Over the weekend, Keaton Jones’ story went viral. Keaton is a middle school student who was viciously bullied at his school by other children for the crime of having a scar on his head thanks to a tumor removal. His mother, Kimberly, wrote this on Facebook:
For the record, Keaton asked to do this AFTER he had he me pick him up AGAIN because he was afraid to go to lunch. My kids are by no stretch perfect, & at home, he’s as all boy as they come, but by all accounts he’s good at school. Talk to your kids. I’ve even had friends of mine tell me they’re kids were only nice to him to get him to mess with people. We all know how it feels to want to belong, but only a select few know how it really feels not to belong anywhere.
Here was the video Kimberly posted of her short interview with Keaton:
Keaton’s obvious suffering is horrible. I know exactly how he feels — I was viciously bullied in high school, being two years younger and significantly smaller than the other kids. At one overnight event, some of those bullies handcuffed me to a bed, pulled down my pants, and proceeded to hit me with a belt as other students looked on and laughed. So when I watch Keaton cry, it hits home to me in a way it might not for those who have never experienced childhood cruelty. And I’m truly happy for Keaton that so many celebrities have reached out to him to express sympathy and offer gifts and life-affirming experiences.
With all of that said, I think Keaton’s mom made a mistake by posting the video.
That’s because Keaton will have to go back to school after this. When all those celebrities fade into the woodwork, when all the sympathy dies down, Keaton’s bullies will still be there — except a lot worse, since they’ll have experienced the sting of public humiliation.
Keaton has a choice to make, as all of us who were bullied do. When you’re bullied, you have two choices: you can either begin identifying as a victim, or you can use the bullying as fuel. Being bullied makes you queasy inside — you feel anger boil inside you, you know you can’t do anything about it. It feels like a monster eating your guts. It can take you to awful, awful places. But if you can conquer that monster and channel that outrage, you’ll be a stronger, better person.
That doesn’t mean Keaton’s bullies should have been let off the hook. When those students did that to me in high school, my father (who is much bigger physically than I), demanded a meeting with the principal and the students; when the principal wouldn’t punish the students, my father told the students that if they ever laid a hand on me again, he’d be happy to fist-fight them one by one, but that if they lost, he had a ball-peen hammer in his car, and they wouldn’t be getting up any time soon. That stopped the bullying in a rather significant way. And I wish that Keaton’s mom had done the same — I wish she had gone to the school, demanded answers from the administration, confronted the parents. I don’t know that public exposure is the first or best solution. Bullies have to be defeated at their own game. So Keaton, here’s an offer: I’d like to give you $100 to buy some self-defense classes, something I wish I’d had when I was younger. You don’t need the world’s sympathy. You just need to kick ass in life. Nothing will tick off your bullies more than the knowledge that the kid they used to kick around has become more successful and happy than they could ever be.