Today, people are more apt to refer to bullying as what it is, but I can remember a time when bullying was referred to as “kids being kids” or “growing pains”. Any way you look at it, it’s harmful.
I was bullied–often. I was bullied so much that I can’t recall a time in school when it didn’t happen. I used to wonder if I was tattooed with some scarlet letter announcing that I was a perfect target. The reasons for the relentless teasing and hitting varied: my hair was too long or too short, my breast were too large or too small, my hair was fake, my shoes weren’t right, my socks looked weird, I was too smart, I was too nice, my family was too big, I was too fat. I think you get where I’m going with this. I was even bullied by a teacher, someone who I thought by definition was supposed to be on my side.
There were times when my defiant nature and will to keep my tormentors from seeing me cry was enough to get me through the tough days. My mom used to always say to me, “The root word of ignorance is ignore. Ignore the ignorance.” I tried to ignore everything, to go to a mental place where I became untouchable, but it was hard. And defiance can only take you so far. I wrote my first suicide letter when I was about ten. In the letter I told my mom and dad how much I loved them, but that the pain I felt was more than I could bear. When you spend most of your day being ridiculed by your peers it’s hard to find a reason to keep going. I knew in my heart of hearts that there were people who loved me, people who would miss me. I knew there was more for me in this world, so even though I wrote the letters, I never acted on them. Every letter ended up in the trash.
Somewhere in my darkness I was able to find a glimmer of light. I was fortunate in that I had a mother and father who told me how wonderful and amazing I was even when I was too broken to believe it. When I came home crying my mother held me. When I needed to talk, she let me. She listened without judgment and most importantly, she believed me. My brothers and sisters showed me unconditional love when it mattered most, even though at times we fought like cats and dogs. I had a few true friends who loved me so much that when I was around them it was enough to make me forget all the bad stuff that was going on at school, at least a little while. I had my belief in a higher power, and in my darkest moments, HE whispered to my soul that one day everything would be alright. The support of an excellent therapist helped me as well.
I survived. And now all of the great things I knew I was destined for then are my reality today. But not every kid survives. Girls like Morgan Musson who was bullied for being too tall, or Audrie Pott who was sexually assaulted and then bullied because of it, didn’t make it. Girls like Megan Meier who was bullied by the parent of a classmate will not see another day. Boys like Aaron Dungmore who was only nine years old when his pain became too much to bear will not experience all the joy that a full life would have given him.
Morgan Musson, Audrie Pott, Megan Meier, Aaron Dungmore, and countless other kids who have suffered through the hurt and pain caused by bullying did not discard their suicide letters. They carried out the promise that unbearable torment cemented. I tell my story and theirs to shout as loudly as I can that BULLYING IS REAL! IT IS HARMFUL! Bullying should never be equated with “kids being kids” or “growing pains”. And even though I survived, I still wear the scars of being slapped, or punched, or spit on, or inappropriately touched. I still hear the cruel insults that were used to make me feel small and unimportant. I remember the fear and confusion I felt when I was ridiculed by my teacher in front of my peers.
I encourage all of you who are reading this to take a stand against bullying. Believe your children or loved ones when they confide in you about their struggles at school. Take the time to get to know how they are really doing. Pay attention not only to the obvious signs that something isn’t right, but to the subtle warnings as well. Those signs might present as:
- A sudden disinterest in school or extracurricular activities,
- the desire for isolation,
- aggressive behavior towards siblings,
- and/or bed-wetting (for some).
Talk to your children. Let them know that bullying is real and encourage them to take a stand against bullying whenever they can do so safely. Whether your child is the bully, the bullied or neither, tell your child that you love him or her. Let your child know just how beautiful and strong and wonderful and amazing he or she is–tell your children this every day. Empower them with self-awareness and a sense of self-worth so strong that any entryway into bullying becomes impenetrable.
There’s a saying that “hurt people, hurt people.” If your child is the bully do not stand idly by, falsely comforted by the notion that they will “grow out of it” or “figure it out on their own”. Address the pain that they too must be feeling. Don’t be opposed to seeking the help of a professional counselor. Let your children know that words can do just as much harm as a punch and that all actions have consequences.
Encourage the young people in your life in every way that you can. Let them know that even if it doesn’t seem like it, things will get better–use me as an example. Let them know that you have been, and always will be, their biggest advocate and defender. Don’t be afraid to take a stand for your children. Go to school. Meet with school officials or other parents when necessary. Familiarize yourself with your school district’s anti-bullying policy. Do whatever it takes to bring the darkness of bullying to the light. Expose the ugliness and the hurtfulness of it all so that our children, all of our children, don’t have to feel like death and despair are the only options.
Visit stopbullying.gov to learn more about how you can prevent and respond to bullying. And if we at The Stone Foundation can be of any help to you as you and your children move beyond bullying, please call us at 410.296.2004. We are here to help.
This article is intended for general education purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please contact The Stone Foundation by clicking here, or by phone at 410-296-2004.