When Your Children are the Bullies


Five boys.

Five boys bullied Danny Fitzpatrick every single day.

Five boys taunted and harassed and insulted him—and didn’t relent.

Five boys pushed the 13-year old to believe that his only option was to hang himself in his attic.

Five boys drove the will to live right out of his young heart.

Five boys robbed Danny’s parents of school dances and driving lessons and graduations, and a lifetime watching their son grow and learn and love and be loved.

Five boys cheated the world out of his sweet presence.

Five boys killed this one boy.

And as a father, the question I want the answer to right now is: Where were the parents of those five boys?

What were they doing while Danny was slowly being destroyed by their sons?

This didn’t happen in a day. It wasn’t a single, horrible moment. This wasn’t a tragic aberration that exploded in an instant. This was a brutally violent pattern repeated over time. There was a long trail to be found.

I wonder how they missed it.

Were they so emotionally distant that they weren’t aware of the kind of children they were raising?

Were they so busy that they couldn’t discern the character of their sons, that they couldn’t sense the subtle changes in them as they got older?

Were they so disconnected that they were oblivious to the kind of meanness their children were capable of manufacturing?

Did they see these things and dismiss what they saw as some normal, harmless, male “boys will be boys” rite of passage?

Or did they teach them how to be cruel?

Bullies never grow in a vacuum. They are almost always created by other bullies.

They learn how to be mean by watching other mean people. They see the pain they inflict on others or the kind visited upon them—and they can’t help but imitate it. 

They either subject people to the kind of suffering they’ve endured—or they emulate other hateful people believing them to be normal.

Bullies either repeat the horrors they’ve walked through by making others walk through them, or they follow the horrible path in front of them.

I don’t know the parents of these boys. I can’t speak to whether they helped directly shape their sons into bullies by their behavior or whether they failed to see and stop the bullies their sons had become—but one or the other is likely true.

As moms and dads, our job is to steward the hearts of our kids; to nurture benevolence in them, to foster compassion, to instill in them a reverence for life.

We do this through our example.
We do it through our explicit words.
We do it by watching them and listening to them.
We do it by being aware of the changes within them that no one else would notice.
We do it by seeing the people they surround themselves with.
We do it by being an engaged and consistent presence in their lives.
We do it by talking about how we treat other people.

Parenting well is both teaching our children and watching to make sure that teaching is taking hold in them. Doing only one is leaving them vulnerable to becoming the crowd. This is how one cruel boy can so easily become five.  

Moms and Dads, our very sacred calling in this world is to protect our sons and daughters from pain, to inflict as little of it upon them as we can, and to make sure they are living with kindness, decency, and wisdom when they are not in our presence, so that they do not bring pain upon others.

Talk to your children. Listen to them. Teach them. Be present. Notice the changes in them. Push past their silence. Give a damn. Ask questions. Meddle. Repeat this every single day. It won’t prevent your kids from becoming bullies, but it will make that terrible transformation much less likely.

Live in such a way that they will not be capable of doing what five boys did to Danny Fitzpatrick because it would be unthinkable to them; because they have no frame of reference for it in their own lives. Let that kind of cruelty be foreign to their hearts.

I imagine the parents of these five boys are horrified at what has happened. I imagine they are grieving today. But I know for sure that they’re not going through what Danny’s parents are and this is what matters most.

Because schools are open today. There are five boys or five girls in classrooms right now making life a living Hell for another child, who is having the will to live slowly driven out of their young hearts.

For Danny Fitzpatrick it’s too late but it doesn’t have to be too late for them.

Parents, do all you can to protect your children from being bullied, but don’t forget to protect them from becoming the bully.


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34 thoughts on “When Your Children are the Bullies

  1. The reality is that a lot of fathers see this as a strength in their children. These are the same men that see Donald Trump as everything a man should be… doing whatever it takes, stepping on people, bullying people, cheating people in order to make a buck because men bring home the bacon no matter what. This type of man is the type of father that punishes their sons for showing any weakness and it is not surprise they do the same thing at school to those that are perceived as weak.

    • Marcus Duran, you wrote “These are the same men that see Donald Trump as everything a man should be… doing whatever it takes, stepping on people, bullying people, cheating people in order to make a buck because men bring home the bacon no matter what. This type of man is the type of father that punishes their sons for showing any weakness and it is not asurprise they do the same thing at school to those that are perceived as weak.”

