It has been over thirty years since I was in the fifth grade, but sometimes I can still hear the taunts of my former “best friends,” courtesy of the bullying I suffered in middle school. To this day, I still struggle with self-confidence from what I lived through during those two very long years. When my eldest son began fifth grade, I suffered from a lot of anxiety over it — worrying that he would face the same experience.
As time has passed, I’ve had to come to terms with what happened without ever understanding why it did. Yes, we do know much more about bullying now than in the ’80s. However, even after reading a lot on the topic, I still can’t grasp why some children are so deliberately cruel to others at such a young age — and I probably never will. I’m not talking about teasing or mean jokes. For me, bullying means constant harassment to the point that it makes you want to skip school. It makes you afraid to go to the bathroom. It changes you.
At school, I would get locked in the classroom during lunch recess. Once at a party, a boy asked me to dance only to lift up my skirt so everybody could see my underwear. I hid in the bathroom until my parents picked me up, and later found out it had all been staged by my former best friend. Another time, I was invited to a “costume” birthday party; when I arrived, I realized I was the only one that had dressed up so the other girls could make fun of me.
It took too many months for my school to step in and do something about the situation. My homeroom teacher and counselor helped me tremendously and in seventh grade I was able to get a fresh start with new classmates. Bullying changed me, but it did not define me. It is just part of what I survived and overcame throughout the course of my life to become the person I am today. However, too many kids cannot find the help and support they need.
February 9 is National Stop Bullying Day. According to National Education Association estimates, bullying occurs once every seven minutes. If you have children, it is important to talk to them about bullying; to talk openly about it so that they will feel comfortable coming to you if something happens. Almost all states currently have a law addressing bullying in schools, so make sure you know what your school district’s policies are. Tell your child what to do in case he or she is bullied, but most importantly, teach them how to help somebody who suffers from bullying. Because if the bystanders speak up, they can make a world of difference.
If you, your child, or somebody you know is being bullied, find out more about what you can do to help.