A lot of good posts about bullying lately. Seanan McGuire talks about her experiences. Michelle Sagara talks about bullying as the parent of a child with Asperger’s. Di Francis describes standing up to the bullies.
Bullying and suicide has been in the news a lot lately. One Ohio high school lost four students to suicide in the past few years. October 20 has been designated Spirit Day, to remember seven teenagers who killed themselves after being bullied about their sexuality/gender identity.
As I read through various articles, one of the first comments I saw said this was a sign of the times, and kids were tougher when he was a kid. In those days, you either kicked the bully’s ass or you were strong enough to take it.
If you think kids didn’t kill themselves over bullying in the old days, you’re a damn fool. I say this as someone who 20+ years ago sat in my parents’ bathroom, having swiped one of my dad’s syringes and filled it with insulin. I remember breaking out in a sweat when the needle broke my skin. I sat there for a long time, hands shaking, struggling with whether to push the plunger home and end it all.
Bullying gets more attention these days. We talk about it online, and it pops up in the news more often, but it’s nothing new. For me, it started the first day of sixth grade. I had gotten some “Hines Ketchup” comments in elementary school, but sixth grade is where things turned nasty.
I was a perfect target. Small and skinny, with glasses and zero fashion sense. (To this day, I despise the idea of fashion, and would happily live my life in blue jeans and T-shirts.) I was one of the brightest kids in school, but my social skills lagged pretty badly. Topping things off, I had been in speech therapy for years.
The bullying was mostly verbal, though I got my share of shoving, of books being knocked from my hands, and all the rest. My next door neighbor ripped my book bag. I was the kid who ended up in his own locker — ha ha, sitcom gold, right? I usually managed to avoid actual fights, but that was it.
Teachers, bus drivers, and principals didn’t give a damn, as far as I could see. My parents … I didn’t talk about it much, and I don’t think they knew what to do. They called other parents once or twice, took me shopping for better clothes, but none of it really helped. The common wisdom back then was “Just ignore them,” which was utter crap.
I was on the other side a few times, too. In 7th or 8th grade, a friend and I picked on another former friend for most of the year. There was a stint where I teased a kid about her weight. Unforgivable, and I hate myself for doing it … but at the time, if my choice was to be bully or bullied, the former seemed the better choice.
For the most part though, it was 4-5 years of feeling alone and despised and hopeless.
I survived. Things started to get better around 11th grade. Today I look around at my children and their schools. There’s more awareness, but I’m still scared. My daughter hasn’t had much trouble yet. She’s socially gifted in all the ways I wasn’t, and sometimes I envy her. Well-liked without losing herself, gracefully exploring her identity.
My son reminds me of me. He has Asperger’s, and has been in speech therapy. His social skills have improved some this year, but I still worry.
I don’t know how to fix things. But I know telling kids to toughen up only makes things worse. It’s victim-blaming. “It’s your fault because you’re weak.”
Ignore them and they’ll go away? Never worked for me.
Conflict is part of life, but no child should feel sick with dread every morning before school. Nobody should have to hide and watch for the bus, emerging only when it starts coming down the street, because that’s the only way to avoid interacting with the other kids at the bus stop. Nobody should be pushed to the point where death looks like the only way to end the torment.
I wish there had been someone like Di at my school, both to stand up for me and to stop me when I was the one picking on others. I wish I had known things would get better. I wish people hadn’t looked the other way, hiding behind “Boys will be boys” and other excuses.
It has to end.