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By Jessica T

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About this blog: I'm a late thirties mother of a ten-year-old and infant twins. My family moved to Menlo Park 6 years ago from Virginia - where I grew up, went to college, got married, had my first born, and got an MBA (in that order). I'm a manag...  (More)

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Guinea pig bullies

Uploaded: Jan 3, 2014
My daughter's 5th grade class convinced their teacher they needed a class pet. A day later, a student delivered a guinea pig - given to the class by her parents. My daughter was ambivalent about this pursuit from the start. "Mommy, they sort of pressured our teacher into it."

One afternoon, I was attending to the twins' needs when my daughter casually mentioned a lunchtime incident. Several of the kids were hanging out in the classroom. When their teacher stepped out of the classroom for a few minutes, several girls took the prized guinea pig out of her cage, put her on the class rug, and started dropping water on her back. The guinea pig - stressed - pooped on the rug. When the teacher returned and asked what happened, my daughter blurted out the series of events. The teacher concluded that the guinea pig should stay in her cage going forward.

"Mommy, do you think I did the right thing?"

"I don't know," I told her. "I wasn't there. It sounds like you did tattle tale, and were slightly emotional. But on the other hand, I think you were sticking up for a defenseless animal, weren't you?" My daughter told me she had homework, so I left her alone for a little while.

I returned to her room a half hour later to find her writing a letter. "What are you up to?" I asked. She explained that at the end of the day, the three girls responsible for the guinea pig incident handed her a note. Here's what it said:

"We did not like how you said what you said…" signed Guinea Pig Bully #1

"Hey, I didn't like the way you told on us even though it was the right thing to do. Personally, I wouldn't have told...but I guess it was your decision." signed Guinea Pig Bully #2

"It was not your business it was mean." signed Guinea Pig Bully #3

My daughter's note apologized for her behavior. "Why are you apologizing to these girls for defending an animal that couldn't defend itself?" I asked her. My daughter looked confused.

"Shouldn't I kill them with kindness, Mommy, and avoid conflict?" We had a long talk. Yes, in general, magnanimity was the right approach. But what was really going on here? To me, a note signed by three girls and delivered to my daughter felt a lot like bullying - a subject my daughter's school has dedicated countless assemblies to. These girls were asserting that even if my daughter felt compelled to "do the right thing," she ought not cross them. And - I wanted my daughter to spend her lunch recess outdoors getting exercise, not participating in extracurricular classroom drama.

We decided to recycle her apology letter. Then we practiced some ways she could speak directly to the authors of the bullying note about what happened without apologizing or backing down, but in a way that would tactfully allow them to move on in favor of putting the class guinea pig's interests first. Sadly, my daughter didn't have a chance to discuss the incident with the girls. The next day, there was more guinea pig drama when the guinea pig had a stillbirth.

My daughter learned an important lesson that week. Bullying comes in all shapes and sizes. It doesn't just look like someone getting beaten up on the blacktop. It often comes from those in a position of power trying to silence those they perceive as weaker.

My daughter has been spending recess outside playing basketball ever since.

How have you explained the nuances bullying to your children? How have you helped them negotiate the subtleties of doing what's right in the face of social pressures?

Comments

Posted by Lisa, a resident of another community,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 10:27 am

I was put off by your response to your daughter saying she tattle taled. The term has negative connotations and likely was part of the reason she felt confusion. Speaking up for someone (or an animal) defenseless is always the right thing to do, and never should be called "tattling".

Another lesson is that guinea pigs should not be school pets. I am surprised that the school district allows it. Many of them prohibit classroom animals, because of allergies and liability issues. Living alone is a small cage (check out www.guineapigcages.com for appropriate cage size standards) in a classroom is a sad, cruel existence. Was the poor thing taken to the vet after the miscarriage? Does she still live in the classroom, subject to more abuse?


Posted by Mary , a resident of Barron Park,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 10:47 am

Did anyone else notice the casual mention of children being left unattended inside a public school's classroom? A credentialed staff member must be in the classroom with children at all times.


