I Made a Promise

The Courage To Stand Tall: A True Story

imadeapromiseAny parent whose child has been bullied knows the terrible feeling of helplessness. 

In April of 1997, I received a job offer from a company in in Sydney, Australia. Making an international move is challenging for any family, but I was also a single working mother and was given only two weeks to prepare. Despite the short notice, we managed the transition and my two children adapted quickly to life in Australia — or so I thought.

What I didn’t know was that my eight-year-old son, who had been the most popular boy his class in America, was being badly verbally harassed and physically bullied at his new Australian school. Yet despite his ordeal, Tyler remained buoyantly good-natured and continued to look for opportunities to make friends. Nearly every evening at bedtime he would lift his bright little face toward mine, and with wide, exuberant blue eyes and a big toothy grin would ask expectantly, “Can we get our citizenship tomorrow?” His desperation to fit in and belong to the culture tugged at my heartstrings. Tyler never gave up hope or acted like a victim. He didn’t blame or try to get even. Instead he continually surprised me with his innovative strategies to overcome the unpleasant and uncomfortable situation.

Many meetings with teachers and administrators did little to correct the systemic bullying. In spite of Tyler’s resilience, there came a point where I couldn’t bear the situation any longer. When I escalated my complaints again to the school principal, he said: “You just tell your son to keep a low profile.” 

That was the last straw. I couldn’t imagine telling my son to bury his true nature in order to avoid getting bullied! The principal’s stance was a telling statement about the school’s entrenched bully culture. By instructing me to tell my son to not be himself: an enthusiastic, outgoing, articulate and high-energy boy with many outstanding leadership attributes was a clear indicator of the widespread systemic bullying.

That afternoon, I sat Tyler down to discuss options for changing schools. I also clumsily encouraged him to take a stronger stand for himself. What came next surprised and inspired me. Tyler jumped up fiercely, stared me straight in the eyes, and with tremendous conviction said, “I could be like them, but why should I? It’s not who I am.” 

And he was absolutely right. Retribution would have made him less that he truly is. Tyler’s ability to maintain a strong self-belief, despite the ordeal of constant bullying, was a monumental act of courage. A few years later his resilience and persistence were acknowledged and rewarded when he was elected high school captain (student body president). 

I later wrote Stand Tall as a tribute to my son’s courageous character. Danny Smith, the editor of I Made a Promise: 50 inspiring Australian Stories, heard about Tyler’s story through his networks and asked me to write a chapter in his book.