      What you describe are bullies teaching their sons to be bullies, which is actually teaching them to be weak.

      Donald Trump is a bully, yes, and so is anyone who intends to vote for him.

      • Gloriamarie… re pastoral care need. The Church I was praying about & contacted was HCF. Recently, they told me that you had contacted them. God is faithful. I will keep praying for your situation to improve.

        Horizon Christian Fellowship
        5331 Alifan Dr / San Diego
        858-277-4991 M-Th 9am-5pm
        Pastor Dustin Estel
        email: [email protected]

  2. Unfortunately, too many parents are complicit in their childrens’ bullying while schools are too concerned about keeping order. If a victim stands up to their bully, the victim tore at their sense of order. Bullies know how to conceal while their victims do not.

    • I didn’t know Donald Trump bullied anyone. I saw him defending himself as a person should when pounced upon. Parents have to be diligent today where their kids are concerned. Be involved in their lives and guide them. The Trump kids are a credit to their Parents!!!!!

  3. Remember the Columbine mass shooting? It was carried out by “two loaners” who had been bullied for quite some time and they just had enough.

    Having taught for several years (secondary & post secondary) one of the most irritating aspects were the helicopter parents who absolutely refused to believe their child did anything wrong. What I call Not My Child Syndrome. Virtually all of us have at least a working understanding of IQ. However few will understand the importance of EQ, emotional quotient. Those with a low EQ will “grow-up” to be the bullies such as Trump.

    The only way to change this is to include the effective domain as part of the student evaluation. If it is shown he/she is developing into a bully then an intervention is necessary. We also need administrators with enough backbone to support the faculty instead of automatically acquiescing to the parents.

    • “What I call Not My Child Syndrome…”

      You hit the nail squarely on the head there, Stan. I taught music for a number of years back in the Eighties and Nineties, and when I had a discipline problem that necessitated speaking to the child’s parents, the response was almost ALWAYS “Oh MY child would NEVER do a thing like THAT.” It was mostly the parents of boys who pulled that nonsense on me. Another favorite of mine was when the mother of one of these little monsters would tell me (in all seriousness) how SENSITIVE her little boy was.

      Girls, I suspect,got away with more, because they hid it better and also because their victims were less likely to report.

      Teachers need to be trained in dealing with these situations; in diagnosing them and in taking the necessary steps to healing them.

      • I will always be grateful for the teacher who showed me a hateful note my son wrote to a fellow classmate in 2nd grade. I hope the conversation we had about how much he hurt his classmate kept him from continuing to say mean things.

    • That was going to be my point too Stan. In the town where I grew up, the high school principal was scared to death of the medical doctors, attorneys, and wealthy businessmen who ran the town. He had been fired at a previous school system and could not afford to let it happen again. If I had been bullied by the children of those people, I would not have had a chance—no chance at all.

      My point is simply this. Whenever I see bullying end in the death of a child, I see school leaders who were scared to death of the parents of the bullies—too scared and frightened to stand up for the child in distress—and parents who were poor and felt they had no power. Because he was a child at a Roman Catholic school, he was probably a victim of the same laxness that allowed priest pedophiles to molest children in their churches—and escape responsibility for it. Another question to consider here in this Roman Catholic environment is the possibility that the bullies were the children of Sicilian mafia members.

      When it comes to bullies, I recall the words of Dean Acheson in the movie “Thirteen Days.” They were spoken about the Soviets, but they apply equally to bullies:

      “Gentlemen, for the last fifteen years, I’ve fought at this table alongside your predecessors in the struggle against the Bullies. Now I do not wish to seem melodramatic, but I do wish to impress upon you a lesson I learned with bitter tears and great sacrifice. The Bully understands only one language: action. Respects only one word: force.”

      Variations on this are how school officials need to handle the bullying of children at school. This is the how seriously we take it today in Tennessee—and I can almost guarantee you this boy that died would have lived and been protected:

    • My son was bullied for years by two boys in Middle school whose parents both told me “Not MY son!”
      It took filing charges at the police station to finally get their attention. Then he was ostracized at school by teachers & students alike because “I didn’t follow the chain of command.”
      Teachers to Counselor to Principal to Superintendent to School Board president….there was no where else to go!
      It saved my son’s life so I have no regrets.

  4. Thank you again, John. Yes, this needs to be said.

    Bullying is always wrong. No matter who does it. Donald Trump is a bully. So are some of the people who comment on John’s blog posts.

    As a result of this piece, I have some questions?