Posted by A., a resident of another community,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 10:56 am

Your daughter absolutely did the right thing -- no tattle taling about it. She stood up for an otherwise defenseless creature that was being mistreated. The stillbirth may well have occurred because the guinea pig was manhandled during her pregnancy. It's a miracle she herself survived. This is a horribly sad story, and I sincerely hope the teacher considers taking the pig home or rehoming it somewhere where it could live the remainder of its life in peace and comfort.


Posted by Anna, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 10:58 am

I'm completely on your daughter's side. I wouldn't think what she did is a tattle tale at all. And I would encourage her to speak to the girls and if need be to the teacher as well about the letters she received. At this age the bullies know what they are doing and if not facing the consequences they become bolder and more aggressive.
And to Lisa: I think that guinea pigs make great classroom pets. The cage size is rarely a problem, as in every classroom I saw them really nice and big. They are never crammed and they are always clean (because let's face it, it is a public place and no parent will feel comfortable with their kid in a stinky room). Guinea pigs thrive in attention kids give them. Sure, it is best to watch out for the most clumsy huggers, but overall kids are usually very careful and considerate with classroom pets. As for miscarriage - it happens pretty often and is probably unrelated to handling. There is no need at all to take a guinea pig to a vet unless the next day there is a problem with its health (fever, lack of appetite ) which would indicate incomplete birth. By the way, couple drops of water while not something nice to do to a pet, is not cruelty and abuse. Guinea pigs poop and pee not only when they are frightened. I also think that what Jessica's daughter did hopefully prevented further mishandling of the animal. No reason to deprive the whole class of wonderful experience that taking care of an animal would provide.


Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Hi all, thanks for your comments. I wasn't there so it's hard for me to judge what went on. My daughter is honest, but she's no saint (none of us are!) She clearly felt like she had done something wrong as did the girls who sent her home with that note. With the exception of posting this piece, I try to let her settle her own conflicts and not get involved.

I also think the world of my daughter's school and teacher - I leave it to the education professionals to judge what is appropriate inside the classroom. (My daughter also has a teacher aide who was likely present during the alleged guinea pig incident.) You'll be happy to know that the teacher did take the guinea pig to the vet after her stillbirth, and she's doing well.


Posted by a male engineer, a resident of another community,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Jessica, I'm not surprised to see these criticisms of your using the phrase "tattle tale". The phrase has negative connotations, and its continued use is in the interest of those who wish to do wrong with impunity. The notes from the girls cannot make this interest clearer; indeed, girl #2 is astoundingly self aware about it.

If you see something that is wrong, there are perhaps no more than these two ethical actions, from which you may choose one or both. If you are able, make the wrong right. If you are not able, then tell people about that wrong.

We must move away from this terrible error of thinking there is honor in covering up the wrongs of others, or in thinking there is weakness in exposing them. This fallacy stems from the idea that telling others about a wrong shows one is weak and so unable to right the wrong oneself. The solution to the fallacy is recognizing that putting the interests of others before one's own vanity is the honorable action.


Posted by Please dear God make it stop, a resident of Community Center,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 6:10 pm

How long must we read this clueless stumblebumming through parenting? Is it tattling to report tormenting small animals? Yes if you are want to protect sociopaths. Otherwise no. Every time I click on this I wish I could unsee it. I take it bac you should go back to hooter hiders.


Posted by a male engineer, a resident of another community,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 8:49 pm

I keep thinking about this post. Something has been bothering me all day about it. I think it is this. Unlike your previous posts, this one explores the decisions and actions of young people and not yourself, your colleagues, or your peers. I feel uncomfortable about that. I am sorry I wrote a comment earlier on the topic, except as it pertained to one of your actions in the matter. I think we should not discuss the actions of those too young to participate in the discussion. Is it possible that you are being a "tattle tale" (in the etymologically correct sense of the phrase) and we are encouraging it?

I think your previous post, as well as those discussing the nuances of breastfeeding in public, are good examples of issues that can be explored safely and to good purpose in your blog; indeed, I believe your previous post barely scratched the surface of that monolith that is the intersection of consumer technology and parenting, and there might be much good in exploring the topic more thoroughly.


Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jan 4, 2014 at 8:26 am

Jessica T is a registered user.

Male engineer - I understand your concern. I think this post primarily has to do with parenting and if we can't discuss specifics (while protecting anonymity), I'm not sure this blog has real value. And I do have some readers who argue it has no value at all! I'm going to try lots of topics on for size. Thanks for your suggestions on additional topics.


Posted by Agree, no value, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Jan 4, 2014 at 4:02 pm

I agree with male engineer. People do know who you are -- you're not that anonymous just because you omit your last name. I found you in one google search. You have given a lot of identifying information. Your 10 year old daughter might not care, because she doesn't know that you and your readers are calling them cruel bullies and sociopaths online, but their parents -- who probably do read this sludge -- can figure it out. I am not sure this is wise at all. And if you go back to Hooter Hiders I will take my paper copy of the Weekly, wrap it around a fish, and send it back to the Weekly. Find something to say that isn't so stalker-y. Those women minding their own business at the pool and your daughter's classmates didn't sign up to life their lives online so that you can get "published." Let your pearls of wisdom drip down someone else's drain. I suggest that consumer parenting idea is pretty good. Cell phones for kids. That's a good topic. Or amount of television. Or computer gaming -- bad or good? You were previously suggested to do work/life balance but did one on that then boomeranged right back to inaneville.


Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Jan 4, 2014 at 7:37 pm

I once used my first name on a topic about schools and thought that nobody would know who I was. The topic was school related, to do with something about transfer from elementary to middle school. I was bringing something to the attention of parents who were about to go through this for the first time and I felt the schools were not dealing with the issue.

To cut a long story short, I was hounded each time I went on the elementary campus for a couple of weeks by many people. My kids even got to hear about it. I thought I was passing on information that was useful, but from some of the comments I was told I was interfering. A couple of people thanked me for the information and wanted to hear more. I could have made the same comment at a PTA meeting but I didn't. So much for thinking I was anonymous.

I have done much more to keep myself anonymous when commenting here ever since. Part of the reason is to keep my kids out of it. Part of the reason is that I don't want to get into deep discussions on issues when I have my kids with me. Some of the reason is I don't want to get into deep discussion on these sort of topics when I am in line to pay at the grocery store.

As a result, to Jessica and others, please don't say things whereby people can be identified. You will regret this blog as and when you get back to school and your daughter will hear more about this than you expect. Internet privacy is something that parents have to learn about keeping their kids out of harm's way too.


Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Jan 4, 2014 at 8:04 pm

What I tried to say above didn't come out well.

In the story I gave, I could have made my comments in a PTA meeting and been more anonymous as only the people present would have heard and I could have spoken with anybody interested afterwards and not had the same consequences in what I thought was anonymous here. The post I made must have been linked by someone on some email tree the way the news got around.

Your daughter will be identified and so will her classmates. I have no comment to make on the incident itself, but I feel sure that every parent in your daughter's class will have been alerted to this, your daughter will be identified and so will the teacher. The consequences of this blog will affect her in ways completely separate from the incident you have described.

Sorry to have to say this, but protecting your family is something you as a parent must prioritize.


Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jan 4, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

The topic of bullying is apt I see - and sadly it relates to adults (especially women who speak their mind) as much as children. I don't post anything that my daughter and I haven't discussed and aren't fully prepared to deal with publicly.

That said, I'm disenchanted with the tone many of my anonymous readers who chose to comment are taking on this blog. As a result, I'm going to require posters to login in order to comment with the hope that it will foster a more civil discussion.


