Sunday, October 17, 2010
Following the recent tragic suicides of teenagers Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, and Phoebe Prince, shows such as CNN and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, as well as magazines such as People, have been bringing the issue of bullying to people's attention.
I've watched the coverage with rapt attention. Bullying is something that is close to my heart (more on that in a moment) and I fear that my three children, currently aged 11, 5, and 3, will be exposed to bullies as they continue in school. In fact, I know that my eldest son has has some issues with one school bully in particular, although thankfully only on an occasional basis.
I was a victim of bullying in my younger years. When I was in the sixth grade, one popular girl in particular decided that I would be the perfect target. She rallied several other girls, some popular and some wishing to be popular, and convinced them that being friends with me would social suicide. An overweight and bookish child, I was no match for this popular princess. The teasing about my weight was merciless. Since I attended a private school, the class was small, and none of the girls would play with me. At recess and lunch they would all, every one of them, gallop away to play and they would leave me sad and alone. When I developed earlier than they did, they wrote nasty notes about me to one another, some of which I had the misfortune to find. This group of girls had popular boys ask me "out" and then laugh hysterically when I accepted. "Why would a boy ever want to go out with you?" they taunted. To them I was worthless. I would come home crying almost every night. To have no friends at school was devastating for me. The taunting, teasing, and bullying continued until the end of eighth grade, when my parents decided to send me to a different high school than everyone else in an attempt to stop the bullying. They had gone to the teachers and the principal, but nobody was ever able to do much about it. At one point the whole class had to write me letters of apology after one particularly nasty stunt, but that only made things worse when the teachers weren't looking.
The bullying that I received in grade school stayed with me, long after these girls went to a different high school. Even though they no longer taunted me (because they weren't around me), the damage had been done. My self-esteem stayed at an all-time low for many, many years. I just couldn't see myself as being worth anything. In high school I dated boys just to try to feel accepted. Even though it pains me to admit it, I even slept with a couple of them just to try to hang on to them. I thought that if they wanted me, even for the wrong reasons, I would be accepted. I was looking for self-worth.
I later found out that the ringleader of the group of girls who bullied me was going through some things at home during that time. Although I don't feel that that excuses her behaviour, it certainly explains why she was so determined to lash out at me. Even now, at the age of 28, I still feel the effects of that bullying on days when my self-esteem is at an all-time low. I look in the mirror and I think that I'm not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough. I am so incredibly grateful for my husband, who truly loves me exactly the way that I am, and has helped me to begin to overcome many of my self-esteem issues, although it has been a long journey.
I fear my own children becoming the victim of bullies. Although our county has a firm anti-bullying program in place (principals must address issues of bullying within one school day, bus drivers must report all bullying incidents), and an anti-bullying task force works with the children on a regular basis to encourage tolerance, I fear that bullying will never be completely eradicated. I hope that we all, as parents, as caregivers, as teachers, and as community leaders, can continue to instill in our children tolerance for those who are of a different race, religion, sexual orientation, or weight. The effects of bullying can last well beyond those formative childhood and teenage years, as evidenced by the tragic deaths of the young teenagers mentioned above. My thoughts are with their families.