    I wonder: what were the teachers doing?

    I wonder: Did the parents of the five bullies agree with their children’s treatment of Danny and that is why they did nothing?

    What I especially wonder is what did Danny’s parents? When I was in sixth grade several of the girls in my class bullied me. I was most distressed when I would get home and my mother took action. The school and my teacher took action. The girls stopped but to this day, I remember it vividly.

    This boy was deeply depressed. How did this escape his parents’ attention? I was a seriously depressed at thirteen and it took until I was fifteen for my mother to realize there was something going on beyond what she dismissed as shyness.

    Just so folk know, I am not subscribing to the comments. The last several blogs to which I commented and subscribed to the comments just wore me out with the vicious nature of things said. Most of the people who comment are lovely, gracious people.

    I consider it bullying when people disagree in a nasty, insulting manner. People who know how to do it appropriately do so in a respectful and validating manner. As do people who are trying to be obedient to God’s commandment to love their neighbors. Many of the people on this blog exhibit this.

    But the bullies, it deeply distresses me to see Christians treat other Christians this way. Deeply. So I am going to protect myself.

    One last word: if you are going to vote for that bully, Donald Trump, that proves you are also a bully because you support his bullying. Think about that and get some help so you are able to repent.

    So blast away at me. I’ll not be here to be

    • Agreed…The victim’s parents need to learn how to look for signs that their child is being bullied and take action to either confront the bullies’ parents or remove their child from that environment.

  5. This event reminded me of “The Lord of the Flies.” I have protested to parents about what is going on in and out of school. When I was a kid and did something wrong my parents would have addressed it. Sometimes harshly. Fast forward to more recent times and try to tell parents their child did something wrong and it will bring down the wrath of the parent because his or her child never does anything wrong or else his or her child is no worse than anyone else. One of my students brought a gun to school and I saw it and sent him to the office. His mother came to school for a conference and it was all about how I need to stop picking on her boy. And she said he had not done anything wrong. And that is one reason that those boys got to get away with murder.

  6. Scott, actually my grand kids school did very well dealing with a couple of bullying incidents last school year for my grand kids. For my grandson in first grade, 5 boys at the playground were going to the playground attendants and claiming various things that my grandson did, which the boys didn’t realize that the attendants were watching what was really going on, and the 5 boys were immediately sent in the school, and they never did do that again.

    As for my grand daughter bully incident was quite disturbing though. The principal called me, trying to get a hold of my daughter, she told me that my grand daughter was physically alright, but emotionally was not doing well. My grand daughter was in DK , and another DK girl threatened my grand daughter that she said that she could have her and her whole family be killed. My grand daughter then punched the girl to get away from her, and she ran directly into the school to the principal office. They both are 5 years old, and of course my grand daughter was extremely scared hearing that. What 5 year old kids come up with something like that? Maybe she have older siblings? Well, the girls parents were called into the office. Apparently, the girl was jealous that my grand daughter was in the “Owl” group in her class, which she was getting Kindergarten curriculum, and she was reading and writing, and the rest of the DK students worked more on learning the letters and numbers. Well, when my grand daughter was doing a lot better when she came home from the bus that day, and she showed me the apology letter from the girl to her, and when I asked if the girl got one from my grand daughter also, and she said “yes”. Also, the two of them became friends 🙂 It sounds like both of them were healed that day.

  7. KJ,

    What a wonderful story. Not the first time I’ve heard of a couple of kids who started out punching each other and ended up best friends, sometimes for life.

    I grew up in a school system where nothing was ever done about the extreme bullying I suffered and when I went back into that same school system as a teacher it was ten times worse: a teacher really had no authority and the administration kept its head buried you know where so that was no good.

    I survived that mess for ten years but eventually went back into the business world where I made better money and got respect for my efforts.

    • Hi Scott

      That’s great that you got a better place to work, apparently less stress as well.

      Was the bullying from mostly students? I know that I had a couple of teachers that were pretty sick, sadistic actually, some just mad at the world. A couple of really good teachers, and the rest I think were just putting into their time until they could leave or retire. I didn’t get any help from student bullying either. Though a couple of adults did stop it.

      I have wanted to mention how vulnerable children are like Danny’s age. Last year, a 11 yo boy killed himself within 15 minutes from when his homeschooling parents didn’t allow him to his best friends birthday party to stay overnight.