Posted by That's predictable, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Jan 5, 2014 at 9:16 am

Pitiful that you think you are being "bullied." People are giving you advice based on their experience. Others don't think you show very good judgment or that your blog is repetive, self indulgent, or both. That's not bullying even if you don't like the feedback. Even harsh critique in strong language of a public blog that you yourself put out there is not "bullying." It's public discussion that you invited by putting it up. Do you think that people who write for websites or newspapers only get praise? Claiming to be bullied is a weak-minded response that transforms you into a pitiable victim and takes the focus off the merits of your work, which is minimal to none. It also trivializes actual bullying. You constantly reveal too much personal information. From discussing your boobs to your friends boobs to your team response to seeing your boobs (obviously boobs are a leitmotif) to facts about your daughter that she will have trouble living down you have repeatedly received feedback from older and wiser parents to stop the relentless over sharing. Instead of taking that seriously you have ignored it and now plan to cut it off. I think requiring login to comment is a great idea since that typically means that a thread goes dead and that is what should happen to this wretched trash.


Posted by Another mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jan 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm

I really think we should cut Jessica some slack here. There's clearly a lot of good advice and many valid points made in the comments, but the tone of the criticism at times is such that it makes them more difficult to appreciate. Obviously, people are free to write what they wish, and hyperbole and the like are legitimate forms of rhetoric, but we live in a small community here, and wouldn't it be nice to try to have a dialogue that's fundamentally kind and respectful. Where we could say, hey I'm that person who wrote those comments -- we had a good exchange, didn't we, and while we had to agree to disagree, I am still very glad to have made your acquaintance. As a parent of older children, this reminds me of how teens on Facebook sometimes pile on with mean comments, and we as parents obviously disapprove of that. Here we are communicating as adults, but we are still modeling for our young people how to have a civil discourse. Would we want to show our kids how we write when we're behind the veil of anonymity? You can say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. Just one opinion.


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 5, 2014 at 2:36 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks "Another mom". I agree with what you wrote.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 5, 2014 at 7:13 pm

I have to agree awkwardly with both predictable and another mom. I think that what has happened is that Jessica ignores comments. She's actually pretty infuriating. People try nicely to tell her that they prefer not to read so much about nursing covers for example. 5 more. Over time the comments have gotten kind of sharp but that's because she has shown herself to have a tin ear for readers. I just stopped reading for the most part. Others have gotten critical. Either way I don't personally think this is a very strong contribution. Another possible answer is that she (and Levy) can get a thicker skin. That's the job stop moaning or quit.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Jan 6, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Screw those mean little bullying girls, and bully for your little girl! Hopefully your daughter is learning when and when not to tattle. Sounds like she's one the right track.


Posted by Sybil I. Zachen, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Jan 6, 2014 at 6:33 pm

The point to me is to open a discussion on bullying, and the sooner it becomes easy to talk about, the better off we all will be.

Did you know, the Center of Independent Living, will tell you that 60% of people with disabilities are bullied? Know what disabled folks call the rest of us? TAB... Temporarily Abled Bodies.

My friend in Palo Alto is disabled, and was bullied to the point they had to move. Although the PA police were called several times. What do we as a society do to restore our pride in treating one another kindly? Design robots with compassion? Put equal messages of kindness into media to offset all the violence and aggression we see constantly? Its even in kids' cartoons... watch them sometime.

It all begins in how we treat those who are weaker than ourselves - like animals...

So thank you for raising the topic.


Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford,
on Jan 6, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Your daughter sounds like a really lovely, compassionate girl. Good for her for doing the right thing.

And I absolutely agree with the first poster, Lisa; animals should not be in the classroom for the reasons she spelled out.


Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jan 6, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Nora - Thanks. I think my daughter is lovely and compassionate too, but of course I'm biased.

Sybil and Hmmm - I actually really like the girls who sent my daughter the note (who remain anonymous except to my daughter and me). These girls are trying things on for size and figuring things out as ten year old girls do. Their note was actually kind of amusing once we pinpointed what was going on. I agree that we need to nip bullying in the bud - luckily we were able to here. It starts with human kindness and setting a good example for our kids cannot be underestimated.

Readers - I also want you to know that I take your feedback very seriously. Although I may not act on it immediately, I listen to everything!


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community,
on Jan 7, 2014 at 12:18 am

They're TEN years old and treating an animal that way? They're certainly old enough to know better, little brats. Maybe they'll grow out of it, maybe not. I bet your daughter never forgets what they did. I've never forgotten lousy treatment of animals I witnessed as a kid, like the neighborhood budding sociopath (whose stepdad was mayor of Menlo later on) deliberately crushing baby frogs.


