There are those who say that bullying is not a real issue. They say things like “just teach your kids to be tough,” and they choose to ignore the deeper root causes and effects.
As an adult who suffered tremendous bullying as a child and a mother to special needs children who have also experienced being bullied, I can say firsthand that bullying is a real problem.
It not only affected my entire childhood but still affects my self-esteem and how I view myself today.
There are many different forms of bullying. Physical, emotional, in-person, via social media, and with the changing times comes new forms of bullying. And each of these are damaging to the people or children involved.
I remember as a child being afraid to go to school.
Most days, the comments would begin the second I stepped foot through the door. Sometimes before I even made it into the building. “Oh look who decided to show up today, the ugly girl who everyone hates.” “No one likes you, why are you even here?” “You’re fat and ugly and stupid.”
It began as early as elementary school and followed me wherever I went all the way through high school. Middle school was when things took a turn for the worse. A friend decided to tell a boy I liked that I had a crush on him. This resulted in relentless jokes and pranks and bullying from most of our grade for the rest of the year.
“Ew, you’re gross and so stupid to think any boy would ever like you.” “Everyone hates you, you know, I can’t believe you even show your face here.” Mean notes left in my locker and on my desk. Pranks from people pretending to be the boy I liked. Pranks from the boy himself pretending to be nice to me only to hurt me further later on. It was a game to them and it was never-ending.
I ended up spending the rest of that school year doing all of my work from the guidance counselor’s office. I didn’t go to class. I didn’t go to lunch. I sat in the office and did all of my work and stayed away from the other kids. It even went as far as me showing up to school early and leaving early so that the other kids wouldn’t see me.
This is where the worst of it began.
Where my self-worth was shaped.
Where I started to believe I had no value and that everyone would always hate me wherever I went.
My only crime was being different.
I never fit in. I never belonged.
I didn’t find joy in being cruel to others. I didn’t enjoy gossip. I didn’t dress the way everyone else did. I didn’t behave the way everyone else did. My home life was a mess. My family was poor and homeless at the time, and I was facing the beginning of what would be a lifelong journey with depression and anxiety. I learned that kids don’t like what they don’t understand.
Fast forward to the present when I have children of my own. Learning they are autistic and my daughter also has ADHD, watching them struggle to make friends and fit in the same way that I did as a child—it’s heartbreaking.
The first year my daughter began kindergarten after we had just moved to a new town, she had her first experience with being bullied within the first few weeks. A boy who was a few years older than her was picking on her constantly. Taking her things, making mean comments, and even going so far as to push her down. I had to get the school involved.
But it didn’t stop there.
He then pretended to be her friend only to hurt her more later on. My daughter doesn’t understand. She didn’t even realize she was being bullied. She thinks everyone is her friend no matter the age, no matter how they treat her. And it was heartbreaking to witness. It didn’t end until his family moved to a new town after a year of him picking on my daughter.
As time went on, the bullying issue only got worse. Apparently, even in the first grade, girls know to be mean and gang up against other girls. A group in my daughter’s class was picking on her every day. Making fun of her clothes and her appearance. Then other kids began to notice that she was behind in reading and math due to her disabilities, and they would make fun of her for not knowing the same things they did.
My daughter came home from school in tears many times. She was finally starting to realize what was happening. Then she began to refuse to go altogether. And I couldn’t even blame her. Because I went through it, too. I know the heartache and the fear and the shame you feel when you don’t fit in. When the other kids decide you are the one they dislike despite your attempts at being kind and making friends.
As awful as the bullying is to endure, I also learned another side to the story during all of this. People who bully often have a reason for doing so—something in their life causing them to act out in that way. This isn’t an excuse, bullying is never OK. But we need to recognize it for what it is . . . a cry for help. We should be teaching our kids that it’s never OK to hurt someone else—physically or otherwise.
It’s never OK to tear another person down.
We should be teaching them how to cope and manage their emotions and how to ask for help. We should be raising them to have confidence and good self-esteem so bullying (should they ever encounter it) doesn’t have such a detrimental effect. We should be teaching them how to stand up for themselves and others and to be a light in this dark world. We should be teaching them to see when someone is hurting and offer a shoulder to lean on.
Kids who come from a broken home environment may resort to bullying. Kids with mental health struggles, kids who have seen their parents or other prominent figures in their lives bully someone will all be more likely to bully. They are crying out for help in the only way they know how.
Bullying affects everyone involved. Those being bullied and those doing the bullying. It shapes the person you become. It affects every part of your life and stays with you forever. We need to do better for our kids. We need to set the example. To talk to them about these issues. To be open and honest and let our kids know we are there for them no matter what. We can make a difference.
Parents, it starts with us.
Bullying isn’t only for kids. I see it happen every day even for adults. When the clique of moms at school events talk about you behind your back and purposely exclude you. When you start a new job and the senior employees decide to pick on the rookie. When the broken who have walked away from God try to go back to church and are shunned from the believers. When adults get into full-blown fights over their political or religious differences.
Kids are like sponges, soaking in everything they see and hear. They see you refusing to make room at the table. They hear you speaking badly of or mocking others. They know what is going on even if you think they aren’t watching or listening. It’s time we do more than just talk about bullying. We need to show them the right path.
Imagine the difference we could make in this world if we all set aside our judgments and opened our hearts and minds. If we made it a point to love one another regardless of our differences. If we offered a hand or even an ear to those who are hurting instead of shying away from their pain. I believe we can all agree that this world would be a much better place.