*a revised repost
Bullying Is Not New.
“There’s so much complaining about bullying these days. Kids just need to toughen up.”
I’ve heard that numerous times. It’s not easy, though. Being the target of relentless bullying wears you down. Yes, as a child, I was bullied. I believe it began with a girl named Betsy. She was such a cute little girl, with an almost angelic countenance, and she was my friend. One day, maybe age ten, she was over at my house to play. Of course, back then there was no internet…we actually interacted face to face. She was a fellow classmate and a member of my Girl Scouts troupe. This particular day, though, her behavior transformed before my eyes.
What Did Betsy Do?
She came over to the house, and I felt like all was copacetic. Then, during one of our walks around the block, she crossed the street and walked the other direction. I called out to her, asking where she was going. She didn’t respond, so I crossed over and tried to catch up with her. However, as I did, she crossed the street again, and again changed directions. She seriously refused to speak to me or share a sidewalk or even move in the same direction as me! I was hurt and confused and upset. After attempting to walk with her another time or two, I gave up and walked home. Eventually, she showed up, as well, since she needed to be there when her mom picked her up. I know I shared this event with my mom, but I don’t know if our mothers ever spoke about it. Maybe, maybe not.
My Life Changed.
The next day at school, I was a new target. Name-calling, mocking, jeering, laughing at my expense, and isolation. I dreaded going to school, and once I returned home I’d release my tears. Day in, day out. The worst of the worst was Dawn. She excelled in her hobby of treating others like dirt. She had the power to make any of us feel insignificant. My mother once told me that I just needed to grab her by the hair and drag her to the office the next time she tried something. All I could envision was being pummeled into the asphalt, so I took the hate she spewed and attempted invisibility. After a year or two, it tapered off. Whether or not it would have stopped overall, I don’t know. My family relocated to Texas. Initially, I might have been the only one in my family truly excited about the change. Looking forward to a fresh start, I was overjoyed when classmates spoke kindly to me and included me. I felt relief.
We’ve Seen the Headlines.
Headlines of bullying are recurrent. Many victims of bullying taking their lives via suicide, some of whom include 8-year-old Gabriel Taye, 12-year-old Mallory Grossman, 14-year-old Luken Boyle, 13-year-old Arin Lyth, 13-year-old Hailee Lamberth, 13-year-old China Howard, and on and on and on. 13-year-old Peyton James took his own life, as well. Peyton is the son of my friend and former colleague, David. Peyton’s death hit me hard, as he was only a year older than my son. I had always been concerned my son would be bullied due to his smaller stature, and he has been. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24.
Bullying is Prevalent.
As a teacher, I witness it every year…students being hateful to one another. They make jabs, name call, use sarcasm to belittle, purposely “bump into” someone they don’t like so they can go off on them. This all transpires before me. Next, they wield the world of social media as a weapon. Hiding behind a username, the bullying turns vicious. I’m unsure if I’d be alive today if my bullying took to the path of social media. David has written a bit about this, as well. One article includes an arrest of a student from where we taught together. A teenage girl was arrested for possessing and texting a nude photo of another girl to two male students. This is an example of cyberbullying and sexting uniting to make some situations move from atrocious to criminal.
I’ve seen my students struggle with victimization, depression, cutting, admittance to psychiatric hospitals, shutting down emotionally, and struggling with suicidal thoughts.
At the school in which I teach, we have been discussing how words can affect others, how we don’t always see the wound they leave within someone’s heart. During these lessons, students seem to understand the concept. Yet, it’s only theoretical. When they move to their next class, many of the students don’t think before they speak and act. They immediately revert to their own habits of how they treat one another.
It Starts with Us.
Teaching students the importance of kindness, tolerance, and acceptance continually becomes more and more arduous. Our children are bombarded with examples of the opposite…from politicians to protests done inappropriately to “reality” TV to their parents. Yes, their parents and other adults they encounter during their lives. They observe how we handle conflict, how we talk about others, how we behave. They learn by example. Changing the behavior of our youth will be a slow process, yet one that is feasible. Begin with yourself. Don’t rationalize bad behavior. There is always a more apt way to respond. Yes, we may slip up; no one’s perfect. However, we can still model how to remedy the situation instead of letting it remain as is. Let them see us sincerely apologize to another and atone for our words and actions.
Call to Action:
- Think before you speak and act.
- Live mindfully. You are modeling how we want our youth to conduct themselves.
- Let us remind them to be kind. Talk to them about appropriate use of social media and what to do when they see or hear of a situation where another is targeted. For guidance, please, visit these sites…
How to Talk About Bullying
Social Media and Sexting
In addition, Peyton’s father David, in conjunction with Jill Kubin and Sue Harris, has founded The Peyton Heart Project, which “help[s] raise global awareness about suicide and bullying and to help end the stigma surrounding mental health issues.”
Copyright © 2017 Alicia T-Rust. All rights reserved.