When I was a child, my family moved frequently. One reason was my father was in the Marines, and although he was stationed stateside, he often had to move from one post to another. A second reason we moved frequently was because of family dysfunction. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
Because I was always the new kid on the block, I experienced a good deal of bullying. It was less than 20 years post WWII, and I’m half Japanese. There are incidences I recall being teased about my ethnicity. In grade school, one neighborhood bully pushed me in front of a moving car. I was very blessed not to have been injured. There are other memories that are very clear, as if they happened yesterday. I always was the odd duck and never fit in with the other kids. As hard as it is to say out loud, although I had “friends,” I wasn’t invited to my high school prom. That still hurts all these years later.
And as a survivor of childhood bullying, my heart hurts when I hear stories of very young people being horrifically bullied, so much so that they take their lives. And I’ve wondered about that. I can’t tell you that suicide was something I didn’t think about. I did. And those thoughts followed me into early adulthood. But I’ve wondered why so many of today’s kids are brought to that horrible end.
In a conversation with someone yesterday, it came to me. I suddenly understood why kids who are bullied today feel so hopeless. We all realize that internet bullying is a major problem. But I understand now why it is bigger than the issue of one kid or more attacking another over the internet. It’s a matter of sanctuary.
Take yourself back to when you were 12 or 14 years old. You go to school where the kids are relentlessly mean to you. You walk the school halls wondering when you’ll be verbally or even physically assaulted by the bully pack. They are on the bus. At every school, sports and social event, they are there. Then you go home. You get on the internet. And in what should be the safest place on earth for you, there they are. Right in your home! And it’s even worse. They unleash the vilest of their attacks over the internet for everyone in your world to see. They hurl words at you that wound you to your core. Their words swirl in your head and deeply wound your soul, and you’re lost and alone in a pool of fear, anger, pain, and anguish that you are unable to contain or control.
They’ve even violated your home. Your refuge. There are no safe havens for you. Imagine you tell your teachers who blow it off. Imagine you live with a dysfunctional family, but you tell them what’s happening and they either ignore you or tell you to suck it up. And you are left with nothing but your broken emotional state and the knowledge that the attacks won’t stop. And they follow you like your own dark shadow.
How incredibly hopeless would you feel? Children who are the targets of a single bully or bully packs often have no place to turn and no one advocating for them. They don’t have the maturity, wisdom, or developed self-esteem to deal with what looks like a no-way-out situation. As it continues, day after day, week after week, month after month, what reserve they have is worn down, and they may feel they have no alternative but to end it all.
I know, to some degree, the depth of the despair these kids feel. Sticks and stones leave visible wounds. Words? They leave invisible wounds that bleed and fester from the inside out. They are unseen and because of that, often get left untreated.
We must do better for our kids. We must find ways to stop the madness. And here are my suggestions with a little help from experts.
To the adults:
1. Don’t be a bully! There are too many people who easily sit behind their computers and hurl mean and even vicious diatribes at strangers. Here’s an assignment. Go to Huffington Post and read an article on just about anything. Watch the video with it. Then go to the comments. Read how people interact with one another. I’ve left comments on articles where someone has been killed saying something like, “I’m praying for the grieving family.” And believe it or not, with a comment like that, I’ll get vile responses. Make a choice to never engage in internet bullying, but if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t comment. And if you get vile responses to your comment, don’t engage the bully except to tell them something kind. Really. Be a role model for youth to look up to.
2. If your child or another child confides in you about being bullied, for land’s sake believe the child! And advocate for them. Find out the details, and confront teachers and parents, guardians, principles, and whoever else necessary. Make sure the child knows you won’t back down from the fight and will advocate for them.
3. Ask the child open-ended questions to ascertain their emotional well-being. Do it regularly. Make sure they know you’re there for them and they can trust you. If it’s not your child, be wise. Don’t meet the child alone and have parents/guardians in on what’s happening at all times.
4. Go to the listed sites and educate yourself on the facts about bullying, how to stop it, and how to prevent it.
5. Don’t let any child be the victim of a bully on your watch!
To the young people:
1. If you’re being bullied, you need to know there is help and hope and a way out.
2. Tell an adult. If that person doesn’t listen, find someone who will. You don’t have to go through this alone. There are adults who will take this seriously and help you.
3. Don’t feel like you’re a snitch or weak if you tell an adult. Bullying is serious and can be dangerous, and you need help.
4. Understand that what the bully says and does reflects on the bully, and not on you. The bully is making a terrible reputation for himself. You hold your head up high and understand that you are precious and important. You will get through this.