Bullying seems to be a big topic of conversation in our house the past few weeks. Thankfully my children aren't being bullied, but it is definitely happening (especially with the increasing prevalence of social media contact among kids). It wasn't until a friend shared her experience with her daughter being bullied, and watching "The Bully Effect" on the Cartoon Network with my kids, that I realized how much being bullied affected me.
It didn't happen every day, or even every week. It wasn't a regular thing, but I have vivid memories of episodes from 6th through 8th grade that were isolating, upsetting, and obviously stuck with me. I wasn't a social outcast...I had friends...but no "good friends". I didn't have that one best friend who was there through thick and thin who would have stuck up for me. I was a rule-follower, which probably didn't help. I separated myself when people did something to break the rules, and that made me stand out. I had a huge gap in my teeth and I was a "late bloomer"..neither of which helped me when it came to getting teased by the boys at school.
My parents didn't know about it..and let me just say that they are/were awesome parents. It wasn't talked about in schools like it is now, and I didn't show any signs of having problems. I was a well-adjusted kid. I got good grades, I wasn't depressed, I didn't show any signs. Since it didn't happen on a regular basis, I don't think it ever dawned on me to tell anyone. I'm sure I thought it would only make it worse.
I vividly remember the 6th or 7th grade picnic at Lake Needwood. I can still see the hillside with the blanket on it, and all of the girls sitting on it. Somehow one particular girl started heckling me whenever I got close to them, not allowing me to join them. I don't remember what was said, but I remember that no one spoke up. No one left that blanket to come hang out with me so that I wasn't alone. I think I tried more than once to approach them with the same result. So I was left to kind of wander around, and end up hanging out with the teachers. So what would I have told my parents? That the girls weren't nice to me? I don't think that would have helped the situation....and it was in that moment that I was isolated. After the fact I don't think it would have had an impact.
Like I said this didn't happen all the time. So many people have/had it much worse, but it still impacted me. It makes it hard to watch it going on with 5th grade girls and not want to pull a girl aside and tell her to stop being such a butthead!
There was the Junior High trip to London. I paid for half of the trip with my own money. Probably only 8 or 10 of us went, with one teacher. We were allowed out on our own at some points (a thought which scares me now). There were specific instructions not to go to the part of town in which the Hard Rock Cafe was located. Everyone else decided to go ....wait for it.... to the Hard Rock Cafe. Being a rule-follower, there was no way I was going. Somehow I ended up very accidentally spilling the beans after they left. (I believe we were told what time to be back, and they were late. Someone said to the teacher "You never told us." and I said "Yes she did, before you went to the Hard Rock Cafe".). That right there was social suicide for the rest of the trip. We were staying at some two-star hotel, and I won't ever forget everyone else walking down the winding staircase, all looking up at me and giving me the middle finger. Yes...I inadvertently ratted them out...but it sucked. I ended up spending the rest of the trip by myself or hanging out with our teacher. The good news is I still have great memories of all the sites in London.
In 8th grade I remember being intimidated by one of the other girls and a high schooler. It only happened if the two of them happened to be alone around me. A few times they would be coming down the steps as I was going up. They would move side to side, not allowing me to pass. There were mean words on occasion, but nothing with great regularity.
It faded off at some point. Joining the fire department was probably a pivotal point for me. I found a purpose, something I enjoyed, and the camaraderie and friendship I was looking for. Summers at camp were another amazing time. It was a place where I felt like I belonged.
I like to think that I turned out ok. I have more amazing friends than any one person deserves. I have "those" friends who I know have my back no matter what. I have an awesome family. I know many others aren't so lucky. It feels a little self-indulgent to share my story, but watching 10-year-old girls go through something similar brings it all back. The irony is that many of the girls involved in the stories above friended me on facebook at some point in time. I'm sure they don't even remember these events.
Tonight I watched "The Bully Effect" with the kids. It is a great show for kids in elementary school and older. I cried watching how badly the boy in the featured story was bullied. He was hit, kicked, stabbed with pencils. The vice principal did a horrendous job handling it. My kids talked about the fact that their school holds sessions on bullying, and S even mentioned that all the teachers are trained in dealing with bullying. That said, it often happens away from the watchful eyes of teachers, and kids are still afraid of the repercussions of telling an adult.
When my friend shared that her daughter is experiencing bullying, I told her she needs to involve a few of her good friends. This is a girl who has friends. She needs to know that if she is bullied, she can go to those girls and ask for support. Obviously she needs to tell an adult, but in the moment she needs "go to" friends who keep her from feeling isolated.
My story is not unique, and it is mild in comparison to so many. I'm thankful that in the span of one generation, we are talking about it more. We are also more accepting of people who are "different". We are making it more acceptable to report a bully or call them out on their behavior. My greatest hope now is that Tommy and I can empower our children to stand up for others. As I have told my daughter more than once, mean girls only have power because people give them power.