Raising kind children is vital to Randy Smalls of South Carolina. So when he heard that his teen daughter was making fun of a classmate, he instilled a hard-to-forget lesson: Smalls took the girl on a shopping spree — with money meant for his daughter.
“I say, ‘When you laugh along, you’re co-signing the bullying,” Smalls, 35, a father-of-three in Moncks Corner, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Having been bullied in his own youth, he felt empathy for the seventh-grader at Berkeley Middle School named Ryan Reese.
Turns out that Smalls’s wife and Ryan’s mother Richauna Reese are friends, however neither was aware that the girls had problems at school. The families got on the phone and after speaking to Ryan himself, Smalls shared his idea. “I wanted to help Ryan so she wouldn’t have this issue anymore,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
The dad had planned to buy new clothes for his 13-year-old daughter, but given her behavior, he thought the money would be better spent toward a shopping spree for Ryan. “My daughter was upset, especially because she is into fashion,” he says. “So she came with us and helped pick out Ryan’s new clothes.” The dad purchased pants, shirts, and shoes for Ryan, but he didn’t stop there.
While his daughter attended church, Smalls took Ryan to the beauty salon. “We got her hair done and we’ll be paying for twice-a-month appointments until the end of the year,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Other local salons have donated services to ensure the little girl looks styled for the next few months.
Related: Online Bullying on the Rise Among Middle, High School Students
Richauna, 44, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that Ryan has been struggling with the deaths of her father, grandfather, and aunt and the stress has been causing non-epileptic seizures. So the shopping spree put a smile on her face. “This is the first time I have seen a parent take such a stance on bullying,” she says.
Last year, a Houston, Texas dad also showed empathy when his 8-year-old son was being bullied at school, according to Good Morning America. Aubrey Fontenot reached out to his son’s bully and hearing that the boy was also getting picked on for his clothes, he took him shopping. The two children formed an alliance and became “brothers.”
Fontenot told GMA that he taught his son that “every war isn’t won with your hands. It's easy to react to first emotions but sometimes you have to outsmart a situation."
In a 2018 survey of 160,000 secondary students in 27 states by the non-profit group YouthTruth, one-third say they’ve been bullied over the last school year. Also, 40 percent of middle-schoolers were bullied compared to 27 percent of high school students in the 2017-2018 school year. According to StopBullying.gov, bystanders who intervene “make a huge difference.”
As a 2013 study published in the Universal Journal of Educational Research found, people who bully enjoy having an audience for their behavior, and bystanders feel safe in their role compared to becoming a target. However, “Watching without intervening actually reinforces bullying,” reads the study.
That’s exactly what Smalls wants all children — and parents — to understand from his unconventional example. He’s recently started a local group called Parents Against Bullying. “I didn’t expect for this to get big but I’m glad if other parents [can learn from it],” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “My daughter learned her lesson.”
And the relationship between Ryan and Small’s daughter? “They’re cool now,” says Richauna.
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