comes from any situation.

    I’m so pleased your son is now happy in his school.

    Stop by my blog sometime – you have an award to pick up!

  17. Blogexpat Says:

    Only a few words to alert about the new blog directory for people living abroad, travelers and expatriates: BlogExpat:
    This free blog service has become a directory of expat blogs, open to any blog of people living abroad. This is an exciting new feature and you can immediately add your expat/travel blog in the BlogExpat directory and help us grow the community:
    You will get a personal page for the profile of your blog with its latest posts and will be able to reach easily expat, travelleurs, targeted visitors and neighbours who can find you thanks to our Google Maps.
    We hope to see you soon on

    PS: you can also add our logo with the appropriate colours to your blog here:

  18. Hadriana Says:

    Enjoyed all of that RM. Well done to you and to your boy/man! May you all continue to flourish! Cool.

  19. Yvonne Says:

    It`s always best to go with your gut instinct, otherwise it nags at you and your hit later with those “I wish I had…” “I should have…” Well done for taking him away from that situation.
    My eldest son was bullied when he first went to high school, he didn`t tell us. One day he returned from school, his new blazer with the elbows out, hole in the trousers, blood on the white shirt. In a state of shock I said “Blood”. he answered “It`s not mine” Then I found out that since day one an older lad had continually pushed him out of the queues, threw his books away etc. He had simply snapped, the lad never approached him again. Well worth the destroyed clothing. Not that I advocate violence, but what if my son had bottled it up and took another path to harm himself?

  20. asqfish Says:

    Excellent article, I feel for you, it is the most painful thing for a mother to know that her child is being bullied and remain ambivalent, and unable to confront the authorities to avoid being labelled a “trouble maker”
    You did great ! How is your son doing now?

  21. working mum Says:

    Wise words. As a teacher I am often surprised when parents don’t listen to their children, but do listen to other people pressuring them to do ‘what is best’ for their children. No one knows a child better than its parents and as parents we must have the confidence to do what WE think is right for them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: