When your child picks up a handful of dirt, walks over to another child, calls him a name, and throws the dirt right in his face… while you sit mere feet away and say nothing…. you are teaching him that what he is doing is okay.
When one of your soccer players tells you about the dirt thrown in his face… and all you do is tell him to go line up at mid-field… you are telling him that what happened to him is okay.
When two boys are shoving a child back and forth between them as they stand in line to take shots on goal, when they keep doing it over and over… with coaches standing right beside them and parents watching from the sidelines, no one saying anything… it tells those little boys that what they are doing is okay.
And since that’s okay, those same boys start punching the boy standing between them. And yanking on his arms. And pushing him to the ground.
But none of it is okay.
It’s not a matter of soccer being a contact sport. This was not contact made accidentally in the course of playing, when multiple players are going after a ball.
It’s not a matter of “boys will be boys.” I have three boys of my own. I know their play can be rough. But that doesn’t mean they can physically attack another child.
Yet by the silence of every adult on that field, these boys were learning that they could get away with it.
And if they can get away with all of that when they are surrounded by adults then what would they try if the adults weren’t there?
And that little boy being hurt? He was learning that adults wouldn’t keep him safe. That he could be hurt by other kids and no one would do anything to stop it.
And that’s not okay.
So that is why I stormed onto that field and yelled at those boys, telling them they are not allowed to touch my son.
And when they still did not stop immediately, I yelled again, telling them to stop right now. I could see that my son was getting ready to blow, as you can only expect him to take so much.
The boys finally stopped and I marched back off the field, after telling them all to keep their hands to themselves.
I told the coaches “That is not okay. They can’t do that to each other.”
And I glared at the other parents and asked “What the hell is the matter with you?”
I sat back in my chair, shaking.
Repeating over and over to myself, “This is not okay, this is not okay.”
Had it been my boys who had been doing any of these things, I would have spoken up. I would have yelled out at them to stop. I would have pulled them off the field if they didn’t stop.
I would not have just sat there and let it happen.
We can teach our kids right from wrong. We can tell them that they aren’t allowed to hurt others. That’s a lesson they should all learn.
But just because they have been taught that lesson doesn’t mean they’ll always behave perfectly. They are kids- they are still learning.
That’s why it’s our job as adults to remind them of these things. To put a stop to it when we see a child hurting another child.
Maybe I simply should have pulled my boys off the field and left to get them away from a situation where they were being hurt.
But then again- they weren’t doing anything wrong. I’m glad they saw that their mom would stand up for them and keep them safe. I’m glad they saw that the kids hurting them were made to stop. That they saw that it wasn’t okay.
Because I can’t always be there to step in.
And this situation has shown me that I can’t count on other adults to step in, either.
So they need to learn that if something like this is happening, it’s okay to try to get it to stop. They need to know that sort of behavior is not okay and that they don’t have to stand there and take it.
And maybe those parents and coaches will think more about situations like that and realize they should step in if their players are hurting each other or if their children are hurting someone else.
That silent observation isn’t going to stop it. That it will most likely escalate.
And that it doesn’t take much to stop it. Let the kids know they are being watched. Tell them to stop.
Talk to the kids about what is appropriate and what is not.
Realize that they are the kids and we are the adults. And we have a responsibility to guide them.
I still can’t make myself be okay with what happened. It went way past the point it should have, given how many adults were right there watching. I still find myself muttering to myself “It’s not okay, I don’t know how to be okay with this” whenever I think about it.
When we wonder why bullying has gotten so out of control, realize that adults who choose to do nothing when they see things like this are a part of the problem.
Don’t let these things slide past in the name of boys will be boys. Let kids know that it’s not okay.