Grayson Bruce 'Brony' bullying: Do adults teach bully behavior?

Grayson Bruce was bullied for his 'My Little Pony' backpack, only to be told by his school to leave it at home to avoid triggering bully attacks. The response from the school prompts the question: How much does adult response inspire kids to tease?

Jason DeCrow/Invision for Hasbro/AP/FILE
Grayson Bruce bullied for liking 'My Little Pony.' In this image, the 'My Little Pony Crystal Princess Palace' is displayed in Hasbro’s showroom at the 2013 American International Toy Fair.

When the principal of a North Carolina school tried a quick fix for bullying by telling the mother of Grayson Bruce, 9, to leave his “My Little Pony” lunch sack home to avoid being “a trigger for bullying,” he opened a much needed discussion on how our culture may be inspiring bullying in schools.

The result has been both an outpouring of support for the bullied boy, including thousands of supporters signing a petition to allow him to carry the Pony backpack and a Facebook page created in support of Grayson, which had nearly 14,000 “likes.” Even broadcaster Glenn Beck brought a “My Little Pony” toy on the air to show support for Grayson’s plight.

In a statement given to the media by the Candler Elementary School in Ashville, N.C., Grayson’s bag was said to have “created a disruption in the classroom.”

Grayson’s mom, Noreen Bruce, was irate at the notion of asking her son to be untrue to himself as a person in order to avoid being physically and verbally targeted by bullies at school.

Grayson told local television news, WLOS-TV, that kids are, "taking it a little too far, with punching me, pushing me down, calling me horrible names, stuff that really shouldn't happen."

All this over a Hasbro cartoon of some feminized ponies, pegasi, and unicorns whose only mission in life is to spread unity in the community through friendship, love, understanding, and cooperation.

According to Buncombe County Schools Interim Communications Director Jason Rhodes, who I spoke with by phone, their school system usually has a better handle on bullying than was demonstrated in “this isolated incident.”

In another telephone interview this morning, Buncombe County Schools Director of Student Services, David Thompson explained that he views bullying as the result of pervasive cultural bias among adults.

“First of all, we recognize that this [bullying] is not just a school problem, but a very serious cultural problem for adults too,” Mr. Thompson says. “Kids see bias in humor of comedians, in politics, and all over seeping into their consciousness and it’s reflected in our schools in the form of bullying.”

"Adults will often make jokes and use sarcasm around children. For many children who are very literal, they take it to heart. Adults may not even realize the bias they are imparting," Thompson says.

In a chat on Facebook this morning, Ms. Bruce reacted to Thompson’s statement by writing, “Hmm, well if anything good comes of this situation I hope it gets parents to talk to their kids about bullying and that it's never right. Also, that they [parents] would talk to their children about embracing themselves and others!”

For the record, Thompson says the district’s approach comes in three parts: work with the bullies to change their behavior; work with bystanders to teach them that, in Thompson words, “We don’t allow this kind of thing to happen to others”; and help the bullied student to understand they didn’t do anything to deserve being targeted and then helping the child to build confidence and find appropriate and effective response to bullies.

Frankly, while Candler Principal Steve Chandler did not respond in the way outlined by Buncombe County Schools, he may have done what many parents instinctively do, by advising those who are bullied to solve the problem by trying to stay under the radar.

I considered this option last year when my son Quin was 9 and being tormented by bullies at school after telling a girl that he, too, liked "My Little Pony."

Disaster swiftly followed on the tail of that one brief playground conversation.

Instead of going into denial, we went the route of talking to Rener Gracie of the Gracie Bullyproof Program. The program evolved from the Gracie Jiu Jitsu Combatives program, taught to adults for self-defense.

Quin worked through the Three T approach learned at Norfolk Karate Academy here in Norfolk, Va. Talk to a trusted adult about the problem; tell someone in authority; and tackle the issue verbally first and physically only as a last resort for physical preservation via a Gracie jiu jitsu “hug” hold until help arrives.

Sadly, we were a year too early to get in on the new Gracie method introduced last summer, which includes working with the bully to affect change.

However, I do recommend the free Gracie video on working with the bullies for anyone who has a child who is bullying others, or being bullied.

Because of his “Brony" experience (boys who like “My Little Pony” are called “Bronys”), when Quin saw an image of “My Little Pony’s Rainbow Dash” character on my computer screen yesterday as I researched for this story, he freaked out.

“What’s happening now,” he asked. “Is it happening again? Did one of the kids from school send that to me online?”

Even though I told him it had nothing to do with him, he waited until I had left the room, went to my computer search engine’s history and found the story on Grayson.

Hours later he asked me to come to the computer and confessed to invading my privacy.

Then he showed me a letter he’d written to Grayson and asked me if I could find a way to send it to him.

I sent it to his mother via the new Facebook page “Support For Grayson” that has been created as a result of this incident.

That’s how she and I ended up chatting about our sons this morning.

Here is Quin’s letter, with one or two spelling corrections by mom:

Dear Grayson,

I feel your pain cause in 3rd grade and now I still love the show My Little Pony Friendship is Magic.

You should know everyone has a soft side in them. It’s OK to show that.

This girl figured out I liked the show and told her friends and one of her friends was my favorite girl in school. My life was a nightmare after that.

My way might not work for you.

You could change lunch boxes and fake it.

I think it’s better to do it the way I did with jiu jitsu and the three Ts Talk, Tell, Tackle.

I found out how to stop them and they stopped bugging me and my privacy.

But I hope you can stop being bullied by jerks that have no respect for others.


10 year old Quinten

Perhaps if more adults showed our softer sides, rather than sarcasm and mockery around kids, there would be a lot less shoveling out around the little ponies.

Editor’s Note: After the original publication of this post, the Buncombe County Schools shared a statement further outlining its response to the bullying incident:

We have appreciated the opportunity to meet with the Bruce family and discuss the issues. We sincerely regret that the issue of being told to leave the bookbag at home was perceived as blaming Grayson. While that was not the intent, the perception became reality. We support Grayson bringing the bookbag to school.

We discussed a number of options to consider in moving forward for Grayson. All of the options discussed included a safety transition plan and an allowance for Grayson to bring the bookbag to school.

Every situation with young children is a teachable moment and we will use this example in our efforts to address a wider issue of bullying. The Bruce family has committed to working with us to improve and enhance our anti-bullying programs.

We ask for everyone’s patience and understanding as we continue to work collaboratively with the family toward a resolution that is best for Grayson and his classmates at Candler Elementary School.

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