An open letter to my child's bully: This is what I want you to know

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock Photo: Getty Images

Dear Jackson*,

You were friends with my son Lucas* for five years before things turned between you. You started out as awkward 10-year-olds, finishing primary school together and bonding over your love for musical theatre and all things emo.

I was relieved. Lucas was an unusual kid – he was bright and precocious, but he never tried to fit in with the sporty or popular kids. And there you were, weird and kooky in your own way, and you really seemed to get him like nobody else. I had you sleep over in my home, I fed you and had long conversations about American politics with you. You made me think, you made me laugh – but most of all, you made me grateful to have you in our family's lives.

Then, two years ago, things took a horrible turn. The two of you fell out. I'll never know all the details, and I'm aware there are always two sides to every story, but from my end I know Lucas was going through a tough time. He slipped into a deep depression that meant he struggled to get out of bed in the morning and go to school.

I'm sure that made him a less than ideal best friend, but the way you responded went beyond hurt feelings. You turned on him almost immediately. You took three years of shared secrets and vulnerabilities and you used them against him. 

And I get it, you're a kid. You don't know how to handle hurt feelings and complex situations yet (us adults are still learning too) – but the hurt you inflicted on my son was real, and it sucked.

While Lucas was seeing therapist after therapist, and trying every drug we could find to help lift the fog of his depression, you were telling your new friends everything you knew about him – and laughing at him. You taunted him on social media, you threw things at him at school, and you armed other bullies with everything they needed to hit him where it hurt the most. 

While you were laughing with your mates, I was on suicide watch: something I hope you never have to experience for yourself.

Twice, you even taunted Lucas so badly that this quiet, introverted pacifist took a swing at you – getting him suspended from school.

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And all the time you played the victim, pretending not to understand why he turned on you.

(Physical violence is never okay, and this I made clear to Lucas. But I was also secretly glad he was standing up for himself, rather than absorbing all your hateful words about him being a pathetic loser, which he usually did, presuming them to be true.)

The school got involved, creating a contract that you both signed, agreeing to stay away from each other, not to talk to each other or mention one another on social media, and to avoid making eye contact at school. They even ensured you wouldn't ever be in the same class. It seemed to do the trick, and everything died down. 

Lucas's mental health has been improving, and he now has a new group of friends. Nobody has come close to the level of intimacy you and Lucas shared, but he understandably has trust issues. I hope this will pass some day. 

Then, last week – about a year since your last interaction – you approached Lucas when you saw him walking home after school. And then you did something we never expected you to do: you apologised. You told him you realise now you were in the wrong, and you told him you'd like to be friends again, that you miss him.

Lucas is a lovely kid – he told you he forgives you, and he asked for time to process what you had to say. When he told me what happened, he had tears in his eyes. They were angry tears. He's furious you've come back into his life and made him feel feelings he's been shutting out for a long time. He's confused and he's feeling that old hurt again like it's fresh.

Will he ever be friends with you again? Probably not. There's been a lot of water under the bridge and you really hurt him. 

But here's what I want to say to you: thank you for saying you're sorry. It was a really brave thing to do.

It may not get you the result you want, but for Lucas, it's a catharsis he sorely needed. All this time, he's blamed himself, and he's told himself those hurtful things you said about him were true.

You just gave him an incredible gift: permission to feel the anger and sense of betrayal that has been simmering inside of him this entire time – but that he wasn't sure he had the right to feel.

Maybe you'll never again sit at my dinner table or sleep over in my house, but you have given us all the closure that we needed – and that's something only a true friend would do.