March 28, 2012

Bullies, Born or Bred?



I tried to commit suicide at age 13 as the result of bullying.

Needless to say I've been following the recent media focus on bullies quite closely. The It Gets Better Project is wonderful but we need to be aware of bullying as an issue for non-LGBT youth as well (I am bisexual but that wasn't the source of my problems).


The message of the It Gets Better Project is critical. The reason kids are committing suicide is because all they can see is TODAY. They are incapable of understanding the big picture, and just how temporary school is in the grand scheme of things.

What creates a bully? Why do they feel compelled to make other people feel worthless? I don't know.

The girl who shoved me off the brink was my "best friend." I knew her for many years. She came from a perfectly normal family. Maybe they weren't as involved in her life as they should have been, but I certainly never saw evidence of any type of abuse.

Yet, over time, this child became increasingly cruel. She was obsessed with popularity. Her chubby, intelligent, fashion-backward best friend blocked the path so she found a way around. She made fun of me with her "popular" friends, played tricks on me, berated me in private, and even physically assaulted me on several occasions.

This happened gradually, of course. My best friend and confidant didn't become my worst nightmare overnight. As her focus on popularity grew so did her contempt for me.

Middle school is a bitch, ain't it? I don't think there is a person alive who recalls seventh grade with fondness. Middle school is like purgatory for adolescents.

POOF! You have breasts!

POOF! You have pimples!

POOF! You're almost to high school, and those kids drive cars, man, so if you aren't cool enough they're gonna eat you alive!

Certainly it was where my situation reached critical mass.



Tyler Long committed suicide in 2009. Ellen DeGeneres interviewed his parents, who are featured in the movie Bully. While it is obvious that Ellen cares, it's also obvious that she has no idea what to say. I love Ellen. I'm not picking on Ellen. But what needed to be said was this:
  • Parents alone can't do it. 
  • Teachers alone can't do it. 
  • EVERY adult in a child's life needs to be aware of bullying and work to put an end to it.
It bothered me how much emphasis Ellen put on the bullies themselves. She implied that they should feel guilt over what they said. Of course they feel guilt! They were kids at the time. What kind of stupid shit did you do when you were a kid? Do you feel guilty? At least it didn't cause someone to end their life.

Ellen also said that children "don't just do" something like that (bullying), they have to be taught. I disagree. Kids are assholes*. They must be taught kindness.

My advice to concerned parents is to teach your children empathy from a young age. Don't assume your sweet little angel will never be a bully, they will. The pack mentality of children will almost always incite them to pick on the weaker members.

You must also teach them strength. If I had rolled my eyes and said "Whatever!" the first time my friend tried to make me feel bad about myself I would have been better off. If I had sought friends who built me up instead of tearing me down I would have had a happier childhood.
  • Parents alone can't do it. 
  • Teachers alone can't do it. 
  • EVERY adult in a child's life needs to be aware of bullying and work to put an end to it.
Please make a difference to the children in your life. Start by seeing the movie Bully, in theaters March 30th.     -Kim


*I want to elaborate on the statement "kids are assholes." My 3.5 year old daughter has a weekly play date with two boys of the same age, Charlie and Marco. Charlie and Marco play nicely together, Bethany and Charlie play nicely together, but when the three of them play they ALWAYS leave Marco out. Marco often ends up on his mom's lap with a sad face.

Charlie's mom and I work with our kids in private to help them understand what they are doing to Marco. I ask Bethany "How many friends are you playing with today?"

"Two."

"What are their names?"

"Charlie and Marco."

"Are you playing with Marco, or just Charlie?"

"We're all playing!"

"That's not what I'm seeing, sweetheart. I see you and Charlie playing without Marco. Do you know what Marco said? He said you and Charlie are his best friends. Do you think you're being a good best friend?"

"Yes."

"How would it make you feel if Charlie and Marco played together and never played with you."

"It would make me feel sad."

"How do you suppose Marco feels when you and Charlie play without him all the time?"

"Sad."

"I think you're right. What do you think you could do to make him feel better?"

"I can give him a hug!"

"That's a great idea. Then maybe you can ask him to play with you."

Children must be taught kindness and empathy. It doesn't come naturally to most of them.

5 comments:

  1. Kim - Isn't this one of the reasons why you ended up at our school? I'm so terribly sorry for all you went through, but I can't say I'm sad you ended up in my life.

    Love you, friend!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is *the* reason I ended up in private school. I was so terrified of my own neighborhood that I ducked my head below the window when we drove down the street.
    God bless my parents for investing in my well being. I made friends for life in private school, and the whole thing (bully included) helped make me who I am today.
    Love you too!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Kim, I'm so sorry for what you went through.
    I did write a whole diatribe about bullies and being bullied but I just deleted it all.

    If I carried on, my rant would have been longer than your post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ha ha don't we all do that sometimes, Lily? There is so much I want to post about but we have to pick our battles.

    Thanks for your kind words. It's all fine now, but as a parent it's definitely a huge responsibility!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi, found your blog via your sensible gender-related writing on reddit.

    Coming from a similar background (bullied in elementary school, switched school for it) bullying is something I've taken a professional interest in since.

    There's some great academic research being done on bullying in my country, especially by professor Dan Olweus of the University of Bergen. He was a pioneer of using quantitative, evidence based methods. Far too much opinionating on bulling was (and still is) based on arguments about pet theories about how kids work...

    I recommend his book "Bullying at School: What we know and what we can do". I had a lot of a ha moments reading that book, not least from relating it to my own experience.

    ReplyDelete

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