Coincidence that the poor guinea pig had a medical emergency soon after?


Posted by Jim Weller, a resident of another community,
on Jan 7, 2014 at 5:02 am

Hi Jessica, I enjoyed your post. Aggression lives in us all, even those who bully their way around in the effort to fight bullies. It\\\'s a universal human trait, and I believe you did well in affirming your daughter\\\'s compassion for the pet, and in educating her to address the problem at the right level. As an elementary school principal for 30 years, yes, I can be sensitive to the term "tattle tale" and how it often shuts students up. But you didn\\\'t leave her to feel shamed. You also helped her confront the girls who\\\'d been mean to the pet. So, Bravo! It\\\'s mother\\\'s like you who make my work a delight. btw, this incident is one reason I believe in classroom pets. Students learn from everything in their environments, the richer, the better. It hinges on the wisdom of the adults who can counsel without controlling.


Posted by Jim Weller, a resident of another community,
on Jan 7, 2014 at 5:06 am

(Sorry for all the back slashes! They got added somehow after I posted, and I see they happen before every apostrophe. Let's see if it does it to this sentence too.)


Posted by Jim Weller, a resident of another community,
on Jan 7, 2014 at 5:07 am

Weird.


Posted by Mom of 2, a resident of another community,
on Jan 7, 2014 at 6:39 am

Thanks for the post on this topic. Our kids get both anti-bullying messages AND "no tattling" messages. But the intersection of the two is confusing. My son's preschool class has a "tattle turtle" picture on the wall that they can go talk to when they are tempted to tattle on another kid. That's good, I suppose, but what about stopping the bad behavior? I'm not sure how to approach this and I think you handled it well. Kudos to your strong little girl.


Posted by mom of teenagers, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jan 8, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Jessica - You should be very proud of your daughter for standing up for a defenseless animal (and my two cents it that I don't consider defending someone else tattling…) Aside from that, please be very careful with what you post about your daughter online. I'm quite sure your daughter's classmates know both who you are and who the girls that wrote the note are - and although they were absolutely wrong in their treatment of an animal and your daughter, the internet is not the appropriate forum to discuss other people's children.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Jan 8, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Sure it's an appropriate forum for that. She is not naming names, it's a relevant issue and her kids don't live in a vacuum - they're surrounded by other people, including kids. What's with the helicopter parenting of someone else's kids?


Posted by Mom of teenagers, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 8:25 am

@hmmm, I stand by my comment, while it would be appropriate to state that her daughter stood up to others students defending an animal, there was too much identifying detail given about young children. I guarantee that when my kids were in 4 th or 5th grade, everyone would have been able to identify exactly who the bullies were. The specifics should be dealt with at the school not on the internet. I can totally see this following her daughter into middle school and causing issues there.

That said, I'm continually amazed what people post about their kids online...


Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 8:40 am

I totally agree with Mom of Teenagers.

We are continually trying to teach our kids not to put personal stuff on the internet. Some parents haven't got the message that they shouldn't put stuff about their kids on the internet either. As parents we must not have double standards. Our kids learn from us. Warning about what is appropriate to discuss in a public forum, or on Facebook, is one of the topics that could be discussed on a blog, but this specific incident gives too many details and has crossed the line of what is appropriate and what is not. Saying that mother and daughter are prepared to deal with the consequences of public disclosure of this incident does not address the privacy of the other children or of the teacher.

This may appear to have not named names, but for those in the school/class room, this will be identifiable.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

You really think that those kids are reading this blog? Do you think that the other kids in the classroom don't already know about this kerfuffle?


Posted by mom of teenagers, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 3:48 pm

mom of teenagers is a registered user.

@hmmm - I don\'t think kids are reading this blog, but their parents are. And of course the other kids in the classroom know about the guinea pig mistreatment, they also now know that their behavior in their classroom may be reported online for anyone to read.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Do these kids have rights that are being violated? I guess I'm not understanding why it's a big deal. Kids can learn to deal with it.


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