My fifth-grade son betrayed me with his bullying and lies

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a homemaker in my 40s and I need your advice about my fifth-grade son.

In a newsletter I received from the school he attends, I learned that bullying had been occurring among quite a few of the fifth graders and the school ended up getting involved to deal with it.

All of those who took part in the bullying have since apologized, and according to the newsletter, the situation is in the process of being resolved. While I was shocked, my son put my mind at ease because when I asked him if he was involved, he told me that he was not.

But the following day his homeroom teacher contacted me and informed me that my son had in fact been party to the bullying. This devastated me.

With tears in my eyes, I scolded him for taking part in the bullying and then lying about not being a part of it.

I feel like my son betrayed me because I thought he was a kind-hearted kid. Since then, I’ve been hard on him. I know I shouldn’t be like this, but fury now runs unabated in my feelings toward him.

—T, Tochigi Prefecture

Dear Ms. T:

The fact that your son was involved in bullying alone is shocking enough, but he also lied to you. It must be very difficult for you to stay calm.

Be that as it may, in the world of children, these things are rather common. So, instead of persistently blaming him for his misconduct, I would like for you to try and imagine what is running through his mind.

If we put the shoe on the other foot, might it be possible that he lied to you because you, in a way, made him do it? Children can read between the lines and tell parents what they want to hear. Your son might have been more worried about letting you down than being yelled at. To get to the bottom of the lies of a child, a little ingenuity is needed when questioning them. This is something that I have to remind myself from time to time.

When it comes to bullying, it’s not only the ringleaders that should be blamed — accomplices should, too. But those same accomplices who took part in the bullying of another child might have done so out of a fear of being targeted if they didn’t join in the bullying.

Such cases also happen in the world of adults, when grown-ups are too weak to say “No” to something in a similar vein. You know what I mean?

I hope that you and your son will take the time to patiently discuss how to say “No” to something that is wrong by looking at the weaknesses of the human mind. That way, he will hopefully not close his mind off to you and others.

—Masami Ohinata, university president