I guess I was naive. I didn’t think that bullying would affect my two little girls because they are so young. Over the past few months both my six-year-old and my nine-year-old have been indoctrinated into this horror show called bullying and I’m pissed. Recently a friend of mine pulled out her kids from our school to placed them into a homeschooling program partially due to the increasing prevalence of bullying. Maybe I’m being paid back for my own childhood bullying, karma-style, but I doubt it. Bullying seems to pass from generation to generation no matter what, but its consequences upon our children’s mental health is worsening.
I’m no innocent when it comes to picking on others. My low point came when I was ten years old, and to this day I wish I could make amends to the girl I verbally bullied. I had been friends with her, and then I betrayed her. I will call her Shirley.
Shirley and I weren’t exactly kindred spirits, but we lived within a few blocks of one another and hung out on a regular basis. I was repulsed by her chronic nose picking and as a Jew, I couldn’t relate to the fact that she was a practicing Mormon. She was very overweight and we usually did sedentary, unhealthy activities together such as watch television shows and eat junk food. I was lonely and I had some serious familial problems at home so I avoided inviting friends over. The fact that Shirley’s home was quiet and had a fully-stocked refrigerator was a plus.
There was a pack of catty girls in our neighborhood that I also spent time with aside from Shirley. None of them liked Shirley, and as a group we decided to create a song that made fun of her weight. One sunny afternoon we went to her house, formed a circle around her, and sung the cruel song to her. She started to cry. I felt horrible, but the damage had been done. As you can imagine, we didn’t spend too much time together after that.
Just now I looked on Facebook to see if she is there, and a person came up who very well could be her. I could send a message to her, but I’m scared to open up a can of worms that is over thirty years old. Would you do it? In any case, I hope that she is leading a happy life and that she has healed from that awful incident.
A few years later, it was my turn to be the object of bullying. For whatever reason, a thirteen-year-old girl “Whitney” decided to hate me! I never did anything to her, and I didn’t know her well. She just wanted to pick on someone, and I was conveniently there at her disposal. I was such an anxious, shy child that I rarely looked at anyone in the eye. Perhaps that caught her attention to prey on someone weak.
A tall teen, she towered over me. One day she told me she was going to beat me up and I had to meet her at such and such time and place after school. I can’t believe it now, but I actually showed up. I was terrified out of my skin, but twelve-year-old me went to meet my doom. I must say I’m proud of myself for my chutzpah, although I should have notified an adult about her nefarious plan!
I met her at the appointed place, which was on a street adjacent to our school. I truly thought she would start hitting me, but what she did instead (thank God) was to stand a few inches away from me, look down at my face, and yell at me for a long time instead. That still scared the crap out of me. I don’t recall what she said to me, but I do remember feeling relieved because I knew it could have been MUCH worse. People I know who were subjected to physical violence when they were kids may read this and think, “That’s nothing!”. I totally understand that perspective, but for me what happened with Whitney was an impressionable event in my life. She stopped picking on me soon after that – I guess by confronting me in that way, she got something out of her system.
For the first time ever, five minutes before writing this post, I looked to see if Whitney is on Facebook and lo and behold, there she is! There are pictures of her beautiful family – she has a young teen girl of her own. You can rest assured I’m not going to try to “friend” her! 😉 As soon as her face popped up, it gave me the shivers. She has a hard look to her; I’m not going to pretend that I find her attractive, although she is a conventionally pretty blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman. It would be rather twisted if I sent her a message and told her how much she scarred me, but I have better things to do with my time. I’m not that crazy! I hope her daughter, who appears to be sweet and lovely in her Facebook pictures, will not bully kids the way her Mom did.
So now my girl has her own Whitney of sorts. What has been particularly alarming is that “Sandra” has been hot and cold with her. They became fast friends and all was good. But then Sandra started saying and doing bad things to my girl – i.e. mean name calling, repeatedly threatening not to invite her to her birthday celebration, hitting her hard with a lunchbox, and pinching her hard. The list goes on, but you get the idea. And then she’d make nice, and then the whole vicious cycle would start again.
Talk about confusing for a child. You’re probably wondering where the parents are in all this. I spoke with the mother and she seems to be genuinely nice and understanding. It’s hard to believe that her child acts the way she does with a mother like this. The father seems to be a kind person as well. The mom spoke with her daughter about her behavior, and things improved for a short time. Then the bullying started up once again. Aside from the mom, I involved the school’s principal because a lot of her behavior took place on school grounds. The principal had Sandra meet with their counselor but nothing improved much after they met.
Again, I know this isn’t “end of the world” type of stuff. But dammit, I hate having my daughter cry at night telling me how worried she is to go to school the next day because she fears this other child’s treatment. It also kills me to hear her whimper in the car before I drop her off at school about the same damn thing. We created a plan of action for her to take when Sandra’s mean behavior strikes up again, i.e. go to an adult on campus if she gets hit, at lunchtime (when the behavior usually happens) go to the library where the librarian is really strict and keeps a stern eye on her room. I fear these are bandaid solutions, and a conference with the parents is what’s really needed now.
Part of me wants to have a little talk of my own with Sandra – she has only seen my sweet side. In better times she slept over at our house when it seemed like she was going to stop her bullying, and I’ve seen her very own sweet side. But she is damaged – there’s no way to deny it – and we noticed that. She needs long-term professional help.
Today I’m dreading picking my daughter up because I have a bad feeling. I hope it’s just my paranoia, and of course I’d get a phone call by now if something really egregious happened today, but I still feel unsettled. Even if my girl and Sandra “made up” with one another, it’s a temporary truce. In the meantime, I told my girl that I’m here to support her in any way I can. I also told her that some friendships (using the term “friend” loosely here) fade away over time; that happens with everyone. I was hoping to make her feel better, but I know I didn’t really assuage her fear. We’ll see what happens. My anxiety has been sky high recently and maybe once I bring it down then I’ll be of better help to my daughter about this lousy fact of life: bullying.
A good general website about bullying managed by the federal government:
Article hot off the press about bullying raises kids’ risk (Thanks to Jennifer Moyer, Mental Heath Advocate for posting this on her Facebook page with the apt remark “The power of words”.)