I’ve taught my four daughters to befriend the underdog. Be nice to the person who is left out. Say something nice to somone who doesn’t have a friend, is alone, or looks sad.
Because I know how much it means to have someone be nice to you. The words you say, even if you don’t think they’re much, could be the only nice thing a person will experience today, this week, or even this month.
How do I know? Why is this so important to me?
Because I was bullied.
I didn’t have a lot of friends in grade school – I had a couple friends who lived near me, but few others. You see, I was fat. Therefore, I was the target of bullying. It wasn’t just teasing, and I do know the difference. Calling me “Fatty Patty” on a daily basis was teasing (cruel as it was), but there was more.
When I was in the fifth grade, a group of girls walked through the classroom, looking at the girls’ legs. We were required to wear dresses back then, and the girls were going around pushing everyone’s thighs down against the seats of their chairs – in an attempt to see who had the fattest thighs. They got to me, and I raised my thighs up. They knew better, and since I was the target of their research study, they came around both sides of me and pushed my thighs down hard against the seat, then announcing with squeals and screams that I had the fattest legs in the fifth grade. I remember it so well; the pain and humiliation isn’t just seared into my memory, but it has become a part of who I am today and the way I parent my daughters.
This group consisted mostly of four girls, but occasionally, the group grew, tacking onto and wanting in on the let’s make fun of Patty game. It was a daily thing – they taunted and shy, quiet me took it, became embarrassed and tried not to cry in front of anyone. As a result, I became a hermit, staying home, not going anywhere where kids at school might be. I became a bookworm, turning to an internal world inside books that was happier than mine.
One day, on the bus ride home from school, one of the girls sitting in the seat in front of me turned around and grabbed my hand (yes, she was one of the four). Then another girl sitting next to her also grabbed my hand, holding it steady so one of them could repeatedly stab the top of my hand with a sewing needle. I fought back the tears and the screams – you see, if I’d told or brought attention to it, the taunting and the ridicule would only intensify. I knew better.
But I did go home and tell my mom, showing her the blood on my hand. My mom went to the school and talked to the teacher, who said, “Patty needs to get a backbone. They pick on her because they can and they know she won’t do anything.”
Typical response from someone who believes that it is the fault of the child being bullied – not the bullier! That is exactly why bullying is tolerated – we tend to blame those who are weakest or most timid, both for what they do and what they do not do. We blame them because they’re quiet, they’re spinless, they’re different, they’re not as popular, they’re fat. It’s an unkind world out there for children who do not fit the mold, whatever that mold may be.
Bullies aren’t only boys. Girls are particularly good at bullying other girls. Somehow, by bullying someone else and pointing out the things they don’t like about other people, they believe they look better.
These same girls wrote me fake ‘love letters’ from boys, saying they wanted to go out with me. They found delight in making me feel even worse because I was fat and didnt’ attract attention from the opposite sex. Then they’d act like my friend, all excited – “Are you going to go out with him?” Then, they’d walk away giggling about their escapade leaving me embarrassed and humiliated and very sad, while they relished in making me the butt of their jokes.
It wasn’t until high school, when I starved myself to lose weight, that they chose to move on. Maybe they grew up. Maybe I got boring and they needed fresh blood. Maybe they weren’t getting the reaction they wanted. Maybe I grew a backbone and didn’t let them see that they were upsetting me.
Bullying is painful. It leaves lasting emotions and scars. So, when my kids say something about another kid being made fun of, or never having any friends, I make them promise me that they’ll say hi to them, ask them if they were able to figure out that algebra problem, or even, hey, do you want to sit here…to some kids, those things aren’t a big deal. To kids who are bullied, they could be a lifesaver.
Kids can be cruel – very, very cruel. Teachers don’t always know what is going on (how many kids get bullied when their parents or teachers are around? Usually, not many.)
Ask your kids questions. Talk to teachers. Talk to the bully’s parents, and yes, if you have to, talk to the bully. The bully is the bad guy–not your kid–so, why is your kid the one crying? Those tears will be felt for years.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )