When Does a Bully Become a Lost Cause?

There is a child at Puck’s school who is hurting. And I don’t know what to do about it. In part because this child has been bullying my child.

Puck started a new school for grade seven. He’s not just settling in well—he’s thriving. He’s happy to go to school. He’s excited about his class projects. He’s testing really well and working very hard and he’s making new friends. And he’s very proud of himself. And I’m so happy for him—because this has been such a very long journey.

But he’s come home telling me about the other child, who was sitting near him. The child is disruptive in class. Puck has heard that the boy was suspended regularly last year, and he’s already been sent home a few times this year and it’s only October. Puck has suggested that the teacher is unable to assert any sort of control over him. And last week, the other child told Puck that he’d beat him up after school.

Look, I’m not taking the threat lightly. The boy very clearly has some issues. He’s threatened my child and Puck thought the threat was credible enough that he reported it and was worried about it. I have gone to lengths to reassure him that he’s safe. That he did the right thing.

But it seems to me that the child is very clearly calling out for help. He’s figured out what he needs to say to get suspended from school. He doesn’t have to make much effort—and he gets sent home for a few days—away from school. He’s struggling.

After I spoke to the teacher today, I really can’t blame him. They’ve given up on him. They’re not trying to find the underlying issue and solve it. They don’t see a point. The school is not focused on helping him—they’re trying to get through the day without him hurting anyone.

I get it. It’s a big class. Teachers only have so much bandwidth. And this kid would take a lot of bandwidth.

[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#bully #compassion”]I get it. It’s a big class. Teachers only have so much bandwidth.[/tweetthis]

I suggested to the teacher that I’d explained to Puck that the boy deserved his compassion. The teacher told me that they’d told Puck to stay away from him. That there’s no hope of a friendship. She told me that she thought that the child’s mother should pay for her hair dye for all the grey hairs he was causing. That they’re watching the child closely. The very plain implication was that the school’s administration is working to have the child removed from the school.

And even though I had my own school bullies, even though I was afraid to eat in the cafeteria for the first two years of high school, I still feel compassion for this child. I still feel like he might not be beyond reach—if only someone would advocate for him. If only someone could reach him.

And I’m asking myself why I feel that way. I married a bully. I divorced a bully. I put as much distance between him and me as humanly possible. But maybe I’m wondering if he had a similar childhood. Maybe I’m wondering if they gave up on him as well. Maybe I’m wondering if someone had shown my ex a little bit of compassion when he was a child, if he would have learned to show it himself. Maybe he would have learned empathy.

At what point does a bully become a lost cause?

I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. But I’m not sure what to do in this case. What do you think? Should I tell Puck to steer clear? Or should I tell him that this child still deserves compassion? What would you do?


  1. This touched me very deeply Liv. I was a bully and I was hurting so bad, but no one ever noticed. I was 15 and I had just lost my father. I was confused, hurt, angry, and scared. My whole family had fallen a part and I felt so lost. I just wanted someone to help me even though I acted like I didn’t need anyone. I quit school at 16, married an abusive man who was much older than me and had my son by the time I was 19. I often wonder how different my life would have turned out had I had the support I needed then. I’m one of the lucky ones though, my life did turn out very well even though I was a complete asshole back then.

  2. This is a difficult situation for you. I agree totally with you that if nothing is done to help this boy he’s heading for a grim future.
    I honestly don’t think it’s ever too late. When I was teaching, some of my timetable was in a unit with kids who had what was classed as “social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.” Some had been removed from certain classes, some had been excluded and the unit served as a way to get them back into school. Of all the kids I saw there, there was only one I didn’t like when we worked one-to-one. I had some kids that in class behaved appallingly, yet in the unit were polite, friendly and worked hard. One boy stood out to me because after a period in the unit, we both went to the art department where I was his class teacher. It was like a different boy. In the unit, he had my full attention, and didn’t need to try to get my approval, I guess in class the tried to get his peers approval the only way he knew how, which was by messing around.

    There are a lot of issues here, and I agree with Jane Thrive that you need to consider safety. One suggestion might be to remember to have empathy for yourself as well as for the boy. Empathy for ourselves helps us feel empowered I think, and possibly even just by approaching this in the loving, compassionate way that you are,
    you create a shift the “energy” of the situation. That might sound a bit woohoo, but it’s not really, and I’ve tagged you in the comments of a post on Facebook that’s really an illustration of that. It’s a set-up situation, so I’m not suggesting adopting this would instantly solve the issue, but just watching the video might give you some ideas.

    I salute your caring approach!

    1. Author

      I’ve seen that video – and I’ve been saving it to share with both my kids. It makes a good point.

  3. This is super hard. And you are such a lovely person. We need more people like you, sister. We so much do.

  4. Sometimes as early as 3 or 4 if the damage done to that child is violent enough to fuck up their spirit. I know an adult like that and I really do think there was never any hope.

    Puck may have to learn the hard way – that you can have compassion for someone from a safe distance, and that it’s important to consider your own safety first.

    Brave for even caring, though. I love that you do.

    1. Author

      I hate to think that people can be so rigidly formed at such a tender age. It really sucks.

  5. Wow, Liv, this is a hard one, because it involves safety. Any chance of reaching out or finding out more about this child’s family/home life…? I hear you about having empathy, and perhaps this boy is young enough that empathy can matter and make a difference.

    On the other hand, I can see also how you want to protect yourself and your son. It’s not yours or Puck’s responsibility to fix or save other people (and I know you know that), but we can show empathy in the ways that we can, as long as it’s not at the expense of safety… <3 <3 <3

    Can I just say that I love your caring heart! <3

    1. Author

      Exactly. It’s hard to draw a line. I want him to be safe. But I also want the other boy to know that it doesn’t have to be that way. So hard.

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