I was bullied. When I was a kid, for most of my childhood I was bullied. Kids find something to pick on and if they see they are getting a reaction, that’s all they need. With me they got a reaction. My childhood was a textbook case of knowing who your true friends were because my true friends stood by me and those who were not either joined in or did nothing. Most of the time, emotionally I managed to deal with the bullying. Along with my friends, I had a supportive loving family and a real creative talent for art and music that gave a focus to my life and brought me real joy. But there were times when the bullying was still just too much. When I finished junior high school, the school held an eighth grade graduation ceremony. All of our loved ones were there, we had caps and gowns, we all walked in to Pomp and Circumstance, and I was so happy, not happy I was graduating, happy it was over, so I thought. You see someone, and I don’t know who, spread some rumor earlier in the year that had something to do with me and masturbation and possibly involving being gay. All I know is that there was a group of kids who as I would walk down the halls would make a “swish” noise with their mouth, over and over again, referring, I guess to masturbation. Often they would do it on the bus on the way home and sometimes they would just call me gay or a fag, which I found odd and frustrating because I wasn't gay. The kids were relentless, cruel as kids can be, and unfortunately they knew it bothered me and that only gave them more of a reason to keep it up. I was an easy target. I was little, skinny, I had huge crazy curly hair, I was terrible at sports, and I let them get away with it. I had no idea how to deal with it, how to handle it, how to get them to stop, or at the very least, how to let it just not bother me. So when the principal called my name at that eighth grade graduation I stood up to get my diploma, looked at my parents with a smile on my face, then realized that every kid on that stage, quietly was saying, “swish, swish, swish…” over and over and over again until I sat back down and the next name was called.
I didn’t go to ninth grade with those kids. I just needed a break from them. I needed to go somewhere where no one knew me and I could start fresh, where I could let the last few years of school and all the bullying and teasing wash away, where I could have some time to be in a more positive place, to deal with this. So I spent my first year of high school at a small private school on the North Shore. In that time, without the constant teasing and bullying I was able to learn about myself, I found my confidence, my own self-worth. I still wasn't any good at sports but because it was required, I was on the soccer team and even though we only won four games out of ten, we had the best record in four years, and I had a blast. With some help and guidance I was able to realize that a bully can’t define who I am, that I define who I am, and I realized that one person’s opinion doesn't matter unless you let it matter. I was lucky. I had parents who I could go to, and a father who was like having your very own motivational speaker. And when I was ready to go back to those kids, to the high school where I knew they would be, I did. A week after 10th grade started I told my parents that I don’t want to be at this little private North Shore school anymore and I went back to the public high school knowing that no matter what was thrown at me, my reaction to it would be different. The teasing, the bullying didn't stop, but this time it was different, because I was different. I was a geeky artist and sat with four football jocks in English class who tried to find every way they could to get under my skin, but they couldn't. There was one kid who for some reason that I still can’t explain would follow me out of school every day and just scream names at me. He was crazy. Some kids laughed at him, no one from the school ever did anything, and I just kept walking and never let him get to me. Then finally, one night, about a week before I was to graduate from High school, I was walking down the street, just around the corner from my house with my friend Doug, when a huge Cadillac convertible pulled up with the entire football team piled in the car. They were following us and yelling all kinds of things at us, but at that moment I realized I had had it. This was over, high school was done and I was going away to college and no matter what was about to happen, I had survived and life was about to get a whole lot better. This one act may get me killed but it will be with a smile on my face. I stopped walking, looked at that car, raised my arm high in the air and gave the entire football team the finger. It seemed like it was happening in slow motion and I as I yelled the words “F**K YOU!” I was thinking to myself, “What the F**K are you doing?!” The Cadillac stopped, the entire football team piled out and me and Doug ran for our lives, and even though I know there was no way I was going to out run these huge a**holes, and I was about to get the crap beaten out of me, it was the greatest feeling in the world. I ran as fast as I could but eventually ran into an area I could not get out of so I fell on the ground covered my head and waited for it to end. When it did, I was bruised, but I stood up to them. I said f**k you to the entire football team and made it out alive, but I know that it was not really the football team I saying f**k you to, it was all of the people who at one time or another thought they could get to me, it was to the school system who had no clue on how to deal with bullying, and it was to the person that I was before, before I realized that if you are confident it does not matter what others think, if you are true to yourself, nothing can keep you down, and that a bully only wins if you let them.
The thing is, no matter what I had to deal with as a kid, I never had to deal with Cyber-Bullying. Technology has brought bullying to a completely new level and the things that make Facebook and Twitter, Tumbler and texting so great are also the things that for our kids can make bullying deadly. According to bullyingstatistics.org:
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.
- Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.
- A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.
- 10 to 14 year old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above.
- According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.
We are our children’s advocates and they must know that they can always come to us if they have been bullied, and we must never turn a blind eye if our kid is accused of being the bully, thinking that my child could never do that or writing it off as he or she was just playing around. They must know that we will not tolerate bulling in any form, and that just because someone is different, bullying is never alright. We live in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world. We live in a world where being openly lesbian, gay, bi, or transgender is becoming more and more accepted. And whether a kid is straight, gay, black, white, Indian, Asian, Hispanic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, fat, thin, short, tall, athletic or artistic or whatever, differences are something to celebrate, to learn about, to experience.
Talk to your school. Find out what there policy is on bullying. Ask if they talk to their students about bullying. Ask if the students are aware that they can anonymously report bullying so that they have no fear of retaliation. If your kids have a computer, a smart phone, monitor their activity and tell them you are doing so. Get there passwords and let them know that they can only have their devices if they share there login info with you. This is not about snooping on them, it is about protecting them. Never let your children have a computer in their bedroom, but always in a public place where they can’t lock the door, and you can see if they are being harassed online or not. If they don’t like this, well that’s OK It’s not about being popular it’s about protecting them, and one day when they have kids of their own they will understand why you did what you did.
And one last thing. If you have not seen the movie Bully, (it's available on demand as well as Netflix) watch it, then watch it with your kids, then tell everyone you know to watch it. Then go to thebullyproject.com and purchase The Bully Project Educators toolkit that includes a copy of the movie Bully and give it to your child’s principal so that they can watch it and share it with every teacher and student in their school. I just did.
The day I wrote this was October 17th which is Spirit Day, the official day to take a stand against bullying. But we shouldn't need a special day to take a stand. Our kids are too important to only do something on one day. I was bullied. Chances are you were too, or you were a bully, or you knew someone who was bullied. Bullying is not just kids being kids. It is not just a phase. It can be life or death. It is serious. It is your child.
You can read more from Brian Dann at www.NorthShoreDad.com.
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