      The same for me when I was 12, the moment I decided that I must go, I stood up, and immediately I went to do that. There was more that was told me why I must go, but it all came down that both of my parents wished that I had never been born, plus the extreme hatred towards me. I did nothing wrong, just being born. Obviously, I am still here, though I don’t know what really happened. All I remember is that I was in the car in the garage, and just as I was blacking out, and the next second I was walking behind my sister by the garage, I saw that I had different clothes, I asked the date, and it was almost 3 weeks later. Mainly I brought this up about how quickly when you think you believe you have to go, it is rather shocking quick at these ages. Katie Jo

  8. Thank you. I was bullied as a child, so much so that we decided right out of the gate to homeschool our own children. That has worked out really well! They’re in college now, bright and happy, and doing very well. I’m glad they missed the cruelty of the wolf packs found in every school system in America. Even some of the teachers are bullies (the kind drawn to power positions where they have unlimited authority over weaker, smaller people!) Most teachers are wonderful, but some are horrific. One teacher picked on my little brother and she was shameless about doing so, to the point where he wanted to run away to the woods and never be found. As a 10-year-old I had to confront her myself (parents and school admin were useless!) She did stop after I shamed her in the teachers’ lounge in front of all her colleagues! Bullying cannot be tolerated on any level. I was the bench coach for my son’s little league team and I’m glad I was. His coach was a bully, too. So much so that some of the other parents pulled their kids right out of the playoff games we were in. The coach’s kid shows signs of becoming the same way. I did all I could, but parents really need to be self-aware and aware of how their child is developing!

  9. I hope the parents sue the hell out of the school, the teachers involved and the parents of those little evil bastards. And the latter should be permanently kicked out of school and let their parents deal with them homeschooling (better yet, drop them off on an island with more of their kind and let them go at each other).

  10. This was very sad to read about. I am a youth director, and I too see parents turn a blind eye to how badly their children behave, lie, and bully. I also see how easy it is for one bully to get a few more to follow him or her, even if they know it’s wrong. They are scared of the bully too, so scared of being on the receiving end, they join forces with them. I also wonder if Danny’s parents were ever aware of all that was being done to him? I admit, if I found out something like this was happening to my child, and I wasn’t getting anywhere with school administrators, I would be home schooling in a heartbeat. Not in any way placing blame on them, I have no idea what they knew, or what the circumstances were. God have mercy on these boys’ souls. They will have a lot to live with on their conscience as they grow into adulthood.

  11. In this day and age , where both parents have to work to make ends meet. And everybody is in a big hurry. Maybe the parents didn’t realize what their kids were doing. I am not making excuses for them. I am childhood friends with the Fitzpatrick family. But I can not help but wonder” if the school officials did their job, and notified the parents of the bullies that there was a problem at school. And that their children were doing this to a fellow classmate. Maybe the parents could have put a stop to it earlier. Maybe the parents were not aware of what their boys were doing. And if they were made aware with a simple phone call from the school things might have turned out much different. Some kids follow other kids because they are afraid if they do not. They will be the one getting picked on next. I do not have the answers. Like everyone I am sad and I am very angry. We all need to talk to our children and teach them love and compassion God Bless the Fitzpatrick family and all children suffering at the hands of bullies.

  12. I watched my daughter, as a biracial young teen, in all white Scottsdale, suffer at the hands of her so called friends at of all places-the Boys and Girls Club. The staff loved their favorite kids and let them mistreat others while they joked and were buddies with the in-group. In one case they gave a preferred assignment to another girl from the “in group” who was vicious mean teen and whose own family was appalled! When I as a parent I called them on an issue, the backlash was severe. A usual with a teen, she did not tell all until she was a young adult and I was horrified. Unfortunately have seen the same at church as youth pastors are all in with the favored families within the church, the kids who fit the nice pretty Christian mold, and wouldn’t know how to handle a bully if they were in front of their face.
    Each institution-school, church, clubs, sports teams-all the adults need to trained and held accountable for the emotional treatment of the young lives in their care.

  13. Hi,
    The one who bullies others is the one has no “respect” to others and who has no idea what is wrong or right.

    In order to avoid more bullying happening, “respect”must be emphasis in home. Respect to himself and others particularly the elderly or in higher authority. For the kids to know right or wrong, parents must not afraid to discipline them. When they are wrong, parents should point out their mistakes and offer the remedy.

    “Bullying” is a huge problem which can be solved by starting at home as well as when they are young.

    Excellent post!

