I debated on writing this post for a few days. Then I wrote it. Then I debated publishing it for a few days too. But it is bullying awareness month, and I did start a blog… that means I should publish something on the topic at least once… And don’t worry, I won’t be on my soap box for long, we’ll get back to cute kid stories and yummy cookies and normalcy soon!!
I was bullied as a kid. Not to the extent of the kids that make the news lately like Amanda Todd, but still bullied. I’m sure some would probably lessen the ‘charges’ and call it being “picked on”, but in reality – I had days where I didn’t want to go to class, days where I would fake illness, or days where I’d hide in the bathroom until class had already started in order to avoid having to have any moments alone with people.
I went to small schools. My first school only had around 25 people in our class, 50 when we combined schools for middle school and beyond. When my brother and I moved in with my mom and went to a new school in middle school, I thought that maybe my luck would change. My second school had roughly 100 people, and was laden with the same issues. It’s not like I could avoid these people. They were the only people in my school, or so it felt at the time. Sure I had friends too, though a lot of them were “picked on” just as much as I was. High school was better, I think… I wonder sometimes how much of it was truly better versus how much of it was just me getting used to it though.
I wasn’t the popular kid, I didn’t have nice clothes and I couldn’t afford to do a lot of the fun things the other kids did. I never had birthday parties, and in the rare case I was invited to another kids’ birthday party, it was rare that I’d go since I couldn’t afford a gift, and didn’t know if I’d be able to get someone to drive me there and back. My parents were divorced and I was often chasing after my brother. I lived with my dad — and teaching a girl how to dress nicely, straighten her hair, put on makeup and pluck her eyebrows wasn’t really on the list of manly things he was knowledgeable about. (Note that these things aren’t usually on my radar even still today most days).
I don’t remember being a ‘bad’ kid. I got good grades. I probably screwed up the grading curve for some of those people. Other than that, I have no idea what I would have done to anger those people that so much that they felt the need to say mean things to me.
Most of those people aren’t in my life anymore in any capacity. I have to wonder if they ever even realized the magnitude of the things they would say. There are a few that I’ve added on Facebook. I see pictures of them with their kids and I have to wonder if they’re teaching their kids to be more compassionate than they were. I almost didn’t add any of them on Facebook. In the end, we have grown up, people have changed, and kids do stupid things – and hopefully they’ve learned. At least I think they have. Nobody’s made fun of my attire lately anyway…
I don’t hold the hurtful things they said against them, but I do still have moments where I look in the mirror and realize I need to redo my eyebrows and can hear their harsh words in the back of my head. I’m tempted sometimes to ask them if they remember the things they’d say to me and let them know that it still puts a dent in my self-worth on rare occasions.
I think the thing that “saved” me from being constantly depressed was that technology wasn’t big then. When school was out I could break out of those doors (or off of the bus) and run straight to Elsie and Bozo’s house or home. I didn’t have to deal with what people might say on Facebook or over emails and text messages. Once school was out, it was over. I could leave and go spend my time with people who loved me and there wasn’t any way for my ‘bullies’ to get to me there.
I hate to think about how different it would be today. I really hate to think about how Averie’s life would be if she was in a similar situation as well. The internet makes it all a very different world, and it’s up to us parents to make sure we’re teaching tolerance and respect to our kids along with internet safety. Bullying and kids being disrespectful wasn’t something I put a lot of thought into until I became a parent. We haven’t had a lot of experiences with it outside of the norm yet, but there was a woman that made her burst into tears in Target. There have been other situations we’ve been in that were so bizarre that I could have sworn I must have been dreaming (nightmaring?).
Averie was at the park with me a few months ago in CR and she was playing with another little boy the same age as her – they were taking turns playing with one of the boys toys and I was standing nearby his parents – who just so happened to be black. We carried on a basic conversation about how old our kids were and if they were in school etc. They were super nice people and Averie and the little boy were playing great together. Another couple showed up with their kid and stood within earshot of us at the park – close enough that we could hear them, but far enough that the kids really couldn’t. I’m not sure if they thought they were far enough that we couldn’t hear them or if they were instigating, but the number of rude comments that came from them about race was astounding.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when their kid walked up to the little boy that Averie was playing with and took his toy. “This is mine now” he said, and pushed the kid down. His parents laughed, the younger boys parents stood back, unsure of when to intervene, and I was
livid pissed off. – I get kids not knowing how to share, I even get kids getting a little aggressive… but for the parents to laugh about it?!
The bigger kid pushed the younger one down a second time and the younger boys parents started to head over to his aid. Averie came down the slide and walked up to the bigger kid and told him “That’s not your car, you need to ask so we can share”. He didn’t respond at all to Averie, and thankfully didn’t push her, or I would have lost it. The younger boys parents retrieved the car from the older boy, who was protesting the whole time. In the middle of all of this, the older boys parents came over and demanded to know why Averie and the younger boy wouldn’t share the car. Seriously?!
The younger kids parents made the decision to leave and the older parents retort was full of racial slurs about how glad they were that they would be leaving so their kid could play somewhere without a N***** running around. As they pulled away, the boy said “Bye N*****’s”. And the parents laughed. Needless to say, I did not laugh. I looked at Averie and said “That boy is naughty. If you EVER behave like that or talk like that you’ll be in BIG trouble!” and we left too. I had to answer questions on the drive home about why that boy and his mommy and daddy were so mean, and I praised her for standing up to the big kid and trying to help the younger boy.
I wish I was making this up. I still can’t believe there are parents out there like that. I keep thinking, maybe it was his uncles or something, but I’m pretty positive it was his parents.
Although I’m pissed that it happened, in a way I’m glad that I had the opportunity to talk to her about it. And I’m glad to see that she stepped in to try to help the other kid. She didn’t even look like she was remotely afraid that the big kid would push her down. That said, I also know that if he had pushed her down, she would have melted into a pile of tears. I don’t know if she wanted to help the other kid so much that she wasn’t scared, or if she just didn’t put together that the bigger kid might push her down too, but either way – I was proud of her.
It’s not always that obvious when parents are teaching their kids bad habits… I was watching a video the other day — another story that went viral of course — about TV anchor woman Jennifer Livingston who received an email about her “physical condition” not being a “suitable example for [the] community’s young people”. Jennifer went on to bring up this issue on the air and made quite a few great points that I think everyone should take a few seconds to really think about.
What caught me the most out of this was her statement towards the end — that bullying is learned behavior and that we need to be be conscious of what we’re teaching our children, even when we’re not trying to teach them anything:
If you are at home and you are talking about the fat news lady, guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat.
And it’s true. Kids are sponges, they soak this stuff up. You may not intend to be teaching them to single out people or to be bullies, but simple things like that will sink in to them.
We all do stupid things from time to time, we all ‘teach’ our kids things that we don’t mean to (hello, profanity!) But please – for the love of all the other kids out there – make an effort to teach your kids that its ok to be different – having a strange birth mark, messy hair, being poor, having a wild imagination, having a hard time reading, having a different skin color or sexual preferences doesn’t change the fact that they’re people too.
It’s up to you to teach your kids that there is no reason to “pick on” someone for being different than they are, and it’s up to you to teach them what to do when they come across other kids whose parents didn’t teach them the same lessons about treating others with respect.
It’s important to talk about these things with your kids, but more importantly – please, lead by example.