Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bullies - Grade School and Beyond -

Over the past couple of years I've had students write research papers about bullying and the residual effects of bullying. This has been a hot topic as students become aware of how their associations with others, particularly in elementary and junior high, have affected who they are as college students.

One student wrote about Chronic Shame and how this began in his early years because he was skinny and not athletic. When he couldn't perform on the game field like others, he was laughed at and teased. Because of this, he turned inward, and that shame carried over into other aspects of his life, including pornography and drinking - alone. He was seen as anti-social, but reality was that he was scared - scared of being teased and rejected, so why not just be a loner, where his wall would protect him from others, which, sadly, included folks who could have been his friends. Shame and Trust

Another student wrote about growing up on a dairy farm, where she did chores before school, and where, more than once, she arrived at school with a touch of dairy farm perfume still on. It didn't matter if she tried to tell the kids this is where their milk came from, the taunting just became stronger. Those kids who could be her friends didn't rally around to support her, because they didn't want to be seen as friends or supporters, or risk being bullied themselves. Lack of Confidence and Shame

Still another wrote about being called "gay," in junior high because he enjoyed dancing, music, acting, and those weren't good talents for an Idaho farm boy. Lost and Questioning

Others have written about being overweight, shy, having physical disabilities, being gay, being a different skin color, having speech impairments, and the effects of bullying on them. And not all of these students have healed. They are still aching, sorting through, coming to grips, attempting to move ahead. I'm grateful they feel comfortable enough to write their words, in my classes. 

I remember talking to a mother in a former neighborhood, attempting to tell her that her sons were teasing and making fun of my son. Her response? "Boys will be boys." But sadly, girls can be just as cruel as boys, or more so. Jenna had it pretty bad - in fact, I took it as a sign to pull her and Tyler out of school and home school them (which was a huge blessing). Excuses for Behavior and Trust

And yes, I have been the victim of bullying, although at the time I just figured I wasn't wanted or I had done something wrong. 

The first case was in 5th grade, yes all the way back to 5th grade. I think that makes me 10 years old. I was skinny, blonde, and very quiet. I wanted to be a part of something, I wanted to belong. There was a group of girls who were hanging out together, they seemed to be popular, in their own circle, and they always were together. The word went out that they were having "auditions" one day - and anyone who wanted to be a part of their group had to write a note asking to become a "member," and what they could contribute to the group. So, I did, I wrote a note, on lined notebook paper, folded it carefully, and gave it to LuJean and Patty, the seemed to be social leaders. I waited for two days to hear from them, and then I heard, and their answer was "No," we don't think you'd fit in with us. And I felt horrible, and I cried, but the terrible part of this was that they then began to treat me totally as an outsider. Not only did I not belong with them, I didn't belong with anyone, at all. Going to school was hard - I saw all the other girls who had submitted applications now being a part of the group, and they were told to distance themselves from me, and I really struggled with finding someone, somewhere that I felt safe. 

Four years later, 9th grade. I had a few friends, and I was still skinny, blonde, and very quiet. There were three elementary schools that were bunched together for 8th grade, and another was added for my 9th grade year. And for some reason, two girls, Patty and Ruth, newcomers to the school, decided that they would taunt me. I found nasty notes in my locker, my lunch spot taken, my change for a treat popped out of my hand, and I was teased for my clothes and my awkwardness, constantly (I didn't even know I was awkward). I skipped school more than once complaining of a stomachache, which I legitimately had, nerves just thinking about having to face these two girls another day. 

Later, 10th and 11th grades. I had made the decision that I would never let anyone feel left out. And so I and my three good friends (all girls who lived in the country, came from older parents, with no ties to the town, they were safe and not a part of any of the previous bullying) decided we would never let anyone feel left out. We befriended a couple of loners and gave them friends. 

Yet I remember more than once walking down the halls of the high school being laughed at, whistled at, and hearing, "She's so stuck up," "She thinks she's too good for us," "She's conceited." And I had to look up that word! And I still hurt from this, wanting to turn to these people, guys and gals, and say, "I don't belong; I don't know what to say; I am shy." But I couldn't. 

And what could I tell my parents, when they were busy with children and restaurants, and I really had no words to tell them how I felt. So I shut up, put up, and tried to not be seen. 

Me! And all these years later I'm writing this, for the first time. I am who I am today because of those taunts, teases, unkind words and gestures, not-belonging. 


Because of my early years, knowing that I didn't belong, that I was different, I work hard, every single day, to be a person who anyone feels safe with, feels loved by, feels accepted by. I am not a discriminator of smell, size, gayness, or dollars. I'm more interested in their stories than mine, more interested in how they were reared, how they handle "different," and how their lives have been shaped by this. Although, I am still uncomfortable and awkward around women with great makeup, nice nails, fancy clothes and cars, and I am still a loner, easier to be different than it is to belong. Still I'm often seen as aloof, but my introvert personality is strong, and as I understand this, I see more how I was such an easy target for being bullied. 

I've been thinking about this lately because I now have grandchildren who are in those same ages and stages. I see their personalities - bubbly, forward, quiet, contemplative, awkward, athletic, studious, stumbling, and I want them all to belong. I want them to know there is a place in this world for all of their personalities, introvert or extrovert. And I want them to know that if anyone ever teases or taunts them, that I have their back, but more, that they do not have to "take it."

I wonder what is missing in the bullies' lives to make them reach out to hurt someone else. And when I see adults who are bullies - well, I have to wonder what is missing, where they are hurting, who is hurting them, and where their desire to bully comes from (who were their examples - media perhaps?). 

We all need to belong to a community - whether it's a group of girl friends, a team, a family. That is our humanity - to belong, not to be alone. 

I have simplified my story, and I know there are people whose stories of bullies are horrible. I also know my story is valid, and that I am who I am because, and I like that me. Am I ready to thank those bullies? No. Am I ready to open my arms to my students with stories and to others who feel as if they don't have any place to belong? Yes.










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