A few days ago, while we were driving home from yet another specialist appointment in a city a few hours from home, my 16-year-old son and I were listening to your program on SiriusXM radio.
There was a caller on the line who was describing an incident that took place at her son’s school. Her son was a victim of bullying and she and her husband taught him to fight back despite the consequences he would face with his school. We only caught the last part of this conversation as we began the drive. My son, who has a neurologic disorder called neurofibromatosis, has a very straightforward way of looking at the world. He listens to rules and he follows them. Not only does he follow them, but he tries to make sure that everyone around him follows them too. He has difficulty with flexible thinking.
I took the opportunity to have a conversation with him about the call. I explained that I felt, as you and the caller did, that a person should always defend himself against a bully even though he might get in trouble with the school. As I suspected he would, my son adamantly defended that the school had its rules for a reason and that it is never ok to break rules that are there for your safety. No matter how I tried to get him to understand, he would not budge, so I left it alone for the time being.
Yesterday afternoon, I was catching up with some of the calls of the day on your website. Lo and behold, the call referenced above was posted and I was able to hear it in its entirety. When you sited the example about the college students in their dorm, I knew I might be able to reach my son after all. I called him to come into the room and listen to the call. He was reluctant, but complied and when it ended, we talked again. As I mentioned earlier, flexible thinking is not easy for this child. I knew it was a long shot, but so desperately wanted him to understand this for his own safety in life, so I asked him if he felt the college kids should have been expelled. He immediately said, “No, they were defending themselves and it was a life or death situation.” I said, “But they broke the rules, shouldn’t they be punished?” He repeated his previous thought and that is when I asked him how that was different from defending yourself from a bully in school. He could not come up with an answer! He finally saw the point and understood that his father and I would always support him against anyone, in any situation, who told him he could not defend himself. He got it!!! I couldn’t be happier. Thank you Dr. Laura, for finding a way to explain this to him.
My son also has some difficulty understanding social cues and body language. He does not always know when someone is being mean to him. I have often worried that he would get picked on and have feared that he would not fight back. Now I can be sure that he gets it and he will do the right thing.