There are so many things that scare me about being a parent. My children getting sick, drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, letting them drive, the teenage years...the list goes on and on.
Bullying is at the top of that list.
Just this morning a 9th grader in Coweta, less than 45 minutes from our house, committed suicide in the school bathroom. It has not been reported that bullying was a factor (that I know of), but that poor child obviously had some serious mental issues that could have been affected by how other students were treating him or her. No, my kids are not being bullied, but it hits close to home because I definitely was.
My 6th grade year was the worst. It came from all sides, during and after school, from my classmates to my Girl Scout troop. I was constantly teased about an assortment of things; my hair, my clothes, my teeth, my lips, my weight, my lack of an ass (oh if they could see me now!)...many things that I had very little control over. I tried to be as quiet as possible, to disappear into the background, to not ruffle any feathers. I had no clue who I was, who I wanted to be, or why all of the things I was teased for were even an issue.
I never got to the point of harming myself, but I definitely suffered quietly when I didn't need to. My mom had no idea that anyone was being mean to me, or the extent of just how mean those kids were. Anyone that knows my mom knows she would have gone full on mama bear on some people if she had any clue. I thought complaining would increase the teasing. What's worse, I thought standing up for myself would get me in trouble. It seemed as though the ones that were taunting me would find a way to make me look like the bad guy.
I was called names. Other kids would laugh and make mean comments when I walked past. Even girls that I considered my friends went out of their way to make me feel awful. For example, I spent the night at one girl's house and she was so mean to me that I spent half the time crying. Why didn't I just call my mom and go home? Because I thought staying was the better choice. I thought staying would change her mind and make her like me. Even when a BB gun was pointed at me, I stayed.
The worst of it came from 3 girls in my 6th grade class. I'm not sure when or why it started, I was probably just an easy target, but it was constant and it was hurtful. I was barked at and called a "dog". Making me cry seemed to be their main goal, while making it through the day without having a complete breakdown was mine.
There is one day in particular that stood out the most. It was a day when we had a substitute teacher and for some reason we had a break in the middle of the day when we had downtime and could do whatever we wanted. I decided to read a book, something quiet that wouldn't bring any attention to myself. I started noticing paper wads around my desk but thought little of it. I asked to go to the bathroom and while I was in the hall someone mentioned my "dandruff".
(Side note: my hair is ridiculously curly and at the time I tried to tame it with a ton of mousse and hairspray. This left my hair crunchy and often resulted in tiny flakes of gunk. Oh to have known then what I know now!)
I angrily replied that it was simply hairspray and was met with laughter and told to check my hair. I had several paper wads stuck all over my head. In the bathroom I shook out as many as I could, trying unsuccessfully to keep from bawling. I thought for a moment about not going back to class. I could walk home, it was maybe a mile, or just go to the principal's office. Instead, I walked back into class with my head down. That was until the substitute piped up and said, "You have one more left on the top." Oh yes...she knew what was going on, watched the whole thing, and let it happen.
Yes, I went on to lead a perfectly normal life. I went to college, married an awesome guy, gave birth to some amazing children. I understand that kids are often mean and that I'm not the only one that was ever bullied. I'm friendly and outgoing, although often too loud, and a decently happy person most of the time.
That doesn't make their behavior okay.
Do I hate the people the bullied me? Absolutely not! I would have happily joined them in making some other kid's life hell if they had let me. I know that there were times I was extremely mean to people, even a few that were my friends. (I'm still so sorry Kim!) Adolescence is a difficult time for everyone and I'm pretty sure we were all just doing our best to survive it.
Every once in awhile someone will bring the paper wad/dandruff day up to me, usually in a "haha we were crazy kids" kind of way. I have even had someone comment about how funny I should find it now.
I have forgiven the people who were mean to me, but I sure as hell will never find it funny.
Would those people be okay with someone doing that to their child? I know I wouldn't. Would they tell their kids to suck it up and suffer because someday they would find the whole thing funny? I seriously doubt it.
Bullying is not funny. It's not something that should be acceptable or brushed off because "all kids do it". Teachers and substitutes should not turn a blind eye and allow students to be act that way. (I know a great majority of teachers and substitutes would never let that happen.) I wish I would have known that I didn't have to suffer. I wish I would have had the courage to tell someone what was going on, especially my mom. I know I'm lucky that I never started to hurt myself or others. Everything could have gone very differently.
I know I can't protect my kids from everything. I know that they will be bullied, or be a bully, at some point in their lives. I just hope that I can find a way to let them know that it is not okay and that I'm here to help. I hope they will be strong enough to stand against bullying, or to admit they made a mistake and do everything they can to make it right.
And to any kids out there that are being bullied: Yes, it gets better, but that doesn't mean you have to take it. Tell your parents or a teacher, go to the principal or the guidance counselor, because your life does have value, even if it's hard to see it now. Hurting yourself, or others, will not fix anything. Sitting back and taking it will not make it go away and the bullies will not respect you for keeping your mouth shut.
You are special.
You are loved.
You are worth it.