Monday, May 6, 2013

Bullying scars run deep

There are memories in my childhood that are still so painful I try not to think about it.  When those memories do come rushing back, the tears begin to flow. It's hard to believe that after all these years; I can feel the sadness as though it were yesterday.

You see, when I was a little girl, I was the victim of bullying.  I had just moved to a new city with my parents and I was starting at a new school.  I missed my old friends, but I hoped I would make some nice new friends.  I was kind of shy and quiet so I was nervous.  But it was exciting.  I didn't know what to expect- but I never expected what happened. 

On my first day of school, the bully in my class decided to single me out.  Looking back- it seems so absurd that someone can randomly pick an innocent child and then terrorize them based on something like their name or the fact that they wear glasses.  It's also hard to believe that this boy had so much power over the rest of the children- no one dared to confront him.  He could make other children join in with the taunting and teasing.

No one would defy him to be my friend.  They were afraid.  This could result in the bully focusing his abuse on them.  Even the teachers ignored the abuse.

Then there were the school rituals that fed right into the bully culture.

When it came to gym class there was a dreaded process that the teachers used to build the teams.  The teachers picked a couple of children to be the "Team Captains", and then those children would pick their teams.  It was so humiliating.  I knew I would be the last one chosen.  I didn't even want to play because the bully and his friends always welcomed the opportunity to hit me with the ball or just run into me and knock me to the ground. 

He made my life a sad and lonely hell.  It wasn't just the taunting and name calling.  At recess he and his friends just tortured me.  Between the taunting and being hurt physically, it was terrorism.  He once hit me in the face with a football and I still remember how badly that hurt.  I cried but no one came to my rescue.

My mother told me to ignore him.  I did.  It didn't change anything.  I had a very ignorant relative that asked me, what was wrong with me?  There must be something wrong with me or the kid would not pick on me. 

I didn't know.  At this point I was confused.  I was only seven years old. Maybe something was wrong with me. But what changed? I had a lot of friends at my old school.  We all got along really well.  I didn't understand.

I had a hard time falling asleep at night because I had a pain in my stomach.  I was afraid of what would happen the next day at school.  I loved Fridays, I cherished my weekend reprieve from the suffering, but I started feeling sick on Sunday morning, knowing it was only a matter of hours...

I prayed and prayed to God to make the bully leave me alone, but the bullying never stopped.  Thankfully after a couple of years the school closed.  I went to a new school.  The bully went to a different school. 

 Everything changed.  I was back to being a normal kid with friends.  Thank God.

That happened to me many, many years ago and yet when I think about it or talk about it, I start to cry.  I cry for that helpless little girl so many years back and I cry for my young nieces and nephews- I never want them to go through anything like that.  And I cry for the children that were bullied so badly they felt there was no way out and they killed themselves.  Now their parents and brothers and sisters will always wish they had done something.   No innocent child deserves to be bullied. 

I believe the solution is education.  Everyone needs to be aware of the signs of bullying and what to do when you spot a situation.  That is why I wrote a short handbook with some great resources.  You can get your copy  here.

Do you know that there are different types of bullying?

Physical Bullies
This includes hitting or kicking the victim.  Also taking or damaging the victim's property. This is the most obvious type of bullying because it is so easy to spot. Physical bullies are usually known to the entire population in the school.

Verbal Bullies
Verbal bullies use words to hurt or humiliate another person. This would include name-calling, insulting, making racist comments and teasing. This type of bullying is the easiest to inflict on other children. It can be done quickly and on the sly.  Its effects can be more devastating than physical bullying, because these scars stay with you forever.

Relational Bullies 
Relational bullies use the fact that all kids want to be accepted by their peer group, and they use it as a weapon. These bullies manipulate and damage the relationships of their victims. They do this by spreading rumors, exclusion, gossip and ending friendships – and the hurt they create can be enormous. A relational bully often has the sophistication needed to fracture another student's relationships and turn them, over time, into a social outcast.

Cyber Bullies 

This is the deadliest and most cowardly form of bullying.  It includes tormenting, threatening, harassing and embarrassing a student using the Internet, cell phones and other technology. This allows the bully a cowardly level of anonymity. These bullying targets are nine times more likely to consider suicide. 

