This post has some content that may be triggering – bullying, abuse.
I had the fortune to read the recent blog on bullying by my favorite geek Wil Wheaton. I haven’t thought about the kid who bullied me in over twenty years.
It’s a very personal post and quite poignant. Many of us were bullied as children. Some suffer far worse bullying than others. However, the fact remains the same – an individual is so significantly and emotionally impacted by bullying that even after twenty years the memories can bring us to tears.
I was bullied. I was taunted for my weight issues and even called Shamu. My father approached my entering school by saying that if anyone ever hit me, if I didn’t beat the hell out of them (even if it was a guy), I would get my ass busted when I got home. Was it appropriate for him to say this to me? Maybe not. But I do remember holding my own when physically confronted – even by boys. Yes, I had a boy threaten to beat me in elementary school. When he got up in my face, I got right back up into his, standing nose-to-nose…all while I was trembling with fear. Thankfully it worked, and he walked away. Because I did things like this, I was fortunate to never be physically attacked. Many are not so lucky.
My torment was verbal and emotional. I remember so-called friends turning on me and saying they hated me for some silly misunderstanding. I remember being teased for the way that I looked, wearing glasses, having braces and being overweight. The person who was my best friend in middle school shunned me. It was during that time that I started having suicidal idealizations and even attempted a couple of times. When she found out about one of the attempts, she laughed at me and said I was just doing it for attention. Did I want attention? Hell, yes, because I was in pain and her response was to laugh.
The closest thing to the physical I got was when a girl on the bus put chewing gum in my hair. Still, flashbacks to those episodes are no less unnerving just because no blood was shed. Many times the worst scars are the ones that we can’t see.
In Wil’s post he describes the father of the bully. When I read his description, my first thought was, “No wonder the boy acted that way.” Although that helps me understand the behavior, it doesn’t excuse it.
Aside from being a writer, I’m also a learning and development professional (my day job). I see the challenge in teaching teenagers that bullying is wrong because the seeds of bullying were implanted LONG before they became teenagers. It’s always much easier to teach something as new then to attempt to change a behavior/beliefs that have been internalized for years.
As adults, but most specifically, as parents, we all have a duty to teach our children – starting early in their lives – that this behavior is wrong. I have regular conversations with my 5-year-old that saying and doing certain things can hurt others. I don’t just tell her they’re bad, although they most certainly are. I emphasize the impact it has on the other person in hopes that she will learn something that many people lack today – empathy.
I couple these talks with talking to her about how she should react if she’s confronted with bullying. We discuss some of the reasons why people bully – how the behavior is learned, many are acting out for various reasons and quite simply, the individual just doesn’t feel good enough about herself/himself to the point s/he has to attack others to have some sense of self-esteem.
Is my approach better than my dad’s? I don’t know. All I know is that I want my daughter to be able to think about these things, stand up for herself with confidence and view others with integrity rather than mocking them for their pain. I feel that this is the least I can do.