    Stella Chiu

  14. “Was the bullying from mostly students? I know that I had a couple of teachers that were pretty sick, sadistic actually, some just mad at the world. A couple of really good teachers, and the rest I think were just putting into their time until they could leave or retire. ”

    When I was a kid it was mostly students but I also encountered teachers of every kind you mentioned. Fortunately the bad ones were far and few between; for the most part I owe a lot to those teachers who saw my potential and cared enough to nurture it.

    When I was a teacher, my colleagues had made a major step in the right direction; in fact if anything I felt some of them were a tad bit too soft; that is an approach that can give kids carte blanche to jump on the bullying bandwagon.

  15. But the really sad thing is that the death of this little boy merited only 23 comments—and essentially none from the Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.

    I guess Tony Campolo was right:

    “Around the world last night, 30,000 kids died from malnutrition and none of you give a sh*t about. And worst of all, you are more upset that I said the word sh*t than you are that 30,000 kids died.”

    I rest my case.

  16. Gloriamarie:

    “I wonder: what were the teachers doing?”

    A good question. Unfortunately, it’s one that does not have a simple answer.

    As a kid coming up, I always knew whom to go to. Which teachers would take action and which ones either didn’t care or would turn the whole thing around and blame me. (Oh yes, it happened more often than you would think.)

    Later on, as a teacher, I discovered that the problem was often at the administrative level. If the Assistant Principals and the Principal do not have your back, disciplining a student can be a risky business. I even spent a couple of years in administration even though it was not my choice, because I thought I might make a difference. Unfortunately one man alone can’t do much in a school system in which politics is rampant.

    “I wonder: what were the teachers doing?”

    A question that will break your heart.

  17. One more thing: if a parent is encouraging bullying behavior in his or her child, some action needs to be taken. Rewarding your kid for beating up a weaker kid serves no purpose except to teach the bully that the other kid was “less than.”

    Seriously, WHAT kind of parents want their children to absorb a lesson like THAT?

    • Managers in American business. I have been known as a really nice guy in just about every place I have ever worked—nice enough to be the carpet people walk on. However, a situation developed in 1988 when I had to swallow my first anti-depressants and be a real a-hole with some people for a very short time. I got a raise, accolades, became the “guy who needed to be watched closely because he was obviously moving up in the eyes of management,” and took over as Group Manager when my boss left for a better job. It was the strangest, nonintuitive piece of sh*t I ever saw. Be mean-spirited to people and management says with an Edward G. Robinson voice:

      “See!!! See!!!! Yeah!!! Lookie there boys!!!! He’s goin’ places.”

      I recently read an article in Forbes or somewhere like that said upper management is always on the lookout for new management talent in-house among the younger workers and one of the key traits they look for these days is the ability to be really mean and nasty to other people.

      Any managers know what is going on with this not-so-Christian oddity?

      • I wish I could explain it. I spent some time in middle management and I think my complete refusal to act like that (LOVE the Edward G Robinson reference by the way) was the reason I didn’t last very long in that position. When I moved back to being just one of the crew the guy who took my place was a high-toned grade-A sonofabitch whom NOBODY could stand but he got all the attention from the upper echelon. My way of handling him was to never allow him to get away with the utter rudeness he seemed to think was his right. (He snapped his fingers at me once and I asked him in a voice dripping with ice if he was looking to lose that hand; risky, I know, but he never did it again.)

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  19. I wish I could remember where I saw it (Google turns up nothing), but I once read a very insightful “guide for parents” about how to intervene when their kids exhibit bullying behavior. One thing that really stood out was, when your kid and their friends are all together, especially if they’re on the computer, do you hear them laughing hysterically together about something, but find that they say “Nothing” and won’t share when you ask what it is? Chances are, they are talking about some other kid, finding things to pick on, such as they way the other kid talks, or dresses, or walks. This is apparently a very clear giveaway. The solution is to refuse to take that “nothing” for an answer, keep pressing, and once your suspicions are confirmed (which they almost always will be, unless the kids just happen to be telling sexual jokes – sometimes that happens), talk to them about the seriousness of what they are doing and what the result could be. Ask them to please live and let live, respect the “misfit” kid as a person, and find something else to be fascinated about. Try also to get the “misfit” kid’s name, so that you can be of help if real trouble starts. Don’t ignore this – it isn’t “just harmless humor,” it can be a cruel game, where you are the only person capable of stepping in to remind your kids of the rules.

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