This could be a great opportunity to open the dialog with the children in your life:

Can you identify the type of bullying in the scenarios below?

This is a situation where Ally and Bella are playing and then Jenny asks them if she can play too.  Ally and Bella roll their eyes and tell Jenny that she can not play with them   

This is hurtful and Jenny will feel that she is being left out or ostracized. 
This is relational bullying.

Here's another situation where Bobby and Nick think it's really funny to hide Jimmy's coat.  Jimmy asks them if they know where it is, but they will not tell him.  Jimmy is upset.  He has to go to recess, in the cold, with no coat.  Plus, he will get in trouble at home when he must tell his parents that he lost his coat.   

This is cruel and humiliating.  
This is physical bullying.

In this situation Jenny walks in the bathroom and finds Ally and Bella combing their hair.  Jenny says, "Hi." and Ally and Bella ignore her and then Ally says, "Why are your sleeves rolled up Jenny- it's winter!" and then Ally and Bella laugh at Jenny.  Jenny leaves the bathroom in tears.  She will be upset all day and have a hard time sleeping that night.  She is humiliated and hurt.   

This is hurtful and humiliating.  It is very mean to make fun of someone and laugh at them. 
This is verbal bullying.

Another situation could be where Bobby and Nick are playing on the basketball team and they never pass the ball to Jimmy-even when Jimmy is in the perfect position and he's open to catch the ball. 

This is wrong.  It is hurtful and mean to exclude Jimmy. Everyone deserves their turn.  
This is relational bullying.

In life- not just sports- we must realize that we only win when we are team players.  When we work together as a team we always succeed.  We all need to treat each other with kindness and love. 
God said, "Treat others as you would want to be treated."  So before you do something mean or thoughtless to someone- think of how you would feel if they did the same to you?

Here are some random facts about bullies:

Even though a bully will insult their victim and try to ridicule the way the victim looks, the fact is- most bullies are unattractive.

The purpose of bullying is to hide the fact that they are not very smart.  In reality, they are weak and incompetent.  They want to take all attention away from their inadequacy.

Even though the bully puts on a big show, with the ability to attract and intimidate many followers, bullies have low self-confidence and low self-esteem, and thus feel insecure. Low self-esteem is a factor proven in all studies of bullying. 

Bullies operate on resentment, bitterness, hatred and anger, and often have wide-ranging prejudices against anyone who is different. Bullies are driven by jealousy and envy. Rejection is another powerful motivator of bullying.

Today, bullying behaviors at school are recognized as dangerous and harmful acts that victimize the targeted student and bystanders. Bullying can no longer be dismissed as harmless teasing.  Bullying is a pattern of deliberate, negative, hurtful, aggressive acts that works to shift the balance of physical, emotional, or social power.  This is a hate crime.  Yes a crime. 

They are currently working on legislature to pass laws that will ensure if someone if convicted of bullying, as a child, they will go to a juvenile detention facility or if they are a teenager or adult, they will most likely be tried as an adult and go to prison.

If you are or have been a victim of a bully, you are in good company.  Some famous people who have been bullied include:
  • Lady Gaga
  • Robert Patterson- yes, Edward from Twilight
  • Kristen Stewart- Bella from Twilight
  • Taylor Lautner- Jacob from Twilight
  • Daniel Radcliffe- star of Harry Potter movies
  • Emma Watson- the star from the Harry Potter movies
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Prince Harry
  • Kate Middleton
  • Michael Phelps
  • Christine Aguilara
  • Chris Rock
  • Pierce Brosnan- that's James Bond
  • Bill Clinton- a former president of the United States
  • Tiger Woods
  • Demi Lovato
  • Rhianna
  • Taylor Swift
  • Justin Timberlake
So, please keep your eyes open.  Whether you are a student or a parent or a teacher,   you must watch out for your fellow "team members".   As a decent human being, it is every one's responsibility to keep our children safe.  Remember, "It takes a village to raise a child".  If you see any bullying behavior- be brave and do the right thing.  Your action could save a life.
As I mentioned earlier, I have written a short handbook to help you spot the signs and know what to do when you recognize bullying behavior. It's called, The Bullying Epidemic-the guide to arm you for the fight' and you can get your copy here:
Let's get the word out!