The following is an excerpt from Charles, Is Your Head on Your Shoulders?, a book by lifelong Stuyvesant Town resident Charles O’Connor on his experiences getting bullied as a kid, and how he hopes to help others avoid the same treatment. Names have been changed.
In the spring of fifth grade, 1971, Andrew and I were playing over at the school playground one Sunday afternoon. A boy, Eduardo, and his pal, Punky, stole my wristwatch. It was a Christmas present from my parents. They never let on, but they must have been terribly disappointed in me. I tried for several days to alert the principal to what had happened. When I finally reached him, he said,
“Well, uh, now you come to me…”
This attitude indicated that there was very little, probably nothing, that he could do, or wanted to do, about the robbery. I was quite disappointed in that man.
A few weeks later, I was walking home with a friend, Ronny Williams, and I was swinging a yo-yo. Strangely, I could recall a warning from my mother:
“If you bring that yo-yo to school, I fear you will come home without it.”
A lifelong resident of Stuyvesant Town who suffered at the hands of bullies throughout his childhood is hoping he can turn his own miserable experiences into a way to help kids who are getting victimized by today’s new crop of emoji-wielding tormentors.
Charles O’Connor, who said he dealt with bullying in his elementary and junior high school years, is now 56 years old and is shopping around a book he wrote on the subject. The book, however, isn’t just a memoir detailing the various playground beatings he got (although that is certainly in there). Written specifically for both younger and older kids, it aims to prepare kids for what happens if they do get bullied — how to deal and, ideally, avoid it altogether.
“It’s telling kids who are being troubled by bullies, ‘I’ve been there,’” said O’Connor of the book, Charles, Is Your Head on Your Shoulders?. “It gives them my perspective as a man in his 50s and I hope it can give them some assertiveness tips.” The title was inspired by a question he would hear all too often from a teacher, who was actually one of his bullies.
Typically, when children complain of being hassled by a peer, the canned response from adults is to just ignore it. That rather basic advice occasionally does have merit, though, according to O’Connor.
“Sometimes that’s worked for me,” he said. But, he noted, “You can have 10 different responses from 10 different bullies.” So his other tactics have also included trying to talk a bully out of fighting him. “One time I reasoned with a kid and said there’s no reason for us to fight and he backed off.”