everyone is involved in bullying at school. you were either the bully, the one who was bullied, the one who watched and did nothing, or one of the few who had the courage to try and stop it happening to someone else.
i'm one of those who was bullied. never physically, only emotionally. it was insidious, nothing major, but a constant stream of harassment that wearied the soul. there was the name calling, there was the constant pointing out of how ugly i was and what a big nose i had. and big feet. and horrible clothes. then there would be the picking of sports teams, where i would invariably be the last person to be picked. but the worst would be the ballroom dancing, when the boys would all make fun of the sucker that had to end up dancing with me because there was no-one else left.
there was even harassment from a particular teacher when i was in standard 2. it was so bad that my grades fell within 3 months, and my parents asked to have me moved to another class. again, it was no single event, just a constant belittling and singling out for criticism, usually in front of the whole class. the first thing my new teacher did was to take out the strap and inform me that she would use it if i was ever caught lying, as if i'd been making the whole thing up. which proves anna's point: bullying doesn't stop because corporal punishment is allowed.
the effect of all this is that i try to erase my childhood from my mind. it's not one of happy memories, although i'm sure i must have been happy some of the time. i'm starting to feel sick even as i write about it. i've been to counselling, some years ago, but the memories never leave me. i have to keep fighting to remind myself that i'm not a worthless nobody because the constant message my brain keeps sending out is "you're not good enough".
so many times i wish i could step into my past and hug the little girl that i was. i wish... well, what's the point. i can't change my past. but we can try to change the present for our children who face school every day as a member of one of those four groups i mentioned above.
one of the key things is communication. i always make sure to ask my kids how their day at school has been, whether it was a happy day or not. they get used to telling me about their day, so that when something bad happens, i find out. a couple of years ago my younger daughter came out with the fact that another girl had spat at her. when i probed further, i found that there had been instances of hitting, pushing, name-calling. i immediately contacted the teacher, and it was all resolved in a good way. the girl in question had been bullying other kids as well, as it turned out. but unless they're used to talking to you, you won't find out. creating that relationship of trust with my kids has been the most important thing to me.
listening to some of the parents talk about bullying of their kids on radio and tv today, i heard some of them say they didn't even know it was happening or the extent to which it was happening. that's not surprising to me, i never told. i don't know why, perhaps i believed the messages i was getting: i was a bad person so deserved the treatment i got.
it's really horrible to hear about the kids that got severly beaten or who committed suicide. the fact is that kids don't invent bullying, they learn it. they learn from their parents, from the tv programmes/movies they watch, from the games they play and from the books they read. it's a learned behaviour, and it happens because we allow it to happen. it happens because that's what they see when they watch gordon ramsay abuse people on his show, and be admired for it. it happens because adults abuse each other in the nastiest of ways on blogs and internet discussion forums, without caring about the impact of their words. it happens because they watch us verbally abusing other drivers as we treat the roads like our own personal highway. it happens for so many, many reasons.
the best interview i heard today was with the mother of a child who had committed suicide because of bullying, on radio nz this morning (about 21 minutes into the clip, although all of it is well worth listening to). she talked about the solution coming from the community, and it's so true. there is the individual response: being aware of what our kids are doing, correcting them when they are rude about someone else, modelling good behaviour, and making sure that we never stay silent when we see bullying occurring. but we need to respond as a community as well, to take collective action against the violence that even now we tolerate.
because one thing i can say for sure is that the effects of being bullied don't go away. ever.