A story of one woman's experience both as a kid who was bullied and as a parent today
I am not ashamed to admit I was bullied as a kid. So many of us were and we don't talk about it. If we don't talk about it though, how will our children learn? I have so many stories I could tell, but I wanted to share just a few.
I was a fat kid with glasses and a permanent lazy eye and my fashion was not current. My parents were a working class people and they couldn't always get me the latest styles or name brands (nor should they have had to). In elementary I mostly got made fun of for my name, because not only did it sound like a boy's name, but my maiden name started with a B and "Rae B" was far too similar to "rabies" to let that slide without notice. By middle school, I developed early so I was one of the few girls in 6th grade with boobs and my period. I would mask the fact that I cared by being mean to anyone who said stupid crap to me; I'm pretty sure I actually broke classmate's collar bone once. I didn't want kids to know I cared about being bullied because then the bullying would be worse.
In 2nd grade, I remember one particular day still where the teacher left the room and the entire classroom started chanting "rabies, rabies, rabies" over and over until she returned and heard them. The whole class was punished and had to put their heads down and sit quietly while I got to pick one kid to play with in the back of the room. I picked a girl who I knew wasn't chanting. At that point we were not friends yet but she wasn't being mean to me, so I picked her and we played in the back. Most kids could probably pick someone they were actually friends with, but I couldn't, so I just based my choice on who was the least mean. But then I had an entire classroom full of kids mad at me as if I made them taunt me. It clearly wasn't my fault but in 2nd grade, that's not something that any kid understands.
By middle school, puberty had kicked in so I was very quiet, shy, and didn't want to talk to anyone. I would eat alone at lunch. Most of my conversations were with teachers or with the school nurse who I visited all the time to try and get sent home. I naturally run hot and back then they'd send you home when your temp was above 99, which mine was almost always, so if I had a particularly annoying day, I would make excuses and go to the nurse. My mom got calls constantly and when she couldn't come get me, my neighbor's mom would come get me. The nurse didn't send me home all the time though, sometimes I just got to lay down and relax in the nurse's office before going back. Part of that was ADHD that was undiagnosed because I was bored, part was not. But I got to escape for short periods of time.
I remember my class in 6th grade went to an outdoor camp for a day of ziplining, trust falls, wall climbing, etc. I wouldn't trust anyone to catch me because I was afraid they would drop me on purpose or that I was too fat and they would comment on it, or worse I would be too heavy for the kids to hold up. I hated the activities because they forced me to interact with the kids, whether they were bullies or not. And I had my period. In the 1980's, the pads were just hideous and I inevitably leaked through. I didn't know though, but I found out by one of my girl classmates was sitting on the ground after climbing over the wall felt the need to yell out for all to hear "look, Rae has her period, look she is bleeding." I had to run back to the bus to grab clothes and another pad and sit there the rest of the day in shame because every kid knew I had my period.
My teachers noticed I always sat alone at lunch so they tried to fix that and forced me to sit with a group of kids. These kids were not the most "popular" but they had their own clique and were generally pretty nice. But I hated it. The kids didn't want me there but we sucked it up because none of us wanted to get in trouble. But I dreaded it every day because I knew the teachers wouldn't let me sit alone or would give me sad pathetic looks like I was a lost puppy.
Middle school was not easy. Between kids coming into their own personalities and being more independent, to hormones and periods, and cliques everywhere - it sucked. But in 7th and 8th grade I started coming out of my shell more and became friends with a couple girls who I stayed friends with even until now. I started using humor to try and make light of kids' stupid comments and I would use sarcastic comebacks to some of them. This is where I started being mean to others, to help hide my own anger at being bullied. I remember being on the bus and always getting asked to look at someone because my right eye would stay to the side while my left looked straight and it freaked people out, so they thought it was fun to ask me over and over to do it. I got so mad at one girl that I yelled at her. She knew I was going to hit her, so she crouched on the floor of the bus and I grabbed her shoulder blades and squeezed them together. She was a very tiny girl; I easily had 50+ lbs on her. I found out later that her parents were mad (understandably so) because doing that caused her collarbone to break. I don't remember if they told my parents or how it all went down after that, but I know I never did that again to anyone and I don't remember if she continued to bully me but don't think she did. Strangely enough, we become friends in high school and are still friends today.
By high school, things got a bit easier for me, but unfortunately I also decided one method to keep people from bullying me was to be a jerk to other kids who the crowd believed deserved bullying, like some of the super smart kids. It was weird though because I was also smart, but they were smarter so I figured they were fair game I guess. Shame on me, but it kept the attention off me and that was all I cared about. There were still be a couple of annoying kids who would chant my name for apparently no reason other than because it made their friends giggle when they could see it annoyed me. I tried to ignore but it's hard not to want to punch them in the face. But I didn't, mostly because I knew I'd get in trouble, not because I didn't think they deserved it at the time. Maybe it was due to the girl with the broken collarbone and my not wanting to hurt anyone again. Not sure.
In high school I skipped school constantly and got in trouble a few times because of it, but I attribute that now mostly to the ADHD, not to bullying. I didn't visit the nurse as much then either, probably because I knew she wouldn't send me home.
I did spend a couple years smoking and drinking away my problems and being mixed up with other kids making a whole lot of bad choices. Thankfully after high school I realized these were not helping me, and I stopped smoking (legal and otherwise) and only drank socially once I was legal. I like to say that I got all the bad stuff out of my system at a young age.
In my late teen years, I also gravitated towards older men and doing things I shouldn't have done until I was much older, and sure of myself and my feelings. It's one of those classic things that girls with low self-esteem do and I fell right into that stereotype. The guys certainly weren't about to point it out either. I only sought out guys who lived in a different town or city, and had no desire to look twice at the boys in my school.
My parents had no real idea what happened all these school years, they couldn't have done anything if they did. I was made fun of because of them too - they were strict and they were older than everyone else's parents. They didn't buy me stuff on a regular basis or care about being cool, so to kids thought they were weird and mean. My parents had 4 kids and had busy lives trying to keep us clothed, fed, and with a roof over our heads. My older sisters were good students and never had problems; they never skipped school, etc... I kept everything inside and didn't talk about it so unless someone told my Mom, no one would know anything. The one time my own sister told on me for smoking, I concocted a lie about how I only told my sister that I smoked to see if she would tell on me and that it was a trust exercise. I was an excellent liar and constantly honed my skills as a teen. I was a pain in the butt. My parents started reading parenting books when I was 17. I was the youngest of 4 girls. I feel bad for what I put them through, because they really just had no idea what to do with me.
I was one of the lucky ones though. I figured it out eventually. I learned how to cope as I worked my way through high school and in life. My Mom helped with some of that, teaching her daughters to be strong independent women. But that was only one piece. I stopped bullying others and I'm sorry to those that I did bully, and I'm glad some chose to still talk to me after I grew out of that stupidity. I stopped caring so much about what others thought of me and gained self-esteem. That doesn't mean I forgot all that old stuff; all of the old baggage is still in me but I've learned to overcome it and move on. I learned to move past it. I learned skills that will help me in my daily life to succeed in work and in my personal life. I learned how to love myself, which had to happen before anyone could really love me. I still do use humor and sarcasm though, they were too fun to let go.
As a parent now, I am scared that my kids will go through what I went through, because even though times have changed, kids can still be cruel. My daughter is so much like me that it can be scary. I'm very thankful that she has the friends she has, and we encourage her to be herself, love herself, and tell us anything and everything. She is a very sensitive and caring soul and doesn't want anyone's feelings to be hurt, especially her own. But she will tell us everything, in her own time. She is so smart and loves building and creating things, but she doesn't have a giant group of friends. She struggles like any 6th grader, but I hope she will continue to come to us and other safe adults when she wants to talk. I hope she continues to grow her friendships and stays away from the bossy kids that are only acting like friends because they sense that she will do what they say. I hope other kids realize how amazing she is and get to know and love her. I hope she doesn't have to live through what I did and my husband and I will work to ensure she knows she is safe and loved and help guide her through loving herself so it will be easier on her. Middle school is hard regardless, but if we can make it better for her by just understanding her and what she's going through, then we will. My son we don't know about yet, he is pretty outgoing and chatty, but he's only 5, so we'll figure him out as he grows.
I shared all of this so that people would understand that we are all responsible for helping kids grow into responsible, respectful, and caring adults. Many kids were not as lucky as I was and turn to more severe methods of violence to express their anger. Anyone in a position to be able to help should help. That doesn't mean every kid who has issues should be assumed to be considered to be crazy or get medicated. It means they need help and support.
Kids need teachers who care, and classes that are small enough where they get the opportunity to get to know their kids. They need school counselors who care and have time to talk to them and get to know them. If they are believers in a higher power, then they need the community of their church, synagogue, mosque, etc... to guide and support them. They need parents who are involved but also nosy and will talk about both uncomfortable and fun topics, as well as encourage social relationships with kids their age and friends who will support them. Those parents need to try and notice any warning signs of troubled behavior and bring in professional counselors as needed. Keep in mind I said counselors, not psychiatrists whose main job is to medicate problems away. Medication is a tool, but it is not the only tool and in general should not be the first option in helping kids.
Kids need kids who will be their friend and care about them. They need kids who notice bullying or who notice a lonely child and reach out to make a new friend. They need to feel included.
It truly does take a village. So parents - please encourage your kids to talk to you and if you have a child who is a part of the popular crowd or even just a kid who has a small group of friends - please remember to encourage them to reach out and make a new friend.